Tag Archives: story-telling

Patterns (Tree and Leaf) a poem about Tolkien

As today is Tolkien’s Birthday I thought I’d post this poem which was inspired by my memory of having once seen a grainy photograph of Tolkien leaning back into a tree contentedly and smoking his pipe, – something I quite often do myself. The memory of that image led me on to a reverie about life and leaves and Tolkien’s tree of tales. But when I came to look for the photo, to illustrate the poem here, I found that no single image answered to my remembered photo – but these two are closest – perhaps I had fused them together in my mind. At any rate here is the poem, which I included in my book ‘The Singing Bowl, published by Canterbury Press

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


Patterns (Tree and Leaf)

Tolkien is leaning back into an oak
Old, gnarled, distinct in bole and burr
As, from the burr and bowl of his old pipe,
Packed with tightly patterned shreds of leaf,
The smoke ascends in rings and wreathes of air
To catch the autumn light and meet such leaves
As circle through its wreathes and patter down
In patterns of their own to the rich ground.

He contemplates again the tree of tales;
The roots of language and its rings of growth
‘The tongue and tale and teller all coeval’
And he becomes a pattern making patterns,
A tale telling tales and turning leaves,
From the print of thumb and finger on his pipe
To the print and press and pattern of his books
And all their prints and imprints in our minds
Out to this grainy patterned photograph
Of ‘Tolkien, leaning back into an oak’.

6 Comments

Filed under literature, Poems

first fruits of the Gretchen Peters’ workshop

I had a great time at the Cambridge Folk Festival, but a real highlight was a Sunday Morning songwriting workshop with Gretchen Peters. She was wonderfully down to earth and unnassuming and full of really helpful nd thought-provoking comments, many of which she illustrated by singing her own songs. One of her key ideas was to tell stories through small vivid details and minute particulars rather than grand sweeps and she illustrated this with a fine song called Five Minutes, about five minutes in the life of a waitress on her cigarette break during which we get glimpses that add up to a whole life. Reflecting on that tight focus and the deliberate restriction of the window through which you see things, I suddenly saw a way of telling a story I’ve been meaning to tell for a while, so I went down to my woodshed and wrote this song today:

Numbers

It took two loving bodies,
And their comfort through the night,
And two hearts beating faster
To bring Billy to the light,
About a thousand kisses
Saw that baby on his way,
But it only took one finger
To blow it all away

It took one mothers labour pains
And a skilful midwife too,
Two grandmas knitting double-time
Those clothes of baby blue,
It took years of love to raise him
With room to grow and play
But it only took a second
To blow it all away

Chorus:

We cannot count the multitude
Who made us what we are
The many friends who formed us
And carried us this far;
A hundred acts of kindness
That no one can repay
One finger, and one trigger
Can blow it all away

It took that teenage boy awhile
To find his own two feet
And he took his best friend with him
On that sixteenth birthday treat
The two boys took a shortcut
Down a darkened alleyway
And walked into the crossfire
That took Billy’s life away

Cho:
I don’t know how the gunman
Tells the story of that day
He was ‘taking care of business’
When some kid got in the way
We make it hard to grow up right
And hard to make things pay
But we sure make it easy
To blow everything away

It took forty-seven minutes
For the funeral to pass
Though it felt like we were crawling
Over miles of broken glass
I saw it all in front of me
When I closed my eyes to pray:
The finger, and the trigger
And the life they took away

6 Comments

Filed under imagination, Music, Songs

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.

2 Comments

Filed under imagination, literature, Meditation

Redemption Song

The Hope Players, the company with whom I did the Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe, are beginning a new play called Redemption Song, written by Daniel Carlson and telling the story of the book of Ruth, from Naomi’s perspective. Daniel asked me to write a song for the play  which could be woven in and out of the performance or sung by the characters. The Song is now on my new cd Dancing Trough the Fire, under the title A Song for Ruth. You can hear it and/or download it by clicking on the cd icon on the right hand side of this blog.Here’s what I’ve written:

Redemption Song (the Story of Naomi)

Sing a song of sowing
Of carrying the seed
A song of hopeful planting
To meet a future need
Sing a song of letting go
Of falling to the ground
Of burying that feels like loss
Still waiting to be found

There are no songs of famine
For hunger has no voice
The poor must scavenge what they can
The rich are spoiled for choice
The stones of fear and anger
Will strike you from behind
For hunger hates the stranger
And cleaves to his own kind

Sing a song of exile
Of loneliness and loss
A song of broken bridges
That nobody can cross
A song of desperation
For words you understand
A song of fearful labour
On someone else’s land

Sing a song of marriage
The grace of bride and groom
The fruitful vine around the door
And joy within the room
A song of love and longing
For the children yet to be
A quiver-full of future hopes
Aimed at eternity

Sing a song of mourning
The shadows and the tombs
The bitterness of broken hearts
And disappointed wombs
Sing a song of empty words
And unexpressed despair
Of reaching out at midnight
For the one who isn’t there

Sing a song of waiting
Of weeping on the earth
A song of expectation
And longing for new birth
Sing a song of patience
Of watching through the night
Sing the hours before the dawn
And sing the coming light

Sing a song of harvest
Of one who bind the sheaves
And one who gleans along the edge
The good another leaves
Sing a song of winnowing
And taking into store
Of Barley heaped like glowing gold
Upon the threshing floor

Sing out before the Lord of Life
Your songs of joy and pain
Sing of the years the locusts ate
That cannot come again
Sing to Him your hopes and fears
Your tales of right and wrong
And He will make your voice a part
Of His Redemption Song

6 Comments

Filed under christianity, imagination, Poems, Songs, Theology and Arts

Patterns (Tree and Leaf) a poem about Tolkien

This is the first of a series I hope to write meditating on different photos of the Inklings

Tolkien is leaning back into an oak
Old, gnarled, distinct in bole and burr
As, from the burr and bowl of his old pipe,
Packed with tightly patterned shreds of leaf,
The smoke ascends in rings and wreathes of air
To catch the autumn light and meet such leaves
As circle through its wreathes and patter down
In patterns of their own to the rich ground.

He contemplates again the tree of tales;
The roots of language and its rings of growth
‘The tongue and tale and teller all coeval’
And he becomes a pattern making patterns,
A tale telling tales and turning leaves,
From the print of thumb and finger on his pipe
To the print and press and pattern of his books
And all their prints and imprints in our minds
Out to this grainy patterned photograph
Of ‘Tolkien, leaning back into an oak’.

2 Comments

Filed under literature, Poems