from BARDO

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.

Roselle Angwin

Friday, 7 October 2011

the deep song; cante jondo; oran mor & whales

The idea of the 'deep song' has rather transfixed me for a long time. It's not, in my imagination, just one thing, though. There are many possible interpretations and applications.

It is, firstly, both connecting thread, way home, and celebration of our place in the universe. As Lorca, that poet of the duende, fiery earthy passion, meant it in his use of the phrase cante jondo (or canto hondo), connected as it was with Andalusian flamenco earthsong sung by a human voice: 'The cante jondo approaches the rhythm of the birds and the natural music of the black poplar and the waves; it is simple in oldness and style. It is also a rare example of primitive song, the oldest of all Europe, where the ruins of history, the lyrical fragment eaten by the sand, appear live like the first morning of its life...'

Then there are the Songlines of the Australian Aboriginals – a dreaming of the land which happened from the beginning and is recreated continuously by our active participation and re-imagining.

I think of it as being a way of tuning-in to one's own deep soulsong, one's natural voice (though I don't necessarily mean it as a vocal expression but more what the Irish would call the Dan – a way of living in accord with one's truest essential nature, and therefore in accord too with the rest of the planet). When I lead my annual retreat on the Isle of Iona, we are also implicitly or explicitly listening for this deep bloodsong in our own hearts beating in tune with the land.

In Gaelic we have the Oran Mor – the 'big song' of the cosmos/land/people, in which once again we need to be participants in order to keep revivifying the land and allowing it, in turn, to nourish all of us. Jason Kirkey (in The Salmon in the Spring) says of this: 'The Oran Mor... is not... literal sound but... the symphonic movement of the entire cosmos. ... We must begin to think of ourselves as expressions of the Oran Mor much like, as Alan Watts compared us, waves are an expression of the ocean... We are not, in other words, just an expression of the unfolded order of the universe, but of the underlying implicate order as well.'

What does it take to live as if we really knew how, in our deepest truest way? You will notice this is a preoccupation of mine. Jeanette Winterson once said, in a much more poetic way than my paraphrase, that a seed knows how to blossom and fruit according to its true nature; many of us don't even know how to sprout, let alone flower.

And thinking about deep songs, I can't help thinking, right now, from a place of deep sorrow, of the current plight of the great whales, several of whom have beached themselves on the world's shores recently. Their 'oceanic deep song' has been so severely tampered with by our race, with our disorienting sonar and radar, not to mention our pollution, and their slaughter. They of course are far from alone in suffering at our hands, but in a beautiful and literal way their songs really do sound the ocean. Did you see the BBC documentary a few months ago, where a baby sperm whale, hiding and lost between the twin hulls of a catamaran, 'called' its mother to it from a mile further down in the ocean?


  1. A beautiful bit of writing. I guess when we are not distracted by the external 'stuff' of modern life (feeling fat, ugly, poor, victimized, etc.,)we may have the opportunity to hear our own song and sing with the whales and the blackbirds. This is a very edge of existence age we live in. Hope is the only hope, if you know what I mean.

  2. Thank you, Veronica, for helping me feel less alone with all this. You're right - it does feel like an 'edge of existence age'. And yes - absolutely - hope is the only hope. Nicely sung! x


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