Review: No Shore Too Far by Jonathan Stedall

This review of No Shore Too Far was written by Roger Druitt for Perspectives, appearing in Volume 88 No 1, December 2017-February 2018. It is a wonderfully detailed and thoughtful review, and we’re grateful to have come across it.

No Shore Too Far cover image

What a truly amazing book – anyone who does not read much is encouraged to give it a try – something new in writing!

It seemed proper to read the whole volume of these poems before reviewing but this became ever more inappropriate the further one read. The soul just refused to read on, wanting more time to digest, reflect and re-create for itself. The theme of bereavement is of course one of the most poignant imaginable but these poems are not only about that. They make up a near complete compendium of all the questions that modern people ask about life issues, many of which are quoted from source and expounded through the verses, now[sic] viewed through that dread but ultimate truth of our own mortality. Although the poems are not long, they contain width and depth in their concise phrasing and imagery; treasures to be released to quiet pondering.

Jonathan wrote these as an agreement made with Jackie, his wife, before her death three years ago, prompted by a letter she composed to be read to her children after it. Her own death had by then become inevitable, and predictably close. She demonstrated thereby her vision that there just might be a life after death, within which one could reach and embrace those remaining here. The reader discovers gradually how Jonathan built faithfully upon this. His long study of Anthroposophy has equipped him with all the facets of the spiritual dimension of life and in this small volume he has married these to the many different emotions that arose out of his loss, resulting in this series of spiritual researches, always keeping within the realm of experience and colouring it with artistic feeling rather than emotion. Thus he treads ever cautiously between reality and wishful fantasy. The poetic medium turns the emotions into objective human statements that then function as windows upon the relations between the living and the dead. There is no dogmatism either way but the possibility left open that the dead might in fact actually be alive in a mysterious way. The poems do not try to offer a proof but they do function as substance for experience, trading this path that the world talks too much about without really wanting to follow it.

Here this path is trodden courageously, making this valuable material for anyone wishing to research this still fairly taboo area in a wholesome way. Besides the bereaved, anyone engaged in any form of counselling would certainly find the poems valuable, in content as well as method. The book is an effective approach too for other realms of human life, for the threshold of death runs not far away in everything we do. We can take courage too in the substance of this researcher’s work.

The book itself is a joy to hold, the cover smooth to the touch and beautifully designed. Within, the sheer variety of subject matter and imagery is likely to touch everybody’s experience somewhere. From gardening to philosophy, from marmalade to science, there are beautiful renderings of  shared items of life becoming parables for what is truly human in the love that bridges the two worlds.

Is a co-working between two souls across the river between two worlds here demonstrated? It is certainly worth everyone’s while to find out for themselves.

At the end there is a bibliography valuable to anyone taking life’s questions seriously. The final poem, ‘Farewell’, speaks the phrase “and thought by some as dead.”. This is the gentle way Jonathan floats his ideas; but another line could sound like a suggestion that we make a new beginning with the same partner.  Some might find it hard to imagine here that in the longer run this is unlikely and we may have to face never having exactly the same relationship again. Yet the penultimate poem, ‘Exploration’, prepares us for that: “we’re huge, as huge as each new thought that takes us to those billion stars”. But the poem that opens these last three and alo gives the volume its title, ‘No Shore Too Far’, this poem is a tiny but profound dissertation on Leibniz’ question “Why is there something rather than nothing?” It gives a firm ground to all the issues Jonathan has touched, including that of ultimate existence and meaning to life.

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