Poems at bedtime

It is fascinating how habits form unawares. I cannot now remember when I decided that before sleep I should read poems and that I should slowly work through a collection yet it has become established. The timing determines the poems to be read seeking shorter rather than longer and if not simple with a translucence of image that can enter in, rest and abide.

My present bedside reading are the Collected Poems of Frances Horowitz (shown here) that are gems in themselves and perfect for the moment.

She died at 45 and, it so happens, the only poetry workshop I have ever attended was with Roger Garfitt who was one of her two husbands.

The volume is slim, only 120 pages, but of crystalline beauty. She writes of nature, of myth saturated history and the complexity of human relationships. There is a heart breaking poem from visiting her father, hospitalized, towards his end, when father and daughter confront each other in mutual perplexity still not knowing what word might be spoken that frees both.

But it is her reimagination of place and history that I find so beautiful as here in 'Brigomalos, a Christian, Speaks...'

    ' Some say they saw the Bull
stamping under the skyline
with the new sun rising between his horns.
They say the black blood flows like water...
     I don't believe them,
It was only the officers,
     never the men
(any god would do for us
      till the White Christ came).
They'd see anything, anyway,
stumbling out of their caves
dizzy with darkness and the stink of blood.

Strange how they thought they brought the light to birth.

    We pulled their temple down in the end,
opened it up to the proper light
-plenty of black birds flapping around
but never their Raven that flies to the sun.

    We have the Sun,
our Christ is the Son who is brought to birth,
He is the White Dove
     who walks in fields of light,
brighter than snow-light or water-light.
His light burns in us.
He has engraved our souls like glass
to hold the seeds of light.

    Those old gods should keep their place
under the dark of stones
or in the deep wood.
They should fade like the last wood-ember
or the last sputtering flame of the lamp,
be echoed only in children's songs.

   In sleep they crowd
riding the uneasy edge of dreams...'

A temple to Mithra has been dismantled and a new religion has come and in a compressed few lines we learn why.

It is democratic, open to all, and its light is white and is carried in our souls irrespective of ritual even if re-enacted in ritual. The old gods have been banished to the 'pagan', the pastoral, the outside of civilized boundaries and yet...

They return. The repressed invade the unconscious and haunt our dreams.

In a 'mere' few lines, she has the 'success' of Christianity, its attraction and its shadow, carried forward in time in the mouth of a new believer, and, held as hunting image for the reader. 


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