High in Scotland I walked on a snow path
over a ridge of hills. The going was deep
and in the bare sky I looked round and saw no-one.
Acres of snow: here and there a fence:
a long way away trees. I remember the picture
and my uncertainty as whether to go on.
I had been told of the way to a waterfall.
So over acres of untouched snow I went,
fearful that I would fall, far, far from people.
I listened but I heard no waterfall,
and saw in the intense distance of white
nothing except my own uncertainty.
I should have waited till the ground was dry,
as others cheerfully said they would. At length,
scared of being lost – and very cold –
I changed my mind, retracing many steps.
Deep in the Italian sun I paced
down the strange streets, sat on a bench, drank milk,
ate fruit, occasionally talked to a strange person,
thirsted for an orange squash or beer,
and felt more alone than I had ever been.
I walked in the path of that astonishing heat,
trip-wrestling in a mental operation
with my poor self.
If I had known it, peace
of mind, of body, spirit and of soul
was to be found.
In a vault of the mind
there is a rushing river, and some boulders,
beside which one can sit. How to get there
I do not know, for it is a place removed
from noise. It exists of itself, a place
higher and deeper than humans can arrive.
I think I sought it then in Italy.
And other times. This clear place of quiet
far beyond the silence of all noise
is not to be arrived at. One may be there,
looking down at the stillness, watching the water
massively rushing the stone, that smoothed and cornered –
grey-blue shoulders, dominant in the stream –
upholds no more than itself, a final acceptance:
making its stand.
Once I ran down a street
burning with London colours in the rain
bouncing colours in my head in the street
as I pounded the pavement. And the rain ran delirious
as I tumbled happy into my girlfriend’s flat.
(She gave me a towel to rub my head dry with.)
I had raced along the track of the rushing river
and echo of storming water I had heard:
but happiness is headlong, not like peace.
In London, too, I have often walked
under the boulder of the great blue sky,
over a fine common of grass and trees.
It could be anywhere. The colours are drawn
in clarity of last-minute afternoon
or early touch of evening, so that I see
the calm and amiable mind of nature
at home, even in the body of the world.
Walking along, that stone-apparent surface
under which I pass, seeming to stand quite still
as if cast for the comment of a word,
I only know I am glad to walk below it:
and feel the pleasure of a moment of worth.
Such privilege I have in being alive
is to be close, at times, to a stream and boulders –
through many differences, as in a dream.
First, it was in thinking about God,
in and out, for a statement in words
that might express how far our falling short
in all attempts to show Him, except Life –
in thinking almost desperately thus,
I fell subdued into a lightened sleep.
Half sleeping, I was conscious of my dream
in which I saw three things, and then a fourth,
presented with extraordinary force.
I let the vision of them happen, knowing
that now were shown to me the principles
which are intrinsic to the mind of man.
From the first chaos something fell in order,
and after, shaped more carefully, it came
to take on shiny beauty. But man knows
little or nothing of his part in this.
Shapelessness careering in a storm
with wild bands of shouting-to-each-other light,
black rims, the skim, the edge of matter appearing,
exerting pulls of unsteady gale-force power;
wrenched free – on the loose – hurtling in line-skirmish –
grabbing – cannoning off – the black explosion of silence
witnessing – creating – binding to definition.
First it was magnetism that healed the world.
The magnetic ploy, of sympathies and hates,
of pin-delighting iron, of people for each other –
this is the utmost principle of truth
in the exacting silence that is our master.
We pause: and at the mercy of such force
as splits the sky, and makes all matter tremble,
the mind is drawn out, guided by the self.
O what an item to begin a dream.
Next, and also on gigantic scale
were letters, lumbering vast, the ABC
that man created, knocking atoms together.
Rollicking through the density of chaos
(which is our ignorance, darkness in the mind)
these wandering letters, like blind drunk companions
lurch on. Second to sniffing-out sign and sense
and signal of recognition (pin and iron
within the self, from self to others or world –)
and first created by man himself, they hunt
their better order; shift; bear down on us –
our letters, robots, made with insight and skill –
and right away out of hand, bestride the place,
friends or monsters. I only know they are next,
our own invention, after the sandy grains
fix and home to their affinities.
From ‘sand’, those first-bits whirling, shall come glass.
Now what I saw, standing by itself,
puts nature’s laws, and man’s display, to shame.
I look, and look, and hesitate to speak –
and speak out gladly. There was a glass, which was
half filled with water. Light as from a sun
was through, along the side, and in the water.
I saw the freedom, framed-in-glass, of rays,
all games being played, the sun was turning corners,
white angles of joy.
I looked: the dream was there
to make me look.
Splendid in the glass
that gleamed and stood, a rippled water-light
spoke – and I echo – ‘Beauty humbles man’.
But then I moved, more closely to observe,
drew near, and saw the glass was greatly scarred.
I went the wrong way to discovery.
Disturbed, disturbed. There is an acid in things –
a wrench in recognition that brings despair:
that twists the nerves to break, that poisons knowledge.
Devoured glass. O to avoid remembrance
of this last strangeness of my vision-dream,
I think of simple things. Friendly shops,
a well-known customer asking for apples,
a bite at the latest news, and then the street,
a high road of co-operative colours.
The insistent comment of traffic lights, the clothes
of young and old stitched fine against the street –
the working skill of vehicles, that glide
on the road’s drawing-board, their jutted tones …
to look at colours is to be at peace.
Yet soon surrendered from the dawdling air
the mind is jogged, disturbed along its journey
And walking in the gap in what I am
I go towards the things that I must do.
Towards the end of my first twenty-five years
(which had been moving underneath a rock,
the tightened sky: its glass skin slowly breaking –)
I found myself blindly running a scree.
Kinship, quick friends, books of wit and anger –
stones knocked out of the way, gripped under the feet –
all in a restless drift through loneliness.
I burnt my way through a mountain, I changed to rain
sliding off rock; then down to lowest ground
succumbed like snow; and yet the cold mood left me
in idle afternoon.
These years of journey
taught me the elements, the hot and cold
and moist and dry: as I trudged and then raced through
the snow, the sun, the rain, and a fine day.
I have come home. Awake now, after a dream,
I live, not in my thoughts, but in and from
a flat and garden, with my wife and son.
Many voices still roar inside my head:
but I forget them and am free of them,
for now I have a breath of utter peace …
I sense and see the water, after its fall,
coursing a clearer way, more visible
in depth as in direction. And there still
I see the boulders stand in yards of silence.
I do not guess at what they are, nor rack
the mind in channels of sleep to fathom the stream;
for there are twenty-five years, I now determine,
in which to work – not peer at what is there.
I shall look after my own: nor wish to know
whether my vision-dream were right or wrong.
For now I reach the wonder, a hushed wonder,
that can not ever be voiced by magic of tongue.
Now I see, once clearly in a moment,
past all screens.
In a vault of the mind –
not mine but all men’s – in the rushing water,
by a wide-angled trinity of rocks,
where noise is greater than an aeroplane
that tore up the sky, when we lay in bed
and it approached through night-black, steadily nearer,
then above us – where too the water says
its word of silence that is never said
by us – the prayer that nature says for us –
now, in the stream, the boulders are themselves cleared;
and in an open-air shrine – O the hand of the wind
parts the water – and a child is taken
out of the stream, defiant with his cry.