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In-gratitude and Other Poems

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'Where does the creative act come from? No one knows. All the rash of literature in recent times from artists, scientists and theologians on the subject of consciousness finds its origin in this puzzle.Creating what has happened to one into an art form has one effect: it dissolves the barrier between the present and the past. The past is constantly stimulated into life by present experiencesparticularly when listening to someone else relating their experiences. It brings me then into a close sharing of experience with the other. Analytic theories are substitutes for these personal experiences.So these poems are a few casual glimpses when the spirit has risen to the challenge. They are not a big offering but they mean a lot to me. The most important of these is the long poem IN-GRATITUDE which comes first. It is the creation of some enormously important conversations I had with my mother shortly before she died.'- Neville Symington, from The Introduction

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Poems Of Childhood

ePub

All these poems call to mind my childhood. I was blessed with good fortune. I think of the many events that were so happy and full of joy. These poems though are focussed upon agony and desolation. This had its origin I believe in the fateful fact that my mother fell ill just after my birth. One of my earliest memories is of her with her leg in plaster. She developed a tubercular knee just after my birth. I was I believe affected by this event. It was pure chance that my birth coincided with this event in my mother’s life. I believe that chance is a major actor in the human scene and, I believe, that psycho-analysis attributes to intentions many things which belong to chance rather than human deliberation. I think this originates from Freud’s brilliant exposition in The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, The Interpretations of Dreams and Jokes and their relation to the Unconscious. That there are frequently intentions lying behind what seem to be chance events is certain but it has been exaggerated. What Freud says here needs to be balanced with that marvellous passage of his in The Future of an Illusion:

 

The Ill-Child

ePub

The poetic art expresses something which cannot be expressed in prose or any other art form. This poem is concerned with my relation to my mother as a child. It has however reflections within it that come from knowledge garnered later in my life.

The Ill-Child

His face was a grinning moon Cracking jokes in laughter Christmas Day at Uncle John’s With cousins giggling after.

Port, wine, food and games A theatre of sweet merriment A microcosm of the year Concentration of contentment.

Father and twin brother John With hostile wives in labour Had spawned this divers flock Of children all in favour.

A blight upon the festival Cracked skin about his lips With balm Mum anointed them His head upon her hips.

She saw the eczema of the heart Which sorrowed into malady In depths like Mariana’s trench Hid a foul disease in tragedy.

A picture of a floppy babe Surprised upon the inner screen The minute hands were stretching fast Towards her bosom seen.

They could not reach as far as her Lying trapped in a catatonic ilk Consumption in her armly joints A reckless draught of unboiled milk

 

Butterfly Boy

ePub

Introduction

This poem encircles my immediate family, the wider family with its circle of cousins, the pursuit of butterflies, condemnation, public school and alienation. It weaves a theme between the earlier and the later. It encompasses a wider family scene than Ill Child.

Butterfly Boy

He was enwrapped entire By a trance of absolute love. The kindly face of Uncle Maurice Smiled sweetly now in his direction. That love in Maurice dwelt in all His uncle’s, aunts and cousins too.

It was as sure as firmament As certain as the stars above And solid as the earth beneath Only a meteor as large as earth Could shatter and fragment Its hugely cast-iron frame.

They loved us all this family

In days and months and years as well

It never was a passing whim

Or sudden burst of shooting star.

It was as lasting as the seasons

And firm as God in Heaven.

Nothing could ever break this Eden It was rooted like the English yew In the very loamiest soil; Recorded in the Doomsday book, It now stands firm beside the Thames At Ankerwycke, near Runnymede.

 

Carmen

ePub

I was brought up in Oporto in the north of Portugal. When I go down the Avenida da Boavista which stretches from the sea towards the city with its elegant poplars I feel a thump of nostalgia. I have always loved Monet’s Poplars on the Epte. I suspect that those beautiful paintings remind me of the poplars on the Boavista.

María was the commonest name for a woman in Portugal. Two of our three maids were called María do Carmo so we called one María and the other Carmen. María had been a maid to my father for ten years before he married. So she started service with him in 1922. When my father married in 1932 she became maid to my mother and father and then to the whole family as one child after another was born. She was our cook.

Carmen came to us when I was six, on our return from Canada. She was severe but loved us all and held us always within her disciplined guardianship. She was a second mother to me and I loved her. It was a love founded on respect.

I visited her when she was old in a retirement home in the centre of Oporto. She spoke the simple sentence: Gosto de viver; tenho pena de morrer (I like living; I am sorry that I have to die). She had been with us as our maid for fifty-five years. I felt that telling me that she liked living was also a generous gift to me: telling me that living in our family had been a joy. I took with me to visit her our two boys. I told her that she was my segunda mãe (second mother) and she thanked me for saying it. It was so clear that she was loved by the other women in the home. She cared for them with a gentle concern. As I left she said to me ‘I don’t think I will see you again’ and I was sad. Six months later she died.

 

Fr. Kenneth

ePub

I have a gentle memory for this quiet tender-hearted monk who poured a healing balm into my soul when I was at the Junior House at Ampleforth. I was at St. Martin’s School for four terms from eleven to thirteen. Unlike most English Public Schools, Ampleforth had a Junior House where boys stayed for two years from twelve to fourteen before moving into the Upper School. It was while I was in the Junior House that the event happened that is recorded in this poem. I must therefore have been about thirteen at the time.

Fourteen years later when I was a priest on the parish hearing many confessions of people, especially Irish men and women, who were tortured by guilt about sexual thoughts and feelings I tried to be towards them as Fr. Kenneth had been towards me.

Father Kenneth

He was a quiet gentle man. Looking kindly at the fair-haired boy. Kneeling fearfully to shrive himself. His knees cushioned beside the priest.

He had sinned a mortal sin. A sword, cutting his holy bond to God. His soul was devoured by devils In the very depths of hell.

 

Quicksand

ePub

This poem records a moment that happened when I was aged fifteen. At that moment I put all my trust in God. Only later did I come to realize that this God in whom I trusted was an idol. I had not listened in my heart to the prophet Isaiah:

“They are ignorant, those who carry about

their idol of wood,

those who pray to a god

that cannot save.” Ch. 45. v. 20.

And I worshipped an idol, in different forms, for fifty years.

Quicksand

On a mundane Sunday beach Covered with light ocre sand Which stretched beyond my reach I was left only with God’s wrath.

Like a puny Harlow monkey

I clung to it most desperately

All vanished ‘cept this phantom God

Ingested in immediately.

It was not a companion presence That granted me some quiet solace But a merciless tyrant-Nazi god The worst virus in the human race.

Yet it saved me in the quicksand Pretending to be a solid stone Attached to the planet’s firmament I did not know I was alone.

All solids round me liquified Home faces razed to desolation All but this exacting god Demanding me in isolation.

 

Clinical Poems

ePub

Some poems have been inspired by incidents in the consulting-room— either thoughts I have had or thoughts that a patient has given voice to. I record them here. There is desperation in them all. They capture for me the fear and desolation that crowd daily into my consulting-room.

The Bear cub

My mother left me up a tree And walked away for ever The horizon was an empty space And friendless light bore into me.

Leering faces shot my heart Night is massed with demon terrors Naught can ever calm me now Or drive the fears away.

Time has no meaning now Empty time is all there is The days of week are empty slots With colours dancing in and out.

Five weeks, a day or just an hour Is jammed or broadened to infinity A mother’s absence is timelessness And days and hours are all the same.

Buried alive

It felt a relief

s I sank down within

The warm soft earth.

Then a fear gripped tight I can’t get out. They’ve lowered a pipe Into my mouth.

Water and air Cools my fright. Then a bullet smashes Down the pipe to my mouth.

 

Adult Poems

ePub

 

Becoming God And Hallucination At Hendon Aeronautical Museum

ePub

What is the nature of my existence? What is the nature of existence as a whole? How on earth did I become a conscious being and how did mankind emerge on this planet? These existential questions have been with me since childhood. I remember when I was an eight year old in a house in Miramar, a little village south of Oporto, which my parents rented together with Reg and Auriel Cobb. I remember asking Reg questions like ‘Why do the stars only shine at night, Uncle Reg?’ and ‘How do fish breathe?’ and ‘Why was Jesus born in Palestine instead of Portugal?’ On and on I went till at breakfast one day Uncle Reg said, in an irritated tone, ‘Will you please stop asking questions?’ I cannot remember whether I stopped pestering him but I am glad to say that his admonition did not stop me going on asking questions and I have continued this way all my life. It is for this reason that I have always been attracted to the existential philosophers and, more recently, particularly the writings of Paul Tillich. Both these poems have that existential theme.

 

First Born

ePub

Surely one of the most important moments in a man’s life is when a child is born to him? It was so vivid an experience that I wrote this poem in a shabby café in Shepherd’s Bush an hour or so after the birth. I wrote it then as it appears now. I don’t think I have changed it since writing it about midday on 5th October 1975.

The first born

The quiet voice that tells Of birth by Caesar’s section There is no time to fear it Or manage comprehension

The mother lay there silent Cheated of her labour But how could she resent it When it comes as infant’s saviour?

For labour to a woman Is proof of womanhood The surgeon’s rustling haste Forgets what no mother could.

The father sits alone Imagining blood and hustle And knowing that his dear one Lies oblivious of all the bustle.

The nurse appears and says ‘Do you want to see your son?’ He looks at the screwed up face And barely believes it’s come

The mother comes around And the little baby sees, The expression on her face No lines on earth could seize.

He’s growing tough and strong No need to fear he’s weak. It’s Mum and Dad who will be frail When he is at his peak.

 

Black Poplar

ePub

When we lived at No. 27 Daleham Gardens we had a beautiful black poplar in the garden. It was huge and the wind rustled its leaves in a way that is characteristic of poplar trees. It was while we were living there in contented complacency that we decided to leave London and move to Australia. This poem charts that change.

Black poplar

As the wind blew, the tree turned to spirit Clacking the leaves like a soft castanet. As he lay a’bed listening with ears all intent Upon Daleham’s orchestral instrument God’s stare prodding a soft mind-set.

No other tree gave a note like this With however much skill the wind blew. Only the leaves of a poplar so high Rattled a note so much like a sigh Making its singular note to him true.

It rose from the ground, a volcanic eruption Its trunk as thick as a Roman rampart. Not as those elegant ones in France Poplars on the Epte in a fairy dance Its quavering foliage broke him apart.

Its leaves oddly joined to the stalk A Stradivarius crafted by artful nature The note of a baby’s rattle he heard As he lay in the bed it seemed so absurd To be lifted down to a childlike stature.

 

The Newspaper Seller

ePub

 

Poetry Spore

ePub

I had written many of the poems here recorded but did not value them. Then I started attending a poetry seminar, chaired by Jane Adamson. She led me to realize that a poem contains a thought but one that can only be captured through the poetic art.

Thinking is not confined within the circumference of Science, not within the perimeter of Philosophy, not within the halls of Academia. We have to go outside all this to catch the deepest thoughts, the ones that change the emotional climate of a whole age or culture.

So this poem charts a debt of gratitude to Jane Adamson. I don’t think this book would exist unless she had awakened the spore. At the time of writing this I had also been reading Dubos’s biography of Pasteur.

The spore of poetry

Pass along quiet landscape Toil in earthquake’s testament, Volcano’s searing lava too Or battle-bombed old tenement.

Pasteur knows that here In a such unlikely mound Rest bacillus spores of poesy Cocooned within the ground.

For sixty years they hid there In his childhood fancying His volcanic blight of youth And professional somersaulting.

 

Douro Trucks

ePub

As a boy my family would go ‘up the Douro’ where the port vineyards were. I loved these trips. One of the most familiar sounds was the deep grinding of the wheels of the ox-carts as they made their way up narrow rocks and dust-strewn paths. They deliberatedly did not oil the wheels so that another ox-cart at the bottom or top of the path, which might be round a bend in the mountain, would know that another such vehicle was on the path so would wait until it had finished its journey. This might have taken as much as an hour and a half. Life was not so hectic in those days. To-day ordinary trucks wend their way up and down these mountain tracks and the poem was written watching one of them but with an eye to the past.

Douro trucks

Along a path on a hillside’s back A white truck stirs up swirling dust Ploughing noiseless along the amber track Curving the mountain’s generous bust

Its whereabouts betrayed by a dusty wind Fastens my eyes to its unknown destiny Reaching the shoulder it’s now hidden behind Leaving a pillar of cloud - a relic for many.

 

Shame

ePub

 

Richard

ePub

On 17th May my friend, Richard Champion, died of cancer. In October of that year his widow, Rachel, organized a ceremonial burial of his ashes in the cemetery of the lovely church at Instow in north Devon. She asked me to speak at the graveside so I composed this poem and read it on that occasion.

Richard

Firmly standing in a tweed brown suit A speech of passion on his open face Selling ice-cream to innocent Welshmen Unilever’s rebel in that hideous brute. Now his own spirit he gave and not sold Catching my love which did quickly unfold.

Ignoring completely the smoke-filled chatter, Of black cassocked figures encircling This new boy in brown never minded He had something to say which did matter In my interested eye he could definitely see He’d made for ever a good friend of me.

That Hertfordshire place was a seed-bed Twin-yoked were we now in God’s work Heartened in zeal by a humane old Pope This was our goal: Christ and the world to be wed Richard’s flame of devotion inspired all the youth My own ardent yearning: to dig deep for truth.

 

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