Archive for the ‘Poetry’ Category

They don’t smoke, but neither do they breathe

fresh air very deeply

They don’t drink wine, but neither do they

enjoy lemonade; they don’t swear, but neither

do they glory in any magnificent words, neither

poetry nor prayer;

They don’t gamble, but neither do they take

much chance on God;

They don’t look at women and girls with lust in

their hearts, but neither do they roll breathless

with love and laughter, naked under the sun of

high summer.

It’s all rather pale and round-shouldered, the

great Prince lying in prison.

                                                                George Target

God help us breathe fresh air very deeply,

enjoy lemonade,

glory in magnificent words of poetry or prayer.

Take much chance on God,

And roll breathless with love and laughter,

naked under the sun of high summer!

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‘I am the product of long corridors, empty sunlit rooms, upstairs indoor silences, attics explored in solitude, distant noises of gurgling cisterns and pipes, and the noise of wind under the tiles.  Also, of endless books…….books of all kinds reflecting every transient stage of my parents’ interests, books readable and unreadable, books suitable for a child and books most emphatically not.  Nothing was forbidden me.  In the seemingly endless rainy afternoons I took volume after volume from the shelves.’

– CS Lewis in ‘Surprised by Joy’, 1955

Well, we have something after all to thank the British weather for!

But that’s not the point of this blog.

The point is, haven’t we all experienced our own ‘long corridors, empty sunlit rooms and distant noises of gurgling cisterns and pipes’?  Don’t we all as children feel the weight and the stirrings of the world around the corner?  For my part it was hours spent in the garden with my open umbrella thrust imploringly to the wind, trusting it would carry me far away, or searching for crevices between tree roots where I might just crawl down a rabbit hole, or opening my eyes beneath the warm glassy bath water and wishing it would swallow me up and spit me out in that other place, or following elusive and wandering sun shafts through the woods on holiday.

And as we grow older, don’t we sometimes still turn around expecting to see the origin of a whispering?  Or get magnetised gazing into a dusky distance, as if that horizon were where we needed to be?

What if we had a small group of like-minded friends who also sensed the pullings, who could look into the atmosphere with us and watch it fracture and split clean open, parting the air for a moment to reveal who-knows-what?  Who could listen to, and encourage us in the pursuit of our tales, gropings and wonderings, and help us, each in turn, to craft them either into a deeper conviction, or even into a solid work of art?

This is what CS Lewis had, what he was also a product of.  On a trip to Oxford last summer I passed the Eagle and Child Pub, affectionately known as the Bird and Baby!  The endearingly enthusiastic guide informed us that it was here, in a back room, accompanied by ale and pipes of tobacco, that ‘The Inklings’ met.  The Inklings.


Now, I’d known that CS Lewis had been part of a kind of discussion group or ‘old time book club’ but now it was almost right here before my eyes and I was really curious.  This literary group of friends, which included not only Lewis but also JRR Tolkien and Charles Williams, formed in the 1930s and continued for nearly 2 decades.  That’s amazing, they must have known each other so well, and on a deep level.  They met twice a week either in the pub or Lewis’s rooms at Oxford University, although nearly every website I researched had different, but absolute, convictions about the particular night on which The Inklings met!  They talked about their ideas and philosophies, their beliefs and about literature and myths, and they read and critiqued each others’ manuscripts.  I like to think they dreamed together of unseen things.   Their words in that room must have floated up and mingled with the smoke from their pipes and formed a swirling dance of shapes right there above their heads as they talked into the evening.  They knew that their fantastical imaginings were not simply make-believe but the coloured expressions of something real.  I would so have loved to have been there, even just as a little fly on the wall!  It’s amazing to think that in an old pub this little gang birthed stories and worlds that are still meaningful to us today.

But without The Inklings, without  each other, would they have developed into the people they became?  I’m sure the discussions were not always easy and amicable and agreeable!  The Inkling members all had quite strong and different characters and curiosities.  Apparently, Charles Williams was a staunch Anglican but was also heavily interested in the occult, Cabala and the place of romantic love in the meaning of the divine and salvation.  He had many young female ‘followers’ and agonised over his 20 year-long, unconsummated love affair with a work colleague outside his marriage to his first love.  That must have been tortuous!  He would definitely be one for further research and a future blog!  And yet, despite their differences,  CS Lewis greatly admired him and wrote of him as one of his dearest friends.

We all need but rarely find, trusted friends who will listen to our deepest things, encourage us selflessly, but also who will have the courage to tell us for our own good when we are out of line or going off track or being untrue or damaging ourselves or others, or who will simply help us sculpt the good into the brilliant.  Charles Williams died in 1945 and this affected The Inklings so much that the group slowly wound down.  Lewis knew he himself would never be the same because of the death and that he would never again experience the other Inklings in the same way either.  The point he lamented was that Charles drew out certain aspects of people that no one else could in the same way.  Therefore the loss of Charles was also the loss of certain sides and aspects of others.  This is true for all of us all the time because we each affect others differently, causing them to manifest in different ways.  I need you and you need me if we’re to experience ourselves, each other, and other people to the fullest.

(As an aside by the way, Donald Miller, the author of the very honest and insightful tale of a spiritual journey ‘Blue Like Jazz’, wrote a blog about this very idea a few weeks ago in early October 2010 (www.donmilleris.com).  It’s worth a read, as are most of his blogs!  He pretty much writes a blog a day and it’s always interesting, I don’t know how he does it.  But then again, he’s a writer as a job so he gets paid for it.  That’s my excuse anyway!)

Back briefly to The Inklings…..

There were a few writers and dreamers who particularly influenced and inspired CS Lewis and some of the other Inklings, such as Lewis Carroll (of Alice in Wonderland fame) and G K Chesterton.  Both of these are also great characters worth a blog and a half themselves!  Chesterton’s quotes are sparklingly witty!  But the person that stood out to me recently was George Macdonald, who lived from 1824 – 1905 and was described as an original thinker, a spiritual guide and a master in the art of myth-making.

He wrote poetry, stories and novels but, interestingly, is best remembered for his fairy tales and fantasies.  His unorthodox views led him to offend and rile certain church parishioners and before he had even reached 30 years old he had been forced to resign from being a pastor.  At that time he must have felt pretty alone and excluded, and yet he continued with his questioning and exploring and going against the grain rather than acquiescing to the general view, even despite being a ‘wipper snapper’!  It’s hard not to feel some kind of odd comfort and affinity with this man!  CS Lewis said of him:

‘The quality that had enchanted me in his imaginative works turned out to be the quality of the real universe, the divine, magical, terrifying and ecstatic reality in which we all live’.

How could I not be curious to read his ‘imaginative works’?!  So I have started on his ‘Complete Fairy Tales’!

So far, each of his fairy tales seems to  mix weird worlds and baffling magical characters to turn conventional thinking and systems on their heads.  They’re meanings are obvious and also not obvious, so you have to think and interpret for yourself.  The description is so good that you can build a fantastical picture of each scene in your mind’s eye.

So far my favourite fairy tale has been ‘The Light Princess’, which tells of a princess who is cursed at birth by a miserable and bitter aunt.  As a result this princess has no weight at all and so floats in the air all the time.  That is until the day she discovers water and the local lake, and decides to swim.  Once in the water she has weight of her own and can splash and play and finally feel free.  A handsome prince finds her playing in the water one day and joins her, and of course he falls in love with her fairly soon!  The trouble is that the wicked aunt does not like all this happiness and so causes a serpent to bite a hole into the base of the lake and the water gradually seeps away, to the despair of the princess.  The cause of the shrinking lake is finally discovered almost too late, but it can only be remedied if someone is willing to plug the hole with their own body, and so drown.  After contemplation, the prince decides wholeheartedly to offer himself.  The princess is pleased and not too distressed at this!  In fact, she floats in a boat and feeds the prince at his request whilst he is plugging the hole and the water level is rising!!  She is quite selfish and unconcerned, though grateful that this prince is saving her lake.  Well, I won’t entirely spoil the happy ending, but just want to end with this song, which the prince sang as the water rose to reach his ankles, his knees, his waist and then his chin.  I defy you not to be moved!

‘As a world that has no well,

Darkly bright in forest dell;

As a world without the gleam

Of the downward going stream;

As a world without the glance

Of the ocean’s fair expanse;

As a world where never rain

Glittered on the sunny plain;-

Such, my heart, thy world would be,

If no love did flow in thee.

As a world without the sound

Of the rivulets underground;

Or the bubbling of the spring

Out of darkness wandering;

Or the mighty rush and flowing

Of the river’s downward going;

Or the music-showers that drop

On the outspread beech’s top;

Or the ocean’s mighty voice,

When his lifted waves rejoice;-

Such, my soul, they world would be,

If no love did sing in thee.

Lady, keep thy world’s delight;

Keep the waters in thy sight.

Love hath made me strong to go,

For they sake, to realms below,

Where the water’s shine and hum

Through the darkness never come:

Let, I pray, one thought of me

Spring, a little well, in thee;

Lest they loveless soul be found

Like a dry and thirsty ground.’

– George Macdonald

A few snaps from Oxford!

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In continuity with last blog………..


The dove descending breaks the air

With flame of incandescent terror

Of which the tongues declare

The one discharge from sin and error.

The only hope or else despair

Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre-

To be redeemed from fire by fire


Who then devised the torment?  Love.

Love is the unfamiliar Name

Behind the hands that wove

The intolerable shirt of flame

Which human power can not remove.

We only live, only suspire

Consumed by either fire or fire.


– T.S Eliot, ‘Little Gidding’



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Today was one of those days where I actually got the time to sit and eat my lunch while not working, AND it was sunny and hot – double bonus.  I went and sat on a bench in the small public garden outside the local priory church (one of the 2 only nice spots in the town where I work, but the other one has been relegated to second favourite since I got pooped on by the ridiculous numbers of pigeons there – put me right off my Subway).

As I was basking in the sun and taking care not to lose olives, sweetcorn and lettuce out of the bottom of my Subway with each bite, the church bells started ringing in the way they do after a wedding ceremony.  Everyone on the other benches looked up with some sudden interest too.  After about 5 minutes of the bells pealing, I started to think what a happy, celebratory sound it was.  But more than that, what really struck me was that this sound was ringing out across the whole of the town.  You don’t get bells at weddings very often anymore but the tradition must have started as a way of letting everyone in the town know, regardless of whether they were friends or family, that a couple had got hitched and were starting a new life together.  It’s as if everyone should be involved and that this is good news for the whole community.  This couple finding love adds some more love to the universe.  This couple building a solid base together is putting another piece into the foundation of the community.  At the risk of being over-spiritual, this couple is in some way participating in the point of everything!

The bible talks lots about Jesus being our ‘bridegroom’, about us ultimately being joined with him, about God adopting us into his family so his family-spirit becomes our family-spirit, and there being a wedding celebration.  More than this, it promises that one day God’s space (‘heaven’) will be fully united with our space (‘earth’) and that that will be when love and wholeness and joy permeate and illuminate and flow through everything – a  real marriage.  For now we just sometimes get glimpses of the overlap between the 2 worlds and true love in marriages is part of that.  The bells express the excitement so well, as if they can’t contain it!

The bells today also reminded me of Switzerland, the country my mum is from and I love so much.  The church bells ring there each hour!  The bells in my grandparents’ village of Gelterkinden toll for every funeral too as a sign of respect for the deceased.  Again, the clanging resounds across the whole town, as if every person is involved even if they didn’t know the person who has died, as if everyone should know about what has happened, should pause and grieve for a moment because the loss is a loss to all.  The bells speak of community, how we’re each connected to the other and affected by what befalls him or her.  I feel a rendition of the famous ‘no man is an island’ poem by John Donne coming on!

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manner of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

The bells also brought to mind a plaque I read recently in the pigeon-pooping area of the town.  It was explaining the history of the park there and noted that in Victorian times the local factories closed down once or twice a year for a day of games and fun in the park for the entire work-force.  Food and entertainment was provided for free by the factory owners.  Now, I’m definitely not imaging those factories were the nicest and most caring places to work, but the idea of closing them all down and ceasing production for a day of random fun does conjure a real sense of community, even at the financial cost of a couple of days’ work lost.  I could just picture it going ahead on the grass before me.  Man, I really hope I hear those bells again soon.

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Song in the Wood

This way, this way, come and hear

You that hold these pleasures dear;

Fill your ears with our sweet sound,

Whilst we melt the frozen ground.

This way come; make haste, O fair!

Let your clear eyes gild the air;

Come, and bless us with your sight;

This way, this way, seek delight!

-John Fletcher

Recently I stumbled across this old poetry book, hidden in a box wedged under my bed.  But I recognised it straight away.  It was given to me by an older lady who I used to live next door to as a kid – Mrs Shelton.  She lived with her brother and they had a big, clumsy looking caravan that spent most of its time on their drive with bricks wedged against the wheels.  But I desperately wanted to play in there and have it as my secret place, so, as only a kid could, I wrote her a letter asking her about this and posted it through her letter box.

All credit to Mrs Shelton, she wrote back to me and said she didn’t wish me to play in there on my own (!) but that she would happily spend time in there with me whenever I wanted.  Mostly we just pretended to cook and I rearranged her caravan cushions a lot.  But on one occasion she gave me the old brown poetry book, ‘This Way Delight’ and sometimes we sat and read it together.  I loved it from the beginning, partly because it smelled like ‘old book’ and had that musty, yellowed, age-old wisdom look about it.  But mostly because it suggested magic and mystery by its title and was full of charms and chants that conjured thoughts of hidden fairies and secrets, if only you could see them.  20 years later I still find this book sort of whisperingly magical, a pathway through a thick hedge into a world I always suspected was there.  Here are some of my favourite verses that  conjure untold stories and images, beginning with ‘The Listeners’……….

The Listeners

“Is there anybody there?” said the Traveller, knocking on the moonlit door;     

And his horse in the silence champed the grasses of the forest’s ferny floor:

And a bird flew up out of the turret, Above the traveller’s head:

And he smote upon the door a second time; “Is there anybody there?” he said.

But no one descended to the Traveller; No head from the leaf-fringed sill

Leaned over and looked into his grey eyes, As he stood perplexed and still.

But only a host of phantom listeners, That dwelt in the lone house there

Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight, To that voice from the world of men:

Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair, That goes down to the empty hall,

Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken, By the lonely traveller’s call.

And he felt in his heart their strangeness, Their stillness answering his cry,

While his horse moved cropping the dark turf, ‘Neath the starred and leafy sky;

For he suddenly smote on the door, even louder, and lifted his head:-

“Tell them I came, and no one answered, That I kept my word”, he said.

Never the least stir made the listeners, Though every word he spake

Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house

From the one man left awake:

Ay, they heard his foot upon the stirrup, And the sound of iron on stone,

And how the silence surged softly backward, when the plunging hoofs were gone.

-Walter De La Mare

(I must admit, I see myself as Anne of Green Gables reciting ‘The Highway Man’ so dramatically when I read this!!)

Explanation on Coming Home Late

We went down to the river’s brink

To of those clear waters drink

Where the fishes, gold and red,

Ever quickly past us sped.

And the pebbles, red and blue,

Which we saw the green weeds through

At the bottom shining lay:

It was their shining made us stay.

– Richard Hughes (aged 7)

I so understand where Richard was coming from!

Overheard on a Salt Marsh (how could you not want to listen in on that?!)  

Nymph nymph, what are your beads?

Green glass goblin, why do you stare at them?

Give them me.


Give them me, give them me.


Then I will howl all night in the reeds,

Lie in the mud and howl for them.

Goblin, why do you love them so?

They are better than stars or water,

Better than voices of winds that sing

Better than any man’s fair daughter,

Your green glass beads on a silver ring.

Hush.  I stole them out of the moon.

Give me your beads, I want them.


I will howl in a deep lagoon, For your green glass beads, I love them so.

Give them me.  Give them me.


-Harold Monro

Lady will you come with me into

Lady will you come with me into

the extremely little house of

my mind.  Clocks strike.  The

moon’s round, through the window.

as you see and really I have no

servants.  We could almost live

at the top of these stairs, there’s a free

room.  We almost could go, you

and i,  into a together whitely big

there is but if so or so

slowly i opened the window a

most tinyness, the moon (with white wig

and polished buttons) would take you away

and all the clocks would run down the next day.

-E. E. Cummings


Do not fear to put thy feet

Naked in the river sweet;

Think not leech, or newt, or toad,

Will bite thy foot, when thou hast trod:

Nor let the water rising high,

As thou wad’st in, make thee cry

And sob; but ever live with me,

And not a wave shall trouble thee!

-John Fletcher

All that’s past

Very old are the woods; and the buds that break, Out of the brier’s boughs, when March winds wake, so old with beauty are – oh no man knows, through what wild centuries roves back the rose.

Very old are the brooks; And the rills that rise, where snow sleeps cold beneath the azure skies, sing such a history of come and gone, their every drop is as wise as Solomon.

Very old are we men; our dreams are tales, told in dim Eden by Eve’s nightingales; we wake and whisper awhile, but, the day gone by, silence and sleep like fields of amaranth lie.

-my old friend, Walter De La Mare

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know, His house is in the village though;

He will not see me stopping here, to watch his woods fill up with snow.

my little horse must think it queer, To stop without a farmhouse near

Between the woods and frozen lake, The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake, To ask if there is some mistake.

The only other sound’s the sweep, of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep, But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep.

-Robert Frost

The Way Through the Woods

They shut the road through the woods seventy years ago.

Weather and rain have undone it again, and now you would never know, there was once a road through the woods, before they planted the trees.

It is underneath the coppice and heath, and the thin anemones.  Only the keeper sees, that, where the ring-dove broods, and the badgers roll at ease, there was once a road through the woods.

Yet, if you enter the woods of a summer evening late, when the night air cools on the trout-ringed pools, where the otter whistles his mate, (They fear not men in the woods, because they see so few).  You will hear the beat of a horse’s feet, and the swish of a skirt in the dew, steadily cantering through the misty solitudes, as though they perfectly knew, the old lost road through the woods………

But there is no road through the woods.

-Rudyard Kipling

Thank you Mrs Shelton.  I wonder where you, your brother and your caravan are now?

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