Sixteen Found Poems from Maurice Nicoll’s Commentaries (R8)

I have elsewhere suggested that a really good way to come to terms with whatever you’re reading is to make your pondering into poems…

I have re-read Maurice Nicoll’s Commentaries on the Teachings of Gurdjieff & Ouspensky several times. These poems were pondered before sunrise January/February 2000 and published in a book of my poems called Looking Closely.

They are somewhat more than Found Poems; they incorporate my own ruminations. They are meditations.


my cat Hanley

turns himself into a cardboard cutout
as he approaches the shrubbery;
he essays to escape the notice
of the small bird teetering in liveliness
in the lavatera; stillness bestows invisibility
motionless in space

frozen thus you are not noticed
by the scavengers and the mountebanks
of the mind; there’s no doubt that you’ll experience
their questing  their failure to locate you—
you will hear them twittering in the undergrowth
falling in the pond      diving
from the summerhouse roof

when my cat Hanley leaps into action again
all the animals and birds instantly
see where he is   rumble his little game
the customary demons representing worries .
irritations unpleasant thoughts conceits
anxieties from out of the thorny thickets
of the mind  seize upon you once again;
the animals and birds roar and scream
and all the scavengers and mountebanks
of the mind shout   GOT YOU!!!

you lose the sense of what is really you—
dismembered again—the anxious look
the hurried step the urgent voice on the telephone
sleepless nights and frantic days


we meet the dead

everywhere: walking in the street;
sitting in houses where they are glimpsed
from the District Line train after dark
by the travelling dead; of course in offices
throughout the land; in courts;
in cinemas; in parliamentary
congregations; in clubs & churches

this scandalous state of affairs
is not revealed until we begin
to glimpse it in ourselves—looking
in the glass how can you possibly be sure
you are not there contemplating the dead?

Amwell 15.12.51


we live in a house

with the blinds pulled down;
a little light gets in
which we call consciousness
in the belief that there’s only
just the one kind—ill-wrapped
parcel of little imbecile-I’s
existing in almost total darkness—
we make a horrible mess
of living and severely misuse
the machinery for understanding
the machinery

get one of your little imbecile-I’s
to make contact with a rather less
than imbecilic-I inside there
and negotiate to roll up
all the blinds one morning early
so that your darkness will decrease
naturally with the rising of the sun

direct contemplation of the sun
cannot be achieved by those who’ve
lived in the Cave all their lives

Amwell 8.12.51


the adoration of this mess

called one’s ‘self’ is
the commonest and most binding
and limited religion—
accompanied by very funny rites:
exploding   flushing   going pale
chewing the cud minus the beauty of a cow
being furious and never forgiving
expressing invented opinions
imagining at midnight      wondering
why things don’t stay put
but bump and lurch in our
interior monologue—

what a state we are all in!
we surely cannot remain satisfied
with one self after slow perception
of these unstable foundations
of our ramshackle being—
the very least person in the Kingdom of Heaven
could cause it all to blow up
with a trifling remark

our very violence (right outside the court)
provides us with the material
for remembering ourselves—
to be born anew
not of flesh and blood
but of water and spirit

Amwell 15.3.52


I amaze at least one of my selves

by suddenly understanding
this morning long before dawn
the concept of ‘Our Father
which art in Heaven’—I wonder

if I may be going soft in the head
advancing into my dotage
reading with utter comprehension
the words of Jesus: I speak in parables
because seeing they see not
and hearing they hear not

so often in school halls I’ve spoken
the Lord’s Prayer and not heard
the words I’ve been saying—
the ‘I’ that speaks is different from
the ‘I’ that hears is different from
the ‘I’s that ruminate and argue—
the multiplicity of ‘I’s that din out
the Eye of Heaven  the one ‘I’
that understands that the pianist
is not the piano  the ‘I’ that registers
a change of feelings   delicate and coloured
like flowers in a field on which another ‘I’
treads with hobnail boots

irritating and shocking—conscious shock—
to the sensual practical mind
this sudden having truck with ‘heaven’

Amwell 29.3.52


it is as though

you see somebody in the street
walking towards you and then
in the twinkling of an Eye
they become you; vanish into the shape
and inclination of yourself

all over the world this is happening
right at this very moment—merging
and identifying with the person in the street—
on the other side of No Man’s Land—
at the end of the flight of the grenade—
and deny it how you will the trick

works beautifully smoothly silently
and we are not at all embarrassed by it—
in our opponent we trace the shape
of ourselves—this snarling snivelling monster
approaches us across the Chamber
of the House and vanishes inside us

the prince becomes a frog;
Circe turns the sailors of Ullyses
into swine—this size and shape magic
is still being practised and all the time
people are being turned into what they are not
and they do not want to know the remedy

being as of now wholly unaware of the disease
content with their daze and the haze
and the maze   being quietly poisoned therein
hiding behind a picture of virtuousness
singing the same old songs with the same
old words    not being cup-bearers

Amwell 7.6.52


this unruly mob

you seek to teach
new tactics for survival
for a new sense of being—
you could be furious
at their lack of concentration
at their insolent ill-performance

until you realise
that they are yourself
that between you and one
who deals more gently with them
out of love  is a deep abyss full
of old bones that you must cross

and beyond is the infinite sea
and nearer at hand the harbour
where your boat is waiting
for the invulnerable moment
of taking the step from dry land
to the inconstancy of waves

Amwell 5.7.52


in the museum

there is a glass case
which appears to be entirely empty

there is a tall wire construction
consisting of circles labelled
which people view with great disfavour

there is the figure of a man or a woman
standing upright and labelled
which they stand by the side of
as though for a photograph
to compare themselves  pointing out
that they too are standing upright
even though they list to left and right
and have a constant veil before their eyes

there is a very large glass case
full of filth and snakes
which everybody proclaims is disgusting
and should never be exposed
to the public gaze

there is a beautiful mirror
with a frame of fine gold which
when they look into it makes them
appear utterly ridiculous—
it is regarded as a great joke…

amid much laughter you are wont to hear
phrases like —How absurd! —How impossibly
untrue of me! —How really impertinent
of the museum authorities—the mirror
has a little label  SELF-OBSERVATION

at various locations and distances
in dusty recesses many other cases
are being peered at
usually with disapproval

far above where people hardly ever look
are the dim panes of a skylight
and what sun gets through delights
in dancing amongst the specks of dust

Amwell 20.12.52


looking in the mirror

first thing in the morning
you in effect say quite confidently
THAT’S ME —a statement
which sustains Imaginary-I—
keeps it in fine fettle
nourishes Internal Considering
Negative States and endless
other things that contribute
to human misery

we hypnotise ourselves
into believing that     I
is a solid unity—a sleep-trick
performed daily by Imaginary-I

better to look in the mirror
and see nobody there  maybe
like in an Ingmar Bergman film

better to see nobody reflected
in shop windows as you pass;
better to see no ‘I’ in
rear-view mirrors or in ponds
in barbers’ shops or bar-rooms
in aeroplane windows
over the steppes of Central Asia

or in the eye of your beloved

Amwell 17.1.53


suppose for a moment

you are invited to see round
somebody’s house—
they have told you that it is
a substantial residence in first class order

as you pass through a high obscuring wall
you discover confused masses of material
scattered about in heaps
& rubbish in black plastic sacks;
there are some useful items of furniture
and machines for accomplishing various tasks

the owner who remains outside the wall
continues to speak of the substantial residence
you are supposed to be seeing before you

when we imagine we have something
we are prevented from
observing what we have not

Amwell 17.1.53


look at all those people

hurrying along the street
jumping on buses
streaming into tube stations
as they do morning and night
for forty whole years or so—
asleep every one of them

they read the newspaper
to keep themselves asleep:
they get worked up in sleep about
the latest scandal; an argy-bargy
on a football pitch;   the price
of butter and electricity and what not

we are in an alien country;
we know that the whole grand
pageant of material life alone
can lead to no real goal—
metanoia!   and then you turn
to the Foreign News page

Amwell 7.3.53


the last time

I saw G
draw this diagram it was
long after midnight
in a freezing theatre
with the stump of a candle
on the back of a Persian rug.

Amwell 21.3.52


sometimes a crowd

of people appear to you in dreams—
often a very odd crowd—
some dressed up to the nines;
some in ancient rags;
some in what just feels comfortable to them;
some deformed;    some in better shape;
some pinned and wriggling on the wall;
some leaping round the more docile ones—
every age from childhood to grey hair;
every mood and disposition you can imagine;
this ill-assorted crowd
this herd of anachronisms
this bunch of exceedingly queer people
dragging their ball and chain
step forward one by one
and—in front of the curtain
each introduces themselves using your name

you    (slumped characteristically
in the auditorium) are thinking
and you embrace the familiar posture
the expression intonation feeling and thought
of the person you always are
when you set out to fortify a position
of downright opposition to a new idea
—give it an energy-transfusion
from your very own stock of blood

now it is your turn to step up on the platform—
and how will you introduce yourself?
what name will you use?

Amwell 27.6.53


our lives

are outside Time & Space;
we are inserted into Time & Space
like a boy looking through
a peep-hole at a circus—
your consciousness is not in Time & Space
any more than your mind is:
you can think in a flash
of different countries where you’ve been
or of stars far divided in Space
and Time;  of ancient Rome
and then the present day—
but when Time & Space get a hold of us
and we see only the days stretching
out endlessly  living in the same house
occupying the same rooms  dragging
ourselves to the same place of work
we violate something deep inside us
something free from these invented limitations

only our bodies are in Time & Space—
collect yourself into your self;
keep each day separate   unblurred

Amwell 25.7.53


for years

locked in a prison—
enter a stranger
who offers you a key
which you refuse
because of
your acquired prison habits
forgetting your origin
which is from the stars

you even fight
for the continuance
of prison-life

Amwell 20.8.53  The Last Commentary
Maurice Nicoll died 30.8.53


O took G

into a London Club
of ancient reputation;
very distinguished members
were sitting around
in the smoking-room

why do you bring me
into the presence of cemeteries
and graves and dead people?    

G always said that as a rule
when walking down the street
you meet corpses—people
who are long ago dead in themselves

put on a skull to meet the corpses
that you meet who imagine they know better

when you’ve made your million
become the most successful star
got better furniture than your neighbour
become the most athletic lover
the canniest cricketer
the wittiest talker on the London Circuit
the top of the Millennium Castle
with the highest opinion of your achievement
when you’ve become equal to life
according to your idea of it—
then you begin to die

what do you know now
that you have not known before?

Birdlip March 1944

4 thoughts on “Sixteen Found Poems from Maurice Nicoll’s Commentaries (R8)

  1. I am expressing deep gratitude for sharing these poems. What is written here is my life study. When I was in my early twenties, I walked outside the castle I dwelled in, looked at the sky, and said to myself, “Is this it? Is this all there is.” From that point in time, (married at 18 to someone much older and had a young baby) my life appeared finished before it began. It has taken me 42 years to understand the poetry written here. I went through the maze of sages, gurus, profound zen study, profound meditation, continue with Krishnamurti, and came upon your blog by accident. And now? And now I am deciphering Ouspensky’s Fourth Way, and look forward hopping on the bus for a ride with Gurdjieff. Better late than never. I am reblogging this page on my blog for sharing and reference. Beholding….


  2. So many gems in this collection, Colin!! I have too many favorites to even consider singling out one in particular! I’ve printed the entire post, so as to be able to re-read the whole lot many times over. For now, here is the passage that I will be contemplating for the rest of today, from The Adoration of This Mess ….. “what a state we are all in! / we surely cannot remain satisfied / with one self after slow perception / of these unstable foundations / of our ramshackle being”

    There is an entire book’s worth of ontology packed into those few lines!



  3. Thank you, Colin; these renderings are moving and touching… sometimes Nicoll’s writings can be difficult for me but you’ve brought them alive for me!!


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