img_4901 Photo at Pixabay

After teachingI am only beginning to know what I was taught
As a child about poetry, about life, about myself;
It takes a long time for words to become thought,
For thought, the slow burner, to burn through
Into life where it can scorch the palm of a hand,
When what was merely beautiful or strange
Suffers the metamorphosis, the blood-change,
Looks out of eyes or walks down the street,
All that was abstract become concrete,
Is part of you like an eyelash or your hair;
You say “Poetry” and mean you have been there.

You are just beginning to understand
What it is all about, the imaginary land,
Say, “I can’t possibly describe the weather.
It’s as if the sky burned, was all on fire,
Ecstasy that makes ash of bodily desire —
But all I have to show is a stone and a blue feather.”

My children, you with whom I have learned so much,
Do not turn back to these hours; go forward,
Look to the fertile days and years ahead
When all that meaning and its implication,
The full tone and the half-tone and the whisper
Will sound together and keep the mind awake,
As after hearing a difficult quartet
The theme comes clear and you listen again

Long after you had thought you heard;
So it is with the deep thought, the deep word.
Now we are able only to graph the flight;
For we never actually rose from the ground,
Imagine a moment when student and teacher
(Long after the day and the lesson are over)
Will soar together to the pure immortal air
And find Yeats, Hopkins, Eliot waiting there.

But you understand, it cannot happen yet.
It takes a long time to live what you learn:
I believe we shall meet again and show each other
These curious marvels, the stone and the blue feather;
And we shall meet again when your own children are
Taught what they will not know for many a year.

May Sarton
Collected Poems, 1930-1993

Long after you had thought you heard; / So it is with the deep thought, the deep word.

Yes. And here in cave-like depths of contemplative silence (all-beyond the initial verbosity) one catches momentary glimpses of invitation, like fireflies, eternally suspended in air: go forward, / look to the fertile days and years ahead.

Unaware too long

Photo at Pixabay

So. It has arrived, July 12, 1989, the day I find hard to believe in. I have now lived for seventy summers, the season beloved to me for warmth, water, clotheslessness, sun, sand, clear skies. Yet I have forgotten many of those years. I was unaware for too long of much of the time—more than twenty-five thousand days—through which I have moved. Now, I am aware of every moment of every day, especially of the summer days. Now that it is growing late.

Doris Grumbach
Coming into the End Zone – a memoir

Doris Grumbach lives today in New York nearly twenty-eight years after her seventieth birthday. Let me take careful note of her seventy-year old observation nonetheless: let me be aware of every moment.

Whose song?

lark-2104331_960_720.jpg Photo at Pixabay


Lark, you never sing your particular
song because you sing
the song of other birds:
you don’t know this, you think you
always make up your own melodies
that other birds copy.

Silvina Ocampo
Lo amargo por dulce, 1962
The bitter for the sweet

New York Review Books

Among the many joys I find in merely scanning the shelves of my library are the stories attached to, and associated with, the hundreds of volumes therein. I've loved books for as long as I can remember, not just for their contents but also for their associations with times, places and people.

So it is that after what might be just a few days, or more than half a century, I remember who introduced me to a novel, or a volume of poetry, and the context, and why. The little history of my lifetime, and the larger history of many greater lifetimes in a host of different civilisations, cultures and experiences. Days, weeks, billions of years, aeons. Poetry, story and song.

And just so will I remember, gratefully, the day and the person who introduced me to the works of Argentinian poet Silvina Ocampo. Little did she or I realise that I would soon spend many hours meditating upon just this one poem – fully anticipating spending many more on others.

I don't know: is it true that a lark doesn't sing his own song? Is it true that he only imitates? I do know that a lark sings whilst in flight rather than when sitting on a perch! But how many humans, I have wondered, unknowingly spend far too much time kidding ourselves that we're singing our own authentic song when the truth is that we've pinched – or have been, by some means, specifically encouraged to sing someone else's? Wouldn't I rather sing on the wing than from a perch?

My feathers have been ruffled today by a written tirade, penned by someone who describes herself as 'biblically orthodox' (whatever the heck that is), against a holy, prayerful and thoughtful scholar I admire greatly. I don't know what the former's 'biblical orthodoxy' is really supposed to encompass. I do know that I want wholly to encourage the latter's continued singing and sharing of his own authentic song.

All kinds of good might arise in many different places throughout the modern world if we all had a slightly clearer sense of when we were singing someone else's tired old songs (often appropriated as 'orthodoxies') – and when we celebrated our own Real and authentically lived ones.




I who live close by bear witness that at certain hours of the night or day it floods the areas of the square where it lives and enters the windows of neighboring houses; it’s more important than the corporeal beauty of the trees because even the blind can see it through the illusion of perfume, as through music. Often, at any hour, I tried like a sleuth to find where that heavenly fragrance came from and I reached the conclusion that it’s simply like the soul lodging nowhere and all about.

Silvina Ocampo
Árboles de Buenos Aires, 1979

And wheresoever and whensoever and with whomsoever – I know myself connected with any and all who intuit this scent’s source.


Far from the City


Photos at Pexels

… those worlds grand in their complexity
Known by their lesser names of you and me,
For all their flair and depth and hankerings
Hold less dimension in the scheme of things

Vikram Seth
from the poem (click the link) Far from the City Tonight
Summer Requiem
– a book of poems

It is now almost a commonplace that

‘there are more stars in the Universe than there are grains of sand upon earth, and more atoms in a grain of sand than there are stars in the Universe’.

With a click of a computer mouse one can begin to have a sense of dimensions. Earth, with its diameter of 8000 miles; Betelgeuse, inspiring the poet, the second star in the constellation of Orion, with its diameter of 850 million miles. And there’s more. Infinitely more – whether we’re looking out, or in.

There’s tenderness in Vikram Seth’s Far from the City Tonight. Recognised need for proper perspective. And tenderness and perspective too in the heart of one Jesus of Nazareth, both within the walls of Jerusalem (which name, ironically, describes a vision of wholeness, completeness and unbrokenness) and – crucified – without.

They don’t know what they are doing …

We don’t. But through all the ages nonetheless, humankind has cried ‘Hosanna!’ – ‘Save us’. Always on the lookout for Messiah, Christos, Caesar, King, Lord, powerful one, magician. 

Someone – anyone, even – save us from living death.

Someone lead us to a new life, a better life, a resurrection already! – If it’s even possible. Though we’ve had so many ‘messiahs’ through the ages we’ve become both sceptical and fickle. Wall building everywhere – because we’re desperate to hang on to what we’ve got, while simultaneously grumbling ‘Where’s the good life? Is there good life? Where’s the – is there – resurrection?’

Resurrection? Yes: of course, in the vast and alive depths of a grain of sand, of a star, of a person, of many persons, of an immeasurably infinite universe.

Resurrection? Yes: of course, in out of the ordinary Silence.

Resurrection? Yes: of course, where there’s no desire for lordship, or kingship, or national boundaries, or ‘cheap’ magic tricks, or allowed and ignored starvation, thirst or war, or human aggrandisement and greed, or prioritised religious or secular traditions and sophistries taking precedence over prioritised loving.

Resurrection? Yes: of course, just so, said the Nazarene, for any and all who will enter into their chamber, little space, room, or tomb – setting aside (or crucifying) their too easy literalisms, their flair and depth and hankerings – reaching inwards, and outwards, to a fuller perspective, to the Heartbeat, to the Energy of the heavens, of the heights and in the depths.

Far from the City Tonight. Yes: yet in such a room, or tomb, unknowing humanity may yet encounter Jerusalem here and near – and thereby the quiet dawn, height, breadth, delight and depth of a universal resurrection.

It’s a long way off but inside it
There are quite different things going on :
Festivals at which the poor man
Is king and the consumptive is
Healed ; mirrors in which the blind look
At themselves and love looks at them
Back ; and industry is for mending
The bent bones and the minds fractured
By life. It’s a long way off, but to get
There takes no time and admission
Is free, if you will purge yourself
Of desire, and present yourself with
Your need only and the simple offering
Of your faith, green as a leaf.

R S Thomas (link)
The Kingdom
Collected Poems, 1945-1990, page 233




Think for yourself

Photo at Pixabay

Two years ago the poet Paul Lenzi shared a poem on his blog that truly bowled me over. It still does. I return to it as to a hallowed hospital for the soul. And sometimes it’s the other way around – the work returns to me, like inner light, by way of one of those timely “reblogged this on …” emails. And I’m grateful for the great grace with which Paul allows and encourages still wider, deeper sharing of a poem that, I think, is about just that – still wider, deeper sharing.

think for yourself

new streams cut and curve
diving down through the snowpack
escaping the slopes with the help of the sun
cold and barren ideas will eventually thaw
find their flowing descent from high mountains of mind
to the ponds and the pools where they join
other waters absconded from glaciers of ancient beliefs
swirling eddies reconstitute certainties
muddle and deconstruct dogmatic doctrines
no longer cast frozen in rarefied air
now in potable mixtures free radical concepts
available here within low-lying reach of the everyman
this is where thinking can have its refreshment
slake thirst for clear unpresumed knowledge
if only the thinker will kneel unassuming
make cup of his penitent palms and then drink

Paul F Lenzi


How we need to know, today, that cold and barren ideas will eventually thaw 

And how profoundly I need to maintain faith in the sort of generous reconstitutions that might arise from other waters absconded from glaciers of ancient beliefs 

How glorious a vision – dogmatic doctrines no longer cast frozen in rarefied air – replaced by something infinitely more drinkable – within low-lying reach of the everyman 

Let thinkers cup their palms to access a living water, arisen from the depths – having first acknowledged – by way of the penitent’s turning around, by way of a new looking, that our present-day cultural deserts are absolutely and utterly parched.

I thirst. We thirst. The world thirsts. But cupped hands – well, they could change that.


Silent words


We’re living through a season of family funerals, illness among family, friends and neighbours, and truly shocking events on the wider world stage. We’ve physically journeyed to celebrate lives lived far from our home, but close to our hearts. And then there’s the daily mental travel, hither and thither, at breakneck speed. Often I have heard the admonishment in E H Sears’ great Christmas hymn – ‘hush the noise ye men of strife and hear the angels sing.’

So why did I drag my feet as I prepared for today’s Contemplative gathering? Why? When I knew from experience that soon enough – towards the end of the day – I’d be wishing (again) for such a day every day! Well, I guess it’s because we humans are a bit slow on the uptake sometimes. We simply forget. We get lost in our own ‘stuff.’ Or idiocy.

Anyway. I found myself in the right chair, at the right time, in a circle with perhaps 25 others. The facilitator offered brief introductory words about words – ‘the black words’ (the literal, the descriptive, the ‘go into your room and shut the door’) and the white words (what’s beneath the merely obvious? – the metaphorical, the ‘go into your inner room and shut the door’). And thankfully these spoken words were intended to lead the gathering towards silent words: the generous, gentle breath of life where ‘angels’ (silently, even if noisily) ‘sing’!

And after a little space (was it an hour? or two? who knows?) the little circle rippled outwards and elsewhere, and I felt the sun hot on my shoulders on the riverbank, and birdsong joyous in my ears, and the river’s singing, dappled and unprotesting, as Life flowed on – and my doing battle with it – with the river, with Life – my ‘I’m not really sure I want to go today’ subsided into new recognition of the Ancient Memory – the ‘quiet waters by.’ And rippled, returning to the circle, and later rippled on outwards, and homewards. Again.


hans christian andersen.png

Hans Christian Andersen by Anne Grahame Johnstone – see

for MWG

Green velvet smoking jacket
svelte and warm and treasured
since Cambridge
the pool of light that quickened
the grain in his oak desk was
as much a portal for him
into other worlds as was the
oak door through which he entered
his library at every

Sometimes the desk supported
the console of a racing carriage and
at others the cockpit of
a spaceship from the pen of
Leonardo da Vinci and
at others still the pool of light
upon the desk resembled that upon
the spectacles of a tiny Rumpelstiltskin
or the chestnut hair of Lydia
the one and only he’d ever
truly adored

And his pen added a carrot-nose
to a snowman fashioned
by his father and the slowing
pace of his seventy-five year
old legs was rejuvenated as
his pen pointed brighter than
candle flame into the
archives of an always fertile mind

His eyes could appear as blank
black discs in a handsome patrician visage
when observed at the desk from
eventide street window but
only because there they gazed
inward, remembering, rejoicing
resurrecting realities borne of
fairy tales of wingéd truth