Monthly Archives: February 2015

Yet More Bath Time Reading


He reads the great verses in the bath;
his relaxing mind absorbent, he hopes,
as the sponge, nestling next to his soap.

T.S.Eliot: Little Gidding, The Wasteland;
another heroic effort to understand.
He gets glimpses, at times; signals, from afar.
Chinks of light glimmer, from a distant star.

It seems to make sense; meaning coheres;
bubbles in his bath foam swell, become spheres.
But, just moments later, it is as he feared:
sense now non-sense, bubbles disappeared.

The water turns chillier; more time passes.
Words fade and blur; he should wear his new glasses.
No good, he can’t grasp it.  Frustrated, he sighs.
Why deceive himself, believe his own lies.
He must grasp some of it, before he dies!
But his brain now less pliant; he’s getting too old.
(“Too old. . . too old. . . trouser-bottoms rolled. . . “)
Mind rambling now, focus difficult to hold.
He clambers out, slowly, shivering, cold.

I thought I had done with the subject of my habitual reading anthologies of verse in the bath, but, it turns out, the subject has not done with me!  T.S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets” and “The Wasteland” are poems that have often enticed me and then frustrated me with their opaque imagery.  It was while I was making yet another attempt at the “Four Quartets” recently that the entity I like to think of as “my muse” stirred into life, and I thought: ok, I’m struggling to understand this, but I can at least try to write a poem about my struggles to understand these undoubted masterpieces. 


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Chopin on the Radio


Chopin on the radio: “Ballade No’ 3”.
Strong feelings, strange thoughts stir within me.
Thoughts about consciousness, and “the last breath”;
my mother’s “survival”, long after her “death”.

The Ballades mattered, to my mother and me.
The hours we spent, listening; those old LP’s.
The two of us, silent, by the gramophone;
the music, sinking into flesh and bone.
The emotional impact; urge to laugh, to cry;
she’d dab the occasional tear from her eye.

My rational mind finds no relief
In the “immortal soul”.  I have no belief
in artificial panaceas for grief;
mental devices to allay our fears
when loved ones depart from this vale of tears.
But when I hear music, have memories like this,
I can’t help but hope: perhaps something persists?

Music is mystery; no-one really knows
where it comes from, where it goes.
Patterns of sound are formed, ascend
into the ether; world without end.

Consciousness is mystery.  When the vital spark
is extinguished, blanketed by the dark,
does spirit, with matter, fragment, disperse,
into particles, waves, the universe?

As these waves of sound from the radio,
emerge, pulsing, wherever they go
when they dissolve, into the air,
could they, perhaps, interact somewhere?
Could some part of her consciousness, now far-flung;
some last, lost, minute molecule of Mum,
vibrate, register, recognise with me,
this music of Chopin: “Ballade No’ 3”?

Looking back through my “oeuvre”, I can’t help noticing that I have written an alarming number of poems trying to express what certain pieces of music mean to me.  I say “alarming” because, essentially, all these poems are attempting an impossible task: how can you hope to explain, in words, the “meaning” of a piece of music!  With “Chopin on the Radio”, however, I am not making yet another attempt at achieving the impossible.  With this poem, I am describing my thoughts and emotions upon hearing a piece of music, and trying to explain how these thoughts and feelings mingle with memories of my mother, resulting in speculations about a certain type of “afterlife”.  Although this sounds complicated it is, I think, a simple, universal experience.

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