When I was a schoolboy in the sixth form I became enthralled by the poetry of John Keats. No poem so reverberated with great lines or was so replete with gorgeous imagery as his Hyperion, no odes were so perfect as his Ode to a Nightingale, Ode on a Grecian Urn and Ode on Melancholy, no love poem was so heart-breaking as his gloriously romantic sonnet Bright Star. What young writer could fail to be influenced by the words in a letter to his friend John Taylor, "If poetry comes not as naturally as leaves to a tree it had better not come at all."
I read everything by John Keats I could find including his hundreds of letters to friends which he wrote right up to the time of his death from tuberculosis at the age of only twenty-six. I remember thinking how astonishing his creative output was in so short a life and what a tragedy, what a waste, that he died so young with so much more in his imagination and so much left to be sorted out in his mind to give and to delight and amaze and inspire humanity in his own time and in time to come.
It may seem strange that I had this deep feeling of loss and waste when my old friend of nearly fifty years, Lloyd Searwar, died last week. How could one possibly relate in any way the poet who died so young to the life of a man of public affairs who died so full of years? Yet the same feeling of irretrievable loss does occur now and then in very different circumstances as one goes through life. It occurs when men or women possessing knowledge to an extraordinary degree or special creative talent or immense intellectual attainments depart and will not ever again be available to improve and inspire and teach wisdom to their fellow men. I had the feeling when Martin Carter died, when Denis Williams died.
An unfillable void opens up. A quality is displaced which will never be replaced. The background silence deepens.
In the case of Lloyd Searwar, however long and fully he lived, how could death when it came not seem a terrible waste? He knew so much, in the small but infinite space of his mind were lodged so many valuable insights, he had carefully worked out such a variety of answers and solutions useful to the world he wanted to make better, his friends and colleagues could so endlessly still google and amazon the astonishing encyclopaedia of his memory, how could all this ceasing to be not be a tragedy of intellectual awareness forever lost? Above all, what also was lost was what Father Malcolm Rodrigues in his lucid and sensitive homily at the funeral named as Lloyd's never-ending search for truth, the search which can gain access to no final conclusion but which in its pursuit forever yields results that are ageless in their benefits and refresh the eternal soul which one likes to think resides in us all. You mean to say, I whisper to myself, I can never again ring up Lloyd, or be rung up, and get information and his views on the early history of Caricom's policy towards the problems of small and vulnerable states, on the origin of life and the ultimate intention of God, on the influence of Gerard Manley Hopkins on the poetry of TS Eliot, on how and why Napoleon rose to power out of the bloody chaos and Terror of the French Revolution, on the implacable imperatives but much flawed results of globalised market forces in the world today, on the utter genius of how Rembrandt painted light in his astonishing portraits, on Cardinal John Henry Newman's remarkable Apologia Pro Vita Sua which I believe was Lloyd's favourite among all books, on a small marble sculpture of the Virgin Mary in Chartres Cathedral, I think it was, which he said was the simplest, most beautiful carved figure he had ever seen, on a long conversation he had with George Kennan about the Cold War and its impact on Third World countries, on the batting of Robert Christiani at Bourda which Lloyd saw once and vividly recalled the dancing lightness of it, the passionate love of the crowd for their famous hero-batsman - the list is unending as I recall the years of our conversations.
Something is not right if all that is gone, unpreservable, in a flash. Something is being done wrong to allow such a waste of an infinitely valuable resource. What purpose does God, whom Lloyd loved as his personal saviour but could never fathom, as who can - what purpose does He have in the invention of death?
"Here lies one whose name was writ in water": Keats's epitaph, fit less for him than for most, not fit either for such an extraordinary man as Lloyd but, sad to say, as he himself would have been the first to agree, fit in the end for us all. What a waste death is.