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
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…