So, the hippies i know are all telling me spring is starting to spring whilst my rock'n'roll friends insist it is still the depths of winter - curtains drawn, poker game and whisky on the table. I know what i think.
me and the tribe were clearing out the hut today - our largish shed/storytelling hut/painting studio. It contains my ancient woodburning stove from my days in the tent - bleached white in places from the heat. Shovelling in various incriminating letters and court demands to get it started, i glanced at the crumpled paper i was pushing in. I found a bunch of poems from the tent days, which i managed to procure from the flames greedy licks. I place one here before i lose them again. I'm not sure it is all that great, but i was pleased to see one contains a line from this weeks section of 'A Branch From The Lightning Tree' - well, a similar image anyway- i didn't know it had been in an old poem. Weird that line about paper into the stove too, bearing in mind the circumstances.
Black Tent Poem 1
Crumbly autumn comes
The hermit lets the water spill from his hands
The papers drift into the leaf banks and the frost
no publisher or abbott will coo over the smoulders
gaze at the legacy of sixty nights by the angry cairns
He claimed a vessel of problems
collected from theology and old magic
built humming structures around their thick air
made love with ferocity to what many thought forgotten
His solitude was the hardest song he ever wrote
sent to the moving herds of the open plains
Snow will come soon
and the small doors let in hail
but for now the only heat is from more papers fed into the stove
radiating small circles of red into the dusk
and the fox moving at distance
stills herself, and moves forward towards the glow
I reckon i was probably reading a lot of Han Shan around that time. Anyway, here is a small chunk of the upcoming Lightning Tree book - this one from the Irish tale 'The Birth of Ossian' -in it Finn MacColl is wandering the highways and byways looking for his lost love, Sadb.
The Currency of Longing, the Malignancy of Disappointment
A steady focus on something absent, out of reach, or lost to us, acquaints us with a very particular kind of edge, acquaints us with Saturn as well as an Underworld goddess. For some of us, the loss of Sadb is the loss of youth. “And little enough you cared for her when she was yours,” says another story from the Fenian cycle. That loss leads to identification with some part of us that is grizzled, listless, wandering. It is the very fate that ensures Finn as a hero rather than just a “defender,” a culturally sanctioned holder of borders. It is an encounter with the Magpie brother of Parzival, or Gilgamesh meeting Enkidu, our precious degree swept into a snow drift.
To broaden the psyche and become a real human being requires more than the adoration of the court; some dark arrow has to enter our flank, like William Cowper’s stricken deer:
I was a stricken deer, that left the herd
Long since; with many an arrow deep infixt
My panting side was charg’d when I withdrew
To seek a tranquil death in distant shades
But some energy arises that pulls us from the magnetic trance of death:
There was I found by one himself
Been hurt by th’archers...
With gentle force soliciting the darts,
he drew them forth, and heal’d, and made me live.
Daniel Deardorff, commenting on the above lines, advises caution in expecting the holy rescuer, or paraclete, to arrive in physical form: “One must bring to bear a much wider imagination than accommodated within the ratio of reasonable, daylight thought.”11
By this token, any number of experiences could have wrestled the darts from Finn—some troubled dream, another forest bereft of his beloved. But it is the role of Wanderer, Grief-Man, that tempers us into such a shape that the gift can appear. If Finn had attempted to hide his limp, his ravaged stump, surely it would have congealed and rotted many years past. The marginality of grief strikes a chord of relationship between the Trickster and the King; we sense Finn has become “real” in some way. Deardorff makes an overt connection between the two: “The King/Jester polarity is embodied in the contrary person of the Mythic Trickster.”
It’s an extraordinary, indigenous idea that to find an authentic center, we have to wander lonely beaches and sleep under hedges, longing for something we know is lost. We make a place in us for a small, cultivated altar to the bird that flew away. The story tells us that as long as we deny the sorrow road and neglect the chamber of crow-feathers, we refuse the possibility that the God contained in the experience will speak back to us. How many of us are wearing long coats to cover our darts and clotted veins? How many of us refuse Cowper’s “leaving of the herd” and deny the encounter with the one with “gentle force?”
We exchange the currency of longing for the malignancy of disappointment. Longing pushes the imagination outward—toward deeper inflexions of insight, peculiar creative leaps—while disappointment is a diminishment, a closing, a reduction. Remember Rilke’s “Wherever I am folded I am a lie.”12 We deny the incubation of longing by refusing to grieve, and anticipating this, we never fully invest anyway. This leads to the great sense of numbness we hear of in modern life. We touch with a gloved hand, our passions become hobbies, and we keep an eye fixed always on the door. If some feeling should come through, it carries the distortion of possession; we grab in order to be fed rather than to feed, and are startled when another relationship crumbles in our hands.
As a twelve-year old schoolboy, Carl Jung was once lost in thought while contemplating a glorious sky, radiant sunshine glittering on a cathedral roof, and became overwhelmed with the perfection of the moment. His thoughts drifted upwards to god and:
Here came a great hole in my thoughts and a choking sensation. I felt numbed, and knew only: “Don’t go on thinking now! Something terrible is coming . . . I gathered all my courage, as though about to leap forthwith into hell-fire, and let the thought come. I saw before me the cathedral, the blue sky. God sits on his golden throne, high above the world—and from the under the throne an enormous turd falls upon the sparkling new roof, shatters it, and breaks the walls of the cathedral asunder.13
The key, of course, is that the turd still emerged from a divine rear: in the shattering of the cathedral a new shape of worship becomes possible, one that brings all our “dark shit” with it, to sort through our prima materia.
The difference between longing and disappointment lies in having the wisdom to know where the turd/heartbreak/sacking fell from: do we erect a new, deeper church, or do we scuttle from the debris, disillusioned, an atheist to trickster insight? Our ideal falls asunder, the image wrecked at lightning speed. We are saved depending on whether we place the experience in or outside the church. It would seem, on one level of imagination, that Trickster lives not in the incident itself, but in how we live with the incident, living, like Wolverine in the old stories, off the flakes of skin from his ass through another merciless winter. Integration and attention are central.
Martin Shaw 2011 copyright White Cloud Press