TO LARA (by Virginia Rounding)

I went searching for my muse and I found you –
sleeping between freshly laundered sheets
while wolves you took for dogs were howling
in the dark beyond your safety zone.

Iced rowanberries in the snow and strong white arms –
your concentration in the library at Yuryatin –
abandoned weeping on the coffin of your lover:
you stole my mind to live through for a time.

The sleigh is swallowed into distance. In your final
understated disappearing a part of me goes too –
out of fiction into history and the death camps,
lost in a multitude of women with no names.

Julie Christie as Lara in David Lean’s Doctor Zhivago
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FORE-MOTHERS (by Kathleen Raine)

They were younger than I,
Younger by all my years, those country lassies
Who little dreamed their dreams
Of love would bring me here,
Travelling away from their accustomed days
Into this strange place, beyond their guesses
Of a future that might be
Some day, some far-off day
Beyond companionable kitchen and plain stone house
Under unchanging hills and a wide sky.

Deceiving dreams of love, that promise only joy,
It was to me you led, along a lonelier road
Than ferny loning where each lingered with the lover
She needs must choose, since he it was that met her on the way
And stepped into the circle of her dream
To carry her away, to carry me away
Into the exile of that dream’s awaking.

Or are my waking days the regions of their fears
Whose dark shapes were lurking, passions and griefs
Less innocent than those familiar songs of Scotland tell of:
And yet my dream tells still of Paradise.

SO YOU WANT TO BE A WRITER (by Charles Bukowski)

if it doesn’t come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don’t do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
typewriter
searching for words,
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it for money or
fame,
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it because you want
women in your bed,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don’t do it.
if it’s hard work just thinking about doing it,
don’t do it.
if you’re trying to write like somebody
else,
forget about it.
if you have to wait for it to roar out of
you,
then wait patiently.
if it never does roar out of you,
do something else.

if you first have to read it to your wife
or your girlfriend or your boyfriend
or your parents or to anybody at all,
you’re not ready.

don’t be like so many writers,
don’t be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,
don’t be dull and boring and
pretentious, don’t be consumed with self-
love.
the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
sleep
over your kind.
don’t add to that.
don’t do it.
unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don’t do it.
unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don’t do it.

when it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you.

there is no other way.

and there never was.

THE TRIPLE FOOL (by John Donne)

John Donne’s handwritten draft of his great poem “The Triple Fool.” Via the Huntington Library, San Marino, CA.

I am two fools, I know—
For loving, and for saying so
In whining poetry;
But where’s that wiseman that would not be I,
If she would not deny?
Then, as th’ earths inward narrow crooked lanes
Do purge sea waters fretful salt away,
I thought, if I could draw my pains
Through rhymes vexation, I should them allay.
Grief brought to numbers cannot be so fierce,
For he tames it that fetters it in verse.

But when I have done so,
Some man, his art and voice to show,
Doth set and sing my pain,
And, by delighting many, frees again
Grief, which verse did restrain.
To Love and Grief tribute of verse belongs,
But not of such as pleases when ’tis read;
Both are increased by such songs,
For both their triumphs so are published;
And I, which was two fooles, do so grow three;
Who are a little wise, the best fools be.

FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS – A Glance at John Donne

This phrase, For Whom the Bell Tolls, kept coming into my head this morning while I was doing my yoga and, as happens, set off a train of thought …

It is, of course, the title of Hemingway’s great novel of the Spanish Civil War. If you haven’t read it, do. And while we’re on that subject, let me mention another unforgettable Spanish Civil War novel, Winter In Madrid, this one by a contemporary British author, C.J. Sansom.

For Whom the Bell Tolls, Hemingway’s title, is a quotation from John Donne, the English poet and younger contemporary of William Shakespeare. Some think the character of Hamlet was at least partly based on Donne.

Now what Donne actually wrote was: Send not to ask for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.

Donne was a great poet, one of the greatest in the English language, but these words do not come from a poem, they come from a sermon he delivered late in life when he was Dean of St Paul’s in the City of London. For Donne could not decide whether he was a bohemian poet – on the lines of the French poet Francois Villon – a lover of wine, women and song (which he was), or a devout Anglican priest  (which he became). No doubt a lot of soul-searching and vacillation went on  in The Mermaid Tavern and around the City and Southwark as he gradually gave up the former life-style and devoted himself to the latter. Soul-searching and vacillation which would have afforded Shakespeare and his fellow-actors and writers much amusement. And no one vacillates and soul-searches like Hamlet!

Those lines, as I say, do not come from a poem; but scan them:

Send not to ask for whom the bell tolls.
It tolls for thee.

The first line is a perfect pentameter, and the whole is something Shakespeare would have been proud to have penned.

You can’t keep a great poet down.

But what did Donne mean?

Immediately before these lines comes another much quoted line: No man is an island entire unto himself …

What happens to one, happens to all.

This is not the cold and soulless, so-called scientific, world view. This is the world view of the visionary and mystic. The world view of our ancestors. The view that mind is primary, that matter is a function of  mind, not mind of matter. And minds are, mind is, interconnected. As above, so below. As here, so there. As then, so now.

The bell that Donne heard all those years ago across the roofs of the old city tolls for us.

* * *

I’ll post a couple of Donne’s poems (one of each!) tomorrow and Monday.