Entrance to the Findhorn garden
Greetings all, hope the new year is unfolding with fresh poems and germinating work.
Recently I’ve been delving back into some classic New Age literature as part of a book project about my father’s work founding what he called the “megalithic park” of Columcille. Back in the mid-70s our talk was fertile with the idea that a New Age of cooperation between human and non-human entities would result in florid communities — gardens growing in the snow and good things made manifest by great thought.
I lost track of most of it decades ago but as I summon my father from his grave, I have been able to use history as a litmus for some of his mysteries. (As I heard someone in AA say once, “God’s will is what happened.”) It’s an ongoing assessment — just beginning, really — but it has warbled into in my dreamscape and returns my thought here to earthweal and what it is we are trying to offer through our daily lives and work here to the time.
Most poignantly for me, the New Age (rather dated after 50 years) put forth the idea that the natural commons is one of humans and non-humans like, be they animal, vegetal, mineral or stellar. A cosmos of We. Poetry for me is the angelic language of that communion, ours to channel and reflect back to the world.
When I read of the Findhorn community still growing today, it is faithful to its New Age origins yet is ever growing and evolving. It’s three guiding practices — inner listening, work as love in action and co-creation with the intelligence in nature —attune to manifest creation and the inner world alike, alive in and through each other, the way the Celtic Otherworld was the spectral reality for pagan and early Christian Celt.
Findhorn Ecovillage is a thriving experiment in sustainable community and has been designated as a UN-Habitat model of best practice in such living arrangements. My father’s community struggles far short of the successes at Findhorn, but there is a deep and resonant love of the land there which deeply affects all who visit there — a vibe of living eternity. It’s rare and precious and must find means to survive and thrive in this century. (No small challenge.) I’m hoping the book, if its greenlit, will keep my father’s better angels at work in that.
Anyway, this week let’s shine a light on the universal commons we live in, as human, animal, vegetable, mineral or stellar co-participants. My father took to stone; I favor wood; others love the wind or the sea, cats or fireflies, wheat or whales, hummingbird hearts and sprawling constellations in the night sky.
For this challenge Honor an element and invite it to our poetry commons.
Here’s to the dance!
THE STARS ARE MANSIONS BUILD BY NATURE’S HAND
The stars are mansions built by Nature’s hand,
And, haply, there the spirits of the blest
Dwell, clothed in radiance, their immortal vest;
Huge Ocean shows, within his yellow strand,
A habitation marvelously planned,
For life to occupy in love and rest;
All that we see – is dome, or vault, or nest,
Or fortress, reared at Nature’s sage command.
Glad thought for every season! but the Spring
Gave it while cares were weighing on my heart,
’Mid song of birds, and insects murmuring;
And while the youthful year’s prolific art –
Of bud, leaf, blade, and flower – was fashioning
Abodes where self-disturbance hath no part.
The danger of memory is going
to it for respite. Respite risks
entrapment. Don’t debauch
yourself by living
in some former version of yourself
that was more or less naked. Maybe
it felt better then, but you were
not better. You were smaller, as the rain
gauge must fill to the brim
with its full portion of suffering.
What can memory be in these terrible times?
Only instruction. Not a dwelling.
Or if you must dwell:
The sweet smell of weeds then.
The sweet smell of weeds now.
An endurance. A standoff. A rest.
O LOVELY ROCK
We stayed the night in the pathless gorge of Ventana Creek, up the east fork.
The rock walls and the mountain ridges hung forest on forest above our heads, maple and redwood,
Laurel, oak, madrone, up to the high and slender Santa Lucian firs that stare up the cataracts
Of slide-rock to the star-color precipices.
We lay on gravel and kept a little camp-fire for warmth.
Past midnight only two or three coals glowed red in the cooling darkness; I laid a clutch of dead bay-leaves
On the ember ends and felted dry sticks across them and lay down again. The revived flame
Lighted my sleeping son’s face and his companion’s, and the vertical face of the great gorge-wall
Across the stream. Light leaves overhead danced in the fire’s breath, tree-trunks were seen: it was the rock wall
That fascinated my eyes and mind. Nothing strange: light-gray diorite with two or three slanting seams in it,
Smooth-polished by the endless attrition of slides and floods; no fern nor lichen, pure naked rock…as if I were
Seeing rock for the first time. As if I were seeing through the flame-lit surface into the real and bodily
And living rock. Nothing strange…I cannot
Tell you how strange: the silent passion, the deep nobility and childlike loveliness: this fate going on
Outside our fates. It is here in the mountain like a grave smiling child. I shall die, and my boys
Will live and die, our world will go on through its rapid agonies of change and discovery; this age will die,
And wolves have howled in the snow around a new Bethlehem: this rock will be here, grave, earnest, not passive: the energies
That are its atoms will still be bearing the whole mountain above: and I, many packed centuries ago,
Felt its intense reality with love and wonder, this lonely rock.
Gerard Manley Hopkins
Glory be to God for dappled things –
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
AS IF THE SEA SHOULD PART
As if the Sea should part
And show a further Sea—
And that—a further—and the Three
But a presumption be—
Of Periods of Seas—
Unvisited of Shores—
Themselves the Verge of Seas to be—
This morning the green fists of the peonies are getting ready
to break my heart
as the sun rises,
as the sun strokes them with his old, buttery fingers
and they open —
pools of lace,
white and pink —
and all day the black ants climb over them,
boring their deep and mysterious holes
into the curls,
craving the sweet sap,
taking it away
to their dark, underground cities —
and all day
under the shifty wind,
as in a dance to the great wedding,
the flowers bend their bright bodies,
and tip their fragrance to the air,
their red stems holding
all that dampness and recklessness
gladly and lightly,
and there it is again —
beauty the brave, the exemplary,
Do you love this world?
Do you cherish your humble and silky life?
Do you adore the green grass, with its terror beneath?
Do you also hurry, half-dressed and barefoot, into the garden,
and exclaiming of their dearness,
fill your arms with the white and pink flowers,
with their honeyed heaviness, their lush trembling,
to be wild and perfect for a moment, before they are
A sky so blue it hurts frames
all else, and in silence this oldest thing
alive clenches on edges if found
long ago and began to grow.
Almost freed of life, this tree
weathers nobly, yielding back nine thousand
growth rings to the bracing air that
hums with sunlight even when it freezes.
A raven shadow touches us;
we get stronger, just by being
here, almost freed by the sun.
ODE TO SALT
in the salt cellar
I once saw in the salt mines.
salt sings, the skin
of the salt mines
with a mouth smothered
by the earth.
I shivered in those
when I heard
in the desert.
In its caves
the salt moans, mountain
of buried light,
crystal of the sea, oblivion
of the waves.
And then on every table
in the world,
we see your piquant
of the ancient
holds of ships,
the high seas,
of the unknown, shifting
byways of the foam.
Dust of the sea, in you
the tongue receives a kiss
from ocean night:
taste imparts to every seasoned
dish your ocean essence;
wave from the saltcellar
reveals to us
more than domestic whiteness;
in it, we taste infinitude.
THE TOLLUND MAN
Some day I will go to Aarhus
To see his peat-brown head,
The mild pods of his eye-lids,
His pointed skin cap.
In the flat country near by
Where they dug him out,
His last gruel of winter seeds
Caked in his stomach,
Naked except for
The cap, noose and girdle,
I will stand a long time.
Bridegroom to the goddess,
She tightened her torc on him
And opened her fen,
Those dark juices working
Him to a saint’s kept body,
Trove of the turfcutters’
Now his stained face
Reposes at Aarhus.
I could risk blasphemy,
Consecrate the cauldron bog
Our holy ground and pray
Him to make germinate
The scattered, ambushed
Flesh of labourers,
Laid out in the farmyards,
Tell-tale skin and teeth
Flecking the sleepers
Of four young brothers, trailed
For miles along the lines.
Something of his sad freedom
As he rode the tumbril
Should come to me, driving,
Saying the names
Tollund, Grauballe, Nebelgard,
Watching the pointing hands
Of country people,
Not knowing their tongue.
Out here in Jutland
In the old man-killing parishes
I will feel lost,
Unhappy and at home.
Greeting and thanks always Brendan for the prompt and the fabulous selection of poems. A wonderful Monday morning read.
A wonderful read indeed. Great scope in this topic. Wonderful poems.
“A cosmos of We. Poetry for me is the angelic language of that communion, ours to channel and reflect back to the world.”
Not always angelic! but in every other way I feel this truth.
No sooner than towns were built around commons, then what was commons was stripped away for profit. We must pay for the “we” over and over again. Bless and keep the gardens who have found their stewards and protectors. May your book-garden thrive.
I just felt some light dawn! I didn’t understand that “The Commons” is now a field of study. And I found this just now in Wikipedia: “Commonwealth” as in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania!? Where is our social memory if not in the words? “In European political texts, the common wealth was the totality of the material riches of the world, such as the air, the water, the soil and the seed, all nature’s bounty regarded as the inheritance of humanity as a whole, to be shared together. In this context, one may go back further, to the Roman legal category res communis, applied to things common to all to be used and enjoyed by everyone, as opposed to res publica, applied to public property managed by the government.
Of course, my poem isn’t about this.
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Thanks Susan – the “weal” part of earthweal hearkens toward this sense of commons, the earth we share equally, not only interpersonally but between human, animal, vegetable, mineral and spirit worlds of elementals and the dead. Finding a language and poetry for that commons seems like essential work, especially today …
This sounds interesting. I will ponder it tonight in my dreams and see what words arise with the morning sun.
Hello Brendan, is it possible for you to email me please – my computer has crashed and taken your email address with it. Thanks – Lindi