Many colours, white page

Photo at Pixabay

Sometimes there are so many life-colours to choose from, we can’t make the first mark on a page. Poetry and painting become ethereal, intangible presences, contemplative hours in the ‘windmills of my mind’ – more of and for the soul than for canvas or paper.

Like me, our newly returned house martins are sometimes very focused and productive. At others they revel in flight, chirping, circling and dipping like fellow global wanderers the swallows. And I know seasons when I’m more house martin or swallow than writer or painter – more preoccupied than occupied – and that seems good to me beneath the joyful racket in the nest above my window.

… we slant our wings and then
Come swirling down
Into the village streets

Twittering we alight
On roofs and treetops
On hedges gates and arches
Even the little belfry
Of the Angelus
Is clothed in feathers

The shouting laughing
Village children
Come tumbling out to greet us
And all our desperate long journey
Is lost in joy and utterly forgotten

Anne Porter
from The Swallows’ Flight
Living Things – Collected Poems, page 57

We have still to learn

Photo at Pixabay

An Altogether Different Language

There was a church in Umbria, Little Portion,
Already old eight hundred years ago.
It was abandoned and in disrepair
But it was called St Mary of the Angels
For it was known to be the haunt of angels,
Often at night the country people
Could hear them singing there.

What was it like, to listen to the angels,
To hear those mountain-fresh, those simple voices
Poured out on the bare stones of Little Portion
In hymns of joy?
No one has told us.
Perhaps it needs another language
That we have still to learn,
An altogether different language.

Anne Porter
Living Things – Collected Poems

Among the joys of being alive for me is the sense I have, at the core of my being, that we humans do indeed need an altogether different language – and that we will discover, are discovering, and will be given it.

And when I’m occasionally thought barmy for being in possession of such a faith, I point – have pointed for forty years or more – to poetry, which is moving, always, in that direction, sometimes quicker than at first we can keep up with it.

(Always before us and / leaving as we arrive – as R S Thomas has it.)


What do you wish might properly be said were there an altogether different language with which to say it, or hear it? In asking the question, in altogether different searching silence, we may hear and see such a language being brought to birth within and around us.

That’s why we’re here. Co-creating. Poetry – life that cannot always be told, but that can hint and inspire, handed down through generations, eight hundred years and more. And that’s vivacity. And I don’t mind being thought barmy!

Their finest

Despite a slightly slow start, we loved this so much we enjoyed a second viewing this evening. Particular soft spots for Gemma Arterton and Bill Nighy – ‘I’m awfully good’ – and, of course, he is!

Wonderful score and period filmography of blitzed London and pre-plastic-everything Devon fishing village. Who remembers hotels with only one primitive bathroom, and queues? And there’s an exquisite little vignette of twins Rose and Lil singing together, followed by Bill’s Will ye go lassie, go (which brought tears to my eyes) – accompanied by the packed-tight pub’s piano.

Warm as toast. Recommended, with enthusiasm.

Hearty thanks to our kind friends for the superb supper afterwards, too.

A good day


Red squirrel watching (can you spot him atop the wall, just left of centre?) and a writing day today, along with enjoying cherry blossom and entire youth clubs of lambs like little jump jets leaping into the air, chasing each other with abandon, and all-engaged in a cacophany of Mmmmaaaaammmm at dusk.
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Joy and haplessness

Photo at Pixabay

We’ve a family of twenty or so sparrows the branches of whose home-base protect our hedgehog hut. I’m enthralled by their antics most days and when I try to understand their drive and flight and play I come back almost always to one word – joy. Why else do they engage in choral twittering from dawn ’til dusk? Or flap their tiny wings to raise up a dust-bath for twenty in the heart of our kitchen garden? Yes: I’m captivated by their joy. And by hedgehog haplessness which perhaps amounts to the same thing, but appears ponderous. An earthenware water bowl is carefully seated in a flower bed near Hedgehog Hall. Every evening at dusk one or two shy souls partake of the tucker sprinkled close to the bowl, and then they drink, daintily tipping the bowl to aid their convenience. Clever little chaps. Why then do they always head home via the same route – up, into, through, spilling, up and over the other side of the bowl? Is this haplessness, or bathtime – or joy? Strange creatures, those humans, they’re all probably thinking. They heat their water, and then get into it, and wallow in it – indoors! What’s that all about then?

To baffle us

Photo at Pixabay

There are, it seems, two muses: the Muse of Inspiration, who gives us inarticulate visions and desires, and the Muse of Realization, who returns again and again to say ‘It is yet more difficult than you thought.’ This is the muse of form. It may be then that form serves us best when it works as an obstruction, to baffle us and deflect our intended course. It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.

Wendell Berry
Standing by Words

His voice was as mellifluous, humble, considered and considerate as my ‘mind’s ear’ had heard him by way of his writing. Wendell Berry’s appearance on Radio 4’s Start the Week with Andrew Marr was a treat.

Where or to whom might a person turn for solace or counsel at the point of not knowing what to do? When we no longer know which way to go?

Well, when my agitation has to do with the existence of bafflement itself, and my problem with that, then Wendell Berry’s often my man. Bafflement, deflection and obstruction, he reminds us, are gifts – Muses. Many the intended courses, thwarted in life, we’re glad not to have taken.

We’re happy to know that our lives are inspirited, of course; much less to be told ‘it is yet more difficult than you thought.’ 

Contemplative mind will keep us from destructive futility and the cycles of anger. Intended courses halted, we may come to discern impeded streams singing and the call of new directions, grateful that Wendell Berry introduced us to the two muses and the ultimate wholeness of the process. Good ecology in the gardens of our hearts, souls, minds and strength.

Stop. Give way. Take stock. Go on your way, a little way. Every day.


Photo at Pixabay

The Milky Way

In dark-blue heaven a white road shines
like a sunrise opening the sky,
like a path dividing two green fields,
worn by cart-wheels repeating their journey;
as a ship draws her furrow on the sea,
printing on the white water a road
that unwinds from a coiling whirlpool,
this frontier of the dark height glows,
& splits with light the dark blue heaven.

Translation by Sally Purcell from
The Astronomica of Marcus Manilius, Book 1
(First century AD)

Contemplation often facilitates comparison. Behind the dark-blue of my closed contemplative eyes there’s often to be found a white road – like a sunrise opening the sky. Recurring.

Awe and wonder ask by what great grace the silent contemplation raises hopes for proper opening and right direction?

Rest – if not answer – comes upon a quiet mind’s trusting a way forward that unwinds from a coiling whirlpool … and splits with light the dark blue heaven of our human unknowing.

The western sky

Photo at Pixabay

Matthew Brycea rescued surfer told his family he had ‘made himself at peace’ with not surviving after 32 hours adrift at sea, but – thankfully – of the crew of a Search & Rescue Helicopter, ‘these guys were the most beautiful sight I’ve ever seen.  I owe them my life.’ – BBC News

I’m filled with gratitude for rescuers and the rescued as Matthew tells of how he’d at first thought the crew had missed him, but hadn’t. And I am deeply moved by his account of watching the sunset over the sea, ‘because I was sure I would never see it again.’

Thank you, Matthew. Thank you for reminding me to be extra glad I’m alive and safe tonight. I am so glad you are – and something in me reaches out, as I’m sure it does from you, and from your loving family, towards any and all who feel – or know – they’re watching the western sky for the last time. Thank you for reminding me of the heroism of the world’s willing rescuers and medical teams, the courage of countless people who find themselves in extremis, and of what it means for humankind to be able to watch sunset. And sunrise. Keep well, Matthew.

The opposite of being told

It is because of the open-ended images of poetic forms that their power is exercised. All imagery forces us beyond containment. Words carefully crafted induce us to move beyond their literal meaning towards thinking in quite a different way, and so, potentially, of a quite different order of reality. Poetry allows a creative freedom in terms of ‘constructing meaning’ as opposed to ‘being told something’.

Mark Oakley
The Splash of Words – Believing in Poetry

‘Are you paying attention to this poem?’ I was asked by a schoolmaster I held in high regard. I can’t remember now what the particular poem was (so, literally, it served poetic purpose!) but that I smiled and nodded, too young, inarticulate and timid to verbalise the thought – that he could ‘no more read my mind,’ as I responded to the poem before us, than I could read his.

Unique persons can have none other than unique responses to anything. So humankind must learn to express, with mutual respect, what our unique response to the poem – to life – is, or has been – a conversation (not dictation) made up of the partial, since our responses (millions of them, every second) are dynamic and ongoing. And these communications will be received uniquely. And initially, even if only for a nano-second, silently. The ‘understanding’ of the receiver will never be identical to that of the communicator. There’s an inbuilt creative provisionality inherent in all that exists. Unfinished works.

Therein, I think, lay my earliest personal comprehension of what poetry is about. The opposite of being told. Invitation, rather, to co-create – with the self-giving risks involved. On both sides.

Creative precision – precisely open-ended. No walls. The vehicle, the means, for eternal potential and always-unfolding creativity and renewal. Nowadays I recognise this experience, this ‘eureka’ moment, as the platform from which, very early in my life, I began to reject all forms of fundamentalism and unexamined literalism. The Creator of All Things is so much greater, so much more liberal, generous, inclusive and complex than one, literal, understanding of anything at all can possibly be. That’s why the guiding texts of the world’s scriptures – in all faith traditions – were written poetically.

The Source of Life – the eternal and universal Poet – affords each the possibility of an open-ended ‘paying attention’. We’re all allowed our own responses and interpretations.

Poetry – some of the greatest literature known to humankind – philosophical, political, sacred, scriptural, scientific, secular or speculative – celebrates the unique responses of individuals to its creativity within us. Creative communion and (Eden-like?) cohabitation for humankind will only be possible when the inbuilt responses to life in the hearts and minds of individuals are universally respected (when R S Thomas‘s ‘blind look at themselves and love looks at them back’) – and readily welcomed (even where a felt need to challenge or contra-dict exists) as necessary constituent parts of a creative and always-creating whole. When unity is found in human diversity.

The other day I read one man’s serious insistence that all humankind should assent to his assertion that ‘God prefers that men and women should …’

Poetry helps me respond to the outrageous suggestion that one person, or group of persons, should presume to speak to humankind of God’s preferences. I do sympathise with the frustration of the literalists who, often angrily, insist ‘It’s a question of authority! It’s all there. Plain as a pikestaff. In the Bible’ – (or other particular source of their presumed written absolutes). Nonetheless it remains plain as the aforementioned pikestaff to me that it’s all poetry, a process of creative unfolding – and there’s nothing absolute, or plain, or final about that, now or in eternity.

For the umpteenth time I find myself persuaded that Louis MacNeice had a great grasp of provisionality, which I return to again and again –

For every static world that you or I impose
Upon the real one must crack at times and new
Patterns from new disorder open like a rose
And old assumptions yield to new sensation;
The Stranger in the wings is waiting for his cue,
The fuse is always laid to some annunciation.

Louis MacNeice
from the poem Mutations