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Andrew Motion: don't hurry, be happy

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The path to happiness is long and winding, says our former poet laureate, and it takes you through some very dark places

In my sixth form at school we had weekly discussions about topics that were meant to sharpen our minds for life, and help to get us into a university: The bomb: a justifiable evil?; Explain RG Collingwoods philosophy of history (our teacher liked Collingwoods work); The pursuit of happiness. This last provoked the only conversation I can remember joining with any real confidence. My mother had recently suffered a serious accident and was dangerously ill in hospital; I had decided that life was an affair of random violence, and there wasnt much point in chasing happiness. Besides, Id started to write poems, and had already voted myself everlasting membership of what I later heard Hugo Williams call the sadness club. It seemed the only organisation in the world worth joining.

Not that I was continuously miserable, but I was already convinced that happiness is much more likely to be something we find in the margins of whatever else we might be pursuing (love, adventure, money or reputation). It was it is an incidental thing, rather than a safe and secure destination.

neither here nor there,

A hurry through which known and strange things pass

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

Ay, in the very temple of Delight

Veild Melancholy has her sovran shrine,

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