FOR THOSE LIKE GALILEO

……….
Peniche Original

……….
…….FOR THOSE LIKE GALILEO WHO NO LONGER READ
……………………………………………..Le Canal de Bourgogne *

……………….So where are they now the poems
……………….for those who do no longer read
……………….but lose their way in words,
……………….their overheated selves
……………….closed down like God’s own
……………….disowned fools in
……………….damp, forgotten locks
……………….and other fasts and solitudes—
……………….fisher kings, tall stilt-legged birds,
……………….the mist-wrapped walker with
……………….the busy dog and old slouch hat—
……………….mute, pre-dawn souls bewildered by
……………….the wash and roar of meanings when it’s all
……………….gunnel-rubbing function transport
……………….pumping huge breast-plates of
……………….greased iron up and down
……………….a ruined cut?

……………….In what remains of waterways
……………….the late unharnessed signs
……………….solicit violence from the banks—
……………….they gesture darkly from the verges,
……………….they flash behind the trees.
……………………..DO NOT PASS HERE
……………….someone shouts with dented palms.
…………………………..BLACK SPOT
……………….cries another lover, forehead
……………….rusting with bullet holes.
……………….And what’s that hanging man
……………….muttering in the shadows
……………….underneath the low bridge?
……………………………..STOOP
……………….he seems to be saying, taking
……………….some deeply-laded pleasure
……………….on all fours.

……………….Or is such uninhibited display
……………….just loose sluice valves stuttering?

……………….For see—
……………….how easy it is to swing
……………….those mossy lock-gates to
……………….and turn the handles down,
……………….the act that predicates
……………….a dryer route, faster,
……………….less brave and spectacular,
……………….its tow paths like third rails
……………….that sheltered spark
……………….over-night delivery,
……………….shinnying under ground.

……………….I want poems for those
……………….who are like me
……………….not chosen to dance
……………….by the girl in the red silk dress,
……………….that the words may be hard
……………….and penitential like the chairs
……………….we fast to inhabit while
……………….we wait by the wall,
……………….plain and patient
……………….until the music stops
……………….and we all go home.

……………….Write me a dozen poems
……………….that cover their heads in white
……………….like girls who have taken vows.
……………….I will listen hunkered down
……………….with the quiet doves at dawn
……………….while they kneel humbly in starch
……………….and crocus dust for seven days,
……………….the ecclesiastical calendar
……………….going from purple to green.
……………….The lines will tremble
……………….around their eyes
……………….like veins in silver leaves.

……………….Oh, I’d lock into
……………….any old post-industrial canal
……………….to hear such winsome
……………….angel rhymes and
……………….early morning cloister traffic—

……………….the reverie of antique grease like myrrh
……………….or amber-wax on iron plates,
……………….the stricken wicks,
……………….the cranks like icon sheets
……………….turned down for one last night
……………….beside the basins full of spirit silt,
……………….the huge rustling posts and pedestals
……………….that mesmerize the undergrowth,
……………….murmuring in the rushes where no moth
……………….wrapped in its own juices has no robe
……………….or swaddled Moses goes unfloated.

……………….And all the while the mist-wrapped
……………….walker’s sheltered track,
……………….the busy dog,
……………….the heron’s tact.

…………………………from GALILEO’S SECRET: Two Decades of Poems
………………………………..Under House Arrest, Part III, pps.33-35. * *
…………………………………………[from an unpublished m.s.]
………
………………………………………………..Christopher Woodman

……* NOTE:
The early industrial canal provided the most important transport for heavy cargo in much of Europe right up to the 1980s, yet few recall how the gates, cranks and levers worked, the intricate water supply and the long ‘reaches’ through the countryside. The Canal de Bourgogne, a truly sacred relic with its almost 200 shaded locks, climbs up through the Burgundy region of central France and then descends toward Paris, linking the Mediterranean with the English Channel through the Yonne and the Seine rivers. An engineering masterpiece, it put the finishing touches on one of the most beautiful old-world landscapes in Europe.

The Canal de Bourgogne is one of the places I have loved most in my long life away from home, and is still one of the closest to the holy place in my heart. I still rejoice in the thought of it but know I will never visit it again as it is no longer a working canal, just a playground, and I’m not interested in that as I so loved working my way through it. And I’m still working my way through it in my place of exile far from home, and still wrestling with having lost so much that was once so familiar…

……* * UNDER HOUSE ARREST:
I have a number of poems like this one which I have sent out to journals over the years, but as none of them has ever made their way into print, this side of my work is completely unknown. In addition I have 4 ‘long’ poems (300 to 500 lines) only one of which has been published, and that quite miraculously just after it was written way back in 1992. (If you’ve never read “Connemara Trousers” (362 lines) you can click on the title and have a look at it now.)

The present poem is more difficult, I know, but so was Galileo’s predicament. The technical canal imagery is not widely known, “locking-in” and “locking out,” for example, and the pent-up violence in phrases like “gunnel-rubbing” and “loose sluice-valves stuttering” is certainly uncomfortable. I suspect the convent imagery is going to make some readers feel uncomfortable as well, and some may throw up their hands in despair at the surrealistic muddle of liturgical, mechanical, and mystical imagery at the climax of the poem.  On the other hand, my feeling is that the poem explores faith, frustration and displacement issues on an appropriate and comprehensible level, in so far as such impasses can ever be comprehensible. A sensitive reader who has been through a similar Galileo-like “house arrest,” and I think many of us have, will understand the extreme discomfort that that entails, and the loneliness. Even more importantly, I think they will understand the mysterious resolution and sense of liberation, almost of joy, at the end.

………
……
………………………………………………………………………..[Click to go back through to the end.]

………..

I would welcome feedback at any time and at any point. If you choose to post a “REPLY” it will appear right after the particular post that interests you even if it’s years ago. If you choose to make a more general response you can post a “COMMENT” which will appear at the very end of the particular thread.

If you have not posted here before there will be a brief delay as I must approve you (which I will do, with pleasure, unless you are not a real person). As I work alone, I’m not online all the time, so please forgive any delay. Also don’t forget that I live in the very Far East so the sun may get to me 6 to 12 hours before you, and I may be in bed by the time you get up.

Once you are approved you can post at will. And just to add that if you make a mistake or simply want to rewrite a Reply or a Comment, either post it again and I will delete the original, or e-mail me the corrections and I will edit your post. If you click on my Gravatar or go to ‘About the Author’ you will find my address.

Christopher Woodman,

…………………THE DISCUSSION CONTINUES IN THE COMMENTS

WHY I WROTE HOW BAD IS THE DEVIL

Rebecca's CW
…………………..

I was born the year Yeats died. He was 73 and I’m now 76.

That’s important for me as the reward for the effort I put in everyday. It’s the strength to go on even with so little encouragement, a strength which is also a certain softness that inspires and protects me.

My wife Homprang often asks me how someone with so many degrees can be so stupid, and I always reply the same way, that unlike me she’s a genius. Which she really is — because reading and writing so little has given her a distinct advantage over me when it comes to sharpness and sanity. Because of course she can see ghosts and things like that which is a great advantage because they terrify her and make her refrain from doing or saying anything stupid or risky.

And I’m just the opposite, of course — I’m a bit soft in the head from reading and writing too much. It’s my rarefied education that has made me so fearless as well as foolish, a fact that makes Homprang even more impatient — because just imagine what she might have done had she had an education like mine instead of leaving school at eleven? I mean, she could have made up ghosts and spirits like I do instead of being careful never to look in their direction what is more to mention their names.

On the other hand, isn’t it also a certain softness in the head which makes us love and admire a great poet like William Butler Yeats so much, that he could have worshiped Maud Gunn like that for so long, for example, and then proposed to Iseult? Or sat up and read what his very young wife George wrote down restless beside him on their honeymoon, as if she were Ishtar or the Angel Gabriel descended on the Ashdown Forest Hotel? And never even to have suspected — as in a sense she didn’t either, both of them being in the softness way over their heads? And to have actually believed in “The Circus Animal’s Desertion” too even when he was always so nicely put up in Anglo-Irish country houses right to the end, an emperor with a mechanical bird for eternity in a gilded cage?

Or Eliot in his own foul rag and bone shop of the heart down-and-out in Harvard and Paris?

…………………………………Between the conception
…………………………………And the creation
…………………………………Between the emotion
…………………………………And the response
…………………………………Falls the Shadow.

And how we love the really great ones for being soft in the head like that, neurasthenic even, connecting nothing with nothing. How they expose us and redeem us, and make us whole.…………………………………<…………………………………In an Emergency.

~

I lived for 10 years in Coleman’s Hatch on the Ashdown Forest just down the road from the Pooh Bridge in one direction and the cottage where Pound wintered with Yeats in 1913 in the other, and I walked by the Ashdown Forest Hotel everyday on my way to teach school with my children, and drank at the Hatch in the evening. That was back in the ’70s.

~

What’s important is something way out there, that’s the point, and I mean having the courage to do whatever it is all by yourself regardless and always in a sense upstairs alone in your room late at night. Because there’s no other activity that counts one iota but being alone with a loaded gun and a delicate body.

…………………..Much Madness is divinest Sense —
…………………..To a discerning Eye —
…………………..Much sense — the starkest Madness —
…………………..’Tis the Majority
…………………..In this, as all, prevail –
…………………..Assent – and you are sane –
…………………..Demur – you’re straightway dangerous –
…………………..And handled with a Chain –

And that’s how bad the devil is, not knowing your place in the grown-up world, not just lying down and being quiet like the big dog Sam. Being soft in the head is like being Eve in God’s grown-up Garden, I’d say, like not only rejecting Heaven but being in cahoots with the Devil in a serious effort to rewrite Paradise. “Unless we become as Rogues we cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven,” Emily Dickinson wrote to a friend at age 50, and I’d say courage like that coupled with a delicate body and a diamond mind is heroic!

Speaking as a poet I say that, because in fact I know almost nothing about “diamond minds” or “heroic” but just what I write.

Which is why I write as well, as if my desk were underground in Lascaux — as if the hunt depended on my depiction of the beauty and grace of the animals as well as my reverence for them. And even the sun rising.

~

Emily Dickinson’s named her huge black and white Newfoundland ‘Carlo’ after St John River’s old pointer and not after Mr Rochester’s huge black and white Newfoundland called ‘Pilot.’

With that in mind, can you imagine Emily Dickinson out for a walk on the treacherous, ice-bound cart-road to Hay being rescued and steadied by Jane Eyre as if she were the one who was mounted? The clatter of the hooves and the crash? The neat little boots and the hot breath of the gytrash on your neck? And is that why you name your dog ‘Carlo’ instead, to reject the tall, perfect, god-like ‘Master’ on the straight and narrow path? For the Rogue himself do you name him, tumbling on the causeway at your feet?

And can you see then how the truth is more important than the facts? Can you imagine what ‘Pilot’ was like before the Wright brothers put that neat blue-serge suit on him and made him a captain at 35,000 feet? Can you rather hear the crash of the sea as the earlier ‘Pilot’ guides you over the bar to land-locked Florence and on up the hillside to La Gioiella? Can you go somewhere you can never be but you have to arrive at — where everything that has ever happened happens to you for the first time alone in your room upstairs?

Here’s how I say that upstairs alone in my own delicate body.

…………………..“Yet still it moves!” the old beard raves,
…………………..The moon girdling a softer quarter —
…………………..The impossible return,
…………………..Ocean fins quickening the landlocked water.

………………………………………..from GALILEO’S SECRET: Two Decades
………………………………………………..of Poems Under House Arrest

Christopher Woodman

THIS THREAD IS CONTINUED IN THE COMMENTS THAT FOLLOW.