Saturday, September 7, 2013


Whilst attending a conference, I remember standing at the main entrance to the Hall at Dartington, looking out across the courtyard, on an autumn day, at the tall beech tree that stands opposite. I found myself joined there by the poet, Jeremy Reed, who in public compensated for a shyness, whose depths made mine feel shallow, by piling on a histrionic act that was (and may still be) off putting to say the least (as I had witnessed the evening before). But now, with just the two of us, looking at the same object, he quietly began to talk in dense yet startling and beautiful metaphor about what he was seeing. It was a compressed masterclass in the art of poetic sight.

Today in the Oxfam Secondhand bookshop, I was reminded of this moment as I purchased a copy of his 'Selected Poems'. His is an imaginative giftedness that does not sit at ease in the world. I find myself wondering what has become of him and will internet him down.

It has been a morning when my book acquiring compulsion was in full flow. I went to the Post Office Delivery Centre (my second home) to collect, 'Music at Midnight', John Drury's new biography of George Herbert. A man who, though prominent in his life, was only posthumously published as a poet. And what poetry! Exploring the complexities of love in many of its guises - sacred and secular -and a man in whom sacred task competed with the prospect of secular advancement. The man who wrote my favourite poem-prayer:


LOVE bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,
      Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
      From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning        
      If I lack'd anything.

'A guest,' I answer'd, 'worthy to be here:'
     Love said, 'You shall be he.'
'I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
      I cannot look on Thee.'  
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
      'Who made the eyes but I?'

'Truth, Lord; but I have marr'd them: let my shame
      Go where it doth deserve.'
'And know you not,' says Love, 'Who bore the blame?'  
      'My dear, then I will serve.'
'You must sit down,' says Love, 'and taste my meat.'
      So I did sit and eat.

Back at Oxfam, I also bought 'An Interrupted Life: The Diaries and Letters of Etty Hillesum' that remarkable memoir (my last copy of which I gave away) of a life moving slowly into the jaws of death: Etty being a Jew in occupied Holland. It is a story of a life lived with freedom and scrutiny, being refined in experience and reflection, towards insight into love, forgiveness and compassion and wrapped in a narrative of a remarkably ordinary, extraordinary young woman.

Then onto Blackwells and two more additions to the pile - the first is 'Entering the Circle: Ancient Secrets of Siberian Wisdom Discovered by a Russian Psychiatrist' - which sounds like a Castanenda like tale of spiritual derring do (and possibly as improbable) - but having encountered Siberian Shamanism myself in Tuva, it was an opportunity I could not pass over.

Meanwhile, more soberly spiritual, was 'Faces of Compassion: Classic Bodhisattva Archetypes and Their Modern Expression' by Taigen Dan Leighton which I bought because of the praise of Brother David Steindl Rast O.S.B describing it as 'A sparkler amongst contemporary Buddhist writings'! Given that the quality of those is, I think, exceptionally high, it is highly promising recommendation.

Finally I get home, look on the back seat of my car, and discover the book I bought last at Blackwells (sic) and had completely forgotten... The Man who Plants Trees ... which I loved for both its cover and its theme. Trees being essential, beautiful and 'thoughts of God' (to quote Jung)!

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