Monthly Archives: May 2010

Questions for a Picture

Who are these coming to the sacrifice? Keats

Beyond a lintel of cold marble, breathing,
Who are these figures on the other side,
Their golden flesh emerging from the dark?

Ages and stages of our passing life,
Con-centred on the mystery of birth?

The Virgin, the Wise-Woman, Mother, Father,
Lover, Brother, Magus, gathered here
And a little child to lead them…
Or is this Child the parent of them all?

Once-woven in the womb, now wrapped in bands,
White linen for the grave, linen for swaddling,
Through which our holy flesh already shines…

Does she receive Him from the hands of Wisdom,
Or pass Him softly to the hands of Death?


Filed under christianity, imagination, Meditation


I wrote this the other morning looking out at this view from my writing hut, my trysting place with the muse. All the pictures are of from that place.


I stop and sense a subtle presence here,
An opalescent shimmer in the light,
And catch, just at the corner of my eye,
A shifting shape that no one else can see;
Just on the edge, the very edge of sight
Just where the air is brightening, and where
The sky is coloured underneath a cloud.

And so she comes to keep her tryst with me.
She comes with music, music faintly heard
A trace, a grace-note, floating in clear air,
As over hidden springs the hazels stir.
Time quivers and then she is at my side;
A quickened breath, a feather-touch on skin,
A sudden swift connection, deep within.


Filed under imagination, literature, Meditation, Poems

Dancing Through The Fire (More Dante)

In my last post I talked about Ingrid’s wonderful account of her own contemporary encounters with Dante and it prompts me to post some of mine. I wrote this song a while back but never had the chutzpa to play it in public, but I finally did so at my CB2 gig last Saturday, and it went down well so I am going to be bold and post it. you might describe this song as “Joni Mitchell meets Dante in Woodstock after a Mystery Train gig”!

Dancing Through The Fire

You were born to be a pilgrim.
born to walk the dusty road
born to scan the changing skyline
born to haul a heavy load
you’ve got friends to walk the road with
you’ve got music to inspire
and you will get back to the garden
by dancing through the fire

you have crossed through many rivers
left many memories behind
you have followed many footsteps,
gone down pathways you cant find
all the sirens on the sidewalks
cannot sell what you require
you will get back to the garden
by dancing through the fire

Br: And for all the hell you been thru
theres a mountain still to climb
and all that’s happened to you
can be seen there as a sign
at the summit is a garden
all encircled by the flame
where they burn away your burden
and they call you by your name

So you came out to the cross-roads
but you’ve got no-where to turn
you followed all the best roads
tried to read the signs and learn
theres an easy road goes down ward
but the true roads climbing higher
you will get back to the garden
by dancing through the fire

When you make it to the border
You’ll have nothing to declare
Just a heart that kept on beating
on the far side of despair
its time to give away your burden,
burn it on your funeral pire
so you can get back to the garden
by dancing through the fire.

When you finally climb the mountain
you’ll see the river through the flame
you’ll remember where you came from
you’ll hear the sound of your true name
on the other side of heart-ache
lies the heart of your desire
and you’ll get back to the garden
just by dancing through that fire


Filed under imagination, literature, Music, Poems

Meeting Dante (2)

As promised, I am returning to the theme of  finding and Meeting Dante in the midst of our contemporary lives, rather than on some high bookshelf of the past. I have had a month or two now to reflect on Ingrid Soren’s excllent new book Meeting Dante, and I want to tell you something more about it.

First, its a real page turner. She is unfolding a series of stories simultaneously and you get caught up in each, and want to know what happens next. Over the course of the book she tells the story of the poem itself, tracing for us the compelling, eerie, horrifying but often beautiful and luminous journey of Dante and Virgil through the realms of Hell and Purgatory, and then the transcendent journey of Dante and Beatrice, reunited, up through the spheres of Heaven. And interwoven with that she is telling the story of Dante’s life and with it the great love story of Dante and Beatrice themselves.

Alongside these connected stories from the distant past she is also telling the story of her own journey in Dante’s footsteps following his life of exile, visiting the places he visited, the scenes and views he saw. This kind of vivid travelogue is not only interesting in itself but constantly throws new light on Dante’s poetry as we see how the valleys and rivers, the wildlife, the cites and towers he saw and transmuted into his poetry. But there is also one more story she is telling and this is the one that makes the book so compelling and relevant. As we follow her in Dante’s footsteps we are treated to a series of vivid flash backs into the tragic love story that she herself is living through. We gradually realise that she is following Dante because she believes that only he can help her recover and grow from a deep love and a terrible betrayal. It is that story of love, betrayal, and the struggle for forgiveness and redemption which  illuminate for the reader the true meaning of Dante’s triple realms of Hell Purgatory and Heaven. We are shown time and again that these realms are not medieval fantasy pictures of the afterlife but fearfully accurate depictions of contemporary inner life, of what it it is like to be human now in all our depths and the heights.

Though this is a unique book, the reading experience it most reminds me of is my first reading of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. There too we have a surface story of contemporary travel interleaved with a gripping account of important ideas from classical and contemporary philosophy told with passion, not for academic purposes, but because they matter here and now. There too we have a series of dramatic revelations from the past; recovered memories and flashbacks that release emotional depth charges with which the narrator can hardly cope and which leave the reader gasping. And there too we are left with the conviction that philosophy in its deepest sense, as a search for truth compelled by a love of wisdom, is the most essential thing we need. ‘ Zen and the Art’ is about the parent-child relationship and the path to true maturity and freedom. ‘Meeting Dante’ is about erotic love; its heavens and its hells, its ultimate redemption.

Like’ Zen and the Art’, Meeting Dante is also full of reference to to other great writers and poets whose words suddenly  take on new importance. As you follow Ingrid and Dante on their parallel journeys you also find that Rilke, and Einstein, Jung and TS Eliot have joined the company for a while and are part of the conversation. Indeed, early in the book it is a quotation from Rilke that sets the whole agenda:

“for one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks… the work for which all other work is preparation… whoever wants to have a deep love in this life must collect for it and gather honey”

‘Meeting Dante’ is written by someone sharing all they have learned fom Dante and from their own heart about what it means to love. Ingrid has collected and gathered just such honey as Rilke speaks of, long in the making, rich and sustaining. Her book good place to gather wisdom, strength and hope for your own journey in Love.


Filed under imagination, literature, Meditation