The Buried Life: what is that moment?

mljet blue.JPG
A sketchy intimation of the very moving blue of the sea lake,  Mljet, Croatia

I’m continuing my reading of ‘The Buried Life’ which you’ll find here. This text  from the Poetry Foundation shows all the stanza line breaks, which are for some readers missing from the versions I’m posting. If you are joining newly today, try reading the whole thing, with plenty of pauses, following the run of sentences rather than the line-endings:

Light flows our war of mocking words, and yet,
Behold, with tears mine eyes are wet!
I feel a nameless sadness o’er me roll.
Yes, yes, we know that we can jest,
We know, we know that we can smile!
But there’s a something in this breast,
To which thy light words bring no rest,
And thy gay smiles no anodyne.
Give me thy hand, and hush awhile,
And turn those limpid eyes on mine,
And let me read there, love! thy inmost soul.
Alas! is even love too weak
To unlock the heart, and let it speak?
Are even lovers powerless to reveal
To one another what indeed they feel?
I knew the mass of men conceal’d
Their thoughts, for fear that if reveal’d
They would by other men be met
With blank indifference, or with blame reproved;
I knew they lived and moved
Trick’d in disguises, alien to the rest
Of men, and alien to themselves—and yet
The same heart beats in every human breast!
But we, my love!—doth a like spell benumb
Our hearts, our voices?—must we too be dumb?
Ah! well for us, if even we,
Even for a moment, can get free
Our heart, and have our lips unchain’d;
For that which seals them hath been deep-ordain’d!
Fate, which foresaw
How frivolous a baby man would be—
By what distractions he would be possess’d,
How he would pour himself in every strife,
And well-nigh change his own identity—
That it might keep from his capricious play
His genuine self, and force him to obey
Even in his own despite his being’s law,
Bade through the deep recesses of our breast
The unregarded river of our life
Pursue with indiscernible flow its way;
And that we should not see
The buried stream, and seem to be
Eddying at large in blind uncertainty,
Though driving on with it eternally.
But often, in the world’s most crowded streets,
But often, in the din of strife,
There rises an unspeakable desire
After the knowledge of our buried life;
A thirst to spend our fire and restless force
In tracking out our true, original course;
A longing to inquire
Into the mystery of this heart which beats
So wild, so deep in us—to know
Whence our lives come and where they go.
And many a man in his own breast then delves,
But deep enough, alas! none ever mines.
And we have been on many thousand lines,
And we have shown, on each, spirit and power;
But hardly have we, for one little hour,
Been on our own line, have we been ourselves—
Hardly had skill to utter one of all
The nameless feelings that course through our breast,
But they course on for ever unexpress’d.
And long we try in vain to speak and act
Our hidden self, and what we say and do
Is eloquent, is well—but ‘t is not true!
And then we will no more be rack’d
With inward striving, and demand
Of all the thousand nothings of the hour
Their stupefying power;
Ah yes, and they benumb us at our call!
Yet still, from time to time, vague and forlorn,
From the soul’s subterranean depth upborne
As from an infinitely distant land,
Come airs, and floating echoes, and convey
A melancholy into all our day.
Only—but this is rare—
When a belovèd hand is laid in ours,
When, jaded with the rush and glare
Of the interminable hours,
Our eyes can in another’s eyes read clear,
When our world-deafen’d ear
Is by the tones of a loved voice caress’d—
A bolt is shot back somewhere in our breast,
And a lost pulse of feeling stirs again.
The eye sinks inward, and the heart lies plain,
And what we mean, we say, and what we would, we know.
A man becomes aware of his life’s flow,
And hears its winding murmur; and he sees
The meadows where it glides, the sun, the breeze.
And there arrives a lull in the hot race
Wherein he doth for ever chase
That flying and elusive shadow, rest.
An air of coolness plays upon his face,
And an unwonted calm pervades his breast.
And then he thinks he knows
The hills where his life rose,
And the sea where it goes.
Yesterday I’d got to ‘driving on with it eternally.’

I read the poem again just now to get it in my mind, but in fact it has been in my mind since yesterday, as yesterday thought (about the moment this poem tries to hold, and when or how I have experienced it) has been playing at the back of my mind nonstop…

This is for me a thought about wholeness or unity, which came to mind more clearly last night when I started reading David Bohm’s Wholeness and the Implicate Order,  which I’d been led to by  reading Synchronicity by  Joseph Jaworski.


David Bohm’s Wholeness and the Implicate Order

Reading the opening chapter of Bohm’s book, which is about fragmentation and wholeness, I was struck by the relation he sets up between health and wholeness.

It is instructive to consider that the word ‘health’ in English is based on an Anglo-Saxon word ‘hale’ meaning ‘whole’: that is, to be healthy is to be whole, which is I think, roughly the equivalent of the Hebrew ‘shalem’. Likewise ,the English ‘holy’ is based on the same root as ‘whole’. All of this indicates man has sensed always that wholeness or integrity is an absolute necessity to make life worth living.

There’s a relation here between Bohm’s sense of wholeness and the longing to create the conditions for wholeness which lie behind The Peckham Experiment, and  thus, to a certain extent, behind The Reader’s  community at Calderstones. As an outsider, I’d also say  I sense this  behind the Bromley By Bow Centre. (See the latest edition of The Reader  magazine for an interview with Bromley’s CEO Rob Trimble).

But  what I  most thought about  when I read that paragraph in Bohm was a passage in Doris Lessing’s early novel, Martha Quest, in which  the  heroine, Martha, undergoes a profound  and frightening experience where the universe  becomes one whole unfragmented whole.  The book is set in Rhodesia (which later became Zimbabwe). On page 61 in my old paperback, sixteen year old Martha is walking home from the Station across the veldt alone when an  experience she has had before (and dismissed as part of her ‘religious phase’ ) begins to happen to her again:

There was certainly a definite point at which the thing began. It was not; then it was suddenly inescapable, and nothing could have frightened it away. There was a slow integration, during which she, and the little animals, and the moving grasses, and the sunwarmed trees, and the slopes of the silvery mealies, and the great dome of blue light overhead, and the stones of the earth under her feet, became one, shuddering together in a dissolution of dancing atoms. She felt the rivers under the ground forcing themselves painfully along her veins, swelling them out in an unbearable pressure; her flesh was the earth, and suffered growth like a ferment; and her eyes stared, fixed like the eye of the sun. . . During that space of time (which was timeless) she understood quite finally her smallness, the unimportance of humanity. In her ears was an inchoate grinding, the great wheels of movement, and it was inhuman, like the blundering rocking movement of  a bullock cart; and no part of that sound was Martha’s voice. Yet she was part of it, reluctantly allowed to participate, though on terms – but what terms? For that moment while time and space (but these are words, and if she understood anything it was that words, here, were like the sound of baby crying in a whirlwind) kneaded her flesh, she knew futility; that is, what was futile was her own idea of herself and her place in the chaos of matter. What was demanded of her was that she should accept something quite different; it was as if something new was demanding conception, with her flesh as host; as if it were a necessity, which she must bring herself to accept, that she should allow herself to dissolve and be formed by that necessity. But it did not last; the force desisted, and left her standing on the road, already trying to reach out after ‘the moment’ so that she might retain its message from the wasting and creating chaos of darkness. Already the thing was sliding backwards, becoming a whole in her mind, instead of a process; the memory was changing, so that it was with nostalgia that she longed ‘to try again’.

There had been a challenge that she had refused. But the wave of nostalgia made her angry. She knew it to be a falsity; for it was a longing for something that had never existed, an ‘ecstasy’ in short. There had been no ecstasy, only a difficult knowledge. It was as if a beetle had sung. There should be a new word for illumination.

Martha Quest by Doris Lessing

This is an extreme version perhaps of the intimation which  provokes Matthew Arnold’s poem, carried in the hint of the ‘nameless something’.

I’ve had  experience of that  ‘a something’  many times. If I was able to call it ‘God’ I  would, but there is something about my conception of God that doesn’t let me do this…(perhaps it is because as a child I was brought up as a Catholic,  believing that various higher powers, some of  whom were out to trip me up, others to look out for me, had access to my innermost thoughts.  ( I know most adult Catholics don’t believe anything like this, but I’m talking about the inner life of a six year old  in a provincial parish in 1961). I know that is not what religious people think ( George Herbert  is my exemplar) but it remains, that childish caricature somewhere in my mind: I cannot feel a guiding consciousness and trying to think about what a guiding consciousness might be leads me back to the Old Man. When I read George Herbert it’s not like this, and at those times I feel I might be  getting close.

       And now in age I bud again,
After so many deaths I live and write;
         I once more smell the dew and rain,
And relish versing. Oh, my only light,
                      It cannot be
                      That I am he
         On whom thy tempests fell all night

Read The Flower here. And in the end I am not George Herbert, so I have a longing, and a space where  no thing  fills that longing, and I  manage it by reading Wordsworth, George Eliot, George Herbert, Milton and others who seem to inhabit that space. Reading ‘The Buried Life’, I feel Matthew Arnold also has such a gap.   For me sometimes some natural experiences seem to fill it. Particularly the colour of the sea lakes on the Croatian island of Mljet (see picture above, though it is not good enough to convey the warm intensity of that blue).

I have  hardly read a word of ‘The Buried Life’ today, but all this has been part of my  reading, I hope. Glad to have typed out the Lessing quote, anyway.

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