Shards, Sweepings, Stealings, Sayings, Secrets

Month: May, 2011

The Ecstatic Flash

“We must ask of reality: how important is it, really? And: how important, really, is the factual? Of course, we can’t disregard the factual; it has normative power. But it can never give us the kind of illumination, the ecstatic flash, from which truth emerges.” Werner Herzog

Werner Herzog‘s new film, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, is a documentary exploration of the Chauvet cave in the Ardèche department of southern France. This cave was rediscovered in 1994, having been sealed off for 20,000 years. It was found to contain hundreds of spectacular palaeolithic paintings over 30,000 years old.

Saying Yes

“Since Lawrence died, all these donkeys years already, he has grown and grown for me … To me his relationship, his bond with everything in creation was so amazing, no preconceived ideas, just a meeting between him and a creature, a tree, a cloud, anything. I called it love, but it was something else – Bejahung in German, ‘saying yes’.” Frieda Lawrence 

Being Human

Bloodaxe Books, that wonderful poetry imprint, UK publisher of David Constantine, Mary Oliver, Pablo Neruda and many others, has just brought out the anthology Being Human, third in the inspired trilogy which includes Staying Alive (2002) and Being Alive (2004). I for one can’t wait to read it. The first two have sold 200,000 and 40,000 copies apiece. Who says that poetry books can’t sell?

From Being Human here’s a short extract from an untitled poem by the Estonian Jaan Kaplinski:


The washing never gets done.

The furnace never gets heated.

Books never get read.

Life is never completed …


… The wonder is

that beside all this one can notice

the spring which is so full of


continuing in all directions – into

                evening clouds,

into the redwing’s song and into


drop of dew on every blade of grass

                in the meadow,

as far as the eye can see, into the


The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.

Every morning a new arrival.


A joy, a depression, a meanness,

some momentary awarenes comes

as an unexpected visitor.


Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,

who violently sweep your house

empty of its furniture,

still, treat each guest honourably.

He may be clearing you out

for some new delight.


The dark thought, the shame, the malice,

meet them at the door laughing,

and invite them in.


Be grateful for whoever comes,

because each has been sent

as a guide from beyond.



Er Gwell, Er Gwaeth (For Better, For Worse)

A’r fodrwy hon y’th briodaf …¹

something about the ring in the blackbird’s eye

on an April evening; the hunter’s jewelled stare;

the marriage of sun and rain on dancing water;

the circle of my arms round sheets off the line;

yours bringing armfuls of wood for the fire.


â’m corff y’th anrhydeddaf …²

something of touch, taste, smell, the language

of hands, those chemical gifts one to the other;

grace and gesture, silence and reflection

that pair for life two swans on a river,

soundlessly sculling the stream, lover to lover.


â’m holl olud bydol y’th gynnysgaeddaf …³

my dowry a derelict house on a hill, five fields,

two acres of bluebells under oaks; yours, your vision.

You made sound the ruin, dreamed space and light,

a room of oak and glass, let in the sky, the hills,

and all of Ceredigion, Cariad, in a glance.


Gillian Clarke


From the Welsh:

¹ With this ring I thee wed

² With this body I thee worship

³ With all my worldly goods I thee endow

Rose Is A Rose Is A Rose Is A Rose

“Now listen. Can’t you see that when the language was new – as it was with Chaucer and Homer – the poet could use the name of a thing and the thing was really there? He could say ‘O moon’, ‘O sea’, ‘O love’, and the moon and the sea and love were really there. And can’t you see that after hundreds of years had gone by and thousands of poems had been written, he could call on those words and find that they were just worn out literary words? The excitingness of pure being had withdrawn from them; they were just rather stale literary words. Now the poet has to work in the excitingness of pure being; he has to get back that intensity into the language. We all know that it’s hard to write poetry in a late age; and we know that you have to put some strangeness, as something unexpected, into the structure of the sentence in order to bring back vitality … Now you all have seen hundreds of poems about roses and you know in your bones that the rose is not there. All those songs that sopranos sing as encores about ‘I have a garden! oh, what a garden!’ … Now listen! I’m no fool. I know that in daily life we don’t go around saying ‘… is a … is a  … is a …’ Yes, I’m no fool; but I think that in that line the rose is red for the first time in English poetry for a hundred years.” Gertrude Stein (Delivered before some Chicago students in 1935)

It’s still as inspiring to read Gertrude Stein‘s words today, I believe, as it must have been for those Chicago students in the 1930s. I love her idea that the language is renewed by embracing “the excitingness of pure being”, “intensity”, “some strangeness”, “something unexpected” and “vitality”. Each age has to refresh, indeed to reforge the language in order to reflect ever-changing cultural, religious, political and socio-economic climates. Her words are an antidote to lazy cliché, and a spur to original thinking and the pursuit of new, creative directions. Even if her remark about  the literary worth of her famous ‘rose’ tautology is disingenuous (I mean, is such a logical banality really a great improvement on “my love is like a red, red rose” or “the rosy-fingered dawn”?), she makes her point well – and with a little humour too, I think.

“If there’s an original thought out there, I could use it right now …” Bob Dylan Brownsville Girl

A Bourgeois Fantasy

Since writing about the Lake District recently on my main blog, The Solitary Walker, I’ve come across this wry quote by WH Auden: “Is the Lake District another bourgeois invention, like the piano?”