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 21 December 2022

Poem for the Winter Solstice/Alban Arthan 2022


Midwinter in Finistère

Despite the ice, the icy rain
sparrows chatter all day

in the peach tree at the corner
of my eye. The dogs don’t care

that it’s cold, or wet. Flocks
of fieldfare, redwing, startle

at their rush. Only I have
forgotten to visit my larger

self; am stranded in this
enchantment, tide, of ice.

If we could join heaven and earth
the way a bird does, or a tree.

If we could remember.

© Roselle Angwin

And here's an older one that I really like, from my book All the Missing Names of Love:

Blessings for a deep and bright midwinter turning to you all.

Thursday 22 September 2022

poem for the autumn equinox: while nothing changes, everything does


While nothing changes, everything does
Autumn Equinox 2022

At dawn, after the stars and crescent moon, the sun

is back in the east, peering through the laden chestnut trees
into our bedroom.

In the night, scores more apples fall, and we eat our own
peaches for breakfast.
            Just now a new ladybird, so small
I could barely count its spots, landed on my arm.

These moments are lifeboats. 
                                    Such abundance, and
it's taken me till now to learn I don’t need to earn it,
deserve it, or strive for it; I can simply revel in beauty.

Nothing has lost its significance for me; it’s just
that, ageing, I crave it all less.

Of course
        the tragedy of the world continues.

My friend says ‘Five swans flew past this morning.’
My friend says ‘Surely this is enough.’

© Roselle Angwin 2022






Sunday 31 July 2022

the first harvest


Lughnasadh, Lammas, begins tonight. As I've written many times before, Lughnasadh is one of the Celtic fire festivals, and exactly midway between the summer solstice and the autumn equinox. Traditionally, it's the time of the first harvest: notably grain (think John Barleycorn).

As you will know if you've been paying attention, TM and I have moved to Brittany, to be guardians of some very beautiful land and a shambling old farmhouse. We are beginning to plan – and where we can, start to implement – the next phase, which involves permaculture, forest gardening and rewilding. We have many mature and lovely trees as a starting point.

There is much joy and many challenges. There is far far too much to say, which is why I haven't.

Something rather lovely here is quite how many, and what a variety of, trees and shrubs are coming to light as we get to know and to weed or prune back the overgrowth; many of them fruiting. Our first harvest of raspberries and blackcurrants is well past now, and we have walnuts, sweet chestnuts, figs perhaps, grapes, kiwi fruits, hazels, apples and damsons to look forward to. We have the previous owners to thank for this. This garden has been much-loved – there are about 15 species of rose, many of them heavily scented, planted in borders and against walls.

And today's harvest, for Lughnasadh, are these cape gooseberries. Little fiery suns.

I'm thinking about giving thanks for our harvests, and how, on so many levels, what we are giving thanks for is the fruit of others' labour, whether we know those others or not. Of course, there is the earth; the sun; the rain (when it comes – here the promise is pushed back day after day). There are those who grow our food for us, since most of us  don't grow our own; those who harvest it, pack it, deliver it.

Whether or not you eat animals or their products (I don't), something still has to be sacrificed in order that we might live. Accompanying the reaping is a dying, too.

What we are today comes from others, human or other-than-human. Our very cells are made up of others' cells.
Of course, there are metaphorical harvests too; and in an equally real, albeit non-material, way, who we are today is also a result of others: their gifts, their kindnesses, their teachings, their wisdom, their lendings, what they have offered and what we have taken.

And then there is immeasurable gratitude to whatever animating spirit it is that fires the cosmos, and consciousness.

Tomorrow morning, when I wake, before the various anxieties about the world kick in, I am determined to turn my mind, and thanks, to the harvests, past and ongoing, that have come my way from others; the many blessings of this (and any) time.

Friday 24 June 2022

a summer solstice 2022 poem, belatedly


Moving House at the Summer Solstice – Finistère, 2022

Even before the sun crests the chestnut trees
this thousand-blossom twenty-foot fountain of fragrance
spreads her white invitation across this and the other
wild gardens, and already a hundred bees have rspv’d.

She was a slip when I planted her five years ago,
rooting so easily into her non-native soil. I could
linger here under her arch, at a kind of midsummer
crossroads like the one where I saw the hare yesterday,

I could borrow her unstintingness, belonging
to the universe so easily, breathing out freely,
without holding some back for myself, without asking
where home might be. At this midsummer turning,

how to unmoor the self from ‘I’, ‘me’, ‘my’? – simply to rest
between earth and sky, this whole wide world my home.

Roselle Angwin






Sunday 29 May 2022

A ragbag: May in Devon; other-than-human kin; Iona in April; our big move

In this post, I include parts of my recent Fire in the Head newsletter, so if you are on my mailing list you already know some of this.

In the merry month of May
May and in the deluge I walk out where the bright spring rain ignites the hillside into the ultraviolet flame of bluebells, incandescent against the new sharp greens of the valley. May, and in the deluge something hidden, almost lost, shyly steps forth and in a moment has taken wings. May, and in the rain I’m stripped naked then clothed by rain. May, and high above me the buzzard’s quiet jubilation encircles the day, the way a priest or a magician passes hands over the bread, the chalice, the water to be blessed; casts a spell that changes us all into what we were always meant to be.


If April is the cruellest month, May must surely be the kindest; the land here in Devon is awash now with the last of the bluebells and wild garlic, and the bridal blooms of Hawthorn, the May flower, in whose month, in the Celtic Tree Calendar which underpins my own life and work, and my most recent book, A Spell in the Forest – tongues in trees, we find ourselves currently. There is much to say about the mythology surrounding Hawthorn, and her dark sister, the Blackthorn, but that's not for here.


Our other-than-human kin

Where are the swallows and martins? I wonder if ‘yours’ have come back? Weather, chemical farming methods, conversion of barns and lack of nesting sites have all played their part in the decline of the hirundines. A permanent absence of these migrants in our skies is a prospect too heartbreaking to contemplate. There is a hole in the fabric of things when a species declines; a snag in the web of life.

Some time between 4 am and 4.30 am each morning for several weeks I’ve been woken by various iterations of young ravenous jackdaw squawks, in triplicate, deepening and increasing in volume by the morning. The ‘nest’ – the shambolic heap of twigs balanced precariously in the ivy growing up the stone wall and literally a metre from our heads in bed, albeit the other side of the roof – is coming apart at the seams. This morning something is different, though. The squawk is higher-pitched, I’d say panicky; even louder, and higher up the roof, accompanied by noisy mad flapping and the distinct sound of a small body sliding down the slates. And repeated. (Last year one fledgling fell off the roof, narrowly avoiding the neighbour’s cat’s jaws by dint of abseiling back up said ivy.) 

I lie wide awake now, and listen to the two thrushes, one each side of the valley. ‘Our’ thrush, in the field, has a fairly sophisticated repertoire, with a number of regular recognisable phrases: caerphilly caerphilly caerphilly, chew chew chew, peewit peewit peewit, teeeoooh. The valley one is a learner with a less distinct song – perhaps last year’s youngster. If I get up and go downstairs now, the pair of dunnock that lives in the courtyard and who currently have a brood in the goat willow tree that decorates my car so prolifically with fluffy mouse-like catkins, will, I know, appear at my feet, looking hopeful. Dunnock are shy birds, but these now know me so well that I can rustle a bag just above their heads and they won’t move.

In just over a week’s time, a new family, one with two cats, will move into this house with its one-and-a-half acres of spectacular land – meadow, woodland, bee and herb beds, extensive veg plot and wild twisty-pathed gardens. They will love and tend the place, and their plans will fit. But their cats will not respect my friendship with the other-than-human here. And I am heartbroken at leaving the wildlife I know so well, and who trust me: woodpeckers, owls, nuthatches, bullfinches, robins, blackbirds, five species of tit, and many others, and who know I will help when the winter is hard on this north-facing slope.


Then there are the hares, voles, and roe deer; the few badgers left from culling, illegally gassing or sett-blocking; the few foxes that the illegal hunt hasn’t killed. Nesting in our field are also buzzards and sparrowhawks; they too have their place, and I’ve learned a lot from buzzards.

The secret valley
There is, too, this secret valley. Having lived, with my daughter, most of my adult life on Dartmoor, and spending regular time in wildish places: the Hebrides, West Cornwall and, before that, the Pyrenees and then Brittany, this soft valley in the affluent South Hams didn’t at first speak to me. But I have come to love its quiet tranquillity, its out-of-the-wayness (one expects the compass to spin here, and in fact it is a bit of a Bermuda triangle), its lack of farming activity; its brook, its spindle and gorse, the little egrets that come up the Dart in winter to roost in the old oak and keep an eye on the fishy tiddlers in the brook, the owls who call from our great oak tree. Nowadays, within a radius of a couple of miles, there is also a small population of youngish people who have moved in to tend and cultivate the land in sustainable ways, some living off-grid.

And there is the land, and the beautiful stone wood and glass house built by TM 20+ years ago. And we are leaving it. The next blog I will write will not be from here. NB It seems that my browser and blogger are no longer easily compatible. I may start a new blog, perhaps connected to my websites, soon.


Loving it all

We learn to love the general, and humanity/other species/the world/cosmos, by loving the particular, the personal, the specific. I believe this is the meaning of Robert Hass’ complicated and wonderful poem 'Meditation at Lagunitas'. See how he begins with the distancing large and abstract, and brings it down to the close-up material detail of the personal? Almost everyone who reads this poem (it figures on my poetry correspondence course) feels the fire of it coming alive, beginning with the 'clown-faced woodpecker' but really leaping into three dimensions when he writes 'There was a woman /'. This is how, I believe, we make sense of, or learn to love, the vast existential and metaphysical questions: by seeing the enormous and extraordinary in the small and ordinary detail of those beings and things to whom we give our hearts.

Now is my chance to take this deep love and open it out to all I newly encounter in our new adventure; in wildlife terms, red squirrels, deer, pine martens and wild boar, besides the usual host of smaller creatures. Oh, and the humans.


Islands of the Heart

My ‘Islands of the Heart’ retreats on the Isle of Iona happened again this year. I always feel so privileged to be able to work with these fine people, some of whom have joined me every year, or nearly, since 2000 on the sacred Isle of Iona. I believe I say this every time, but I think this was the best yet. The weather was (mostly) fabulous, the people were just lovely, and some very fine writing was writ. (Some of the nutters among us, what’s more, also dipped into the sea, daily. Yes, in April, up north.)

I also climbed up to the Well of Eternal Youth with the long-suffering M, who didn’t complain about our taking the steep slippery route up Dun I – the 'Hill of the Island' – at speed, lured by promises of a gentle easy descent which never materialised: ‘I marched her up to the top of the hill / and I marched her down again’.

This well, dedicated to Bride who gives her name to the Hebrides, Bridport, Bridlington and possibly the whole of Britain (Brighid, or Brigid, christianised as St Bridget), the ancient Great Goddess whose cauldron (or in this case well) occurs in various guises in Celtic myths, is supposed to restore the aged to youth and also the dead to life. Sadly, I came back just as old and wrinkly as I went up. (Oh wait, I think we were supposed to take our clothes off and immerse ourselves?) Here for you, above, are photos of the well and its view, as a change from the eternal white sands and blue seas I normally post.

The Old Nunnery on Iona

Always the chatter from these
streamers of geese, ravelling the sky.

Above the hill, two rooks
bring their shadows along for the ride.

What else can I say for this nunnery
that I haven’t said twenty times before?

Beyond, the primary school is flying the blue
and yellow flag we all now know so well.

Roselle Angwin


And so to the big adventure.

Walking into the Unknown
I imagine I'm not alone with the strength of ideas of belonging in my psyche – to a place, to its inhabitants, to its culture. Experience of place and belonging are fundamental to how we humans find our way in the world. I'm also concerned as well with how we walk through this world, and relate to our other-than-human kin.
 I know many of you are too. And what does it mean to attempt to live truly sustainably, minimising our footprint?

As regards 'home', comfortable in most places at the edges of the Western Atlantic, I still have a strong sense of my own roots. We can trace the family’s roots back hundreds of years to the tiny magical triangle that is the far west of Britain, West Penwith in Cornwall. Having said that, I’ve spent most of my life in Devon, having been brought up on the North Devon coast and then, as I said earlier, on or very close to Dartmoor. I belong here in the Westcountry. But 'home' is perhaps more to do with a sense of being comfortable with a chosen life and its path as much as a geographical location. How do we DO this life? How do we walk lightly on the earth? How do we create a life that is congruent with our values?

We are now about to cross the Channel and make our home in Brittany: the far northwest department, Finistère (think Asterix), so similar to Cornwall (and Wales) in language and culture, as well as land, trees and wildlife. There is a long story behind this, but I will remain geographically very close to my beloved forest, the one that figures in Spell, and which I know well.

We have just bought 17 acres of beautiful meadows and woodland, along with a shambolic farmhouse whose heart dates back, supposedly, to the 1700s, where we are, in a matter of weeks, going to unroll our vision of guardianship of the land via permaculture, forest gardening or at least orcharding, and letting the land do its own rewilding as it sees fit.

One important aspect of this is a vision of how little one needs to create a healthy life. How can we shake our dependence on fossil fuel, and consumerism? How might we consider sharing this land? How much can we let it be, to be what it needs? What might we grow in how small a space that could help the wider community without damaging the land? All these questions are in our minds as we make this transition.

My work
For the best part of a year I will be concentrating on my own writing only (that is, if our land projects in Brittany allow any time or energy at all). I have my vegan cookbook to be finished, and hundreds of scrappy notes towards Book Two of A Spell in the Forest.

The next full course I’ll offer will be Iona next year.

However, this autumn I hope to offer 3 weeklong virtual courses. (I've finally added the prose version of 'Writing the Bright Moment' that I've been promising so long, as a nature memoir course.) Dates for these have to be arranged, but they are likely to take place in October, November & December. Please keep an eye on this link for info; and do let me know if you are interested (numbers will be limited). The first two courses garnered very complimentary feedback each time I offered them, and some of the groups have continued to meet, with one producing an anthology.

I don't know how it is for you, but I notice that my deep joy in the turning year, especially manifest in spring, is tinged often with something like guilt for experiencing bliss when so many are suffering severe pain, trauma, loss in other parts of the world. Then I remember the words of Kahlil Gibran: ‘It doesn't help to limp before the lame’ (this is a paraphrase). 

So I wonder whether, to offset somehow the horrors, we almost have a responsibility to live deeply, love abundantly, and feel profound joy to the extent that we can, in this very beautiful, albeit torn, world of ours?

With this in mind, till next time, my friends, may the summer shower inspiration and love on you all; and I find I want to wish you the music of the eternally-turning spheres. May you find your true home in the universe, whether outside or inside; or, best of all, both.


Sunday 27 March 2022

Isle of Iona, again...

song from the Abbey
less precious to my heart
than this small sparrow




...And for a long space of time we voyaged on this glass-clear sea and knew no pain or fear, above or under it, and were blessed only by joy...


Sunday 20 March 2022

Between the Poles: equinox poem

Between the Poles

20th March 2022, 3.33pm: spring equinox

Beneath the newly-leafing elder
a shoal of wild garlic is secretly flourishing.
Above my head, a pair of buzzards flips and plays.

Yesterday I wrote ‘Saharan dust!’ in the thick
sandy spatters on the car bonnet. Today
the wind is backing; and here on the bench

at the top of the meadow I can see east
to the far horizon, though not enough
as to hear the bombs and smell the fear.

Everything cycles between these poles:
summer and winter, dark and light, peace
and war. For this one equinox moment,

though, on the cusp where day and night
are held in equal tension, I can almost pretend
we could change our lives, the world.

© Roselle Angwin




Tuesday 15 March 2022

A Tree Full of Birds PART 11


In my previous post I excerpted a section from the last chapter of my book Writing the Bright Moment – inspiration & guidance for writers.

The chapter is called 'A Tree Full of Birds', and is intended to keep us keeping on: not just with writing, but with active hope, as Buddhist scholar and activist Joanna Macy would say, for the future, remembering that we co-create it, in our own small but individual ways through our own unique gifts.

Keeping a sense of wonder alive seems particularly important at a time of great darkness. This is not naïve, not sentimental – it's a way of not giving up.

So here is Part 11 of A Tree Full of Birds.

Where do you start? Find a moment of glory. I’m thinking of Seamus Heaney’s ‘Postscript’ poem, of R S Thomas’ ‘Bright Field’, of Brendan Kennelly’s Glimpses. Early in her narrative non-fiction book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek Annie Dillard mentions a tree, an Osage orange, which, ostensibly empty, suddenly flames with an eruption of blackbirds, previously unseen; then another, then another – hundreds of blackbirds from what looked like an empty tree. This was a moment of glory for her, to which she returns in the course of the book.
    Reading her passage, many years ago now, that tree became a moment of glory for me, too; one which I have not forgotten, to which I return, a metaphor against which I measure, or by which I name, other moments – including, of course, my own personal remembered gloriousnesses. The tree, in the book and in my imagination, is both itself and a metaphor for something else. It has become mythic in size, and that way contains magic.

It happens that many bright moments occur outside, when alone in nature; and many occur in the little ‘lost’ moments between people.
These events, I realise as I get older, are not the huge dramatic moments of intense revelation or passion, epiphanies, as they seemed to be when I was younger. Instead, they’re often tiny and easily missed; clichéd in their everydayness: a smile from a stranger, a hug from a loved one, a touch on the arm, shared words or silence, extraordinary light on the water, the glimpse of a kingfisher, an unexpected gift through the post, a card with kind words, pony’s breath or dog’s wet nose barely touching your hand, catching the dawn, an instant of total and spontaneous openheartedness. Sometimes you are prepared, maybe in a heightened state of some sort. Usually, though, these moments occur in mundane circumstances – and, let’s face it, much of our life is mundane; yet this, this quotidiennité, is the terrain of miracles. It’s the present moment that we inhabit – the now that is the only time we have.
    The writer’s job is to pay attention, pay attention, pay attention. Cultivate that kind of looking, and write with intention. Write to add to the positive stories that might help us keep hope, the tiny flame of hope, alive.

Slow down. Stay open, stay alive. Stay awake.
    Writing is a process that never stops. There is no destination; there is only the journeying. Sometimes it works; sometimes you’re off track. You’re always searching for the next step. ‘…It can take a lifetime to convey what you mean, to find the opening,’ says Barry Lopez. ‘You watch, you set it down. Then you try again.’

So you find something that inspires you and you let the pen catch fire. Find that moment of glory. Stay alert for it. Catch it out of the corner of your eye as it streams past, and slide it onto the page. Write what you’re passionate about. Really passionate about, deep inside. Let it have soul. Let your words matter. Make them count. Don’t waste them, and don’t underestimate them. Don’t worry whether anyone else cares about your writing. That way, you can’t fail. ‘People are hungry,’ says poet David Whyte; ‘and one good word is bread for a thousand.’

© Roselle Angwin 2004

Saturday 12 March 2022

A Tree Full of Birds PART 1


My friends, it's been a long time. I know that. I've been ill, and there has been far too much going on, personally as well as collectively; there is far too much to say; plus big changes are happening in our lives (of which more anon).

But for the sake of encouraging those of you who write (and encouraging those of us who do and haven't for a while!), I thought that in these times it might be worth posting part of the final chapter in my book above (published 2005 with Arts Council England support; available in the UK from me). In its way, it's about not giving up. I hope you enjoy it.

Part 11 next week.|


EXCERPTED FROM A TREE FULL OF BIRDS: the final chapter in my book Writing the Bright Moment – inspiration & guidance for writers

A Tree Full of Birds PART 1

‘If I were asked what I want to accomplish as a writer, I would say it’s to contribute to a literature of hope... I want to help create a body of stories in which men and women can discover trustworthy patterns...Every story is an act of trust between a writer and a reader; each story, in the end, is social. Whatever a writer sets down can help or harm the community of which he or she is a part...’
Barry Lopez


We know that we need to find a wiser, more sustainable way to live; not just for ourselves, but for the planet as a whole.
    What are the tales we tell ourselves? What underlying beliefs and truths do they portray? What stories support our values? How could we build on this? Do the stories in which we immerse ourselves enhance our view of ourselves, each other and life?
    Here’s another question: what responsibility does the writer have for what he or she puts into the world? No one wants chocolate-box stories and perpetual epiphany; you can’t make stories about only contented characters in a perfect world. But when did you last see a film that portrayed people relating in a healthy, loving and mature way to each other? What is the attraction of watching TV shows and screenplays that centre on human dysfunction and people behaving badly?

What stories do we need? At the end of my first book [written in 1992] I asked this question. Here I am again: nearly twelve years on [2004], I am still asking this same question. [Now, in 2022, it hasn’t changed.] In one way and another this question has been posed throughout this book, too: tacitly, or overtly.
    How would it be to read books that support us in being more fully and compassionately human? Ones that give us tools to grow and change; offer us models of functional, healthy patterns of relating – whether to ourselves, to each other, to the wider human sphere or to the planet as a whole, rather than narratives that merely underline how grim ‘reality’ is, and how untrustworthy and self-seeking people are, thus confirming our view of the world and the human condition as basically beyond hope?
    Perhaps our diet has become too thin, and we are looking for a different kind of nourishment. We need now stories that offer us healing, offer us the potential of wholeness, of coming through in the end. Empowering stories. Stories that show us human being at its best: its most courageous, generous, kind, loving, compassionate, wise, funny. Stories that celebrate the earth, wilderness, the diversity of nations, the diversity of species. Stories that allow us to imagine a new world order based on empathy, co-operation, kindness, discussion, negotiation, fairness, equality. Stories that celebrate what is green, what is vulnerable, what is innocent, what is childlike, what is wise, what is feminine, what is masculine; stories about co-operation and harmony rather than competition and conflict; about people making wise choices. Stories that celebrate magic, mystery, miracle. Stories that help restore some sort of faith, whatever that may mean for each of us.
    I am aware that these things on their own do not make story, or even poetry. But the way we deal with them, and the choices we make, do. I am not suggesting that we pretend all is not how it is. I am not naïve enough as to assume that war will end in my lifetime; that violence will cease to exist; that poverty will be an extinct word; that pollution will be outlawed; that conservation will suddenly become more important to the corporate world than profit.

I am not at all suggesting that we pretend pain does not exist. On the contrary. Go to where the pain is. Write about it. Make a story of it. The pain will show you where the work is needed, and it will, in its unfolding onto paper, show you the path for healing. Human life will always be hard, in parts – that is the nature of the egoic life, which sees itself as separate and all-important, that judges and picks and chooses: ‘I like this, but not that. This is acceptable but that isn’t.’. But the stories that matter, the big stories, are always a triumph over these limitations.
    It is important not to give up. Human actions matter; they make a difference. Even one person’s weight will make a difference. And who knows which of us will effect the final ‘critical mass’ moment at which a threatened downslide will wobble, pause, and start to right itself? And it is at that critical moment, when we are deepest in the darkness – maybe right now – that we need these stories of hope; when we need a lamp out of the cave. And we need to know we are not alone.

Find something you can really believe in; something that enhances your life; and a group of people who think like you, whether it’s a writing group, or a politically active group, or an evening class, or an online discussion group, or people who like walking out on the land, or are involved in life-enhancing projects in the city. Find a community that supports you in your vision. Maybe they’ll be flesh and blood people. Maybe it’ll be the books of poets or authors writing passionately about things you care about. It’s crucial. Make it the next thing you do. ‘Never doubt that a group of committed individuals can change the world; in fact it’s the only thing which can,’ said anthropologist Margaret Mead. And ‘Better to light a candle than curse the darkness,’ goes another saying. 

And again: ‘There is never enough darkness to extinguish a single candle.’ Hold that thought close, especially in these times.

May we together work towards freedom from suffering.

© Roselle Angwin 2005–2022

Wednesday 19 January 2022

Reblog from 2012: the book of beauty

Thinking as I do from time to time about Keats' profoundly simple statement that 'Truth is beauty and beauty truth' (I'm reminded in part because it's one of the few ideas couched in poetry that TM rates), it occurs to me that truth is to the mind what beauty is to the heart; and how we need both. It's exciting coming across an idea or concept that seems to have traction, to be of another plane, to convey what we sense but may not always be able to articulate. It's also exciting, and inspiring – and essential to the life of the heart – to experience beauty, through, as we usually do, the senses of the physical body (in this I include, say, meeting the eyes of another with love for example, as well as the more obvious access to the manifest beauty of the physical world).

I'm partly saying this because the students on my poetry course have recently been looking in some depth at Robert Hass' wonderful and difficult poem 'Meditation at Lagunitas', where, amongst many other things, he seems to be suggesting that profound human experience, akin to beauty, is found in the particular, the unique, the individual, the specific – and in his poem it's the recording of this rather than the abstract generalised conceptual truths that we feel moving our hearts. And yet it's against the backdrop of the abstract and eternal that the particular and transient reveals itself.

So I'm suggesting that 'truth' is an equivalent to the abstract 'backdrop', where 'beauty' is the matter of the world of the senses.

And I'm partly saying this too because in the last two weeks I've had occasion three times to remember the ever-presence of the nearness of death. In the last few years I've experienced a number of deaths of people, animals, ways of life that were dear to me; and of course we experience a perpetual cycle of births and deaths in smaller ways all the time. These three times, though, were more directly personal reminders. I've found myself this morning, after a night's sleep, utterly ecstatic to be outside in all the beauty of our world when walking the dog this morning. It's always a source of joy to me being outdoors, no matter what the weather (interior or external), but it's heightened by the reminders of our transience, isn't it?

Once again this morning I picked up a book that has lived by my bedside since I bought it at Glastonbury Festival in 1994. It's a modern book of hours: Soul of the Earth, by Phil Cousineau. Each page contains a passage or excerpt from a poem, accompanied by a stunning photo by Eric Lawton, and each day of the week is given a number of pages according to the old monastic tradition of praise-singing at set times of the day.

Here's a paragraph from the introduction: 'Contemplation of beauty is the consolation of the world. The soul needs the slow absorbing of beauty just as plants long for the sun and the sea craves the moon. Deep contemplation of beauty in the scudding clouds over an ancient Mayan temple, the shimmering blue-white of Vermeer's portrait A Woman in Blue Reading a Letter, the deep black god-tracks of Old English in the hoary pages of Beowulf is still our most creative human response to the shuddering of the soul.' He continues: 'And always after every encounter with the wonders of the world came a further wonder: How can I keep alive the astounding moments of my life so that I might withstand the turbulence, the soul-breaking moments?'

Make a book of beauty. Choose a big hardback notebook – one that you like the look and feel of – and dedicate it entirely to the collecting of poems, quotes, phrases, images that move your heart. Keep it by your bed. Bathe in it often. Allow it to remind you that in all the distress and suffering in the world the moments of beauty are right here, right now, too. They can save your life.

Thursday 6 January 2022

Prose poems: Driving North; and Reed, Eagle, Monk; & the sacred Isle of Iona


This is the first post of the new year – Birch month – and in my mind I've been mulling over all the profound(!) and nature-oriented things I was going to tell you; and tell you I will. Soonish.

But for now, already I'm thinking of my Iona weeks in March and April; it seems so short a time since the September and October weeks I spent up there leading my retreats (for the 21st year, minus 2020), and remembered that I was due to have two prose poems – one about the journey to the Island, one about being there – up on Stride magazine. The prose poem is a form I like very much, and I'm currently gathering my many together for a collection.

You can read these two here, if you'd like to distract yourself for a few minutes:

Wishing you all good things, and a healthy, creative and inspiring 2022.

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