DobrodoĆĄli u Hrvatsku

The wind in my wheels has brought me to Croatia for the first time, and after only a few hours I’m hoping it won’t be the last. I’ve heard “DobrodoĆĄli u Hrvatsku” – “Welcome to Croatia” more times than I can count, and what I’ve seen of the Istrian peninsula and of the ancient city of Poreč thus far is unimaginably beautiful. Warm and friendly people, fabulous ice cream wherever one turns, and the good fortune of having unknowingly walked into a four day Mediterranean Folk Festival (YouTube) – Zlatna Sopela. Talk about pinching oneself!

Moji Sni

Čudili se, ơto joơ hrvatski znadem, premda sam već toliko godina od kuće. — Pa kako to, da nisi zaboravio?

— A kako bili?! Ako i ne govorim hrvatski, to ipak hrvatski snivam, — a snivam vrlo testo …

Bog zna, hoće li se ti moji hrvatski sni ikad obistiniti!?

My dreams

They were surprised that I still know Croatian though now so many years absent from my native land. — How is it that you didn’t forget?

— How could I? Though I don’t converse in Croatian, yet I dream in Croatian, — and I dream very often …

God knows whether these Croatian dreams will ever become reality.

Fran MaĆŸuranić
1859-1928

Booked

Your reflection seen in one lake will not be the same as that seen in another.

A friend dismisses poetry with tell-tale anger in the wave. She doesn’t understand it, she says. Too much effort. But that’s good I say. What we think we understand too often gets us into trouble.

I want facts, she says. Short, sharp facts. Dangerous, I say. Weapons of mass destruction – certainty’s flaming torches, incendiary speeches, guns. Booked.

Your reflection seen in one lake will not be the same as that seen in another.

All of life continues to evolve throughout the universe. Yesterday’s humanly understood facts inexorably give way to today’s. Vociferously literal understanding, then, of anything, sacred or secular, bible, deity, principalities or rule book, is dangerous. And the dismissive wave can be deadly.

Poetry affords space for contemplation and necessary fluidity – for gladly acknowledged provisionality, and ever changing reflections in the lake.

Don’t

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don’t go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep.

Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi

How much of life is wasted sleepwalking through it? How easily are we persuaded to give up on life and go back to the sleep of unconsciousness?

Get a grip, says Rumi. Shift yourself. Don’t be idle. Ask for your heart’s desire. You are on the very threshold of life – but you must stay awake and live the real thing.

The worlds of lack and of life touch one another. It is not even that we need to build a bridge between the two. When we are fully conscious, lack proceeds miraculously into Life. Dawning secrets.

Inviting the quiet

Listening

My father could hear a little animal step,
or a moth in the dark against the screen,
and every far sound called the listening out
into places where the rest of us had never been.

More spoke to him from the soft wild night
than came to our porch for us on the wind;
we would watch him look up and his face go keen
till the walls of the world flared, widened.

My father heard so much that we still stand
inviting the quiet by turning the face,
waiting for a time when something in the night
will touch us too from that other place.

William Stafford
The Way It Is, New and Selected Poems

Wind in my wheels on today’s ride was welcomed quietness. William Stafford’s Listening is one of my very favourite poems. It speaks to me of lives forever touched for good by the gift of attentive contemplation. “Every far sound called the listening out …”

My longing for the human family tonight is that all of us might learn a tad more gentle reticence, and come to be touched, in the ensuing life-giving hush, “from that other place …”

Stranger-worlds melding

Poetry is a life-cherishing force. For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry.

Mary Oliver
A Poetry Handbook

Small studio theatre tonight. Excuse me. Thank you. Excuse me. Sorry. Good evening. Excuse me. Thank you. Sorry, me again. Thank you. You know the kind of tired tension always present in a chattering audience arriving, finding its way to the seats – and the lack of connection between people come from none of us knows where? Of course you do. We all do it and think it, too. From the busy car park to the clambered-into chair. What are you lot doing here? As though we weren’t expecting other-goers.

Then lights down. Books. Small table. Chair. One man. One woman. Anthology. Brusque meets beauty. Poetry. Conversation. Conflagration. Connection. And suddenly everyone in the entire crotchety assembly seems to allow and to forgive and to know each other, for this little while at least. Intense, involved and involving. Earlier distractedness fading. The arts. Stranger-worlds melding into this new world before the ice cream and then again, more powerfully, for the next little while thereafter.

Poetry’s prophecy. Vivifying. Warming. Securing. Nourishing. Vital. In every soul’s small and demanding studio theatre.

I see …

My elder granddaughter waves her fairy-wand, and sometimes magic happens. My grandson runs to bring a book, eager to tell me of worlds between its covers. And my youngest granddaughter delights in a colourful child’s play tent, where there are corners to look around, and windows, and (an open) door. Each reveals something of inner and outer life. The little ones seem to strike the balance just about right – and to know, somehow, that we all need to live some of our time in the one world the better to live in the other.

Yes. I see.

A Lesson and a Lake

A line from Mr Holmes earlier this week has echoed in me. A universal word, from a wronged mother who has just received an apology from her young son:

“Lesson there then for you. Don’t always speak what you think.”

Good counsel hereunder is less concise, but echoes catholic ecology for heart and soul and mind and body too:

The Lake of Beauty

Let your mind be quiet, realising the beauty of the world, and
the immense the boundless treasures that it holds in store.

All that you have within you, all that your heart desires, all
that your Nature so specially fits you for – that or the
counterpart of it waits embedded in the great Whole, for
you. It will surely come to you.

Yet equally surely not one moment before its appointed time
will it come. All your crying and fever and reaching out of
hands will make no difference.

Therefore do not begin that game at all.

Do not recklessly spill the waters of your mind in this direction
and in that, lest you become like a spring lost and dissipated
in the desert.

But draw them together into a little compass, and hold them
still, so still;

And let them become clear, so clear – so limpid, so mirror-like;
At last the mountains and the sky shall glass themselves in
peaceful beauty,

And the antelope shall descend to drink, and to gaze at his
reflected image, and the lion to quench his thirst,

And Love himself shall come and bend over, and catch his
own likeness in you.

Edward Carpenter

Poetry rising

Emerging

Not as in the old days I pray,
God. My life is not what it was.
Yours, too, accepts the presence of
the machine? Once I would have asked
healing. I go now to be doctored,
to drink sinlessly of the blood
of my brother, to lend my flesh
as manuscript of the great poem
of the scalpel. I would have knelt
long, wrestling with you, wearing
you down. Hear my prayer, Lord,
hear my prayer. As though you were deaf, myriads
of mortals have kept up their shrill
cry, explaining your silence
by their unfitness.

It begins to appear
that this is not what prayer is about.
It is the annihilation of difference,
the consciousness of myself in you,
of you in me; the emerging
from the adolescence of nature
into the adult geometry
of the mind. I begin to recognise
you anew, God of form and number.
There are questions we are the solution
to, others whose echoes we must expand
to contain. Circular as our way
is, it leads not back to that snake-haunted
garden, but onward to the tall city
of glass that is the laboratory of the spirit.

R S Thomas (link)
Laboratories of the spirit, 1975

It is not that I choose, or have ever consciously chosen poetry as a base from which to contemplate. It is rather more that poetry chooses me – that, whilst aware of a thousand reflections upon the surface of a great lake, they are gently directed and prioritised by the rising up from the depths of some particular poem – which then affords focus and a measure of precision.

I read Rudyard Kipling’s “If”, for example, when my father gave me a framed copy of the poem when I was seven years old. It really rose to the surface for me only many years later, and keeps bobbing up, unsolicited, like whispered words from (both) parents to child.

One of my daughters wrote me a note today about thoughts having to queue up to be thought about. That is just exactly how it has always been for me. Perhaps for my Dad, for Rudyard Kipling, for R S Thomas, perhaps for all of us. Emerging.

Cycling the circle we come to recognise that its circumference is beyond our every capacity to measure. Though we return, from time to time, to “that snake-haunted garden” we are only passing through. We have not yet come Full-Circle. It is only that we are all engaged in little cycling, little circling, thoughts queueing.

What really blows the wind in my wheels is that wider gyre that, when all is eventually said and done, I must address – if any address at all is needed – as R S Thomas’s “annihilation of difference”; not a machine, but the ultimate precision – poetry risen and rising from the deep. The laboratory of the spirit. Home. God.

Not as in the old days I pray…

Mr Holmes

Were I able to shut
my eyes, ears, legs, hands
and walk into myself
for a thousand years,
perhaps I would reach
– I do not know its name –
what matters most.

Anna Swir
To that which is most important
Talking to my body

I am reflecting upon having been much moved by Sir Ian McKellen’s Mr Holmes earlier this evening. The world renowned actor has recently said that he is finding it increasingly difficult to remember his lines. But his magisterial presence is about so very much more than well delivered words. McKellen’s charisma is, I think, profoundly empathetic, possessed of heart and soul that deeply knows and understands something of the harsher realities and uninvited vicissitudes of the human condition. Sir Ian would grace stage or screen were he never again to speak a word thereon. He is, even wordlessly, in his own person, graced.

Imperceptible

Walls

Without consideration, without pity, without shame they have built great and high walls around me.

And now I sit here and despair. I think of nothing else: this fate gnaws at my mind; for I had many things to do outside.

Ah why did I not pay attention when they were building the walls.

But I never heard any noise or sound of builders. Imperceptibly they shut me from the outside world.

C P Cavafy
The Collected Poems: with parallel Greek text, page 13

Who are they? The builders of walls – without consideration, shame or pity? Who are they? Noiseless and imperceptible. Perhaps “they” don’t exist at all. Perhaps we ourselves are solely responsible – allowing what “gnaws at my mind” – having forgotten life’s invitation to daily contemplation and reflection.

The poets have striven to teach us the depths of the inner life since time immemorial. We write them off as dreamers, esoteric, or impenetrable, when, in reality, it has been we ourselves that cannot be reached. And sometimes we have worshipped the poets and the prophets as of the highest and the best – never hearing their call to recognise the highest and the best within ourselves.

I never heard any noise or sound – too busy, terribly important, and quite, quite lost – building I know not quite what.

Where the pot’s not

The uses of not

Thirty spokes
meet in the hub.
Where the wheel isn’t
is where it’s useful.

Hollowed out,
clay makes a pot.
Where the pot’s not
is where it’s useful.

Cut doors and windows
to make a room.
Where the room isn’t,
there’s room for you.

So the profit in what is
is in the use of what isn’t.

Lao Tzu

Ecology, economics, gender, politics, poverty, religion, sexuality. Walls keep getting in the way. So, wearily, we return to same old, same old, same old. Cycling round the same old certainties. And the pot’s become more important than the life it’s made to contain.

In the melting pot of our early 21st century societal debate it strikes me as absolutely true that

Where the pot’s not is where it’s useful. 

When and where we’re hollowed out we learn to hold water.

I think he did

Fluent

I would love to live
Like a river flows,
Carried by the surprise
Of its own unfolding.

John O’Donohue
Conamara Blues

Me too. I think he did, and I think he was, and probably still is.

I’ve just been gazing upon a photograph of my elderly father beaming upon my smiling infant granddaughter. Perichoresis.

I think they do, and I think they both are, too.

Listening

…All those years
forgetting
how easily
you can belong
to everything
simply by listening.

David Whyte
from ‘The Winter of Listening’
The House of Belonging

Poetry often springs into our minds and hearts one remembered line at a time, perhaps because sometimes one line at a time is absolutely enough – the poetry in and of both life and literature is not to be rushed.

And so it was for this grandfather today, chuckling and singing and holding on tight to our wriggling eight months old adventurer. Her blue eyes are steady and she watches intently, and oh how she listens. Oh how she listens.

Yes.

…All those years forgetting how easily you can belong to everything simply by listening.

A line at a time.

Soon

Lingering in happiness

After rain after many days without rain,
it stays cool, private and cleansed, under the trees,
and the dampness there, married now to gravity,
falls branch to branch, leaf to leaf, down to the ground
where it will disappear — but not, of course, vanish
except to our eyes. The roots of the oaks will have their share,
and the white threads of the grasses, and the cushion of moss;
a few drops, round as pearls, will enter the mole’s tunnel;
and soon so many small stones, buried for a thousand years,
will feel themselves being touched.

Mary Oliver
Why I wake early, page 71

Mary Oliver’s powers of observation are so keen that she, more readily perhaps than most, recognises the hidden universe of the unseen.

What marvellous grace and poise affords such profound contemplation of individual rain drops and their passage from rain cloud to oak root and on to mole tunnel and long dry pebbles?

In such a stillness, cool or dark or dry, one may anticipate vivifying touch. Soon.

Practice

Allow

There is no controlling life.
Try corralling a lightning bolt,
containing a tornado. Dam a
stream and it will create a new
channel. Resist, and the tide
will sweep you off your feet.
Allow, and grace will carry
you to higher ground. The only
safety lies in letting it all in –
the wild and the weak; fear,
fantasies, failures and success.
When loss rips off the doors of
the heart, or sadness veils your
vision with despair, practice
becomes simply bearing the truth.
In the choice to let go of your
known way of being, the whole
world is revealed to your new eyes.

Danna Faulds
Go In and In: Poems from the Heart of Yoga

What a different world we’d live in if we all grasped the truth that life cannot be controlled – sooner rather than later.

Life is experienced by each and all in cycles as ephemeral as the wind, blowing where it wills, coming and going.

Contemplation, meditation, prayer and reflection assist us in the process of allowing – “practice becomes simply bearing the truth.”

And the wise turn to “practice” as soon as they learn that resistance to life is futile – and in that turning are graced – gifted – with an entirely new way of seeing, and being. Allow.