Ovid made real in exile.

I re-read David Malouf's Imaginary Life on the plane back from Nairobi. Originally, it was given to me by a friend suggesting I would not realise fully why until completion.

It is so lyrical and on the surface simple. Ovid is in exile. He lives on the very edge of the empire, amongst 'barbarians' in rude simplicity. He meets and befriends a child, the Child, nurtured by animals: wolves or deer, it is never made definite. After months of mutual tutoring and failing to lay the suspicion of the tribes people towards the Child, he goes with him into the steppes and dies.

It is, however, a profound meditation on language and its ability to create humanity and to veil direct contact with the suchness of things. They offer each a gift - the shaping creativity of language is the poet's gift, only slightingly realized before his death. The wholeness of a shaping world made of particular things, sounded and tasted, felt and sensed is the Child's gift to the poet.

It is crafted with a poet's precision (Malouf is a fine poet) and sings with embodied thought. How does language both connect and separate? Is language essential for humanity? Do other animals have their own language shaping different visions of the world? What status do our dreams have: do they
bring the future to us, carry hopes of transformation seeking life?

At heart is a refined play between expression bringing out forms to make our own, a world created, and dissolution into the suchness of things, a world given. Knowing and not knowing, creating and being are essential to each other and to a true poetry that speaks truly, not the formal play that was Ovid's previous life. Malouf remarks in an after word that he wanted to imagine how Ovid might have lived into a reality that in his actual life he had only played with.

It was Ann, the founder of Prison Phoenix, who gave it to me and it reminds me always of our repeated conversations on how to show changes of consciousness (as opposed to describe them); how to image them rather than symbolize them.

I was reminded this time of leaving Athos after a summer of silence (one weekly conversation the only words over seven weeks). I sat on the boat assaulted by words, people speaking in all the common registers of a pilgrims' boat, and watched my own words utter forth with momentary care, singing across an inner silence. They lived more than usual it felt because they were bound by silence: they formed and dissolved, carried precision, but lived only as necessary.

Malouf's book captures in words a way of seeing beyond them, showing this, not saying. It is a beautiful achievement: a world that is poetry becoming poem.


Popular posts from this blog

Are not all mystics dangerous?

Three visions of living in freedom.

My friendship with Martin Buber