Posts Tagged ‘poetry’

Above the clouds

How deep the shadows seem to lie in thought
(Upon the days of springtime where you dwell) ;
Apparently to keep attention caught
In traps and snares whose making none can tell.

What monsters dare to cast their empty stares
When you, in spirit, have no wish to be
O’erthrown by shady, truthless, void despairs?
Or brought to nought by their temerity?

So false, and false again, is that fey cloud
That tries to mar the Summer’s entrance –  vain
It is to interfere with one too proud
To take his gaze away from heaven’s grain.

You raise your eyes beyond the stellar  heights
And there your soul partakes of fair delights

Jamie MacNab

(For J.I.)


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In memoriam

They say if I but listen to the wind,
My soul should speak to me in ways unheard,
But felt – as if by touch divine ; and kind,-
In ways the noisesome world would make absurd .

But as I contemplate this little patch,
In which we laid you wrap’t in holy trust,
No calming silent words do come that match
This fairest ruin ever brought to dust.

But don’t they also say there is a throne
Beyond, to which the inner ear is tuned?
“Be stilled!  Direct your thoughts to that alone.”
And lo!  There comes a golden voice fair-booned.

If many mundane loves I let go free,
With all my Breath and Life I yet love thee.

Jamie MacNab

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Well, everyone knows how I like Freud.  🙂

A straightforward diagnosis

My dear Doktor Freud, you must come to my aid,
For  disequilibrium makes me quite fade.
When I fly in a plane or ride on a bike,
A bott.  of best brandy I must first tike!

Professorial knowledge, I’ve heard it well said,
Is your hallmark, dear Freud, so to you I have fled ;
Will you tell me now clear how you practise your art,
So that I, on vacation, may sober depart?


“How to use psychological principles free
From suggestions that might so happily be
Of ze greatest potential for doing some good
Is a question of seeing ze trees from ze vood.

“For particular problems pose purposive pains,
While pandemical ponderings put people on planes
In a panicky predisposition to pine
For ze pleasing and practical fruit of ze vine.

“Now ze plane and ze pine are not multiple things,
For the one comes in squadrons, while t’other has rings ;
The collection of nouns and the tension of verbs
Gives a dual condition to specialised herbs.

“But you dendritophobia is mostly a mask
For concealing profounder conditions which ask
For a more comprehensive review of your past,
So enabling my science to give healing at last.

“That you ruminate deeply while high in a tree,
And expect to find solace in swigs of brandy,
Is suggesting neurosis involving a beach ;
For, while dad was a fisherman, mum was a peach.

“If my best psychological therapy’s well,
Then the interconnections should come to gel
The traces of reason that pull in train
The idea of my fee, which will free you from pain.”

Jamie MacNab

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Folded Cross

Now, here’s a poem that captures a paradox for me ; captures it and spots a kind of solution to it.  It is by the poet Jaime, who blogs here and there on matters literary – and to great effect.  This poem concerns the recent discovery of an Anglo- Saxon treasure in Staffordshire.  In particular, it concerns a gold cross that is mysteriously folded.

Folded Cross

To fold a cross into a pocket,
the soft gold arms doubled inward
re-forming its branches into
the pliable, human and wayward.

Along these paths of gold,
creatures intertwine,
course out from round garnet
to round garnet. Their fluid
motion caught mid tangle.

Who has done this?
Creased one mystery into another.

Artisan? Merchant? Thief?

Bending the cross’ four directions,
thin mirrors of the planet,
into the center—


23 May 2010


As I remarked to Jaime when I first read her poem,  these lines were worth waiting for.

Of the primary mystical symbols, the cross and the circle, it is the cross that puzzles. The circle is completeness and harmony ; it repeats itself for ever ; it raises no questions ; it is where nothing new happens.

The cross, on the other hand, is a clash ; it is a paradox that screams to be resolved ; it spreads into the unknown, the unrepresented ; it is a disturbing and painful symbol.

When the contradictions of the cross are apparently resolved by turning it in on itself, then there is a hand at work – Nature? Chance? Or, as Jaime suggests, Artisan?

This is a poem to reflect on.

If you wish to find more of Jaime’s work, I know she blogs on WordPress and on My Telegraph.  As far as I can tell, she lives in the Isles of the West ; in Tir nan Og, perhaps.  🙂

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The Way through the Woods

They shut the road through the woods
Seventy years ago.
Weather and rain have undone it again,
And now you would never know
There was once a road through the woods
Before they planted the trees.
It is underneath the coppice and heath,
And the thin anemones.
Only the keeper sees
That, where the ring-dove broods,
And the badgers roll at ease,
There was once a road through the woods.

Yet, if you enter the woods
Of a summer evening late,
When the night-air cools on the trout-ringed pools
Where the otter whistles his mate.
(They fear not men in the woods,
Because they see so few)
You will hear the beat of a horse’s feet,
And the swish of a skirt in the dew,
Steadily cantering through
The misty solitudes,
As though they perfectly knew
The old lost road through the woods. . . .
But there is no road through the woods.

Rudyard Kipling

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I once knew a statistician of international note.  Over a period of four years we used to meet regularly to put the world to rights.  We talked about science, about research, about the nature of knowledge, about cycling, about the weather, about psychology ; in fact, we discussed just about everything because he, being a statistician, was involved in a number of academic disciplines and had fascinating insights into the workings of the relevant areas of research.

He had truly impressive powers of concentration.  How often did he pull me back on to the topic when my butterfly mind strayed too long or too far from where it ought to have been.  He told me of his habit of mentally shutting himself away when he needed to think deeply about something that was puzzling him.  He would begin by relaxing both physically and mentally, and then proceeding merely to contemplate a simple verbal/visual description of the puzzle.  Before long he would be in a deep trance ; in a different state of consciousness.

The world about him assumed a vagueness that seemed unreal ; the people became mere shadows, ghosts.  The reality of what he was conscious of – the puzzle – grew more and more clear ; that simple mental formulation or description of the puzzle became more concrete than anything experienced in ordinary waking awareness ; it became hard, bright and clear, while the material world around him faded and became insignificant.  New images came to mind ; his knowledge of the puzzle took on different arrangements ; arguments were formulated ; solutions were evaluated ; alternatives considered.  All this without any mental effort.

At the end, he would emerge from this state of consciousness and back into the pale world of everyday experience ; and he would often have a definite idea about the puzzle’s solution.  And equally often he would have only a feeling of having learned something about the solution, but unable to say what that something was.  Hardly ever could he have given a full account of his meditations.  But always an answer eventually emerged from repetitions of the exercise.

Well, what would a psychologist make of this?  There surely has to be a suspicion of self-hypnosis.  Certainly.  But what is meant by hypnosis?  Not many psychologists would relish giving a meaningful account of that, even if they knew how to try.

What would a poet make of it?  There surely has to be a suspicion of the Muse at work, who takes over the thinking of the poet.  For doesn’t every poet know that he cannot both think of what he is to write and actually write it at the same time?  And isn’t the poetical vision quite different from the worldly one?  Isn’t it through the poets that our knowledge grows?

And the musician, too.  Is it possible to both play a piece and think about how to play it at the same time?  Surely only beginners do that, and badly.

There is much to know about states of consciousness ; perhaps there is more than we can know ; for consciousness is the foundation (or foundations) of our being.  So deep would be our excavations into our being that maybe to know all is to die.  Or, to be more precise, to die from this world.  That is how my friend the statistician thought of it as he recalled occasions of leaving the ghostly world of everyday experience behind and entering the sharper, brighter, harder, more concrete world where answers were to be found to the puzzles that beset us here.

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An emotion is called such because it calls upon us to do something.  And the presence of an emotion is signified by more or less definite physiological movements which can be felt.  It can be a useful and revealing exercise to note where one feels a particular emotion.  Do you feel it in your legs?  In your shoulders?  In your abdomen?  Elsewhere?  And how exactly can you locate it?   Perhaps you notice that you feel it in several places, and that the feelings appear in a particular order and with distinct intensities.  Perhaps the feelings are unpleasant.

It is helpful to reflect that a pure emotion appears without any effort on your part ; it arises quite unconsciously.  Your body knows exactly what it is doing, but you do not.  You have no control over the appearance of a pure emotion ; as far as your conscious mind is concerned, it appears ‘from nowhere’ ; and that, of course, is what gives all pure emotions their mystical air.  And that is what renders them often unwelcome.  Even a pleasant emotion can be worrying because of it hidden causes – and maybe because of its hidden aims, too.

But there is something else that’s interesting about an emotion ; when we think about the emotion itself – really think about it – it disappears.  As one philosopher said, “You can do two things with an emotion, you can enjoy it or you can think about it.  But you can’t do both at the same time.”

Very well.  But how is it that poets can write so sublimely about an emotion ; how can they write while evidently experiencing it?  Bringing it to life upon the page or in their voices?  Surely the writing or speaking requires thinking about that emotion, if only to enable the right choice of words.  But why then doesn’t the poet’s emotion evaporate and drain the poem of its intensity and veracity?

The answer seems to be that the poet is not thinking about the emotion at all.  He simply writes.  The thinking is unconscious.  The words, the rhythm and the metre come automatically.  The poet at his best is taken over by his Muse, and it is she who does the intellectual work while he merely wields the pen.

Or, to be frightfully modern and boring, the poet enters into an altered state of consciousness in which the thinking becomes automatic, and makes no demands on his own emotions.  In a word, the poet is hypnotised.

Muse? Or hypnosis?  Surely it is his muse!  Surely human consciousness has a reference that is not merely personal to him.  For, if consciousness is merely personal to the individual, it can have no meaning beyond his own minute sphere of experience.  And, if that be true, then all speech and writing is drained of any universal significance.

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