The vastest things are those we may not learn.
We are not taught to die, nor to be born,
Nor how to burn
How pitiful is our enforced return
To those small things we are the masters of.
The Vastest Things, Mervyn Peake, c. 1946
I think this is quite possibly my favourite poem of Peake’s. It captures perfectly the spirit of optimism that fuels his artistic drive. Although this spirit may be harder to find in his war poetry, or disguised beneath the darker themes of madness and corrosion in the Titus books, Titus will ultimately ride out of his castle to freedom. Here, too, even in our ‘pitiful return’ we can hold onto the sense of vastness.