For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move. ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON

Thursday, 5 February 2015

He Scrawls With Seaweed His Biography

Though I'm not nostalgic about the past as a rule, I'm enjoying sifting through these drawers and boxes full of old poems, photos and family memorabilia. To be more exact, I'm feeling a mixture of pleasure and pain, a kind of uneasy and disquieting fascination.  I always used to say the past is dead, long live the future, but I think I've probably used this strategy to avoid reopening old wounds. The past shapes and informs our present selves whether we choose to recognise it or not.

One thing that's struck me is how much I've changed and yet how much I've remained the same — if that makes any sense. And another thing I've found is how easy it's been been to reenter my adolescent mind through the portal of these early poems. Derivative they may be (I take some comfort in the fact that Philip Larkin's first book of published poems, The North Ship, was enormously derivative), and heart-on-sleeve, and more descriptive of the tormented teenage soul than the objective, observable world, but they are mine. In my twenties they became less ego-drenched, although in this poem am I portraying some mystic madman — or myself?

The Visionary

He is not like us. He reads strange books
Of mystic poetry, mythology.
He walks the beach alone, pausing to look
Beyond the black horizon of the sea

For hidden prizes. (An esoteric script
Revealed to him that all the world's contained
Within one word; yet all the words of men
In the whole world cannot explain the moon,

Heavily hanging above the indifferent ocean,
Which hugs its secrets like an octopus.)
Knowledge of visions, the mind's unreasoning ways
Cram his frail shell of silence till it shatters,

And the volcano of his crazed response
Erupts; its lava fills the darkening air
With symbols, gestures conjuring Atlantis.
He scrawls with seaweed his biography

Elliptically upon the watery rocks
Until the waves erase it; then retreats
From the sea's lacy edge as delicately
As any wader. He hesitates to view

The white-eyed moon; his wild and frenzied face
Avoids her haunting gaze; he cannot bear
Her intimacy and her dreadful distance.
Silent once more, shocked still, he is afraid

Nothing is out there but infinite space,
Dead as driftwood, speechless as the stars.
He fears that he can hear no sound at all
But the incessant clamour in his tight skull.

8 comments:

Friko said...

I can never understand how some people say, quite seriously, that they are still the same they always were. There is a lack of maturity implied here.

You are right, and I don’t need to tell you this, our building blocks pile up and make us into the person we become as we go along life’s sometimes tortuous path; that means that the first blocks of childhood and adolescence are still there, rediscoverable as in your early poems, as are all the other blocks collected later.

There are times when I think what an insufferable prig and know-all I once was, quite embarrassing really, but I must own my earlier self in spite of the embarrassment. It helped me to turn into the (only slightly) less insufferable prig I am now.

Accept yourself at any age is my motto now that I’m old.

Amanda Summer said...

Pretty damn good for a kid. I can totally see the young Robert woven into these words.

George said...

Again, I'm impressed with your work at every age, Robert. As to all issues relating to the nature of time and space, I'm inclined to think that, paradoxically, we remain the same as we always were, even as we are completely different. Life is layered. Every strata is retained, but the whole changes its contours and weight with every passing year.

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks for this undeniably true comment, Friko (no, not the bit about the prig!) Indeed, it's an illusion if people think they are the same latterly as formerly. 'Accept yourself at any age' is definitely the right and happy thing to do, if one can.

The Solitary Walker said...

Think I was into my early-mid twenties when I wrote this one, Amanda — so, yes, definitely still a kid!

The Solitary Walker said...

George, you put it perfectly — all I can say is that I wish I'd written that! Yes, so true. The same, but different. Layers of time and experience. Shifting contours. Learning, then realising we have learnt nothing. The end, then back to the beginning. All that.

Wendy said...

Geez, Robert - twenty-something is full to the brim with something worthy of expressing and capable of doing it well. Who among us isn't full mostly-of-ourselves as teenagers? This poem really does show something beyond that.

I'm liking the view into the progression of Roberts (yes, layered multiplicities as George suggests).

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks so much for your comment, Wendy.