The great Yes


In two moments of madness, I bought both the Saturday papers and the Sunday papers. I now have enough reading material sitting on the kitchen table to keep me occupied for the whole week. A poem in the Sunday Times caught my eye, courtesy of Daisy Goodwin. She points out that it is unusual for a poem to survive the translation process with all its vital signs, but reckons Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard did a good job. The poem is by Constantine P Cavafy.

For some people the day comes/when they have to declare the great Yes/or the great No. It’s clear at once who has the Yes ready within him: and saying it/

he goes from honour to honour, strong in his conviction./He who refuses does not repent. Asked again,/he’d still say no. Yet that no – the right no -/drags him down all his life.

I love the positive notion of the great Yes. But it’s not a foolhardy Yes: it’s supported by lots and lots of groundwork that may have gone on for weeks, months or years. Suddenly the time is right, the right question comes up, and you just nod with your entire self.

A great Yes is for me the epitome of ‘chance favouring the prepared mind’. Creative and innovative people are often experts in their particular field. They know their stuff. And by organising the massive amount of information and experience they gather into a mental library of increasingly elegant chunks, they can access and pull together just the right information at the right time. Creative people, and inventors in particular, are often great problem-solvers by virtue of the fact that they are best placed to spot particular problems. Fleming just knew from years of research that the unusual reaction in a Petri dish was significant. The discovery of penicillin followed.

So is it time for a big, fat, triumphant, resounding Yes today? The poem prompted Daisy Goodwin to quit her job and start her own business, having done her homework and then put off making the big leap.


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