TURNING BACK – A Week of Writing in April 2018

IntroductionFor a whole week to the 9th April 2018, I suspended all other daily avocations to set about reading John Redwood Anderson’s three volume poem Triptych which I’ve had on my shelves for some years, unread, many pages uncut. Oh, the pleasure of slitting them as you read with a sharp kitchen knife. Can’t get that with an e-book.

To go back a bit… On January 23rd 1955 I left school to ‘work’ in Charing Cross Income Tax Office. The best part of going to the office everyday was the opportunity to continue my exploration of London backstreets which had started, surprising enough, more than ten years previously while the Second World War was raging. In the barrow outside a secondhand/remainder bookshop that was then on the corner of Shaftesbury Avenue and High Holborn, opposite Shaftesbury Theatre, I found a new copy of John Redwood Anderson’s A Paris Symphony. It greatly influenced my idea of what poetry could do & how it could be written. Triptych, which was published 1946/47, I bought in Watkins, Cecil Court, off Charing Cross Road, sometime in the 1990’s.What decided me to read it at last? A kind of mystery but I do have a habit of sometimes plucking a book at random from our library shelves to ‘do it over’ – simple as that. It’s entirely relevant that I had been spending much time in the previous two weeks reading over 700 haiku/senryu from emails to make selections for publishing in the British Haiku Society’s quarterly journal Blithe Spirit and needed some relief from such effort. My mind became attuned to the process of reading three line ‘poems’ of mostly less than 17 syllables each. To survive this kind of experience you have to get into a rhythm and the rhythm itself became part of my everyday psyche.

Thus it was that I hadn’t been reading the first volume of Triptych (called Ascent) for very long before the currently very familiar cadence began to impose itself on my reading of the verses, the lengthy, somewhat repetitive, ecstasies of John Redwood Anderson’s highly charged mystical sequence. Every so often I became aware that an image, some trope or other, would assemble itself as a certain short something-or-other, in the style of a haiku. In the style of rather than actually being the kind of thing that is normally acceptable to me as haiku with its proper concrete imagery, its in-the-moment non-dualistic observation encapsulating something redolent of a ‘before’ and ‘after’ mystery of some sort. Sometimes what dictated itself to me in my reading trance really was a haiku, in my terms, but more often than not the three-liners that emerged from the longer text could be described as almost a haiku. Over time, reading the long, somewhat turgid, verses became more & more punctuated by a pause to record a ‘moment’ that leapt out at me and demanded to go in my notebook as something at least in haiku-form.

When I started reading I’d had no inkling that, by the time I’d got to the end of the third volume, I’d have recorded 268 such little three liners but I became driven to read on imagining that somehow John Redwood Anderson was possibly constructing his long poem on certain maybe conscious ‘organising images’ & ideas which were asserting themselves as the focus of my attention. I have no idea whether this was actually the case but it felt like it. Then it became an obsession.

It was not always the case that three lines of text formed itself into a haikuic single breath: if a sequence of words needed modifying, or completing to make a three-liner I might take an image from further down the page that seemed connected somehow. Sometimes I made things work by just being me, quoting very roughly but making a plain response to the drift of words to make a three-liner.

As a whole, Triptych is ecstatic stuff, littered with abstractions such as I would never ordinarily countenance in haiku, or at any other time for that matter; and with comparisons (similes) that are irrelevant in non-dualistic haiku. From time to time the products stray into the realm of what’s called ‘Modern Haiku’ – surreal images, whimsy concocted within the brain rather than by reference to something experiential. Incidentally, when I’m being a responsible member of The British Haiku Society, I am a determined opponent of the bandwagon ‘Modern Haiku’ so that I have been described as a purist, dedicated to the Zen principle that haiku emerge from a non-dual relationship between internal & external, without passing through a deliberate process of ratiocination, the external being internal after all.

all this world
is but a thought’s

(one of the 268)

Perhaps it’s just a matter of self-justification but after a time I began to think that I was in the same kind of relationship with the words of the page as I am when I’m penning a regular haiku:-

summer afternoon
light in the shrubbery
changing it with clouds

The elements that make up this ‘authentic’ – if not very distinguished – haiku (‘summer afternoon’, ‘light’, ‘shrubbery’, ‘clouds’) are just like those derived from reading – mere words in a text have an identical impact on the brain – it can’t tell the difference, poor thing; they are equally instantaneous; the stimulus is just as immediate. The 268 consist of a variety of haiku-like gestures: special, noteworthy, images that made themselves into three-liners in next to no time; exhortations, rhetorical addresses that last the length of a breath, just as a haiku does; curious whimsical statements; epigrammatic immediacies normally ruled out in haiku; vehicles of the objective correlative; brief observations that leave the reader wondering what happened just before and what happens afterwards; heaven-type concepts encapsulated in grains of sand.

In the end I decided that my role was not to think too much about what I was reading – if I had done this I would probably have abandoned the not very riveting task. I was to let the words flow through my brain without trying to construct too much sense, to be alert to a sudden difference in the flow and capture it with the immediacy of haiku-spotting. I have to admit that I found Triptych on the whole a rather long-winded dream journey of the soul. I allowed myself to be vaguely aware of the journey to a Magic Place, but 268 times there came a sudden knot of imagery or thought that seemed worth rescuing from the endlessness.

It often occurred to me to wonder if anybody else had ever read the entire Triptych as I had in the space of a week.

My extractions ignore the route of the journey; nevertheless, in following them one can get a sense of movement from one place to another, perhaps from one voice to another. It’s not important for my text but the voices of mythological creatures & gods range from Odin to a Centaur to JRA himself who, as poetic mastermind, is after all the voice of all of them; combining the voices of all his own collection of ‘I’s with their separate points of view. Since they seem to fuse together ultimately, I have made no attempt to distinguish the separate voices – allowing the little poems to speak for themselves, as though articulated by a single voice; shifts of emphasis, place & time are conveyed through the verses themselves.

At the end all the ‘I’s become mine; when JRA meets with the ghost of his father I meet my father – we all become one at that point. The multiplicity of ‘I’s become single Unified-I.

At the beginning of Approach (the first volume of Triptych) there is a passage which seems to me to be a very clear statement of John Redwood Anderson’s overall philosophy and what he intends to attempt during the course of his long poem:-

I will recall the things of sight and sound,
taste, touch and smell – bulwark my fear with fact:
hedge my soul with the senses, so none may pierce
the quick-set thicket of reasonable shapes
guarding me, and no miracle cleave way
for God into my shrinking solitudes.
I will plant pillars to remembrance : this,
to the red morning, when the sun’s wheeled flame
rolls over the bridge of the hour, pouring up clouds
of bronze dust smoking ; this, to the sudden evening –
the stallions of the galloping night, striking
with their shod speed gold sparkles from the skies;
this, to the slow-drawn breath of sleeping noon…

…and from small incidents
flashes immeasurable meaning.

From the secure stronghold
of natural moments binding the will to earth
comes this unnatural challenge ; and the will,
unwillingly, whipping the blood to fire,
flies after the loved enemy: earth’s worn hands
fall from the shoulders of faith, as a grey mother’s
fall from the son’s rebellious setting-out
to the perilous searching of unknown treasure.
I will again take refuge in my body:
appeal to the past and all habitual things
to save me from this wind new to the heavens –
this spiritual storm that would unanchor me,
driving I know not to what dreadful port…

JRA intends to hedge his soul around with objects of sight, sound, taste, touch and smell, not even permitting God to penetrate his sanctuary; it is quite enough to marshal ‘small incidents’ deriving from which he seems quite confident that there will be ‘flashes [of] immeasurable meaning’; attention to ‘natural moments’ will build a ‘secure stronghold’ against a ‘spiritual storm that would unanchor me’…

It could be argued that, therapeutically, that’s just exactly what haiku does for the maker of them. And as for God:-

there is no room
in this world I have wrought
o god for both of us

(one of the 268)

We construct our own world and the people it in whatever way we choose.

John Cowper Powys, who wrote the introduction to A Paris Symphony, wondered about his friend’s philosophy. At its conclusion he wrote:-

And so, at the end, we ask ourselves: What exactly is John Redwood Anderson’s religion? What exactly is the philosophy underlying the tragic antithesis between Perfection and the desperate conflicts of Life? On these points the readers of this book must decide for themselves. For myself, I should call him a Platonist who has been influenced by the Christian Religion; and, just as I am deaf to music, so I must confess that the spiritual challenge evoked by this daring and original poem leaves me among the heathen. But that surely is the real test! If as a sensualist and a heathen, and devoid of any spiritual ideal, this profoundly religious poem has such an effect on me, by this token, if by none other, I know that it is a work of authentic poetry and likely to be a successful candidate for those purged and implacable ears that we call the ears of Posterity; for whether Plato and our poet are right or not in holding that music, or mathematics, lies at the heart of the universe, we know, as well as Paris knows (that indestructible Harlot of the Nations), that there grow certain actual trees along certain actual boulevards –‘of many, one’ – that fate has mixed with our whole life! We too have lost the friend of our youth. We too sometimes remember our first love. And whether we believe in the Perfection visioned by Plato and the Christian Mystics, or whether, like Democritus, we ‘put the world on chance’, as Dante has it, we all know something of that fatal beauty, and of those triumphantly beating, outstretched wings where to follow at all is victory.

In Confessions of Two Brothers, JCP expresses the view ‘…that nothing matters, that there is no real human meaning in life at all, and no beginning or middle or end of life’s teeming manifestations. All is equal. Those sinister syllables keep up a sort of recurrent tune in the depths of my mind. All is equal. Why then grow agitated and angry because this or that ridiculous human being acts according to his nature? …’

I am happy to stand with JCP. But I would question, as always, the use of abstract words like ‘religion’ and ‘spirituality’. In order to manage thoughts, we’re so given to wanting to classify things under headings that don’t necessarily apply to anything at all: ‘spiritual’, ‘religious’ – what do such words mean except to anybody ‘spiritually’ or ‘religiously’ inclined – for them, presumably, the words represent some kind of meaning in their lives which I can only guess at? When I say I am not ‘religious’, I mean that I do not subscribe to what is for me the questionable belief in the existence of a person or thing called God (projection of the superego on to a universal plane, says Freud convincingly in my view) and all the tom-foolery that goes with such a belief – religious wars, peculiar celebrations, Christmas money-making, bowing & scraping which is all too often transferred to the secular scene where people bow & scrape to god-substitutes, kings & queens & people with a lot of money & power. There seems to me to be nothing to be ‘religious’ about except dismissal of the whole goddamned business. On the other hand, when I say, in order to self-justify to another, that I am of a ‘spiritual’ inclination, I mean I can look out at the night sky and engage in a deliberate feeling of awe, experience myself being joined in a poetic sort of way to the cosmos, being at one with the huge expanse of time & space, content with the neutral Aurelian sensation that there is certainly something much bigger than I am.

It seems to me that randomly choosing to subscribe to one set of ‘religious’ tenets rather than another constitutes a relinquishing of one’s status as a thinking human being; one ought to be capable of demonstrating the god-honest behaviour of non-denominational, unselfed, ‘self-worship’ which can usefully enhance a strategic view of the world. While ‘being spiritual’ is a behavioural stance towards what can emerge from a non-dual personal awareness of the systemic relationship we can have with everything under (and over) the sun.

Both are a matter of behaviour.

Having noted which, we could also just scrap both labels and realise that the crux of the matter is neither ‘spiritual’ nor ‘religious’, just a matter of shifting the brain into a different gear, to look at things from a different point of view, without labelling what goes on in any way whatever.

I can at this very moment, whilst engaging in the serious business of trying to make consecutive sense with words & ideas, ‘wrestling’ indeed, at the insane keyboard, look up and out of the window at the trees and sky (which happens to be solid grey) and, leaving this ordinary world, make the internal comment, “Wow!” I can do this any time I like; it sends whatever it is passes for ‘me’ off to a different conceptual space. You could label this ‘mystical’ if you like but what does that add to the experience except to cage it in some invented classification?

It’s all a matter of behaviour, of how one chooses to behave; of the way the neurons are swashing around, which is, of course, a kind of label!

A simple Google search will reveal some bare details of John Redwood Anderson’s life: he was born in Salford in 1883; he was educated on the Continent: John Cowper Powys says ‘…for the first twenty years of his life [he was] brought up in Brussels with the poet Vaeharen (I can’t spell it [Emile Verhaeren!]) as his tutor & Maeterlink frequently dropping in & always kicking around…’ He later studied for a year at Oxford University. He also studied [violin?] at the Brussels Conservatoire. He took several teaching positions in different parts of the country before he settled in Hull where he taught at Hymers College from 1916 to 1942. He was the English master for the Junior School. During and after his time in Hull he wrote a considerable amount of poetry. He was a member of the Hull Literary Club, the Hull Literary and Philosophical Society and he also acted as president of the Hull Chamber Music Society.

When he retired from teaching he moved to Wales and then to London in 1953. Over his poetry career he wrote more than 20 books. He left two unfinished books, one which was on philosophy. His last book of poetry, published in 1962, was While the Fates Allow. He also wrote the play Babel which was produced several times. He was known as one of the leading modern English poets.

He died in Sible Hedingham, Essex on 29th March 1964.

In his letters to Louis Wilkinson, John Cowper Powys refers to ‘Old Redwood’ often coming round to the house. For example: the letter dated February 18th 1945:-

My dear, yesterday night Redwood was up here a-reading of his excellent poetry – tho’ I do not know whether I am to be trusted as a critic of any poetry written today, for I find it so extremely unlike all I’m used to as poetry that when I gather up my wits about me to think, judge, weigh, consider, appreciate, & utter verdicts on it I can only express my proud delight in understanding a word of it – like solving one of your crossword puzzles – or just gape & groan as simple persons (such as me) gape and groan & look grave & curse and sigh at and move back and shog off from all the more extreme specimens of modern painting – ashamed, puzzled, satiric, angry, uneasy, & wishing they & it had never met or known of each other’s existence! Or on the other hand, as with Redwood’s poetry, I know so well all the materials & colours & shades & chioroscuros [sic] etc etc that its similes & metaphors are made of, & all the old poets he has read, that it’s only when he writes on One Subject, One Particular Subject – well! two, perhaps,– that I am caught out of myself into pure enjoyment… But I am caught out of myself by Redwood, and hold that he’s the greatest of modern poets except Walter de la Mare when he writes of:-
1.The beginning of things from a scientific & an astronomic point of view.
2.Curious inanimate & odd objects in waste places, like broken sign-posts & ‘growths by margins of pond-waters’ where on newts ‘exhibit’ themselves…

In a letter dated July 26th 1945, while celebrating the Labour victory in that year’s General Election which was to set the tone for the next 30 odd years till the evil old witch Thatcher began to demolish its profound successes, JCP writes:-

And of course (returning to Redwood) this masculinity makes him depend on women – one at a time, mark you that, O Maitre de Dames! Also he is a very very cultured & continental – Salon-cultured too – kind of a man. I mean he’d be far happier in France or Belgium, where he met an artistic ‘outfit’, than over here. You know he’s a top-notch player in ‘quartettes’ as a Violinist. He’s got a Violin worth 300 pounds his dad gave him, he knows music & painting as I never came near knowing them, & tho’ he isn’t of Virtu extreme in the matter of Wine he could no doubt make the proper face at any really bad wine. I keep trying to imagine with all my essentially feminine mind what I’d feel about him if I were a woman. I should know he’d be absolutely dependent on me & absolutely faithful to me – & I sort of feel these things count greatly with they ‘wimming’. But I should want to know whether he would live with me where I liked and how I liked, and leave me a great deal of time every day to myself. This I wd. be fairly certain he would do, as these poet-philosophers & scholars are OK in their studies… That he wd. worship me in the ‘true idealistic romantic poetical way’ I should know – over this in this case there can be no question… I know, whatever a girl is or a woman is, poetic devotion and absolute faithfulness & dependence must weigh something in the balance…

Some time in 2015/16 a Paul Roberts posted an appeal on the Old Hymerian Website (Hymers College, Hymers Avenue, Hull) for information about John Redwood Anderson who with his second wife had taught there; he said that for the last forty years he had been studying the life and work of John Cowper Powys but had become fascinated by Powys’ friend John Redwood Anderson. Because very little was known about Anderson’s life, despite his having published twenty books and been highly regarded in the 1920’s and 1930’s, Paul Roberts determined to find out more which resulted in his starting to write a biography of JRA, the first he’d written. After a time, he was in fact diverted into exploring the career of JRA’s second wife, Eileen Bessie Anderson, as teacher and ‘fine but neglected’ painter.

His request for information met with little or no response. The biography of JRA does not seem to have materialised – there’s nothing on the Internet. However, he does record the following morsels of information.

JRA met His first wife, Ella Mary Southwell Webber, in 1906, while living in Bristol. She was often involved in amateur theatricals in Bristol and it was at one of these events, held on behalf of the Bristol Children’s Help Society, that the couple met. They were married in Bristol in 1907 and divorced in 1915 on account of Ella’s affair with James Elwyn Wilks.

Wilks and Rose Saxby had been married a year or so when he told his friends that, as an aspiring writer, he was feeling trapped in their marriage. He went to stay with John Redwood Anderson and Ella in Oxfordshire; it seems that an affair developed between James and Ella. When John Redwood Anderson found out, Ella went to live with his mother at first, then with her sisters in Bristol. However, by the time the divorce was completed in 1915 she was no longer living there and disappeared. We don’t know if Wilks ever wrote anything. He seems to have been reunited more or less straight away with his wife and she was pregnant with their son Peter Humphrey within a month or two. They sailed to Canada when he was three months old and JRA didn’t begin divorce proceedings until after Wilks had left England.

After the marriage broke up at the beginning of 1914, JRA often went to stay with his friend since teenage years, Frank Merrick, who was a pianist and composer, then Professor of Pianoforte at the Royal Manchester College of Music. It was during one of these visits that Frank introduced him to Eileen MacCarthy who lived next door.

The couple immediately became friends and were married on August 2nd 1917 at St. Paul’s Parish Church in Withington. It was, however, as Frank Merrick later wrote, a marriage based on their artistic interests rather than a passionate romance and, as the years progressed, they grew increasingly apart, each following their own interests and friendships.

JRA began his career at Hymers College in 1915 and retired in 1943. After his retirement he moved to Corwen in North Wales, where he was in daily contact with John Cowper Powys, who became a great friend and supporter. It says much for Powys’s patience and fortitude, says Roberts, that although he was in his eighties and had books of his own to write, he allowed Anderson to visit him regularly, often to read his latest poems aloud for as much as three hours at a stretch. Although he is now almost forgotten, he was very highly regarded in literary circles, especially during the 1920’s and 1930’s.

Eileen Bessie Anderson began her career at Hymers College teaching Art in the Junior School but was quickly promoted and soon took responsibility for Art throughout the school. Her career at Hymers lasted from 1917 until 1951. She was, it seems, a very gifted teacher, seeming to have had the ability to form powerful bonds of affection and respect with the boys in her care, as well as being a painter of great skill and originality.. She was known as ‘Ma’ by the boys – her husband becoming ‘Pa’ or ‘Pa Andie’….

Eileen continued to teach at Hymers until her retirement in 1951, the latter years of her career somewhat blighted by the unhappiness of her marriage, her increasing deafness and the struggles as an ageing teacher to maintain the interest of large classes of lively boys. After leaving Hymers, she moved to Eastbourne to be near her mother and her beloved sisters but relations with her absent husband continued to deteriorate and the couple were finally divorced in 1954.

Things fall apart…

But to begin at the beginning. Here are the 268 haikuish extractions from Triptych. I wonder what John Redwood Anderson would have made of them.

moon fallen –
the flute-player plays
soul’s love-dance

in the folds of my clothes
wrapped – the image
of all I have been

standing in the house-shadow –
the gossip of neighbours
comes no more

a far surf
the hunger of lions
breaks in the unrestful woods

authority of dawn
scatters nightmare’s riot –
flute-player again

my soul
travelling barefoot
through every gate of sense

light passing up
the seven stairs
of the æther

I am
an echo
of stringed instruments

I am the oozy floor
of a dark sea
by a dark shore

calling you
in the moonlight
from your house

dancing – invisible
gestures lost
in what the gestures mean

the happy domes
of space

stars caught
in the smoky movements
of your hair

reaching out
my hand I touch
only the empty night

moon’s hot scents
the lull of winds

the orchards of time
grow ripe
to my ripe hands

my target
upon the stars

stag hoofs
their music

a violent snake
of twisted light writhes up
the pine trunks

heaven –
great darkness seen through
savage loops of flame

wheels grind on the wind –
an arm of immense light
sweeps towards me

loading gold on trestles –
they froth the mead horns
& harp me in my halls

face draped in shadow
the invisible dust
of foreboded futures

thousands of years
with blankets of flowers
muffle the hoofs of doom

all histories
in the same silence

the ultimate winter
clamps the world
in jammed seasons of ice

between First & Last
a dream      dreamt –
forgotten in endless sleep

but a wind of requiem
on deaf hills

the darkness
of the beginning & of the end
invades this dream

forest fringes ruffled
& crying of wild geese
far down the sky

hangs mirrors
on the night of thought

is but the movement
of the nature of soul

myriads of strewn stars –
squandered seed
on the unliving wilderness

petalled flames
fall black
on the hard flint of space

millions of years
the winds trumpet
& seas growl at coasts

life – the meaning of the world –
passes & leaves it

the rigid world
cracks up – thought’s
solid blocks shift

low clouds down hills –
weeping mists
caught in thin trees

long voice of torrents
fills the lonely coomb
with endless echoes

the croon of boatmen
bending to the oar
in the desultory wind

desert’s burning cliffs –
a door opens the way
to some forgotten tomb

narrow skies
sad distracted gloom

the iron sea –
weary lines of poplars bent
inland to the wind’s sway

laden ships of dream
crowd the opal waterways
bound for remote ports

comets through me burn
& the immense
faint wheel of nebulæ

the ample majesties of space
& all time – histories

into the hungry
of the years

& gold moons hold sway

my words –
a fugal theme
unravel my unborn thoughts

stars – scattered sand
drift on the wind
of nothing

lapping to my ears –
rock on the uncoasted deep

clouds shifting
through the abyss –
their faint rims

the soft hosts

moving my hands
to touch the sky
and the seas under me

the curved otherness
of self
& amplitudes of space

swirled past the silence
where I stand
thunder-surges sweep

I am time’s swan –
in the nest of night
I drop the World Egg

day grows
huge round my pedestal
vague snow mountains

hearing?      hungry
for all harmony
without ear or string to hear it

upon dust

take on time
with its centuries
crowns & calamities

delta cataracts
of time where I seek
the silence of my seas

summon from the gloom
my fecundity –
the myriad selves of me

spirit out in the night
clouds the thinking
of my mind

beyond the roar
of the suns flung through space
utter silence

the bright hoard
of the singing suns
of night

distorted with desire
annulled destroyed
in orgiastic fire

stars shudder
the abyss cries out
at the insane sublime effort

love’s gift
ever with the giver
stays – ring of flame

interstellar night splendours
not star to star
but spirit to spirit

my hands paint
faint rainbows
on the hanging rain

storm of stone –
cataracted iron sea
swelling round my joy

wrecked valleys
river brawling on river
down to my deep sorrow

beggar going
amongst the stars –
tattered cloak of rags

wilderness testifies
to desire wasted away
in forlorn peace

a breath from beyond
all the universe
blows against my face

the seed of fire
buried in the dark stone –
mirror & witness

vapours in cowled procession
ascend stairs
of invisible winds

rock-echoing gate
of tide long-rolling
towards the burning mountain

the welter of the world
muffled in steam –
waves’ roar & gale’s cry

stretched in gloom
terribly     pour down
incessant rains

years climb their towers
of effort & pain – bring
ancient suns to shine

seize & cistern
the world’s energy –
shape to the unshapen

in earth’s old armour
of loose-jointed stone
scoop out a bed

onward!    to unknown valleys
& plains’ glad light
of seas’ calm horizons

the universe
mirrored in my stream –
peace of hushed heavens

all things appear
themselves & other than
themselves in me

in the flowing
of my broad being
the world beholds itself again

in the mirror
of my soul Nature
is made whole again

every tree becomes
a singing tongue of me –
music of my own

unseen until I make
dust of earth & desert sand
into my body

fire through the stubble
of time worms its way
bronzed with hot summer

behold my track
threading the forest of years
of life without purpose

fin of swift fish
& flight of eagles
– shapes of my breath

fugitive music –
impatient images
at the gate of my lips

out of the gloom
of unknown regions
behind the curtains of mind

scaling the slanted rungs
of time fugue on fugue
ascending rhyme on rhyme

linking the mute cell
to the singing brain
racked on exquisite discords

multitudinous sound
palace temple dome & tower
cloud architecture

sea-burden –
pendulumed waters
booming on a granite coast

drowned & forgotten
in soul’s abyss

what sword of light
to cleave the swart roofs
of the world’s night?

one day to pierce through
the fierce siege
of fear & strife

today’s battle
& æons to come –
who battles for eternity?

dark & wide
wilderness moved by
slow rhythmed rise & fall of tide

net through whose close mesh
seas of everlasting Being
press through me

vast tangled woods
covering the island’s
oceanic solitudes

to make & fix
my home within the chambered
temple of the brain

voices of free winds
sweep to laughter
the stretched tent of waves

lonely mountain heads
glimmer in the silent light
falling from eternity

out to sea bare islands
on their stone catch
fire to fire     sun’s farewell

through the green monotony
of close warp & woof
I weave flowery joys

rush of sound half wrath
& half despair follows
trampling footsteps of day

o world to conquer & fill
with my innumerable selves
crowded with me

a voice cries from the hill
and I am goats
bounding upon their shelf

a summons from dawn æther –
the strong wings
of eagles lift me skywards

melancholy night
of jungles becomes
the stealth of tigers

summer of dragonflies –
I become thin insistent
insect noise

skylark – I
lift joy
into the heart of noon

my galloping hoofs
pounding the sprung turf
of the plain

keen smells of pinewoods
where gold resins run;
hot bark breathes fine incense

the swell of uplands
leaning to the sky;
heather stalks crackle

the glow of red suns
hanging low over the western
silence of the world

after showers trees’ spray
swinging low stars
of white rain

pageant of evening
sweeping by rolling shadows
& melting flames

chill sense of ended day
breathed upward with the last
pale light of clouds

tendrils of swift sight
seize the earth & reach the sun
link the depths & heights

eyes peering steadfast
through the small crack of chance
to see dim unknown leagues

nebulous through the skies
gather the tempest inwards

in the tree’s snake roots
clamping splintered stone

earth sea sky –
full of me yet spirit
escapes the universal net

in the mirror I see
obscure fragments of soul –
nowhere myself whole

for my spirit
I make shrine & lantern –
light for all life

sleep of flowers…
gather my self from unknowing
into the four rivers

I am the avalanche
down from the hills
flung storm of stones

I am the seas
loud with
shrieked calamities

great towers
rolled in smoke
above yellow fields of grain

shut yourself up
in flame king till your crown
burns down into your brain

only the multitudes
of space shall fill
the hunger of my soul

I shall stand there
and see the Infinite
draw near to my desire

the topmost roof of dream –
earth rim to rim mine

I make claim
upon the clouds
flags unfurled immense

breaking the manacles
of the past – with wheels
to lick up leagues of land

piercing with tunnels
rock’s dark to link
the sundered halves of day

hanging spark beyond spark
cressets of knowledge
from the roofs of time

riding astride
apocalyptic fate
I shall reach out my hand

night shakes to the speed
of my own roaring
into a snake of fire

every tide
brings me
the glut of ocean

throw the image
made of my own self
immense against eternal skies

there is no room
in this world I have wrought
o god for both of us

nations are but waves
that push their arcs
of foam upon eternal sands

I am the hush
of the unconscious tide
which passes – I endure

Revolution like a flame
burns up
the rags of misery

rend to shreds
the ancient code of lies;
shatter the false gods

give me
my Promised Land
of Brotherhood

shackled again
with custom & creed
once more the rack

the spirit flung
down along the hills
tongue of understanding

at a touch of fire
the world crumbles
to a thin nothingness

a dry leaf shrivelled
by summer’s scorch
the universe

much or little done
turning again to face
the purple haze

a million shadows thrown
on the world screen –
phantoms coming & going

all nations in their pride –
waves on a lonely beach
nothing & nothing

humanity – foam
blown on cold gales
into the roaring void

cities stand
white encampments on the strand
pitched in the sunset

life eternal pilgrim goes
the same way with the stars
& all skies

the storm of divine music
hurled – surge of stars
roar of galaxies

the Great Antagonists
– me held in balance

reconciling halves of strife
into a whole of song
great antiphons

wild winds in spring –
light on a seagull’s wing
significant of me

dance of gnats
moth-wing in sheened moon
significant of me

wet sand left
by the retreating tide
significant of me

dream of snows
in the blue sleep of noon
significant of me

dusk fallen
in slow veils
on all the room

dull gold glimmered
on the backs of books
mute company

rocks dead thoughts
in close layers – stones
when I cried for bread

the black street bright
with the last shower
haloes of reflected lamps

no foot stirs;
town traffic booms
into slow dusk

turning back
with the lamp
groping for the doorknob

door built to join
& divide seamless
frontiers of infinity

waking as from a dream
on a bare world of heath
empty & silent

walking as one
dreaming – a soft stride
does a hundred paces

tyrannies of gravitation
in part repealed –
balanced contraries

thin arc of bridge
narrow as faith spans
long leagues of smoke

low wind subdued
organ stops hushed
for a prelude

twofold is time:
one sort pendulumed
by heart’s beating

and there is soul-time
ticked out by no device
yourself the dial

steeper the way;
stairs cut in the solid mass
of a castle keep

long I stood
tree-rooted – such singing
swept spirit-tempest through me

several gateways
later – stepping through
breathless to a new world

far off now the gate
where my spirit
had escaped the world

to find a city quarried
from clouds & wind
red-chiselled by sunlight

domes spires pinnacles
stark ascents of
daring masonries

city built by the winds
of human desire shaped
by chisels of thought

dream of centuries
in the unsafe tenure
of night

not the sycophant of time
but life’s own syntax
meaning to meaning…

well set on the road
down the valley
for all who travel homeward

church of marble black & white
with open door
& old reek of incense

hushed pendulum
foot & finger find their way
as with long use

smoke rolls
from the cracking roof
lean flames sniff round the dead

sense of waiting
multitudes right & left
lit by recollection

pacing the temple court
solid darkness facing
moon-drenched stone

still the temple court
universe in my heart
joy beyond tongue

knife-edged rock
stabs in iron angles
to the sky

bleak wreck of stone
by a frozen wind

night in the forest:
the howl of wolves
faint in the hungry distance

brids crying about my head
wing-fans & winds
that breathe no more on earth

the valley below
throngs with the veteran
legions of lost time

glad with festival multitudes
swift incarnation

wonder & joy
breathless children
hand in hand

golden door
set in an old brick wall
as might fence a garden

slow river
secret as memory
silent as oblivion

all those spirits
enter my soul’s chamber
their memories mine

essence of a thousand fields
distilled to a single perfume
long miles empty

on the bridge
he kisses me whole
integral self

silence between us
– enough we part: they do
who meet again

rising from where he was
my father
his quiet eyes on mine

all round me
a void of shifty nothing
strip of vertical night

the pendulum of time
in mid-air

my hand upreached
& grasping grasps
the last iron rung

my thoughts put off
their grotesque masks
– fear’s sharp ice melted

the baffled gale
went by
muffled to half-silence

all this world
is but a thought’s

moulded ball of clay
tossed into dreadful night
forms continents & seas

all life upon it
flashes film of swift
prismatic hues

the cold dead ball
drops – the habitable
globe of mankind plunges

fruitless fecundity
meaningless might
& pain – truth

dare turn away from
jugglery of balls towards
earth’s common duties

grey twilight
out of the ground
ascending a great thoroughfare

whirling shapes
beings of awful magnitude
faint-starred with fire

on this chart
in crimson ink
a highway is traced

mad finger-post
veering in the wind
blown weathercock

that twilit room
of mine

ten thousand red ink
intersecting lines
– dead leaf skeleton

miles passed
year on year behind me
piling up their debt

coming to
the tower-like axis
of the world

making an entire circuit
of thought
hissing huge tautology

tempest of demented wind
doubt howling across
mind’s blind wilderness

man with the moulded clay
juggling in sleep –
millions in fruitless flight

no more a man –
an obscene automaton
ticking off its life’s span

the moving hand
records the vacant moments
of its day

intricate wheels
& levers – escapement
wagging like a fool’s tongue

the date clear
& place of manufacture
but no maker ‘s name

my rebirth –
ring of academic chairs
where doctors sit disputing

a child plays there
laughs at my laughter
& points at the noonday sun

my own room dusk
my hand on the doorknob;
dying pulse of sound

no cloud & no sky
no zenith deepening blue
no sun utter day

music from no throat
or mortal instrument –
no audible image

music out of itself
growing ever into itself

theme on theme
ten thousand voices weaving
a tremendous counterpoint

intolerable progressions
in æons of
celestial agony

behold the universe
flowing round the great tower
axis of all things

wheeling round
the pale whirlpool
of far galaxies

strange zodiacs
with baleful fires
meteors in the breath of planets

stellar symphony –
sound rolling on
in the purple lapse of space

music speaking
without thought – caged
by no local habitations

thinking becomes
the very thing itself
thought dissolves in Being

bird on the wind
I pass
in silent flight below

the coming of a summer night –
soul darkens
at my father’s touch

I felt his gaze
upon me again the warmth
of a summer smile

nail that held
a parchment
to a wooden stake

my hand on the doorknob;
leaving the lamp behind
night thickens

room objects dissolve
– moments pass far into
the night myself alone

4 thoughts on “TURNING BACK – A Week of Writing in April 2018

  1. Much as John Cowper Powys had to confess that he was “deaf to music”, so must I confess that I am deaf to nearly all forms of poetry and – sadly – to haiku as well, Colin. Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed this opportunity to once again “read over your shoulder” and learn a little about both Powys and John Redwood Anderson – neither of whom I’ve come across up to now. And I read aloud to my wife your explanation of what you mean by saying that you’re not “religious” – a perfect summing up of hers (and my) stance as well, but spoken in your completely inimitable style!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. Tom!
      John Cowper Powys’ novels are brilliant – if you have a moment to spare… ‘Wolf Solent’, ‘Glastonbury Romance’… etc
      Redwood Anderson’s ‘Paris Symphony’ I thought was marvelous in 1955. I hesitate to go back to it after this experience!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for the recommendation, Colin! I’ve done some quick research on Powys just now. Surprised to learn from Wikipedia that he was living in New York’s Greenwich Village, a favorite hangout of mine and Elyse’s in our younger days, when Wolf Solent was published in 1929. And then I found a 5-star review of Wolf Solent on Amazon with the memorable title “I (read Powys) think, therefore I am.” At this point, I was completely hooked. So I’ve added Wolf Solent to my ever expanding “want to read” list on Goodreads, and will let you know as soon as I get to it.

        Liked by 1 person

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