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Posts Tagged ‘poetry’

Seasons of the Soul

The Seasons of the Soul: The Poetic Guidance and Spiritual Wisdom of Herman Hesse [ISBN 978-1583943137] – one of the most pleasurable, delightful, stimulating and enjoyable books I’ve ever read. It’s years, no decades, since I read Herman Hesse’s books, but this beautiful collection of poems, with enlightening and inspiring introductions by the translator, Ludwig Max Fischer has reignited my passion for his writing.

Here’s what Ludwig Max Fischer says about Hesse’s work

His gentle voice, full of truth, reminds us of the greater dimensions, the larger forces acting in our lives, beyond the immediate dramas of fear and desire. The soul, love, inspiration, the mysteries of nature, the unknowable divine, time and the stages of life are the major agents in Hesse’s world and are as relevant today as when he distilled them from his life experience.

and in Hesse’s own words –

My only goal in life is to be able to love this world, to se it and myself and all beings with the eyes of love and admiration and reverence….

and

It is a mysterious and yet simple secret known to the sages of all ages: the most minute act of selfless devotion, every act of compassion given in love makes us richer, whereas every effort towards possession and power weakens our strength and makes us poorer.

There’s a lot more like that in this book, and many inspiring poems too. I’ll give you one extract which strikes me as very relevant this Spring day. This is from his poem, Bursting With Blossoms –

Ideas too break open like buds of blossoms
at least a hundred every day
Let them unfold and roam as they wish!
Don’t ask for rewards!
There must be time for play and innocence in life
and room for boundless blossom.

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Yesterday was the annual celebration of the birth of Robert Burns. As a Scot I’m pretty familiar with some of his poems but last night the last verse of one his most famous poems suddenly struck me.

In his “To a Mouse”, the last verse reads…

Still thou are blest, compar’d wi’ me

The present only toucheth thee:

But, Och! I backward cast my e’e

On prospects drear!

An’ forward, tho’ I canna see

I guess an’ fear!

Burns wrote this poem in response to accidently destroying a mouse’s nest whilst ploughing a field. In this last verse he recognises the difference between human beings and other creatures in terms of mental processes. The mouse can only focus on the present. It deals with life in the here and now. Human beings on the other hand have the continuous tendency to think back to the past, reflecting on hardships, hurts and grievances, or to cast their minds forward into the imaginary future where they worry about all sorts of things that might befall them.

This isn’t a new idea of course, and Tolle has reinforced the concept in his “Power of Now”, but I think this is beautiful, compassionate, wise writing. He doesn’t preach. He doesn’t advise. He just states it as it is.

Our so human tendency to hang on to the past, and frighten ourselves with imaginary futures, robs us of the capacity other creatures have to be continually present in the here and now.

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Over the holidays I’ve been catching up on some of the TV programmes I’ve recorded on my hard drive and watched a spectacularly wonderful one about Norman MacCaig. There were many highlights for me, but the two which really stuck were his description of a friend as someone who showed him

the usualness of the extraordinary, or the extraordinariness of the usual

and a recitation of his poem, Small Boy

He picked up a pebble
and threw it into the sea.

And another, and another.
He couldn’t stop.

He wasn’t trying to fill the sea.
He wasn’t trying to empty the beach.

He was just throwing away,
nothing else but.

Like a kitten playing
he was practicing for the future

when there’ll be so many things
he’ll want to throw away

if only his fingers will unclench
and let them go.

 

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season of mists

I looked out the window this morning and saw this. And outside the temperature of the air has taken a dip – 7 degrees C it said on the car dashboard. I’m guessing Autumn’s arrived. It’s funny but years and years after I was taught poetry lessons at school I still can’t see a scene like this without hearing in my head –

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;

Here’s the whole poem –

Keats. To Autumn

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
      Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
   With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
   And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
      To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
   With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
      For Summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.

II                                  

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
   Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
   Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep,
   Drows'd with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
      Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
   Steady thy laden head across a brook;
   Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
   Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

III

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
   Think not of them, thou hast thy music too, -
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
   And touch the stubble plains with rosy hue;
   Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
   Among the river sallows, borne aloft
      Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
   Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
      The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;

      And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

Funny how the swallows were twittering hundreds of years before people started doing it!


					

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I think poets have not only the keenest powers of observation but their words illuminate. The world looks different after reading poetry. I’m not referring to particular passages which have changed my perception or understanding of particular places or experiences. I’m referring to, well, what would you call it? The poetic stance? The poetic viewpoint? The poetic way of living maybe……

When I was a teenager (a LONG time ago) I bought a little book by the poet Stephen Spender. It was called “Life And the Poet”. It was a small paperback with a darkly yellowed cover. It was published in 1942 apparently. I’m sure I must have it somewhere but I can’t lay my hands on it right now and it’s almost 40 years since I opened it and read any of it. But I seem to remember two things he said. One was that he said poets should be like visitors from another planet. It was his way of saying a poet should approach the world with wonder and amazement (a bit like those French philosophers I read recently). I liked that a lot. It stuck. And he also said, I think (bare with me, this memory is a long way off!), that poetry taught us how to “make life anew” and that was a reason to live. That stuck too. (or maybe I’ve invented that for myself after all these years……I’ll need to find my old copy, or another one, and read it again)

I paid a visit recently to the lovely Watermill Bookshop in Aberfeldy
Watermill Bookshop Aberfeldy

As I browsed the shelves my eye was caught by a book entitled “Findings” by Kathleen Jamie (ISBN 978-0-954-22174-4). Never heard of the book before, and I’d never heard of the author either, but the back cover described her as an “award winning poet” who has an “eye and an ease with the nature and landscapes of Scotland”. I opened the book and the paper under my fingers made me stop and wonder. It felt lovely. A soft roughness if you can imagine such a thing. Immediately it felt natural, and special, and thrillingly sensuous. This feels like a lovely book, I thought. Now that doesn’t happen often. I can enjoy the weight, the feel, the scent of a real book (no, computers will never replace the book), but I can’t remember when I ever before picked up an unknown book like this and felt transfixed. It caught me. Physically. So I sat down in one of the many comfy, leather armchairs and I started to read. Did I have any doubts? From the moment I held it in my hand, did I have any sense that I’d put it back on the shelf? I don’t think so. I think I knew I’d relish, yes, that’s the right word, relish this book. I bought it of course.

Findings

It’s not a book of poetry, but a book of essays – a poet’s living.

Some of the subjects she writes about are familiar to me. Orkney, salmon ladders, prehistoric stone markings, the Surgeons’ Hall in Edinburgh and the Edinburgh skyline. But even the familiar seemed brand new in her eyes, in her words. She’s a keen observer of nature, especially birds, and in the essay entitled, “Peregrines, Ospreys, Cranes” she writes this…..

This is what I want to learn: to notice, but not to analyse. To still the part of the brain that’s yammering, “My God, what’s that? A stork, a crane, an ibis? – don’t be silly, its just a weird heron”. Sometimes we have to hush the frantic inner voice that says “Don’t be stupid” and learn again to look, to listen. You can do the organising and redrafting, the diagnosing and identifying later, but right now, just be open to it, see how it’s tilting nervously into the wind, try to see the colour, the unchancy shape – hold it in your head, bring it home intact.

That’s what I want to learn too – to notice, to look, to listen, without processing it all, but taking the experiences home and turning them over later. My camera helps me do that, but Kathleen Jamie’s words inspire me to write more down, to write it down as soon as possible……not the analysis, the experience, the perception, the observation. To relish the “emerveillement” of living.

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