The Cherry Tree ~ or how God might see things

The Cherry Tree

I see the cherry tree
Bare of leaves,
Twigs a tangle of algae’d wood
And buds tight coppery knots
Tipping each twig with points of light.
I see it covered in bloom
Double pink flowers like candy floss
Dripping confetti onto overgrown grass.
Newly opened leaves gleam bronze
Fluttering in early summer breezes
Or blow dry and yellow in Autumn gales,
Lie rotting and damp
On an icy winter’s day.
For a minute I see the tree
Outside of time,
Floating free of any fixed point;
A seed, a bud
Sapling, prime tree
And fallen timber
Returning to the soil
And I think:
This must be how God sees.

Shoreline ~ a Poem of the seaside

Shoreline

When
the wind rages

I
share the shore

With
a few brave souls

Driven
from home

By
dogs or inner demons.

We
nod, curtly and pass,

Silent,
heads down.

Today,
the sun shines,

The
waves are mild

And
I share (with bad grace)

My
strand with strangers,

Bred
by heat from streets,

Sunning
themselves on the sand.

I
feel more alone now

Than
when the gales and storms

Kept
the hordes at home.

Endings and beginnings ~ why you need to grieve for the past before you can begin anew

 

Endings and beginnings ~ why you need to grieve for the past before you can begin anew

I’ve always loved Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poetry but the following poem was recently brought back to my attention by a musical version of it by Natalie Marchant.

Spring and Fall:

to a Young Child

 Margaret, are you grieving
   Over Goldengrove unleaving?
   Leaves, like the things of man, you
   With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
   Ah! as the heart grows older
   It will come to such sights colder
   By and by, nor spare a sigh
   Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
   And yet you will weep and know why.
   Now no matter, child, the name:
   Sorrow’s springs are the same.
   Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
   What héart héard of, ghóst guéssed:
   It is the blight man was born for,
   It is Margaret you mourn for.

For those of you that are not poetically inclined, the poem is addressed to a young girl who is distressed that the leaves of her favourite woodland are falling. For a child, the seasons have not yet become predictable and the certainty that we as adults may feel that the spring will come and the trees with again be crowned in green is not present. The grief of the child is palpable in the words Hopkins writes; she is too young to have the assurance of spring. And yet, Hopkins does not dismiss this. Indeed, he says that even though as she grows older and becomes more hardened to such things, she will still weep for such things because the origin of the sorrow will always remain. Essentially a poem about the grief our own mortality can bring us, it is one of such compassion and understanding of a particularly sensitive child that I felt it speak to me personally.

Death has become the last great taboo in our culture and the thing that divides us most. People would rather not think about their own mortality at all and those who do are labelled as morbid or negative. Yet the fact remains that we all die. How and where and when are the great unknowns. And what comes next, if anything, is the greatest mystery of them all. Unlike children who learn by experience that after the great unleaving of the trees in Autumn and the cold, cold days of Winter, the Spring returns without fail, we cannot discover by experience and rest easy in that knowledge.

So the smaller deaths in life, the partings and the endings, become focuses for our anxiety and need for reassurance. Moving house, as I have done many times, becomes a grief beyond the mere hassle. So much of my life has been bound up within those walls. Changing jobs. The death of others close to me. All these endings. They’re hard to bear. Really hard to bear. And the temptation is to leap ahead for comfort, to try and see the future where things do not hurt. To know that the Spring will come again.

And yet, this is something that denies the reality of the moment. The death of a friend even when you are sure in your heart that death is not the final curtain but a change of state, should hurt. It needs to, because it returns you to a state of innocence, that of Margaret in the poem, where you grieve in a pure state.

In our busy society, without time or inclination for either rites of passage or time to grieve, to be allowed to grieve is a blessing. It allows healing to happen. If you cut that time short, you cut yourself. And the longer you defer or postpone or refuse that grieving, the more you may find waiting for you later.

  Be kind to yourself and allow yourself to grieve, because in some ways, you are grieving for yourself as well. 

An Antidote to the St Valentine’s Day massacre (aka Rip-Off)

  An antidote to the St Valentine’s Day massacre(aka Rip-off)

 

The most dreaded day of the year for many dawns today (14th February) where husbands quake, wives sigh and singletons hope. Yeah, right, that day. I am not a fan of St V’s, not in the slightest. It comes not so much of being about as unromantic a soul as possible as the powerful aversion to media manipulation and peer pressure.

The ancient Greeks had a number of different words and concepts for love, quite different from our culture of one-size-fits-all LOVE. St Valentine’s Day focuses on probably the least interesting and most ephemeral of those love concepts, that of eros, or erotic, sexual love, and singles it out for special treatment. When the practise of sending Valentine’s cards began, in Victorian times, cards were actually sent to family members and friends, rather than exclusively to romantic interests. I find it sad that this charming practise has now been overtaken by the narrow definition of love.

Love is a complex muddled thing and is far more than hearts and flowers and chocolates and too often romantic expectations lead to disappointment and disillusionment. Love is a deeper, more exciting and eminently more confusing thing than Hallmark would have us believe.

For your delectation today, I have included four poems about love: one humorous, one serious, one somewhat sentimental and one unfinished fragment that starts the explore the darker side of love. 

 The first is a somewhat tongue-in-cheek look at falling in love. It touches on the pain of unrequited love, but that theme is expanded elsewhere.

Love (2)

Falling in love is much like falling sick:

It wasn’t part of the original plan.

There’s never a right time for it,

But when it happens, there comes

A terrible sense of inevitability,

A point when you can’t put it off

For a single second longer

And you succumb wholeheartedly.

It sometimes sneaks up uninvited

Like a stealthy summer cold.

You kid yourself it’s just pollen

That makes eyes and nose run:

The ache you feel is just overwork,

The heat in your veins merely

A reflection of the searing sun

And the shivers that shake you

Are geese parading over your grave.

But as the symptoms grow

So too does the unwelcome news

That there is nothing you can do

And it must run its true course.

Sometimes you recover, wake

To find the signs have vanished

Much like the glistening morning dew

As the sun warms the new day.

A faint uneasy memory remains

And you bless your luck at escaping,

Getting off so lightly this time.

Other times you toss and turn,

Boil and burn for years on end,

Find no relief, no end, no cure.

You get used to it finally,

Grow to enjoy the constant fever.

You won’t die of this disease,

But at times you might wish to.

Falling in love is much like falling ill,

But it is part of someone’s plan.

It’s timing is never our own,

And what we learn from it

Is both its gift and its curse.

The next poem examines love from another aspect, that of how love is what makes us human and vulnerable. It also touches on the element of divine love, and of sacrifice.

Love (1)

Love wounds us.

Like tribal scars,

Love marks us,

Shows us as new

Initiated beings.

Parallel slashes

Of raised scar tissue

Label us as different.

Love hurts us:

The brief bold cut

Dripping hot blood

Shows us changed,

Reinvented daily.

Only those who share

Our pattern of scarring

Can see and know

The person we have become,

Or see the beauty and power

Of those indelible wounds,

Invisible to those untouched

By Love’s kind blade.

  

The third poem in this cycle tries to examine how love feels, how the different seasons of love mimic the seasons of the year. It’s the poem I feel to be the soppiest, and the closest to the roses and hearts of Valentine’s day.

Love 3

Love is the spring wind

Blowing through the winter reeds,

Melting the edge of ice

And bringing scents of warmer climes.

Love is the electric crackle

That fills the summer air

Before the first thunderstorm

Breaks and rages over us.

Love is the dripping trees

And the fallen leaves of gold

Coating the cooling earth

As autumn chills the nights.

Love is the frozen crunch

Of footsteps through new snow

Treading where no one trod before,

And making a cold path to follow.

Love is the turning year

Where all is renewed

Season by blessed season

For eyes that can see the light.


 

The final poem is an incomplete fragment. I don’t tend to rework poems once I have finished with them but this one has defied me to finish it. I leave you to ponder on why. 

The Dark Side of Love

 

Love has a dark face,

Beyond the softness

and sweetness and the lost days

Of cherished childhood,

Love has a dark face.

Loves says “NO!”

When we want her to say yes.

Love says, “Never!”

To our hopes and dreams.

Is this truly love then, who

Turns our love away?

Turns us on our heads?

 

I hope these poems and thoughts go some way to defusing the bomb that is Valentine’s day, and whether you are single or in a relationship, that love of some kind is with you this day, and I end with a poem that has haunted me for many years, also with Love in its title.  

George Herbert. 1593–1632

  

286. Love

  
LOVE bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,  
      Guilty of dust and sin.  
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack  
      From my first entrance in,  
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning          5
      If I lack’d anything.  
   
‘A guest,’ I answer’d, ‘worthy to be here:’  
     Love said, ‘You shall be he.’  
‘I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,  
      I cannot look on Thee.’   10
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,  
      ‘Who made the eyes but I?’  
   
‘Truth, Lord; but I have marr’d them: let my shame  
      Go where it doth deserve.’  
‘And know you not,’ says Love, ‘Who bore the blame?’   15
      ‘My dear, then I will serve.’  
‘You must sit down,’ says Love, ‘and taste my meat.’  
      So I did sit and eat.  

 

 

 

Seagulls #smallstone 12

 

Seagulls #smallstone 12

 

Seagulls circle low

Swirling and soaring around

Raucous calls ring out

Eagle feather haikus #smallstone 7

 

Eagle feather haikus #small stone 7

 

Haiku #1

Whisper-soft tendrils

Link seamlessly together

brown, beige and cream

 

Haiku #2

Velvet soft strength

Curving gently from shaft

Silent in flight

 

Haiku #3

Dead weight of guilt

Carrying such a gift home

I am no eagle.

 

Solstice Prayer

 

Solstice Prayer

 

Breathe in; the moment has come

To hold your breath within your heart.

Silence, while the light becomes so still

You can hear the tiny cracks as dawn breaks.

This moment, the light has travelled far

And pauses before starting that slow return

Growing greater by minute increments

Invisible at first but sure and steady

In the agonising climb to another height.

Like a pendulum, the year has swung,

Reached that still point of lowness.

The rising sun weak with worn gold

Shot through with crimson blood

Peeps above heavy clouds and

The moment passes, as always,

And we breathe out, knowing that

The darkness is turned away.

 

 

Snapshot in Ice

I had a return of the severe pain on Saturday, much to my surprise. I didn’t pass out this time, and didn’t go to hospital but instead managed the pain at home. I’m feeling very tired and weak. I’m sure you probably know that the UK is unusually cold and snowy at the moment and I hope to write something about it soon. But the medication and the tiredness are not helpful for inspiration so I shall share a poem I have posted before. I hope to have something fresh for later in the week.

Snapshot in ice

 

The world is frozen,

Every web edged in ice,

Occupant huddled under leaf

Awaiting a thaw.

Seedheads, candied in frost,

Return to brief flowering,

Coated in fragile crystal

So dense it seems furry.

Ferns are turned to fossils,

Chrysanthemums to pom-poms.

Even the air is frozen,

Full of microscopic ice.

Foghorns call across the miles,

Invisible as owls in the night,

And the sea, oblivious,

Crashes softly on the shore.

Sea, she

 

 

Sea, she

 

The sea calls me.

Some days I answer,

Worship at the threshold

Like an awed neophyte.

Other days I resist,

Turn around to woods,

Walk away, fingers in ears

Refuse to hear the siren sound.

I return, of course:

Sit on shingle, skim a stone,

Watch the ever-changing moods

Never the same from one day to the next:

Storms and smiles,

Shimmers and shades.

Natural born killer

Provider of plenty

Endless, mysterious,

Yet fluidly simple.

No wonder they refer

To oceans as She!

 

Spelt from Sibyl’s Leaves- concerning oracles

 

 

Spelt from Sibyl’s Leaves

I have taken the title of this post from a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins though the content of the poem is actually not relevant to this post. The photo shows the leaves laid out on my dining room table this afternoon, drying so that they can be used during the prayers at church tomorrow, and because my winter tablecloth also sports leaves as its theme, I took some photos and it set in motion some thoughts.

Recently I had occasion to question whether my life might have taken radically different directions at various critical points and it made me ask why I made certain decisions. It’s seldom easy to see which way you should go when you stand at a crossroads; you often have no idea of where you want to go. Those who have had a game plan all along sometimes find themselves stymied when they find themselves at such points, because not one of the possible directions currently revealed resembles where they thought they wanted to go. For those of us(like me) who bumble along and take what comes, it is just as difficult. I don’t believe that we automatically will get where we were meant to go, but I do feel sure that certain things, certain themes or people or places are part of our life itinerary, and at some stage we meet with them. So you might say any direction will take you where you need to go. I’m not convinced. You’ll never know where the journey you didn’t make would have taken you.

There have been plenty of occasions where I have been given choices to make, many of them in effect Hobson’s choices, and I have found that even after long rational thought and study of the options, I still have no awareness of which is the course I should follow. In many cases, there has been insufficient information to make an informed choice. For example, in deciding which hall of residence I wanted to live at during my first year at university, I read through the brochure, was none the wiser and picked Rathbone Hall solely on the basis that a favourite Sherlock Holmes actor was called Basil Rathbone. It was far from an important decision, but others seemed to regard it as such.

But when it comes to deeper choices, my advice is always to follow what your heart tells you. We all have very fine instincts, usually hidden deep within our civilised souls, and often these still small voices of wisdom are drowned out by rational, logical thought, or by prejudice or other things. I have made certain decisions that to others looked insane. I remember the utter horror of an American student I knew at university when I told her I was getting married six weeks after graduating. At that stage, neither my intended nor I had a job or a home or really anything much, but by the time the wedding day came, he had a decent job, we’d got a home to go to and a future to look forward to. That was 23 years ago.

There are times when even the still small voice cannot help us; it is silent and that silence is deafening. You simply don’t know what to do or where to turn. It’s frightening.

This is where the Sibyl’s Leaves come in.

The Sibyl had a collection of leaves each having a single word or letter written upon it; the leaves were thrown into the air and allowed to land and each leaf with a word on the upside was collected and the Sibyl would read a message through whatever words were there. Of course, no one knows what words were written but you may imagine. As oracles go, it’s not as icky as some; reading entrails has always struck me as rather a strange one, possibly only foretelling a chicken dinner for the priest.

How oracles work is another matter, but my belief is that they do indeed work. Some feel they are a way for the gods, or spirits or angels or whatever to speak to us and still more believe that they work by accessing our deep subconscious by means of archetypical symbols and so on. Personally,I’m working on the assumption that any/all of the above are valid until I get evidence to the contrary. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

I’ve worked with Tarot for many years, as well as other oracle systems, both regular ones like runes and other ones that are less well known. I could never get the hang of the I-Ching and gave my set away to a friend; my head became fuzzy and baffled by it. None of these things is really about predicting the future, though sometimes it can seem like it. To some degree this is because a skilled reader of an oracle is accessing a very complex set of probabilities that make picking the winner of the Grand National look like child’s play; there are too many factors at play to really hope for accuracy. It’s about(putting it very simplistically) saying if you do X, then Y will happen, but only if you do Z first. It doesn’t take into account the infinite other factors that are at work.

However using an oracle system for yourself is a very good way of accessing and reawakening your own inner voices of wisdom. Tarot in particular is filled with mystical images and archetypes and with a set that suits your character you can find a great deal of hidden knowledge about your own self that can sometimes make deciding between one path in life and another a great deal simpler.

Of course, you might say you might as well just toss a coin, forgetting that throwing a coin is one of the oldest and simplest oracles in the world. There are times when the logical and rational have nothing more to offer, or their advice is somehow counter to what your instincts tell you.

Trust your instincts; they’ve been getting people out of trouble for a lot longer than Google.