The Roman poet Horace tells a fable intended to illustrate the folly of inaction. In it a man, walking through open country, finds his path blocked by a river. Rather than get wet, he decides to let the water go past first before crossing, and sits down to wait until it has done so – and so waits forever, hesitant and uncertain, as the river flows eternally on.

There is an obvious and sad parallel to our present circumstances. We of course are forced into inaction and lockdown – but as the Government’s latest extension demonstrates, for all the hope and optimism of the present time, reinforced by more positive vaccine news, we cannot wait until it is past; we must live our lives as best we can while it continues.

That spirit guides the whole-hearted way staff and students have responded to this latest lockdown, with a moving determination to make the most of online learning. I spoke with students this week who described the simple pleasure of being able to work with others in a break-out room and feel a sense of camaraderie and shared purpose as they completed the task set by the teacher.

It also guides everything we are doing as part of Together Abbey, certainly including tonight’s Big Sing, which I hope as many of you as possible will join. And it guided Curiosity Week this week at the Senior School, with recorded talks replacing our curiosity lectures for the younger years and a focus on learning beyond the curriculum for its own sake.

Above all this spirit guides the way we have seen students go about their thinking, their exploration, and their sense of discovery. We launched our new website this week, on which this article now appears, and as part of that we launched a publication: Sapere Aude. It contains a selection of work produced by senior students during the last lockdown. It is a wonderful thing for the quality of thought it represents; but above all, for me, it is a wonderful thing for the quality of defiance it represents. So many obstacles have been thrown in the path of young people, barely affected themselves by the horrors of the pandemic, yet adapting their lives, as are we all, for the sake of society as a whole. The only thing we can do is to defy the miseries of circumstance and live as richly as we can, guided by our care for others and ourselves.

Horace finishes his fable with a rousing call to act, not wait; to begin, not intend. Overcoming the initial reluctance to commit is half the battle, he tells us, in a phrase that gives us the title of our publication: Sapere Aude – Dare to Know, or dare to be wise. As the full line has it: Dimidium facti, qui coepit, habet; sapere aude, incipe! She who has started a task is already halfway to finishing it. Dare to be wise: begin!

Will le Fleming