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 weakTo unlock the heart, and let it speak?Are even lovers powerless to revealTo one another what indeed they feel?I knew the mass of men conceal’dTheir thoughts, for fear that if reveal’dThey would by other men be metWith blank indifference, or with blame reproved;I knew they lived and movedTrick’d in disguises, alien to the restOf men, and alien to themselves—and yetThe same heart beats in every human breast!But we, my love!—doth a like spell benumbOur hearts, our voices?—must we too be dumb?Ah! well for us, if even we,Even for a moment, can get freeOur heart, and have our lips unchain’d;For that which seals them hath been deep-ordain’d!Fate, which foresawHow 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 playHis genuine self, and force him to obeyEven in his own despite his being’s law,Bade through the deep recesses of our breastThe unregarded river of our lifePursue with indiscernible flow its way;And that we should not seeThe buried stream, and seem to beEddying 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 desireAfter the knowledge of our buried life;A thirst to spend our fire and restless forceIn tracking out our true, original course;A longing to inquireInto the mystery of this heart which beatsSo wild, so deep in us—to knowWhence 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 allThe nameless feelings that course through our breast,But they course on for ever unexpress’d.And long we try in vain to speak and actOur hidden self, and what we say and doIs eloquent, is well—but ‘t is not true!And then we will no more be rack’dWith inward striving, and demandOf all the thousand nothings of the hourTheir 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 upborneAs from an infinitely distant land,Come airs, and floating echoes, and conveyA melancholy into all our day.Only—but this is rare—When a belovèd hand is laid in ours,When, jaded with the rush and glareOf the interminable hours,Our eyes can in another’s eyes read clear,When our world-deafen’d earIs 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 seesThe meadows where it glides, the sun, the breeze.And there arrives a lull in the hot raceWherein he doth for ever chaseThat 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 knowsThe hills where his life rose,And the sea where it goes.
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.
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.
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 beThat I am heOn 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.