NO STOPPING YOU
After Ferruccio Busoni,
Hugh MacDiarmid and Ronald Stevenson;
for Ronald Stevenson
Your inner ear becomes
Do you hear the depths and the heights?
They are as immeasurable as
and endless as numbers…
Letter of 3 March, 1910
Step with me through this iron gate.
Never mind its creak and clang.
Consider well this other side.
It seems the same?
Yes, many think so, at first sight.
Scan now from the green slope
on which we stand,
up, in widening spirals, up and out.
Attune your senses, each of them;
open apperception’s doors,
Here is supersession’s realm,
where qualitative change abounds.
It is our souls’ Magnetic North,
where narrow reason falls,
and hope and love consistently confound.
Here is an intersect
more complex than a compass rose,
a point of leaving and arrival for past epochs,
for the world’s five continents,
and for continents beyond;
a resting place,
where opposites discover common ground,
exchanging and enlarging meanings,
face to face.
Desire finds joy; old age renews;
what seemed remote proves near;
and, given that we ask aright,
all questions that we have
find answers here.
Would you circumnavigate the Earth,
or ride the furthest curves of Space and Time?
One carrying thought,
or poet’s word, or turn of tune, or line -
we have a boundless, lucky choice -
will serve. Or would you scale,
in this or any world’s remotest range,
its highest peak,
or trace immeasurable rivers to their source?
Perennial wisdoms wait on us;
they tell in every tongue, through every art,
our surest course. In them
we learn the connectedness of things;
our place between the atom and the star;
what Jacob’s ladder we might climb.
We learn the object of the truest love;
and, first and last, we learn new ways
and better cause
Step back with me through the rusty gate -
you recognise its creak and clang? -
back to the quotidian realm where we began.
How does it seem now, this other Other Side?
there are ores of gold, concealed at first,
apparent to our wakened mind;
and there are echoes, and reflected gleams of light,
which prompt desire.
And close? Yes, very close;
our dual realms lie juxtaposed,
transit not hard, as we have seen.
Amphibians, we live - we fully live -
when we, at will, migrate between.
An Elegy for the Crew
Drowned at Sea off the Isle of Man
(11 January, 2000)
Seven have joined the sum of the sea's drowned.
Out of a storm's rage, at a stroke,
a cold death came,
sending its catch of young lives down,
folding them deep in their fishing ground.
Harvested and harvesting,
the sea gives, the sea takes.
What rises, falls;
what builds, breaks.
Seven deaths have torn their families wide,
beyond the work of words or years' repair.
Their ever-present absences will serve
as beacons, showing grief a way to fare.
Seven names extend the roll
of a many-nationed company.
Recalled, these lost men gain a second life,
safe in the love of their left ones' memory:
Craig and Robin and David Mills -
they will face no further seas or dying;
Martin Milligan, John Murphy, David Lyons,
Wesley Jolly -
they are free of cares and crying.
What might the seven wish to say,
from the harbour of their rest,
to share with us who throw a line to them
across time's gap of death?
What falls may rise.
Love holds; love stands.
Stronger than seas, it does not crack;
longer than grief, it wins life back,
and never dies.
It was the month of a new millennium
and the moon's eclipse.
Jupiter rode high, trailed by Saturn.
Solway Harvester put out, a night sailing.
Out from Kirkcudbright, her course was south,
south to the scallop beds of Man.
Two days should see the job done.
One of the crew had plans to marry.
Two were brothers, fathers both,
one of a child unborn.
Three were hardly out of school.
For one, it was his maiden voyage,
maiden and final.
Across the Solway (Sun's Way), hard
they battered, the boat safe,
well-skippered, and well-found.
It was the month of a new millennium,
and the moon's eclipse.
Gorse, in flower early, yellowed headlands.
Wind chased rain.
The seven worked, and won,
and winched aboard their sea-bed crop.
It was the month, and soon the day and moment
of the sinking of the
Harvester, a safe boat.
It was January; the evening of the eleventh day.
A storm was blowing.
The weather here is screaming;
we're coming home.
(The skipper's final message home.)
At six, it happened:
the sea engulfed the boat and crew,
and put a stop at once to seven futures
in their growing.
No, no, it cannot be.
She is purpose built...
can cope with anything the Irish Sea can do...
has weathered worse...
has run to shelter to some other port…
We'll see her lights come round the headland soon...
The place: the Isle of Whithorn,
on the Solway's Scottish shore.
On the quayside, keeping vigil,
a knot of loved ones strain
What facts - what hope -
can any of the search team bring?
the beacon that began the search,
that radioed distress/location/time.
an unused life-raft from the Harvester.
Found next: as morning breaks,
the second of the life-rafts' pair.
Found last, and worst:
eleven miles off the coast of Man,
the vessel’s wreck,
at nearly twenty fathoms down.
How, and why?
Was it a collision, or some hidden fault?
Was she swamped by a giant wave?
Not knowing is too hard to bear.
Unchilded, unfathered, unhusbanded,
the grieving enter now a purgatory of pain,
their lives for ever now sea-changed.
Three weeks and more, they wait,
until at last all seven crew are fetched
by divers from their sleeping quarters,
or the deck, where cold and murk
enclosed them, drowned.
Three weeks and more, and then -
another night, another vigil.
The place: a quayside on the Isle of Man.
A piper plays the dead ashore.
Lifted gently, lowered gently,
under Manx and Scottish flags, the men,
now homeward bound, are brought
in love, by love, to welcome ground.
The date of birth,
and date and circumstance of each man's end,
the coroner confirms.
The list proceeds
in order of the bodies being found:
the articles of clothing each had on,
by which identity was known.
These hammerings of facts
the crowded court must hear,
but dreads to hear.
The inquest is adjourned, to be resumed
once calmer seas permit the raising
of the sunk boat's wreck.
We'll take you home.
You'll rest in peace.
Catkins shook in the frequent wind.
Crocuses stood proud.
It was a day of funerals,
a month on from the sinking,
a hard, slow month of squalls and gales
and, in between, a low sun
It was a day when an era ended.
From Douglas, north, by air,
and then to their villages by hearse,
the seven made their journey back,
a world removed from their journey out,
when they drove the seaward furrow
It was a day of funerals.
Whithorn and the Isle of Whithorn filled with folk.
Flowers, stacked high, garlanded the coffins.
Cards spelled out their senders' pain.
A many-numbered love attended there,
Goodbyes were said, and prayers, and praise,
in friendship's sharing.
It was a day when an era started,
when lives in hurt began their futures
in the leeway of the dead departed.
Catkins shook in the frequent wind.
Crocuses stood proud.
New growth freshened the pastures.
Who can tell the sum of the sea's drowned?
A lifetime's tallying of names
could not contain them.
So many gone, sunk into history or oblivion!
Yet all were once as now our seven are:
known, missed, remembered, and particular.
And who can tell the greater number
of the world's bereaved?
The seven's harrowing of lives
let love break through from far and near,
a love abounding; so
with every other one gone down,
From out the silences
to which the living - striving - reach,
wave on wave,
the dead, in our own voices, speak:
We, your lost, your past,
we seek a home and name in you;
but carry us lightly,
lest we weary you.
On what courses are you set?
We would be with you
in your good years yet.
Carry us lightly.
Let us gladden you.
we have lasting life in you.
Time gives; time takes.
It builds, it uses, and it wastes.
and the rule of rise and fall,
love stands, a constant,
Stronger than seas, love does not crack.
Longer than grief, it wins life back.
Seven have joined the sum of the sea's drowned,
were lost, were looked for,
and were found.
Poet, have you learned to fetch a songbird
from its singing, and have it rest
as happy in your hand as in the freedom
of its own dear green?
Have you learned to whisper peace
in place of fear,
and lay a saddle on a horse called wild,
and ride it gently when you will?
Can you summon tempests
from a doldrum’s calm?
unleash an atom’s magnitude of power?
set rocks on fire?
High peaks, oases, battlefields, the seas’ abyss,
the desert, workshops, markets, thoroughfares…
Have your words been there, and everywhere,
and taken on each native and particular speech?
The marksman’s or the sculptor’s
or the watch-repairer’s eye,
the phonetician’s ear,
the jazz musician’s playfulness,
the parent’s or the surgeon’s care,
the archivist’s deep lore…
These things you need.
Have you made them yours?
Are you at home abroad?
alert as hunters and their quarry are?
scrupulous as chemists in their measuring?
eloquent in voicing all our contraries of soul?
Have you climbed from its roots
our tongue’s historic tree?
swum to its very source our wisdom’s stream?
sojourned in paradise and hell?
come safely home again?
Will you speak the unspoken and unspeakable?
keep pace with the constant budding of the new?
carry forward your most dear?
Answer Yes, and you may fly,
and freely sing,
and fill your own sweet green and further blue
with your brave anything!
What drives the years?
What dynamo, or code, or will,
or whim prevails? or far-off goal?
What renovates and shapes
Earth’s crumbling, undemolishable old sphere,
and gives to it its energy
of changeless change?
Are we its tenants, children, squatters,
masters, or its slaves?
Are we to count ourselves accursed
Are we compounded more of good,
Such questions we inherit,
to be re-answered, from the era
of the cave.
Breadths of continents I’ve searched,
The wise and fools have taught me,
as have agonies of deeds.
Archives I have burrowed in,
and now and then,
listening, asking, and remembering,
have found some germ of sense
in ruined words.
What a long journey
you are embarked upon!
What tales you have to tell,
and have already told!
Alliances, for good and ill,
and change (forever change),
and memories, and gifts picked up
along the way,
and wounds and losses gained,
and sometimes wisdom with them, too,
have joined indelibly to leave their mark.
What in your travels have you not seen?
What acts not been a party to?
Is there no end to your capacity
to learn, and to your self-transforming?
Dear mother-tongue, there is
no stopping - and no knowing - you.