To Ana at San Gimignano, Good Friday 2000
In the garden at San Gimignano
I thought of you
and how we would no longer be together
for all eternity
It was midnight and I stared
up at the stone wall of the palazzo
under the gaze of a yellow moon
that was no longer full
And I thought, in the stillness, of us
and how we had almost made it
and the four years of our lives
lost in some dark hole
of vague and cloudy regrets.
And I thought bitterly of our time
together but not together
and of our strange destiny which led us
to love but not enough
And I wonder if what it brought us
is more than what it took away
whether it will leave us both feeling sadder
and more betrayed, or more fulfilled
when we each look back on it some day
ten years or so down the road
in another garden, at another midnight
when we have long gone from each other's lives.
In Palmy Lands (1981)
In palmy lands, by sunny seas
On beaches, beneath leafy trees
I lay with my young love at ease
And smoked the weed of vision.
We watched the idle days go by
In dreams that danced across the sky
And changed the world in our mind's eye
As though it were illusion.
But worlds they do not change so fast,
Men's minds do not escape the past;
The maddest ways of life outlast
All efforts at revision.
In time we came to see our cult
As remnants of a failed revolt
Against a madness none could halt
Before the last confusion.
In palmy lands, when I was young,
I little dreamed I would be one
To curse the setting of the sun
And hold life in derision.
Autumn of the Missiles (1983)
Pulling on my boots
I think of the missiles
and pile another argument
Like a wind inside my head
the madness of the time
beats at my brain.
-- Can it be
those who seem sane, walking
normally, talking casually, are all
sleepwalking towards the fire?
Can scale this madness, compass this terror?
No sign from above!
No smile from the stars!
Not a breath of wind stirring
drifts to annihilation.
Hermit's Cell, Rishikesh
I sit outside my hut
overlooking the quiet river
waiting for darkness
and for the swami to call me for dinner.
Three days I have been alone here
and meditation has done nothing for me
seeking peace bores me.
Now I look at the little river
turning pink in the sunset
below the fingers of the tree.
I ask: what was I looking for?
The little circles in the pond
made by insects dipping wings
or by the snapping of invisible fish
they are like silent tear-drops
for the waste of a life
for my non-attainment
What is this sickness?
It is called Not-Having-Written.
What is its cure?
To talk again to that old friend and accomplice
the other ego of my pen
the eternal listener of my mind
I light a small candle
left by another
and admire the white sculptures of its
fallen leaves of wax.
The Writer of Tragedies
When I look back on the waste
the years of futile action in the war of words
the battles I have fought to a savage stalemate on ream
after ream of paper, struggling in the midnight hours
with the devils of disorder and mutiny, brutally conscripting
thousands of days to this imaginary campaign
this hundred years' war of the mind, and when I think
not one of these battles reported to the world
not one bay-leaf, not one historian's footnote,
not one dispatch got through to tell the tale
of slaughtered lives and victory, then the pen
falters sometimes on the page, then the piles
of rotting manuscripts become heaps of corpses
that stink in my nostrils, crying out for fire
to put an end to all.
What lunacy was it
launched my mind to sail on a dead sea
to besiege a lost city? The Muse of Tragedy --
when I began to serve that divinity, how little
I knew how she would triumph over me
how she drags her devotees by chains through the feet
seven times round the walls of Troy, and then throws
their bodies to the dogs.
After such dismemberment
Les Gorges du Tarn
Happy and released I wake from my meditation
and on the fresh world I look in the sloping glare
of the fleeing fireball, all my sense acid clear
and me under the delicate fronds of the perfect grass,
against the ice-age sky
Empty I know the world of all purpose and delirium
empty the earth of thought and full of child-colour
exquisite shades on the grass-seeds, pebbles, thorn-buds
and bird wings of the earth -- lines also curved
like stalks in the wind
and bird notes full of the harmony
of spirits that communicate nothing.
And I, my wandering days begun, never to be finished
take my transient eye's palette and paint once
this beauty of scene on my hollow memory,
to blot it out in the endless negligence of pleasure
the onceness of all but oblivion.
Claude's cherry farm, Aguessac, June 1975
St James' Park, 1978
(MRS PINCHWIFE: Pray sister, where are the best fields and woods to walk in, in London?
ALITHEA : Why sister, Mulberry Garden and St James' Park.
Wycherley, The Country Wife)
Lying in St James' Park under a tree
with an American hash-smuggler
just out of jail in India
and an Italian girl junkie
my current lay
who reads T.S.Eliot to me at night
in between zombie bouts of the needle
and talks of the Red Brigades
Lying stoned on Moroccan hash
bought in some punk-rock pub the night before
we watch the ducks go sailing and the procession
of Londoners seeking peace and quiet
among the trees and grass.
As each of us floats on his own dope dream
delivered to the whims and back alleys of the mind
I sail down the dark of London's past
down the rotting river of time
into dead sunshine's ragged company.
On the banks of old canals
I drift among those idle spirits
who lived on the scruffy edges of the times
the penniless scribblers, unknown poets
drifters and gamblers
who sat here once maybe to muse
in quiet under a shady tree
on the incurable madness of their age.
I wonder idly how much has changed
in all this time, if they too
sat in their cabalistic rags
a fashion of their own
and surveyed that ordered world
where good men swung from gallows trees
and wealth hung at my lady's ear
that could feed a town for a year
while in Calcutta's slums in Cheapside spawned
child whores hawked skin and bone.
What curses did they mutter on this spot
against a mad world with no way out?
What struggle was it then to keep their reason
against the age's mental poison?
Did they like us form friendship's hold
based on the hatred of the world?
And did they sometimes dream of future times
and curse the slowness of men's minds?
And did they sometimes take a break
from the long fight to stay awake
by letting mind float up
launched by pipe or cup
to a realm on high
where visionaries journey when they die?
I think of this as I lie here
in gentle company
with my junkie lay and jailbird friend
drifting with the dope smoke through the trees.
It gives me much pleasure to imagine
my confreres, the lost poets of other times,
stoned on this same spot, with these same thoughts,
while time's black wings hover over London.
To Any Girl (Autumn 2006)
I saw your father this morning
You were two and a half years old
You leaned against a shop window
Watching your breath blur it.
He knelt down at your feet
To straighten your little white socks
In your little yellow shoes.
His giant frame was bent in three
His cowlick grazed your blond curls
As he frowned seriously at his task
While you gazed at your reflection
I saw your father there
And mine too
And his father, and his.
I saw all the fathers of the world.
It happened in a flash as I walked to work
Under a Full Moon at Rapallo
Easter Week 2007
The full moon over the castle at Rapallo
Reminds me of the full moon over the mosque at Cordoba
Seen from the bridge over the vast river
Contemplating a thousand years of history.
And that moon in turn makes me think of another moon
Above the sea on Formentera, beside the rocks
Outside the Spartan guest-house where I stayed alone
For the first time, after my divorce.
Or the moon in the garden where Renate danced
Naked under the grapevines in a Cretan village,
Or the moon that used to guide me up the winding road
From the seashore to my house in Valle Gran Rey
Which cast a shadow just like in the song.
And the moons I lay on the grass and contemplated
On summer nights at my old farmhouse in Burgundy,
Wishing on the shooting stars.
What moons did I see over Lake Atitlan
In Guatemala that I have now forgotten?
Or in the outback, after the galahs
Had done their mad, riotous sunset circuit
And gone finally to roost? But one moon
Sticks in my mind, many years before that
High above the full moon party at Goa
On Anjuna beach, how we watched it rise and fall
Following its path across the sky
Between the dancing, the joints, the chapattis cooked by the old ladies
On their little camp stoves, the cups of tea
Brought by the eager boys
Till the colours seeped back into the trees
And the strains of Strauss's Zarathustra announced
The first fiery rim of sun above the sea.
So we live from moon to moon, and every place
Where we have contemplated moon or stars comes back to us
Like a lost love, a lost moment in time
Recovered by memory.
And I thought tonight
As I looked out over the sea at Rapallo
The castle and the moon -- what if this love affair
Is unrequited, what if we imagine the earth
Returns our love when it is cold and empty?
What does it matter? It is our love that counts
Not whether there is a God that makes our story
A happy one, it is the love itself
That gives meaning, and whether the Secret Listener
Is really there is immaterial.
Our love for earth is like those demented lovers
Suffering from erotomania, who imagine
All their life long some king or princess loves them
And is showing them secret signs, what if our love
For earth is as deluded as that love,
What does it matter? It is our love story
That we have lived-- tragic, sad or deluded
Is all one-- we have lived in love and felt
The passion in our veins. If life itself
Is a cold, hostile and indifferent process
Which grinds our dreams to dust, it does not matter,
So long as we have lived in passionate faith
That has raised our existence from the dust
And made it drama. That is all that counts.
If we have lived under the delusion of meaning
Where no meaning is, this act of deluded
Faith in meaning gives us meaning -- delusion
Is our truth. And whether objective truth
Exists or not is immaterial.
The artist who has lived his life believing
In his genius, dying unrewarded,
Unknown, unrecognized, has lived a faith,
A vocation whose essence is in no way changed
By fame after his death. Whether he was Van Gogh
Or some eccentric on his own trip who will never
Be found fashionable by the trivial trends
Of a new age, it makes no difference.
His act of faith was the same. So with us
Whether the meaning that we give our lives
Proves in some final reckoning to be wrong
Or right is not material --- what counts
Is to live in faith that what we do has meaning
And that faith gives it meaning. In the end
The only reality is the human world
Of our values-- if they do not transcend it
And nothing in the greater cosmos corresponds
To human sentiments, tant pis, we live
By our own standards, we do not need the universe
To justify us. If there is some spirit
In the cosmos that relates profoundly to us
So much the better; if there is none, too bad,
We are what we are -- our sentiments are ours,
Our values ours -- we have made this reality,
This drama of life, this fable of good and evil,
This infatuation with the beauty of the moon,
And it is ours -- by this we live and die,
Let the universe go hang.
Cinque Terre, Maundy Thursday Night 2007
A beautiful day in Cinque Terre
The beach at Moneglia --- quelle douceur de vivre!
In the late afternoon sun, on dune-soft sand,
The waves lapping the shore inside the line
Of rocks that form the sea break
Where seagulls nest and tirelessly cavort
With their wild, harsh cries.
And over to the left the hill with every house
Turned towards the setting sun
And above me on the other side the castle
And looking back the green and white striped steeple
Of the old church, caught in fleeting glimpses,
As you walk along the beach.
And the fish restaurant with the pretty waitress
Full of smiles, the play of the last supper
In the churchyard, before a crowd of parishioners,
A little solemn but effective-- such devotion,
As though it were a passionate part of their culture
In a way it is not for the French. The great story,
The greatest story ever told, still fresh here,
As though the scientific, rationalist revolution
Had passed them by -- they cling to their fairy tale
Their tale of Christ, the greatest representation
Of the human condition ever -- of innocence betrayed,
Of tyranny and injustice trampling all over it,
And yet, not absolutely, not forever,
Truth and justice not dead permanently,
But rising again, because they represent
Some spirit of the cosmos, and man's highest values
Are deeply in harmony with the cosmos, are what the cosmos
Tends ultimately to produce -- what a story is there
To inspire millennia! By comparison with that
What do the scientists and the rationalists have
To stir the soul?
What we must rediscover,
Is the true meaning of Christianity, how it has kept
Certain values alive, and has affirmed
A simple truth : man and his spiritual ideals
Are not an aberration, a lost cause
In a cold, impersonal cosmos -- we are the product
Of this cosmos, we are the highest form
Of life, and if we are what life tends towards,
Then we are in profound harmony with life,
And human values are the soul of the cosmos.
The God we have made in our own image is real
Because we are real, and what we are
All life tends to produce at its most complex:
A consciousness so sophisticated it can doubt
Even its own existence, and morally judge
The universe that made it.
Therefore our moral nature is not alien
To an indifferent cosmos -- the whole cosmos
Has striven to produce our moral nature.
We are its soul, its living essence. Only in us
Does the cosmos have meaning (or in such other beings
On other planets that have reached our level
Or gone higher.) Therefore our story is
Not peripheral to the cosmos but central,
Because the cosmos exists to produce life
And thinking beings are life's highest form.
If the universe
Is a machine for producing intelligence
If evolution is a process whereby
The inanimate becomes animate, the lifeless living,
The ignorant stone an animal, and animals
Progress in sophistication till they reach
Rationality, self-consciousness, and finally
A moral conscience that can judge the whole process
Which produced them -- if all evolution
Tends to produce the highest consciousness,
Then this high consciousness must be at the core
Of life itself. That is the only rational
Conclusion from our situation-- that rationality
Lies at the innermost essence of the cosmos
Or it could not produce rationality.
That the highest consciousness, far from being
An aberration in an alien world
Is what the entire cosmos tends to produce.
And if it produces this, then this very consciousness
Is profoundly in harmony with the cosmos,
Is an end-product and goal and cannot merely be
An accidental by-product. If it were so,
It would not happen again and again in cycles,
No matter how many species or races are destroyed,
As we now suspect has happened. And everywhere
That life exists this process is in motion.
Thought is the goal of life and life itself
Can only therefore be thought -- on some level
Our thoughts are in harmony with the essence of the cosmos,
And being in harmony with it helps us to act.
That is what all religions and philosophies
Of contemplation teach at their core. And all the trappings
Of religious worship, prayer, meditation,
Bowing to the ground, are all simply methods
For putting the mind in order and aligning it
With the spirit of the cosmos. Whether we can
Evolve ways of aligning ourselves with the cosmos
Which do not require the crude trappings of religion
Is another question. Only the future will tell.
But it is time to cease this self-pitying whining,
This pretence that we are orphans in the universe,
Adrift on a planet without sympathy for us.
We evolved here, something made us what we are,
And that something lies at the heart of life.
Postcards from another time
Some of the people I was