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(The following is only one person’s view—
incomplete, inexact, and of no more value than another’s. No poetry is wholly conscious, and, in the end, no-one knows much about their own mind: this alone prevents disgust.)

 

poem

Economies of days have tongues

Do days have economies? This poem asserts that they do, probably in the literal sense of economy as estate-management; it further asserts that their ways of working has both language and voice: further, that their syntax - word-order - evolves as their hours mount up and their centres of gravity change..

poem

Then the dusk inflection of no witness

This brief poem is about a person’s place within the world.

An understated day is nearly over. Dusk is falling, with a hush of sound that intimates the end. The person of the poem is suddenly seized with the certainty—entering from outside himself—that the world is unwitnessed.

Far from becoming an alarming void, though, the world has instead become intensely personal. Person is at one with the hour of the day, the eternity of the sky, the distance of the far horizon: it is at one with the antiquity of the church spire and the transience of the strand of straw.

The idea of a separate self has vanished, and in this changed mode of existence the distinction between witnesser and witnessed no longer holds.

Unusually, there are no abstract nouns in this primarily metaphysical poem. Perhaps the person of the poem—who is speaking it—finds that he has no need of them. Abstract nouns, intentionally or not, tend to invoke systems of value, and value no longer has a place in this unified world. The stalk of straw, upright and close at hand, has no more (or less) meaning than the far spire or the angle of the sun.

This poem makes me think of the poems of John Clare. I am not sure if he was an influence, but I would have liked to have met him.

 

poem

Fugitive

The title, Fugitive, literally, a hastening away. We speak of fugitive colours, fugitive persons, fugitive emotions: here, we look at the poem and wonder what is hastening away, especially when the first line flatly states that this present day will never come to an end.

What comes to an end is neither the day nor the person alive in day (a person alluded to throughout the poem; perhaps the poet, perhaps the reader, perhaps someone else: maybe identity in the end does not matter) but the connection between the two. That connection is what is unstable, and which, bleached by the light of day, breaks down; and it is this instability, a colour forever bleached, which makes our cultural notion of time. (Perhaps it is responsible for the gamut of cultural notions.) Change (in what is perceived, in the way and character of perception, in the mind of the perceiver) seems to be necessary for the act of perception itself. And maybe the notion of change itself constantly changes.

So, the poem infers, there is no end (of day, of consciousness, of person.) What we take to be termination is in fact a severed (or changed) connection. Change, it is implied, with Heraclitus, is all, even in the metaphor of change; even in the nature of metaphor.

And, therefore, the day is all: it is not the temporary roof on the tower of time. Nor is it a bridge between adjacent days.

And my mentative self? And my home? And my ability to love? Is the notion of familiarity new every time it is experienced? Do we see the world ‘like it is’ or in a way selected (or selectively caricatured) by unconscious (and perhaps unknowable) physiological needs and processes?

Reference is made to the person of the poem being the syntax of the hour. Syntax being the word-order in a sentence, perhaps he is is the event-order of the hour. If the etymology of syntax is ‘a touching together’ or ‘a linking’, from the Greek (OED) this would be in accord with the thinking of the poem. It is the commonalty of order by which words are linked together which makes language possible: extending the metaphor, he is the unitary commonalty of order by which time has meaning. (There seems also to be a sideways look towards the thinking that the components of language are innate within the mind: what is learnt in childhood is the adjustment of these components to the prevailing culture.) Personhood - he - (or I or you or we or they or even it) is perhaps the only way in which ‘the world’ can be comprehended but that does not mean to say that personhood is an end in itself. After all, word-order and grammar underlay language before their existence was known. Even now, one suspects that they contain — though locked historically and academically into one entity — many disparate systems, some functional and some vestigial.

The structure of the poem is best understood by reading it out aloud. The three verses are remarkably different in character.

The first verse, of seven lines, flows in two streams, one ending in not following, the second in not sallowing (remaining fresh and green.) The two words are feminine near-rimes. This gives a somewhat diffident and uncompleted aspect to the verse, out of keeping with its content.

The second verse has a more insistent character: a metre appears, both speeded and checked by a repetition of the same disyllabic forms ending, when read aloud, in a very short vowel midway between a u and an a:

 hour  ow—a
 mirror  mirr—a
 grammar  gram—a
 ever  ev—a

This repeated metre brings about a unusual quality of consciousness because it is rare in everyday speech in English. Dylan Thomas, who, though Welsh, was not a Welsh speaker; but he used Welsh metrical patterns in his poetry. In his extraordinary masterpiece (and the favourite of his poems at the time) Before I knocked and flesh let enter he used this metrical repetition at least twenty-six times. And it does seem to be that altered speech patterns produce an altered consciousness. Thomas’ poem Before I knocked, read repeatedly to oneself, has the ability (possessed by some prayers) to heighten consciousness. Thomas brought to the English poem a new metrical lexicon.

I am not claiming anything like this for the present poem, but I hope there is a kind of adumbration, or shading-in, of this state, as though it were the state of the person in the poem.

The last verse is quite different. All is structurally simpler. Three of the four lines are end-stopped: there is internal half-rime seek/break and full end-rime heart/depart. Line three is an ambiguous repetition of line two: perhaps world and heart are reflections of the same image, so that one might read seek the world and the heart will break. All the lines have strong caesurae (or pauses) of ballad-like power:

Here, on the cusp | of freedom,
a day’s emotion | seeks the heart.
The world will break | before it is.
Here’s the moment | of depart.

These three verses, taken together, read aloud, allow a fusion of thought: an attempt is made to see beyond the constraints of language by use of a pattern, in the same way that ‘piano scales in contrary motion’ seem to allow a view into music which straight scales do not.

And, this being the end, it is as good a moment as any to depart.

 

poem

The well-drawn night within
the day

A poem about human existence in the world: after the idea of mortality is grasped in early childhood, all thought has, as music with a ground bass, an apprehension of shadow: and always a balancing apprehension that mortality is as unknown as the world. Perceptions tell little about either. The world is not deliberately riddling: far from it: our conscious attempts to make sense of it are pre-adapted to it by reason of the aptness of our countless ancestors.


Neither is the poem riddling. It is true that almost every line can be read ambiguously, and, as these ambiguities add up, so the possibilities multiply geometrically. But the world is, it seems, like that.

The first two lines introduce the thought:

----------The well-drawn night within the day
----------casts the shadow of untimely pause;

well-drawn is ambiguous; is the night of mortality, like water, drawn up from the cold deeps of a well? Or does well mean ‘well and truly’? Is the shadow of mortality inevitable? Or, again, does well mean appropriate, or pleasing, as in ‘well-tempered’? The phrase surely means all these things. Life would be insupportable without the intimation of mortality: with age comes some understanding of the temporary nature of the present world and the present self. Angels, who are said to have no understanding of mortality also are said to have no free-will. Are, then, the notions of mortality and free-will linked? This phrase seems to believe that they are. Of course, there might be some dark irony in the phrase well-drawn meaning ‘apt’.

Consider these words, by Richard Lovelace:


-----(To Althea)

-----Stone walls do not a prison make,
-----Nor iron bars a cage;
-----Minds innocent and quiet take
-----That for a hermitage.

These lines are examined in detail by William Empson in his masterpiece of criticism, Seven Types of Ambiguity. He is here evaluating the action of negatives on poetic meaning.

The paradox which is the subject of the first two lines is defined by the not in the first and the nor in the second. Empson points out that the obvious reading of ‘an innocent mind sees its confines not as a prison but as haven of solitude’ is incomplete; That, in the fourth line, strongly suggests that the prison is no potential structure but a real one, already built from the component walls and bars. This may be shown by substituting those for that, implying the same components capable of confining but not perhaps doing so. Read thus, much of the taut wit evaporates. It is clear that the minds innocent know they inhabit the noisy tumult of a prison, but feel themselves to be in a place of tranquil solitude. Perhaps, then, it is the will which imprisons: to the person happy in his captivity his sentence is viewed with equanimity. Empson sees this as a lofty but empty sentiment unless one considers the mood of the minds innocent; and their mood can be gauged by the word take in the third line. This word implies an active feeling – as though the minds innocent themselves have a hand in the construction of the cell which to themselves is a hermitage but to others a prison. There is, beyond this, a consideration of those confines of language which are necessary for the writing of poetry and without which the communication of meaning would be impossible: from the same potentially imprisoning components of language something of the nature of freedom can be expressed.

So it is with the intimation of mortality: it can be likened to a tenure on the gallows-trap, certainly: but it can also be regarded as the form in which the poem of the person is written.

----------The well-drawn night within the day
----------casts the shadow of untimely pause;

The word pause, in the second line, heightens this feeling. Whatever is understood by the word pause, it is not a direct and immediate termination. The meaning of pause is anticipatory; the word looks ahead to further life and movement. Indirectly, the word may indicate a termination; a pause entails duration, and in this duration capability and intention may change, be modified, change identity, or even die &tc, and so what begins as a pause may become a terminal lack of movement. The placing of the word pause suggests ‘to stop and to take stock’.

I could continue, pointing out the ambiguities as they appear to me, but this would be tedious. You don’t search for other (and crpytic) meanings consciously: they are perceived in a feeling and unconscious kind of way, rather as good music comes together in the mind: I hope that this poem has a life in it which works in this way. No: you don’t need to search for meanings consciously, but you do need an entry into any system of thought if it is to be meaningful.

well-drawn night] the unknown is well-and-truly pulled into the scene of the apparently known: night is like cold drawn well-water (and very welcome on a hot summer ’s day): the night of the unknown is a pleasing and appropriate thing in the day of the apparently known.

untimely] A play on the meanings too soon and timeless.

pause] a halt. After that, unknown. No luxury of any certain knowledge.

shadiness] shadowiness, uncertainty, with a play on untruthfulness: implying that the verb (to die, or possibly, to cast, as in casting a shadow) is not up to what it pretends.

monument] literally, a single stone standing alone, on a skyline. Taken as a memorial: here, uncertainty breaks the absolute nature of knowledge of the past.

ordered time] chronology

scroll] The window of time as it passes day by day.

sows no grasses on the naked hill] A number of unspoken allusions here, depending on how the two nouns are interpreted.

The well-thrown stones beneath the feet] Perceptions create a temporary personal, familial, or cultural world, and in it a path; what is outside is unknown. So the personal (or suprapersonal) path as a kind of balance.

orphaned] individually interpreted; a fragment, where the whole is lost.

ragged staff] a wanderer’s stick, or the leafy caduceus, emblem of, and held by, the green man of nature; also, darkly, the post to which a captive bear was chained, and on which the beast worked out its anger and frustration.

new-knit bones] tenets of thinking, liable to be broken by rough treatment.

(em)prick the neuter] Equip and make potent the uninterested and the unimpassionable.

uplifting modes of knowing from the rut] raising ways of thinking from either the muddy road-rut or from unconscious seasonal animality. But uplifting is ambiguous, depending on whether taken as a verb or an adjective.

Light the sky borne by the feeling head] Again, almost every word here has alternative senses. If sky borne is hyphenated, (sky-borne) the whole line resonates in a different way.

the wordless colloquy of selves / at last is singled] One might argue that conscious waking thought is not the monologue of a single self but the mixed speech of many selves or aspects of a self, ranging from quiet unspoken mutuality through orderly dialogue to tumult.
-----Once one has argued this, the idea of conscious waking thought as a monologue seems cultural rather than evidential: indeed, it does not seem to fit the evidence at all well: it seems stiff and even slightly comical and unbalanced, rather like the ‘rocking-horses’ of eighteenth-century hunt scenes. The painters of these genre-pieces must have seen the flexion of the horses’ legs but were unwilling to break with convention. Perhaps the depiction of near-instantaneity within a near-timeless medium would have struck them as being arbitrary. Which moment would one depict?
-----The strands of self are pulled together in the immediacy of coming mortality. There is nothing arbitrary about this moment. When I was a house physician I witnessed many deaths. I sensed a self gathering its modalities together at the approach of death: this was almost universal.

at last is single, and, ensingle, mute] The self, being single, (ensingle, enclosed by singularity) has no need of a dialogue, and speech and thought comes to an end.

Yet this is not preaching, for the couplet at the end of each verse looks ironically at the verse it ends, denying certain progress with gentle contradiction. The final couplet says, in effect,

--------------- ‘yes, this talk about the self falling mute in singleness is all very well—

----------Yet who, sortition-wise, denies his loins
----------to starve the day-mad master of his suns?

---------------—all right, there may be positive reasons for denying instinctive animality, but surely there are no negative ones.’

The qualifying clause is sortition-wise. Sortition implies a search by divination, usually through unrelated artifacts, natural phenomena, or the abstractions of number, though not through evidence, at least at a conscious level. Wise can mean skilled in sortition (and knowing by learnt experience what sortition can and cannot do), or, alternatively, predicting, proceeding, and acting on the basis of sortition. Most of what we do is worked out by a kind of sortition of which we are mostly unaware: one has to be sortition-wise to live in any kind of society and to move, comfortably, sortition-wise within it.

And the ground-bass of an intimation of mortality is a necessary accompaniment to this melodic intuition.

 



poem

The fragment of the idiom
of whole

An active meditation on words, as a reflection of consciousness.

Word, manciple of warring unknowns

Word brings to mind the idea of logos at the beginning of the book of John: one of a multitude of words (glory, dwelling-place, house) substituted for the name of the divinity, inostensibly to get away from the notion of an anthropomorphic deity.

Not so here. Word is here reduced to being the servant of unknown antagonistic masters: because unknown, the effect of their warring suzerainty can be seen only in the stresses seen in word.

The unusual noun manciple suggests that the unknown masters work in a kind of hierarchy, or, returning to earth, a pecking-order decided by strength of arm and desire. The duties of a manciple are, literally, to fetch that which is desired by hand.

One of word’s duties is to keep the due distinction between life and death, the present and the past.

barring wall between street and cemetery
house and the made ground of past.
And the abstraction of language

carries no weight.

-----
Language is said to be an abstraction (but one should perhaps look hard at commonly-used words: use is like the ebb and flow of water, and words such as abstraction can become as inscrutible as sea-worn pebbles) but it is by the abstraction of an order that word appears to do what it must. That is how it appears on the surface.

But a deeper reading might suggest something less harmful to the literal meaning of abstraction, and that is, the impossibility of drawing out useful conclusions about language by the use of language. Yet it seems that word is asked to do this.

 Nor a described sun
fall into night, no day complete
without the furfureal motes
within the long remembered ray,

the fragment of the idiom of whole:

Nor can a day recounted go to a particular evening: you wouldn’t guess from the history of the human activity of the morning what the colours of the sunset were like. They are inaccessible. Only islands of pasts can be told: but it is in the mind’s nature to conflate these islands into a whole, or – a telling word – sphere. In the making of the past (by the long remembered ray) the distribution of the particles of dust caught in the light of memory is seen, and recalled, but is not recountable: no logos, no word can be made of it.

The poem is incomplete.

The last line hangs as a penultimate, nothing following the two alternative dots of the colon instead of the single stop. This isn’t a trick. I wrote several last lines, and all broke the poem into a pulverum of words. The last, white, line is necessary.

manciple] servant of an institution: literally, hand-servant.
furfureal motes] bran-like particles in the ray of light. A visual allusion to funereal notes.
idiom] the form of speech peculiar to a group of people (OED); ultimately from the Gk particularity.

 


poem

Foramina

Foramina, cavities, caves, places of hiding, hollows where nerves and vessels run, conduits, places of resonance, inlets—

Here, a cave, hollow as a skull, makes the same resonance whatever sound is uttered. Reverberation, over and over, takes away the first quality of the sound and gives it its own timbre. Once, when caving in the Matienzo region of Spain, coming out of a vast labyrinthine cavern called Uzueka: not far from the entrance everyone in the party heard a powerful voice speaking with great distinctness— syllables, words and then sentences in a language we knew but could not quite understand: it was emphatically a human voice. It had the solemn nature of a voice heard in half-sleep. Arriving at the entrance we found a violent thunderstorm in progress. The cave had given its own unique timbre to the thunder: the thunder had ceased to be thunder and had become the mute cave’s voice.

Or a skull, whitened by the sun, part-buried in sand, whose empty cavernous vault turns the straining wind into sound, all the foramina where the vessels and the nerves ran making overtones in the desolate quality of the sound.

Or the skull of a living person contemplating the empty skull of a dead, held in the hand, the eyes within their sockets beholding the emptiness of the sockets into which they look; all the apprehensions of each sense in looking at the hollows running through the bone themselves running through the hollows in the bone. A short life.

Even in life all that is perceived is given the personal timbre of the perceiver’s nature.

Foramina] Anatomically, conduits where veins, arteries and nerves run through bone.
timbre] personal and individual quality, usually used of sound; here referring to any construction of the senses.
pillars] At the entrance to a temple: an allusion to the widespread idea of the mind as a divine temple. Also, a reference to the temples of the skull.
stars in their dark, arrangements lose their names] Much of the apparent organization of the cosmos is human categorization in an effort to fabricate order.
dark in life] The mind itself being invisible.
Dust speaks for dust] An allusion to two texts: ‘of dust art thou made and unto dust shalt thou return’ and ‘the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.’

 



poem

Seaside piano trio

The performance has finished. The instrumentalists have sounded their last note. The piece of music has been slow and perhaps emotional, for the bows of the string-players remain on the strings in the silence that follows the end. They have not yet been lifted.

We are present, then, at that moment. The applause has not yet come. All that is, is the turning of the earth, and this is unsensed. And then, at last, the applause comes: the tense suddenly shifts from the present to the past. And it seems, the applause will never die away, for part of its purpose is to drown the slow, sliding movement of the dark night-sea beneath the boards of the floor of the auditorium: we applaud to show that we are here. But ultimately this is a poem which speculates upon the nature of civilization (and how a civilization views itself) as much as a musical performance on the end of a pier.

But there remains something strange about the poem – and I am looking at it as though it were written by someone else – which is difficult to explain. The music is being played by four musicians. It is a chamber-piece, evidently slow and sad. Imagine the space which receives this small-scale, highly personal, melancholy music. It is a large draughty hall at the end of a creaking pier. The tide is rising and the water is ruffling against the cast-iron legs of the pier. The wind is rattling the auditorium door. This is the wrong venue for a classical chamber ensemble: people come to the seaside for fun, for an escape from factory-work and an existence whose point has been side-lined; they come (or came) to hear revues and concert-parties and to walk along the Golden Mile, at night, under the arc-lights.

So the audience for this small chamber-group is sparse. Perhaps only the readers of the poem are present at the pier-end moment when the music comes to an end.

hold the keys] piano keys; also, the keys (systems) for interpreting the world
bows] a thought towards the bows of the night sea-going ship making poor progress in a heavy sea
seemed] a dramatic change of tense. We thought we were still present at the end of the music. Yet it is in the past.
the long black shiver] as a noun, a sinister apprehension; as a verb, a breaking up. Black Shiver is the name of a high and lonely moor and a deep vertical pot-hole not far from Ingleton.
veneer, pier] there is a comic and self-deflating quality to the words which end each line in the couplet, and thus the whole poem. The adjacent sliding vowel-sounds, occupying one strong beat, give the impression, perhaps, of elision where there is none.

Influences: Archibald McLeish, T.S.Eliot (both slight). My poem about Meno’s servant, ‘When he had proved to them that knowledge was innate’

 

poem

The tally

A tally: a thin piece of pinewood used to record a transaction.

The sum paid is recorded by cutting grooves of varying character and depth into one face of the wood. Then the tally is split along that face. Each party retains half. The individual nature of the grain, as unique as a fingerprint, allows the two halves of a tally to be matched with certainty. The cleaving of the wood reveals an unrepeatable pattern borne of the repetitious cell-histories by which the wood was formed.

The poem directly uses this simple physical token in a metaphysical way. At the passing of every moment, at the closure of every event, a tally is split; part remains with the experiencer, as memory; part remains — where?

The first stanza looks at the split surface of the tally, as the two halves are held side by side. They are mirror-images, which, on being put together, are both hidden [ring on ring, noon on noon] as time is, before the event occurs, and after the event, when it is not actively in the memory. And yet our part of the tally – a memory – is more than a mere copy of the dark part of the tally: water is always flowing under the bridge, this in itself being a popular expression for the carrying away of events by the passing of time. No: it is only the surfaces of the two halves which tally. Behind each surface is a different ordering – which would not tally: once there was the possibility of the line of the cleft being in that plane; now, after the moment of cleaving, that is not possible; and so, here, in ourselves as well as in the other side of the event, are the events never now to be brought to light.

Only a serious contention would result in the two halves of the tally being brought together after its sundering: in the last two lines of the poem this contention is half-expected, half feared, and, too, half-denied. Contention implies force: the two halves brought together by coercion. Perhaps in this is the thought that some experiences are such that they work darkly, unadmitted to memory.

But, reviewing the poem as a whole – and it is an emotionally neutral poem – perhaps the the thought within these last lines is that contention should not arise. If this is so, perhaps the two halves of the tally have never really been separated. One considers the Vedic teaching that, at a deep level, experiencer, experienced, and the act of experience are inseparable. In this case, the tally’s line of cleaving would be seen, but the token would remain uncleaved: and, indeed, the title of the poem seems to imply this completeness.

The use of a physical metaphor in a poem is perhaps rare in this century. It was common amongst the metaphysical poets of the seventeenth century. One thinks of George Herbert’s poem, The Pulley.

I can’t think of any conscious influences. Perhaps The Pulley was at the back of the mind. Nothing modern. The poet seems to be aware of the dangers of incorporating physical contrivances boldly into a theory of thought-processes.

Tally] A split stick for recording a single event: not, as it has now become, a continuously updated account.

ring on ring, noon on noon] Annual rings of the tree’s past growth, year on year, which make the patterns in the wood; then, taking the metaphor further, noon divided into two noons, one held as a memory by the experiencer; the other kept elsewhere.

indenture] The groove or ‘bite’ on the face of the wood, cut in the language of the transaction.

mirror to the flood] An inversion of the fact of floodwater being itself a mirror.

water underneath the bridge] Past personal events, once important, now carried away.

Contention] the action of straining for; later, the point of an argument.

 

poem

‘Irony done to death’

Irony, a frame of mind which expresses the opposite of what it feels in its commentary on the perspective of what it sees, easily overdone, descending sharply from Socrates’ adoption of that formidable trap, an ostensibly innocent mind, through Kierkegaard’s taking of a thoughtful pseudonym (his name, Churchyard, translated by him as John of Silence), through dissimulation under an authoritarian regime where subtle irony may be the only freedom left, to a modern eulogy describing the work of an over-praised writer or artist. In that last, the word itself becomes meaningless, arbitrarily chosen from a second-rate critic’s stock, and as such is used to hide a lack of any meaning. The word ‘irony’ is emptied of meaning. So irony itself is done to death. How ironic. Death itself is, perhaps, an emptying of meaning, and therefore something of an irony. How very ironic.

Many of our everyday words have ironic undertones. If irony is dead, the undertaker should be called: a person whose skill is in organising the committal of the dead. The fusion of two ancient and direct words under and taker, the word undertaker is first associated with the committal of the dead at the end of the seventeenth century (OED). As with many of those evasive words we call euphemisms, so with undertaker; unless you knew that the word undertaker implied a man who undertook the preparation of a dead body for burial, you would not have guessed it. But perhaps the word is not quite the euphemism it appears. Perhaps untimely death was so common and so much in the forefront of daily events that the word undertaker ceased to have other meanings. Our ancestors were open about death. In my grandmother’s village there lived a woman whose occupation was the laying out of the dead [washing the body, plugging its orifices, setting straight its back and limbs and head, on a flat board, before death-stiffness had set in.] She was called the laying-out woman and she arrived at the house carrying the long board which was the principal tool of her trade. She was sent for immediately after the family had witnessed the gathering and the departure of the soul at the moment of death. No genteel use of words here. So it seems that the word undertaker is not a genteel stand-in. Rather, perhaps, irony itself has taken a hand in the matter: the word undertaker simply means someone who takes under [into the tomb, under the earth]. Directness here is half-conscious: only the expression of gentility is apparent.

Yet the sun still shines on the tomb, ‘the falling place’, and holds the echo of the voice of whoever looks on. The epitaph wears away with time, the ends and flourishes of the letters (and, metaphorically, the details or niceties of meaning) being the first to go. Then the language of the epitaph itself, and with it, history and meaning itself.

In the end days make the final unsaid comment, truthful and innocent – truly innocent, and therefore lacking irony – which is something that words, when spoken to communicate meaning, have no power to do. Behind the affected ironic innocence stands true innocence, that very state where it is not possible for irony to stand.

done to death] Losing its point
room] Latitude, as well as place
serifs] The extended ends of letters, more shallowly engraved, and the first to be weathered, leaving meaning still readable.
own, disown] take up and then release, as days do with fashions and ideas.

I know of no conscious influences.

 

poem

He cannot be born

In his birth he displaces a world. The world he does not know cannot be overlain upon the world which he does. His own experiences are alone truly real. That which went before him, if it is not part of him, has vanished as though it had never been.

This aspect of childhood is astonishing, and adults are shy of thinking of it, perhaps from embarrassment. This point where all perspectives meet is, after all, the place where the everyday conventions of the household gods are modelled, and even in these substitutions they are held dear.

However, this poem reverses the convention: the subject and the object of coming into a world, learning about it, and living in it are here looked at from the point of view of a third person, the speaker, who has outgrown the idea of self as centre, and who has perhaps outgrown the idea of self as a reality: yet, for all this, finds the memories of a vanished world strange and poignant. This is the point of view of a poetic eye when it regards the evanescent.

Very specific times of day and momentary aspects of place occur in the poem, and specific events find an allusion. They are recalled as they come to mind; until the last four lines the poem is rough and its structure is ungrammatical and syntactically strange, its simple metrical shape half-hidden, as though unconscious. The trains of recall are of things which occurred, were seen, remembered and recalled by someone who now no longer lives: they are beyond the ascribing of a tense. In a birth, as T. S. Eliot says, there is a kind of death: our death.

The poem is not as obscure as it looks. The last four lines contain an exegesis of the whole. No more need be said.

I can’t think of any conscious influences.

 

poem

Room in a city

A meditative poem about the nature and location of sentience, these five verses and final couplet explore the uncanny world of a scene which seems familiar even at a first encounter. We have all experienced this, and call it deja vu, and dismiss it as a temporary perceptual anomaly. Here, however, the uncanny monad of the unknown and the familiar is accepted: it is the notion of an assumed linear time-structure which is questioned.

The poem starts with the assertion that the poet’s mind is not really personal to himself. Nor is anyone else’s. Nor is the past, even one’s own past. Nor is the observed present: sense data (phenomena) are not trustworthy. Only then do we have an example of evidence for this: the sight of a room in a city never seen before but known. Deja vu is brought in as evidence to support the assertion: the assertion does not follow from the experience of deja vu.

The poem becomes moody, spectral. Phenomena hang, unsupported, as windows apparently do in a city night: we take the dark walls for granted. We are not asked to accept the suggestion that the mind does not work through time in a linear or personal fashion, but we are asked to consider the possibility that it does not, and to ask: how does time impinge upon the mind? Maybe there are many ways of looking at the strange phenomenon of change (which is perhaps a more fundamental idea than that of time); and maybe the world’s drawn up, / laid out, anatomized in ways where each / excludes the rest. And that which hangs unsupported in the mind hides and conceals an alternative past, just as the notion of linear time allows the assumption of alternative futures.

The presentation of the poem on the page is strange. At first glance it looks metrical, regular, even Augustan: the lines are physically much the same length and the obvious caesurae seem central. On reading aloud the poem is seen to be highly irregular; the line-length and versification have no real point. The only things that keep the thing together are the metaphysical assertions and the susurration of half-heard (and sometimes inverted) internal rime.

If you have the feeling that the poet disbelieves in a primary physiological basis for consciousness, you are right.

Room] Space, latitude, as well as a chamber
City] Community of thought as well as a metropolis
A fragment] Literally, ‘a bit broken off’, here from the plenum of time. Perhaps the poem itself is a fragment ‘broken off’ from the community of thought
common myth] generally accepted account. Not derogatory in the least; merely unprovable.
time like water flows and bears events] but, when you think about it, although poetry is full of allusions to time as a river, water behaves in a way quite unlike time as told by a timepiece, unless channelled in a specific way, as in a constant-head clepsydra, or water-clock, such as was used to apportion the time to be beaten out throughout the dead expanse of night from the Drum Towers of imperial Chinese cities: a proclamation of psychological certainty to those lying awake but untroubled by their sleeplessness.

Influences: George Berkeley, William Empson, Philip Larkin, and, visually, Alfred Hitchcock.

 



poem

Quality without name

I have to stand outside myself to look within; the poem was written two days ago; it’s unfinished, and I am still very close to it. Perhaps it might be possible to lift out a paraphrasing poem in the same spirit, the two poems standing together, one providing a commentary on the other. I’ll try, now.

This Night

This night an emotion floods in
so strongly that I know another’s presence
although I am alone.
I don’t want to give a name to what I feel:
a name would conceal, and, besides, an emotion
wouldn’t carry the weight of a name.

So, feelingly, where are you leading me?
Through the solid walls of time?
Up the tower of thought, floor by floor,
until we stand together on its roof beneath the stars?


I am not dreaming.
Sometimes I feel that I’m an emotion,
all else the convention of a name:
sometimes I sense that I’m the distant presence here.

 

poem

Around the graves

This continues the meditation upon the nature of what it is to be a person: one might consider the poetic I, so elusive and so illiteral, here seen as responsible for bringing days to being but never finishing them (leaving them unsigned, as though they were works of art) until living memory is no more. The mind is the place of unfinished time; it is where making and finding take place. Even recollections are adjusted. Complete and perfect time cannot perhaps be brought to mind.

When death comes, the world remains, for sure, the apparently flat circle of the moon understudying the soul’s sphere: the grave’s shadow moves with the moon’s motion. And the animal world remains, too, here in the hare at the skyline at the brow of the stubble-field, motionless, catching the poet’s unfamiliar scent.

And the night is unremembered: it is finished, complete, incapable of being brought to mind. Yet it is here that the next day, the next life, is determined.


unsigned] unfinished. And the maker’s form is perhaps unfinished, too.
entity] one of those words you take for granted; from esse, to be.
a mirrored gate] a reflection of a gate, through which reflections of entities come and go. cf. Plato’s parable of the cave.
orbéd soul] consciously (and somewhat wryly) referring to the dimensioned but simple soul of Scholastic theology.
tomb of angle] fall of measurement, range, limit.
moondial] night’s humorous metamorphosis of a sundial.
hare] the animal associated with both the nocturnal moon; fleet, nervous, unpredictable.
in this unremembered night a day’s assigned] the primordium of day begins here, below thought’s threshold.

 

 

 


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