Poem: Sorrows II

A few years ago now, I wrote a poem called Sorrows. You can read it here, it might be a good place to start. In it, I describe the endless task of attempting to lay sorrows down, to look for what is good, to notice the beauty even in dark times.

That task does seem to be endless. It can get you through when things seem too heavy, it can help minute by minute, but, before you know, you find there they are, back in your arms, needing to be carried still. I have not found it helps as much as it used to. I have been learning a different way, a way of welcoming, of caring for each apparently unwelcome guest as if it were a child, or an elder with wisdom to offer, or both. I am seeking to learn to be gentle, and tender, with myself, as I would be to another. In this I have been influenced by, among other things, the beautiful and challenging Rumi poem, The Guest House, and Mary Oliver’s small treasure of a poem, The Uses of Sorrow. I include it here.

The Uses of Sorrow, by Mary Oliver.
(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)

Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.

And so I have written a sister poem to the first, one which expresses more roundedly what I seek to attempt now. I hope it speaks to you, too. I leave it up to you to wonder who is speaking the words of the final stanza.

Sorrows II

I carry sorrows in my arms.
They are heavy, and my arms
grow heavy with them.
I ache with the weight
of both.

When I look up, away,
they seem lifeless,
and grey, but this day
I choose to look down.

I find, to my surprise,
a weeping child
in my arms, a child
who has known
no consolation.

What if I cradle her gently?
What if I ask her to
tell me her sorrows,
and stroke her hair,
while the blue sky
and the clouds
and the trees
bend softly to listen?

What if the high buzzard
joins in with her cry,
and the flower bends too,
even while watered
by her tears?
I rock from side to side,
the sway of a mother
strong with love,

And in time, in time,
I say “hush,
I am holding you,
I have heard you,
rest now, sweet child.”

And she raises her bright head,
full of wisdom, quiet with beauty,
and looks at the darkening sky,
and the golden trees
where a white owl wakes.

Look, there are stars in the darkness,
a whole Milky Way of them,
there is the softness of dawn light
coming, coming.
Take courage.
I am carrying you.
We go together.

Poem: The apple tree, having grown in shadow

Things change, yet leave their mark. I was thinking about this as I looked at one of our apple trees, grown curved in its search for light. You can see the shape of the trunk most clearly in the shadow it leaves on the fence. Even when light returns, the curve remains. Grown like this, the tree has given us apples in autumn, and beauty all year. I thought about how the tree found a way of flourishing despite the shade, and admired its resilience. So, the poem is mainly about the tree, but also, murmuring away underneath, was an awareness of the tree as teacher, making visible something that is often hidden within us.

The tree adapted to its setting, and as the setting changed, the adaptation remains even though there is more light. We all do this, whether it’s growing accustomed to living quietly and distantly during a pandemic, or learning from a young age how to live in difficult emotional or physical circumstances. Even when things are better, lighter, more friendly, we can find ourselves living as if they are not. Patterns of mind can be changed, new growth can happen, but it takes noticing, with compassion, and stretching ourselves a little into the new, more open space.

As lockdown eases, we can go gently with ourselves as we try to asses what is safe, and what has become a habit that is no longer needed – and those assesments are far from easy. We can be gentle with each other, too, as we all navigate our way into more open living. The changes in how we respond may be, in part, due to patterns of being which were laid down long ago. These, too, can be nurtured into more helpful shapes that keep us safe and help us flourish, both. I believe we can become free from patterns that no longer serve us, and grow with full vigour.

All these things I thought about, as I looked at the apple tree. But mainly, I though how beautiful it was, and how much blossom it bore this year.

The apple tree, having grown in shadow

I follow the curve with my eyes,
the way the thin trunk
arches back, seeking light.
On that side, the branches
grow thicker, surer.

It bends away from the dense shade
that was there, only weeks ago,
a dark shrub that outgrew it,
then died. Now, the blossomy
branches lean back,
away, from open
light-filled space.

Cast in shadow, it grew thus,
leafing and flowering,
supple, adapting to shade,
and seeking light.

I wonder, what will happen now?
Now we have cut down that
dense, dry growth?
The thin branches on this side
will fill out, strengthen,
divide, reaching into the place
that was once too dark,
heavy, in time, with fruit.

But what of the trunk?
Will it bear, one hundred
years from now, that curve,
lessened, perhaps, by
years of thickening growth?
The adaptation no longer
serves it, yet the tree
may still bear it,
And the tree’s beauty
is held in the grace
of this curve.


Such shapes of growth
and thought persist,
gently, strangely,
known or unknown.
We make allowance
for the ghost
of a shadow
no longer seen.

Poem – Throwing sticks for the Black Dog

Today is the day some call Blue Monday – the most depressing day of the year.
Here in Suffolk, though, we have had some sunshine, and the frost has sparkled, so it’s less gloomy here – at least meteorologically – than it has been for weeks.

I thought I’d share this poem with you.  Churchill called his depression his Black Dog, and it seems a good name for it.  I have tried to express the care and nurture we wish we could give ourselves, and those we walk with, when we notice the Black Dog is beginning to sniff around.  Those gentle nudges towards the things that used to bring life and joy, in the hope that they will again. I hope that has quite a different feel to injunctions to pull up your socks, or whatever.  It’s more a hope of holding on to the capacity to notice what does you good, and to keep on doing that, even when you don’t feel the good being done.

I hope it is a simple and gentle hand to hold.

The Blurt Foundation offers compassionate support resources online, as do many other organisations.

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Throwing Sticks for the Black Dog

When I’m walking, I pick up sticks,
they feel rough and dry in my hand.
I have been collecting them for a while,
just in case.

And that black dog, well, can you see him?
Is he walking with us –
sloping through the undergrowth?
Or there, breathing at our heels?

I will throw some sticks.
Maybe he will turn playful,
maybe he’ll run after them
and not come back.  Maybe.
Maybe he’ll leave us alone for a while.
I can try.
Here are a few I have gathered:

Beauty, any sort of beauty
that takes you unawares
so the mind halts in its circling tracks.
Green beauty of growing things,
beauty that comes from the human
heart and mind –
words that build castles in the air.
Look, there they are!

Light, and the patterns it makes
through these leaves,
and darkness, when it is soft,
when, awake at night,
sitting by an open window,
I hear the owl – can you hear it?

Movement and prayer, together,
if movement and prayer remain possible.
Good food, that grows in the earth,
its colours and smells as I chop, chop.
Friendship, and kindness –
either given, received, or witnessed.
Love.
The memory of good things past,
the faintest trace of hope for
good things to come.
For good things may come.

And so, I carry this armful of sticks,
ready to throw – ready to give away –
like this,
and this,
and this.

 

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Here is a link to my poem Sorrows

Sorrows

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Much has happened this week.  Today, Remembrance Day in the UK, I am acutely aware of the importance of keeping peace between the nations, of reconciliation and forgiveness between us, of acceptance and inclusion for all.     Reconciliation, and an acknowledgement of the sacred worth of each individual human, seem further away now than they did.
This poem is a personal one, expressing something of an attempt to keep perspective among sorrows.  I know that for many, and for all of us from time to time, any such attempt can be impossible.  I wrote to try and express  what can feel like the constant task of not being overwhelmed, and to remind myself that when I can, it is worth the attempt.

I hope it also contains a gleam of hopeful truth.  Not a truth that ignores the darker realities, but that is prepared to see the possibility of light coming in the darkness. Both are real, but I find that if I can stay with the hope of dawn, even the darkness can take on a different quality.  Actions that lead to hope seem more possible, more achievable.  It is worth living for hope, not because the things we hope for will necessarily come, but at least in part because if we set our eyes on a kind and generous future, we are more likely to live in a kind and generous way now.  At least, I find that to be the case.
To all of you who are feeling a weight of sorrow, I hope this helps. May dawn come soon.

Sorrows

I carry stones in my arms.
They are grey,
and powder me
with dry dust.
They have sharp edges
my fingers find like
a tongue with a tooth.

When I notice,
I put them down,
stand up straight

Look, the sky is full of blue,
of high white clouds,
the trees chime with
golden pennies,
and a buzzard soars,
weightless, with its thin cry.

Look, there is one last flower
growing in the cracks,
and one last bee.

Who would have thought that losses
could be so heavy?
I find them lying on my eyes
in the dark, heavy and hot,
and on my heart and stomach,
heavy and cold.

I put them down.
Seventy times seven.
The work of Sisyphus.
Again. Again.

Look, there are stars in the darkness,
a whole Milky Way of them,
there is the softness of dawn light
coming, coming.
Take courage.
Begin again.

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Photographs are from the woods above Selworthy Green, Exmoor, and the coast at Watchet.

The reference seventy times seven is to something Jesus said when asked how often we need to forgive.  I used it here for any work where painful memory or thought keeps on surfacing, and we keep laying it down. Sisyphus  refers to the Greek myth of one who repeatedly rolls a boulder up a hill, only watch it roll down again.