Astronomica

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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

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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 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

Metamorphosis 

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Photo at Pixabay

After teaching

I 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?

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Imitations

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.

Fragrance

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Fragrance

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.