Tag Archives: Bob Dylan

Lent with Herbert Day 23: The Bird of Paradise

We continue our Lenten Journey through Herbert’s poem Prayer, using the sonnets in my new book After Prayer. If you want a feel for the book itself and for what moved me to write it there is a full interview Here, conducted by Lancia Smith for her excellent ‘Cultivating’ website.

Today we come to one of Herbert’s more intriguing emblems of prayer: he calls prayer the bird of paradise. Scholars tell us that in the seventeenth century it was believed that an exotic species called ‘the bird of paradise’ was unique in having no feet, no means of standing or perching, and it was thought therefore that it lived in perpetual flight, never stopping to rest, but ceaselessly beating its wings from birth to death. Of course this was a piece of folklore and mythologising, but the bird became proverbial, and it’s easy to see how Herbert might find in it an emblem of unceasing prayer. Perhaps too he thought of the bird as unable to rest in this world precisely because it was a bird of paradise, and could only rest at last in its eternal home. So it might be with our souls in prayer. All these thoughts were also in my mind as I wrote, but for me there was also something more. As I thought of that poor restless bird I suddenly remembered the beautiful lines in Bob Dylan’s heart-breaking song ‘Tangled Up in Blue’, lines in which he expresses our experience of brokenness and through it all out restless yearnings:

And when it all came crashing down

I became withdrawn

the only thing I knew how to do

was keep on keeping on

like a bird that flew

tangled up in blue.

So in my response I find Herbert and Dylan somehow singing together!

As always you can hear me read the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button or the title

The Bird of Paradise

Poor bird of paradise: she finds nowhere

To rest or settle on her long flight home,

But circles the blue heavens endlessly,

Or so we once believed, and she became

A perfect emblem of unceasing prayer:

Born out of paradise and restlessly

Seeking return, pressing on steady wings,

Beating perpetual blessing through the air,

Which parts to give her passage, and still brings

Us echoes of the haunting song she sings.

I find in her a fitting emblem too,

She sings in me, but now she is the one

In Dylan’s song, who keeps on keeping on,

Like all of us, still tangled up in blue.

the bird of paradise

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Filed under imagination, Poems

Happy Birthday Bob

As Bob Dylan celebrates his seventieth birthday I’ve been reflecting all day on how much I owe the man; more than I can say, more than I can pay. Even though sometimes buying his albums almost beggared me as a poor student, I have been repayed for my teenage scrimping and saving a thousand fold. What I’ve been given is a sound-track, a commentary, a critique of my life, but also an invitation to step beyond it, again and again into ways of being, seeing, and knowing I could never have otherwise imagined. Thanks Bob. By way of small tribute I am posting here a cover of Slow Train I recorded with my Band Mystery Train and an article on Dylan, the bible and poetry I wrote for the Tablet in december 2008. So here goes. Click on the tablet link at the bottom of this page to go to a pdf of the article: “Think Twice, It’s Alright”

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Filed under Current affairs, Music, Songs

Brave Black Squirrel: A Girtonian Ode!

There has been great excitement of late at the Discovery of the Girton Black Squirrel, many sightings, a facebook group, and even a motion from the parish council to adopt the black squirrel as a logo! If Girton had existed in Lord Byron’s day I’m sure he would have been a frequent visitor, and perhaps instead of the bear he kept at Trinity he might have adopted the Girton black Squirrel instead. So, borrowing the Ottava Rima stanza form that Byron used for Don Juan, and indeed the first four words of his epic, I have penned a little ode to the Girton Pioneer (with apologies to Lord B!)

The Girton Pioneer

I want a hero! Byron had Don Juan
As vehicle for all his fantasies
Each pleasure led him on to find a new-one
Inventive always in his ecstasies.
Byron’s  the  hero here,  at least the true one,
Pleasing his friends, teasing his enemies!
But now we’re all post-modern and ironic
And no-one ever dares to be Byronic.

Where shall I find a hero for our age,
A figure to inspire my eight-fold rhyme?
Where is the debater? Where the sage?
Oh who will mend this deep-disjointed time?
Our putrid politicians strut the stage,
Admiring one another, mired in slime,
They only mend their pre-election fences
And charge the said repairs to their expenses.

And what about the heroes of my youth,
The rockers who once moved me heart and soul?
Dylan delivered darts of daring truth,
The Rolling Stones were total Rock’n’roll!
They all wear slippers now, long in the tooth,
(Those years of sex and drugs have taken toll),
Now ageing rockers huddle round an Aga
And leave us in the grip of Lady Gaga.

I find no human hero for my themes
They all fall short, they shrivel, faint and fail.
But lo! A mystic voice spoke in my dreams:
“In Girton’s grounds you’ll find your holy grail
There dwells a creature all the world esteems,
A tribal totem, with a bushy tail!
Bright and dark, and wild and free and feral
An epic hero: Girton’s Brave black Squirrel!

Here is the hero for our modern times
Here is the one to set the world to rights
Here is a subject worthy of your rhymes
No silly superheroes in their tights
Could rid the world so well of all its crimes!
Put Girty, Girton’s squirrel up in lights.
I see the headline now, you’ll see it then:
“The First Black Squirrel enters Number Ten!”

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Filed under Current affairs, Girton, imagination, literature