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

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

the edge is what I have

I wrote once: 'Because we have refused the dark / we cannot bear the light', and there's a strong psychological truth underpinning this concept. If we refuse to let ourselves be touched, moved, devastated, even torn apart by this world and its suffering we do not, perhaps, have the capacity to experience also deep joy, love, even ecstasy (Kahlil Gibran says similarly). Our lives may be riffs then on the theme of half-shade and numbness.

And beyond this duality, there is a way of being that sees both suffering and joy as transient, a way that points to acceptance of both states without identifying our essential nature with either state. There is a way of being that is able to feel both, and still sit at the hub of this axis wisely, noticing the swings of our emotional nature and finding a way to keep a balance of attention, mindfulness. Something here about 'passionate equanimity' – not detaching, but non-attached.

If, as the Buddha suggests, all suffering stems from our attachment to that which is of its nature impermanent, a way to freedom is to genuinely accept transience and not attach ourselves so ferociously to forms that come into being and wither away.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes in Women Who Run with the Wolves tells us that our pain comes from wanting the life side of the life/death/life cycle, and pushing away experience of the rest. This too, she concludes, results in a numbing, a dissociation from the cycles of things.

And yes of course a full life richly lived has to embrace all this – pain and joy, suffering and love. Well, experiencing the death of a loved one is extraordinarily hard. Watching, as in this case, my ailing father utterly devastated by grief, truly 'beside himself', is harder even. Because he needs so much support, I can't start to touch my own natural grief. What I notice I'm doing though is seeking out in the few precious solo moments liminal poetry.

One of the gifts of poetry is filling, or stilling,  the heart at times when little else can heal it. And while it's not surprising, given the time of year in the northern hemisphere, that a few months ago I choose the title of what would have been this Sunday's forthcoming writing workshop from Roethke's poem, below, I see in it too some personal resonance, prescience.

In a Dark Time

In a dark time, the eye begins to see,
I meet my shadow in the deepening shade;
I hear my echo in the echoing wood –
A lord of nature weeping to a tree,
I live between the heron and the wren,
Beasts of the hill and serpents of the den.

What's madness but nobility of soul
At odds with circumstance? The day's on fire!
I know the purity of pure despair,
My shadow pinned against a sweating wall,
That place among the rocks – is it a cave,
Or winding path? The edge is what I have.

A steady storm of correspondences!
A night flowing with birds, a ragged moon,
And in broad day the midnight come again!
A man goes far to find out what he is –
Death of the self in a long, tearless night,
All natural shapes blazing unnatural light.

Dark, dark my light, and darker my desire.
My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,
Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?
A fallen man, I climb out of my fear.
The mind enters itself, and God the mind,
And one is One, free in the tearing wind.

Theodore Roethke 


  1. Blessings and warmest love to you Roselle.
    When Lily died all I could read was poetry, it spoke to and comforted my soul like nothing else could.
    Your words are so true, may you retain your still centre through buffeting winds of grief.
    Henrietta xxxx

  2. Henrietta, that is so kind. I have been thinking of you this week - remembering your composure and poise the first time I met you, though you must have been in tremendous pain, still. Everyone we meet who goes through this kind of journey before us is also a teacher, aren't they? And for you, it was your daughter. I don't know how people survive such pain; you shine with it all. Much love to you too - and thank you.


Blog Archive