The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.
Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made
is star-stuff too?
– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –
dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.
Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.
Tuesday, 31 October 2017
So Farewell, Then, Sweet Hopes
The wind in the trees sighs your name,
Our relationship isn't the same,
The romance is all gone,
Leaving me pale and wan,
I don't think I'm cut out for this game.
E.J Thripps (aged 571/2)
Your contributions are needed! Dr Rosamund Wordsmith (BSE, BtB, CJD) is still resting after her poem from last week. Good job somebody stepped up.
Monday, 30 October 2017
Tomorrow night and into 1st November is one of those great turning points of the year: a cross-quarter date in the Celtic calendar, exactly midpoint between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice.
Samhain is one of the fire
festivals of the pagan/Celtic world. This time is a 'doorway' into other
planes and subtler realms, where the veil between our world and the
Otherworld is briefly drawn aside. This is a time when spirit and matter may approach
each other more closely.
This is a time for fires and human warmth, and too a reflective and inward time of memory and recollection.
The west is the direction of the dead, the dying year, the setting sun, so in Celtic areas sometimes a shrine was made to the west of the house in honour of the ancestors. A fire or bonfire, indoors or outdoors, seems essential – a reminder of the light as we turn to the dark of the year, and 'summer's end', the meaning of 'samhain' or 'samhuinn'.
Tuesday, 24 October 2017
I've asked Dr Rosamund Wordsmith (BSE, BtB, CJD) to kick us off.
If you'd like to contribute to a future Tuesday Proper Poem, please do – but note none of that nasty modern experimental stuff without rhyme nor reason, mind.
Oh those gold Octobers of yore
When trees all spake their leafy lore
Now fog lies heavy on the
And lo! the rain doth fall again.
Dr RW, BSE, BtB, CJD
Monday, 16 October 2017
The world is full of symbols, if we want to look. Those geese gave me comfort.
Last Wednesday we said goodbye to the much-loved husband of my sister, father of her boys; brother-in-law to three of us, uncle to my daughter.
Driving from South Devon towards the town in North Devon for the funeral, the first murmuration of starlings that I've seen this year split into two interconnecting sine waves just over our heads as we pulled in to the crematorium.
Afterwards, at the wake, another sister happened to mention that as she drove in the opposite direction from us to the crematorium, for the first time in years in her local area she saw a ball of hundreds of starlings cartwheeling in front of her.
|Wikimedia Commons; Tony Hisgett, Birmingham UK|
On Friday morning I opened the front door, and immediately an acorn landed at my feet. A micro-second later there was a second small plop-thump, and a twig from the same oak landed beside the acorn – with a goldfinch still attached, eyes and claws tightly clenched shut but wings splayed. Like a small Icarus it lay immobile in a shower of red, gold and black at my feet.
I'd been about to walk my daughter's dog, but instead, picked the finch up and with said daughter's help gently unclenched its feet and removed the twig, then tucked the bird into my T-shirt. Its small shivers were tiny electric currents passing through us both. Having not yet meditated that morning, I sat by the open French door by the lamp and did so.
Thirty minutes later, I lifted and opened my hands, and the goldfinch sped out and over the hedge, with one backward trill.
I'm at an outdoor retreat centre having a meeting with the director. In one of the meadows they've built a stone circle.
Within the stone circle they've acquired a small circular oak grove. The director tells me that he had no idea how this had happened, until one winter in the circle he saw a jay digging up an acorn it had presumably planted previously.
Yesterday a friend told us this story:
The hummingbird has no prey, and no predator. Its joy is nectar, and in the feeding on nectar from flowers it also pollinates the plant.
The hummingbird – tiny as it is – migrates from Guatemala to Alaska annually.
How does it do this?
It does this by not thinking it's impossible.
Is this a true story? It might be. It might not be. It might be both. That doesn't matter.
Monday, 9 October 2017
I forget. That's a lovely thing about changing seasons: I forget the strings of geese of autumn. I forget the jewels of honeysuckle and bryony lighting damp Devon hedgerows. I forget the families of larks over the fields, the pigeons and rooks gleaning the last of the barley grains and the invertebrates respectively. I forget the autumn cyclamen bursting through the flopping grasses, so I can be delighted all over again.
And today in the lanes I catch a tang of fresh fox, fresh badger. I'm especially heartened and delighted by this, though it's a bit like visiting death row: the fox hunt was out on Saturday (yes it's illegal), and it's been a while since I've seen 'our' fox who sits in his pillar of sunlight in the field next door – or did.
If you are a National Trust member and, like me, are opposed to hunting, there's an opportunity for you to help change NT policy by voting here. It's astonishing to me that the NT allows hunting on 79 of its properties; per se, but particularly as hunting with hounds is illegal. 'Trail hunting'? How do you think the hounds know the difference?
The badger is even more poignant. Within the next few weeks, up to 33,000 could be culled – because of bad science, because farmers and landowners need appeasing, because as a species we like to demonise. We know that it won't be effective. And heartbreakingly it will still go ahead.
You can see why it won't work here.
We have – had - badger setts on our land. I used to curse the badgers goodhumouredly for digging latrines all over one quarter of the field – each just the size to twist your ankle in, and smelly your foot would have been too. I would give a lot to have the opportunity to twist my ankle and smell again. There's been no sign of badger activity for nearly a year now; sadly, the badger runs took in the neighbouring field, too – the only one in the immediate area belonging to someone who supports the cull.
We have had another death in the family. Such a long decade of deaths and losses. Another opportunity to face head-on the reality of being here on this planet. As Clarissa Pinkola Estes counsels, wisdom lies in the acceptance of the death aspect of the life-death-life cycle of everything.
And as I write at the very top of my blog, wherever we go we can never truly disappear, merely dispersing into all that is, beyond the needy dogmatic insistence of the ego on preserving its identity. And yes it's still a hard passage for those of us who are left.
My own consolations, my sanity-saving gifts, in times of trouble have always been the same.
The first is getting out into the rest of nature, surrounded by the nourishment of trees and plants and animals and birds; the elements, the seasons, the wild ocean, the untamed woodlands. Since I was very young this has always been my instinctive response to pain, and it has never failed me yet.
The second is poetry. Adrienne Rich said that poetry can save your life, and so many people relate to that. Increasingly for me it is the work of poetry itself as much as the 'product' that is the lifesaver: whether that's the process of writing it myself or in my case sharing inspiration and ideas within the group of poets with whom I work; a group I've been leading for well over 20 years now, 'Two Rivers'.
When you work in the way that we do, in a closed group of people who have become a very particular band of friends, with a great deal of trust, empathy and intimacy, this becomes soulwork of the deepest and most rewarding kind. Poetry is the induction and conduit – as well of course as being the starting point and outcome.
After they've left and I'm sitting alone in my study in the barn in the garden, the fire dying down and the smell of poetry in the air, it's like sitting in a cathedral with those hundreds of years of the sacred saturating the walls and the air and the light. I'm bathed in something I can't start to name or describe, but can't imagine being absent from my life.
It's a way of offsetting the horrors of our world: the massacres, the refugee crises, the ethnic cleansing, the loss of 50% of our species in 40 years, the fact that every fifteen minutes an elephant loses its face, for its tusks, and our Prime Minister is not yet prepared to outlaw ivory, despite her assurances that she would. It's the climate deniers; it's the displaced peoples; it's the Orange Man making statements that could take us into a 3rd world war (the Today programme this morning mentioned a description of the White House as being like a playgroup without enough staff); it's the outrageousness of the US refusing to challenge the gun laws – I don't need to go on, you know it all.
May we (the earth) always have trees and birdsong; may we have an earth that keeps on giving her abundance – and enough people who care to offset those who don't.
On that note, how privileged I am to live among the other-than-human; and also to be able to take people out into it. So tomorrow morning I'll be working with a local school in the gardens at Greenway, where we can celebrate the abundance of the natural world with stories and poems about it. Tomorrow afternoon, we'll be celebrating the land, nature and place with a series of readings for adults. Small flames.
Oak tree's lost chances –
lazy full-bellied river
pregnant with acorns
Here's a little thing that disproportionately cheered me. I've written before here of my amazing experience of visiting the painted Pech Merle caves, in southwest France, for the first time: how seeing the horses and the handprints in particular blew me away; and the fact that they were made thousands of years ago. Each time I visit, the effect is the same – it's transcendent.
The assumption is generally that such paintings were done by men. Twitter today tells me that a large proportion were done by women (the handprints are small); and here's a report, should you be interested.
This part-poem, below, ties all sorts of things I've just written of together, so rather than going on, I'll leave you with it. It's the end of the title poem of my 2012 collection All the Missing Names of Love, about Pech-Merle caves:
And something glimpsed in those oxide
hands, the bear’s face and horses
half a mile under the limestone, 25,000
years ago drawn with love and deep
knowing as if pets, as if yesterday,
their carbon and manganese fixed, though
the artist has long since meshed atoms
with everything there is...
– Roselle Angwin
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