There is an island there is no going
to but in a small boat the way
the saints went, travelling the gallery
of the frightened faces of
the long-drowned, munching the gravel
of its beaches. So I have gone
up the salt lane to the building
with the stone altar and the candles
gone out, and kneeled and lifted
my eyes to the furious gargoyle
of the owl that is like a god
gone small and resentful. There
is no body in the stained window
of the sky now. Am I too late?
Were they too late also, those
first pilgrims? He is such a fast
God, always before us and
leaving as we arrive.
There are those here
not given to prayer, whose office
is the blank sea that they say daily.
What they listen to is not
hymns but the slow chemistry of the soil
that turns saints’ bones to dust,
dust to an irritant of the nostril.

There is no time on this island.
The swinging pendulum of the tide
has no clock: the events
are dateless. These people are not
late or soon: they are just
here with only the one question
to ask, which life answers
by being in them. It is I
who ask. Was the pilgrimage
I made to come to my own
self, to learn that in times
like these and for one like me
God will never be plain and
out there, but dark rather and
inexplicable, as though he were in here?

R S Thomas (link)

On finding your joy

The swirl of a Mr Whippy 99 and the inviting sweep of the cliffs contrasted roundly with the dry square pointedness of my primary school classroom. 

Padding along cliff paths, humming the tunes a handsome chap from the beach mission played on a glorious accordion, I was aware, even at five, that I learned more readily, lived more fully, when my own imagination was afforded space and acres of time in which to fly free, to be on pilgrimage, to wonder – or as students  of Zen have long noted, simply, NOW, to BE.

The roar of cascading waves was for me so much less jarring than the stern calls to attend to multiplication tables, or incomprehensible, ill-experienced ‘comprehension’. The throwing of sticks for deliriously happy dogs – spaniel ears flying in the wind – was altogether more fulfilling than the jolt of the schoolmaster’s cane cracking the old mahogany desk – bouncing inkwells – or the chalky calves of his dark pin-striped three-piece suit.

Rock pools and small fishing boats taught me most about oxygen and marine life, hard work and skill, navigation and perseverance. The ancient church (in my case) at Pistyll, with its straw-strewn floor, spoke to me silently of the music of incomprehension, of all that may not be wholly apprehended, and of the bardic pilgrims who had come and gone before.

Colourful kites were my professors of aerodynamics. The aforementioned accordion my teacher of poetry, soundwaves, wind and joy.


St Hywyn Aberdaron, Lleyn Peninsula – where R S Thomas was parish priest


When Boston was Venice

a c goodwin | boston harbour i

click painting for details

Each of us was handed a calendar page at the writing group meeting the other day. ‘Look at yours for two minutes,’ was the instruction, ‘and then write whatever comes into your head.’ So I looked – and could see and hear the sights and sounds of sunny Venice – and the writing that flowed is hereunder.

But I was fascinated by the origins of the unsigned work – and that led me, wonder of wonders, to Google’s extraordinary reverse image search which involved a quick iPad snap of the page, uploading that to the site, and hey presto, turns out that this fine work (dated around 1915) is by American artist Arthur Clifton Goodwin (click for Pinterest page), 1864-1929, and is of T wharf in Boston Harbour, not Venice! Art transcends mere geographical boundaries! And yes, there’s another parable in there somewhere. Anyway, here’s what came out of the quick exercise, unedited, penned in about 5 minutes …

Brushmarks for Venezia

The Saturday boy at the
poshest café in Venice
sweeps the autumn leaves
into a corner of St Mark’s Square

Morning mist, now largely
dispersed, still hangs present
enough to filter the spectrum
over the Grand Canal upon which
gondoliers and industrial
boatmen and awestruck
travellers jostle and call

Thea is enthralled and in love –
already writing of romance
beneath the Doge’s Palace in her
heart and head –

‘Io parlo l’italiano molto bene!’

– and Julian aspires to
owning a gondolier’s hat
and marrying Thea at the
earliest opportunity

and returning here in
September and October
for the rest of their days



Winter, spring, summer or fall


What if the man could see Beauty Itself, pure, unalloyed, stripped of mortality and all its pollution, stains, and vanities, unchanging, divine … the man becoming, in that communion, the friend of God, himself immortal; … would that be a life to disregard?


Last Wednesday’s snow photographs were to be followed later in the day by some thoughts about the ever-changing scenes ‘on opening curtains’. But those same ever-changing scenes took over, as they often do, and our feet have hardly touched the ground since. Visitors, rich conversations, another family funeral later this week, and so on … it’s like that for all of us.

But this evening there’s time to reflect with wonder upon snow less than a week ago – and streams of sunshine through our windows today. And the response of daffodil buds on the desk to photosynthesis. Cold last week. Warm as toast today. That kaleidoscope I was talking about last Tuesday is a living, breathing reality. Life is always and everywhere ‘on the move’ – and always quietly turning its face to the light.

I think I’d been intending to muse further on ways in which perspectives draw us to different conclusions and life experiences. I can’t exactly remember, of course, what I’d meant to write then. Thoughts are fleeting. The impulses of the mind come and go. That fact, too, is something to be celebrated – and breathed.

As night follows day I’m growing and changing immeasurably, through conversations, deep silences, listening, observation, unknowing and – to give them a further mention – the joie de vivre of three woodpeckers who share this neck of the woods with us.

Many’s the time I see Beauty Itself.



click image to enlarge

Here’s a photo of my study made earlier today, the sun streaming through the windows, shortly after a snowfall – seen through a kaleidoscopic lens filter – the multi-perspective possibilities through which are infinite. What immense depth lies just beyond what we usually ‘see’. What wonderment, praise and awe are forthcoming when I still myself – even if only very briefly each day – to meditate upon the intricate extra-ordinariness of our life and experience in this world, and the universe in which it spins. I love it. Plain sight, or kaleidoscopic art and reach, this is quite a place to be!

From dust

Screenshot 2017-03-15 19.37.10

click images to enlarge

It was warm and we were ambling. Glorious cloud formations floated in the blue dome above us and I suppose I must have been waxing lyrical a bit! ‘Where does your imagination come from?’ my friend asked. ‘From dust,’ I replied immediately. ‘Or, to be more precise, from dust flecks in my eyes.’

Everyone’s experienced them. Perhaps lying in sunshine, on a freshly mown lawn in August. I didn’t know then, as a very small boy, about the Hebrew vision of Creation formed out of dust. But, in company with summer daydreamers all over the world, I could see – behind closed eyelids – little floating flecks of dust (or whatever it is that floats there) and thus began the habit of a lifetime: ‘watching’ a Creator’s playtimes. The beginnings of meditation, one might say. Knowing with a faith-full certainty that there are colours and causes, glories and great wonders, lights and shades of darkness, silences and sounds, warmth and coolness, profound music and mysteries, that are already ‘accessible’ to us long before we complicate our lives by straining (or training!) to see, or hear, or smell, or touch, or taste.

And in that garden ‘knowing’ I learned that faith is about something deeper and greater than humankind could possibly draw ultimate boundaries around. So, for me, our philosophical, political and religious convulsions, and our loves and hates – important though they be – are situated in a space much larger and freer than we usually inhabit.

And here, and there, in the poetry of eternal creativity, I anticipate, I imagine, and whether my eyes are closed or open, for me and for all of us, I hope. Today’s flecks of dust – ourselves and all created things – will be reshaped for the joy of creation.

Screenshot 2017-03-15 19.38.05Screenshot 2017-03-15 19.38.50Screenshot 2017-03-15 19.39.33Screenshot 2017-03-15 19.40.46Screenshot 2017-03-15 19.41.53Screenshot 2017-03-15 19.42.34Screenshot 2017-03-15 19.43.21Screenshot 2017-03-15 20.05.48Screenshot 2017-03-15 20.06.15Screenshot 2017-03-15 20.06.43Screenshot 2017-03-15 20.06.58Screenshot 2017-03-15 20.07.27Screenshot 2017-03-15 20.07.45Screenshot 2017-03-15 20.08.08Screenshot 2017-03-15 20.09.03


creation's iridescence

Neither hot nor cold but perfectly
temperate – we watch and celebrate
her waving and turning, singing and
smiling, echoing and flying, through
and around and above and beneath
iridescent infinities quite
beyond prior experience or
any ability even to
begin to comprehend, let alone
give voice to. The old words don’t fit. Here
flowers are like flowers but are not –
and some figures are like lambs or lions
but only for less than might once have
been called a second before all time
telling became redundant. And stars
and galaxies explode into view but
don’t appear to grasp or occupy
more space than seems appropriate or
perfect design. A wave, a smile, an
echo, flight through, around, above and
beneath. Neither division, hunger
or thirst, wearyness or waiting but
one exquisite union, one perfect
creating – every thought and atom
redeemed and sustained by the cosmic
dance processing paradise – yearning
for which makes life on earth cry out and
reach for her song, smile, flight and echo


A little bit of Rilke

Eileen, a fellow writer and a new friend, mentioned Rainer Maria Rilke’s glorious circling leitmotif in one of her shared pieces at our writers’ group yesterday. Some of us were reminded (and moved to be reminded) of the Benedictine Brother David Steindl-Rast’s exquisitely expressive rendition – all the more glorious because of David’s profound understanding of the universality of The Great Song – the circling that embraces all of us, and everything.


Photo at Pixabay

for MWG

First word she’d scratched on slate. Shaping her days and dreams, she loved sound, colour and stone better than her name. ‘Yes love – our Cornish sea be turquoise.’

Daddy held Anna’s hand tightly on clifftop walks. Her enthusiasm made her careless, he said. ‘So does yours,’ she told him, at his funeral, on her fifth birthday. ‘You an’ Sharkey an’ your stupid fishin’ in the turquoise in the storm.’

Years later, Sharkey’s lad proposed. ‘Nah,’ she said. But then she saw his ring.

T-u-r-q-u-o …

What calms and settles …


Today we’ve enjoyed the company of a friend who sought a day’s peace and quiet. ‘Just a little bit of stillness.’ And I knew just the place, close by, to find some stillness – the kind that facilitates the quietest sort of conversation, unrushed, with plenty of silence between words and sentences (if we don’t count the racket created by three hugely enthusiastic woodpeckers!)

So we headed uphill. On foot. The drystone wall pictured here was chief among the features of the landscape that my friend alighted upon quickly. This landscape helps people breathe life deep. And I recalled a poem I penned, on a similar walk, in the autumn of last year. A friend’s quiet seeking led me too, once again, into ‘a little bit of stillness’.

What of vast realities do I see,
gazing on lake and fell and drystone wall?
What do I hear here, deep in my soul in
this present, and my soul’s memory hall?

What calms and settles my undue haste and
whence the touch, smell and taste on the breeze?
What in wide and expansive openness
places me thankfully, deeply at ease?

What about this being here restores me
to an ancient and forgotten knowing?
Here in high magnificence I now breathe
life deep and am both come and going.




I absolutely know that Hidden Figures is going to be a treat tomorrow evening – though I’ve avidly watched every trailer available so I’m not sure how much film I’ve yet to see.

NASA’s early ‘Space Race’ successes depended heavily upon the extraordinary mathematical skills of one – segregated – woman. It’s a story that absolutely needs to be heard by every human person on planet earth today. Katherine Coleman Goble Johnson’s ‘working on your trajectories’ makes for one of the ultimate parables.

Taking a demolition hammer to each and every wall and sign that divides human beings – physical or metaphorical, religious, philosophical or political, clears the way for a better, brighter future. The passing of shibboleths once held to be absolute truth (no matter what they are) gives way to discoveries and achievements presently beyond the imaginings of most – but, as Katherine and her friends showed the world, not all …

Clear sky and silence

northern-lights-1149868_960_720Photo at Pixabay

I took my after-dinner amble beneath a clear sky this evening. I regularly walk a short stretch of road, sandwiched between two high drystone walls, that’s so dark at night I’m always mildly fearful, and my pace quickens.

But there’s sight, tonight, of a new crescent moon. And there’ll be another frost, so Clematis Rebecca has been tucked up in her fleece. And those two facts may help you to picture the night sky, the sharp, twinkling clarity I’ve just seen, above the dark corridor. And maybe you have experienced the absence of aforementioned mild fear that is a ready – even if temporary – consequence of awe?

Life is rich beyond all our imagining. When our vain fears and fantasies chatter daily, like monkeys, within the halls and chambers of our minds, the Universe provides the gift of a quietening, a stilling, an acceptance of both knowing and unknowing, faith and the absence of it, confidence and a tempter’s call to doubt.

I think of one (and many before him, and since) who ventured out into a dark corridor of wilderness long ago. And of his mental busyness being silenced, then, by the same stars that have silenced me tonight. And I imagine his being sometimes comforted, in his long sojourn there, by both awe and silence. And I am.