Also take a look at The History of Western Philosophy.
This Alice Oswald poem is one of my increasingly favorite sonnets. In the three-minute video, Sir Andrew Motion touchingly interprets it as: “rush and change of the poem is its own point. It makes us think, first and foremost, about transformations, about the changes that love creates, and the changes that art creates, as it takes hold of familiar experience, illuminates it and passes it back to us as something deeper and refreshed.”
Happy International Women’s Day! (which is tomorrow but the poem couldn’t wait.)
“Wedding” by Alice Oswald
From time to time our love is like a sail
and when the sail begins to alternate
from tack to tack, it’s like a swallowtail
and when the swallow flies it’s like a coat;
and if the coat is yours, it has a tear
like a wide mouth and when the mouth begins
to draw the wind, it’s like a trumpeter
and when the trumpet blows, it blows like millions…
and this, my love, when millions come and go
beyond the need of us, is like a trick;
and when the trick begins, it’s like a toe
tip-toeing on a rope, which is like luck;
and when the luck begins, it’s like a wedding,
which is like love, which is like everything.
Once when I was in the Agha Khan University hostel, napping in the afternoon, I woke up at sundown, went out of the room, came back and saw a red finch perching on my red towel on the small clothesline we had. It was staring at me and I slowly went to it and grabbed it, and then it suddenly squeaked. I brought it out and let it fly. Quite strange that it got into my room at some point, and then I let it go, which was perhaps one of the noblest things I’ve done.
Last night, I dreamed that I was walking with my brother, who is just older than me, through a bazaar where there were fruitsellers, iron smiths, grocers, and other people. I didn’t even know what he wanted to get, but we walked so long past the populace that we ended up in a wilderness, and that is when he said we should go back home. As Wallace Stevens says, “being there together was enough.”
I’m summoned to this woodland on your journey
Round moon’s seven stays, O mutable embodiment,
Digressive claims assembled as cascading teleology!
I witness horns immersed in voices, and demonic eyes
That scatter rainbows in a camel’s head – are you a friend
Who spins a veil of value round an ancient tree, where I,
The eager rover, searching for my attributes unearthed the
Circle of five elements, and scrolls allusive of compassion and
Desire? Are you a treasurer of time, colossus of reminiscences,
Still as a silkworm sleeping in a universe cocooned, a spirit
Who could sublimate water into fire, fly in clouds and
Hide in rain – the fabled keeper of the east who earns
The blue of Sare-sang, knows cycles of rebirth?
And there is something else more palpable to you!
Do dragons also wear the blush of warm uncertainty?
I’m taken with this strange familiarity but don’t presume
To speak of things concerning me alone. We’re prisms placed
In time to grow a facet more or less and glitter at a glance.
This dazzle of experience is just a private farce – no more.
I smatter myths and cast the shadow of prehuman vagary,
I signify the moon and womanly fertility – I’m known
For what I’ve never cared to be. A string of shades and whims
In pools around the roots of bodhi trees. I wonder how
I could inspire affinity and trust in anyone like you.
I fail to trust myself so far and rather seek all symbols of
Repose. Of what you build up in the air, I’m glad to know
Your beckoning was meant for me and wish you would go on.
Our feet are swept by rivulets of patent union, merging with
The land – you still don’t feel revulsion for the billows far
From home and animate instead this burgeoning display?
Your question quivers like a charming opulence of dreams
Effected by a single will presiding over fragments and assays
Enchanted to a form – the loadstone and its essences.
Essences! You seek the more‐than‐one that propagates
From simple scrolls and multiplies with many‐mindedness
To lift the curse of linearity from an all‐too‐sure conceit.
Conceit! I dread conceit of godhood in a beast, of plenitude in wells
Before it blindly thrives on stranded images – the livid blow
Of stubborn, spited breath encumbers pensive innocence.
Innocence! The haven where rain sleeps before its fall, the currents
Glowing true and wide, ascension of the dew full of exuberant accord –
The chasing of the phoenix past the pyre in luminous release.
Should dragons speak of intimations welling up in glands
And speak so knowingly? Who would suspect and celebrate
That mood is the impulsion straightening the sloppiest of leads!
There is a greater grief in every speck or seed
That did not find its soil – the quietest passing of intent.
What never leafed cannot be shed – it murmurs in the boles –
The trace evades the bearer and reverberates along
The circus of return – part light, part loss, part tenderness –
Much later do we find in dark and humid crevices the pulsing
Roots of turgid promises, the ethos turned to trophic
Carelessness. Drunk on poplar flagons, the wind is warm and
Flushed with stars and swooning sweet requitals from the past.
It is perhaps a child’s not being warm in bed or strong at night,
Whose gardens bloom with clusters of long absences around
Deluges of suspense, or else, what could the mood of spring reveal?
I swallowed flames when I came close to knowing ‘everything’,
And it was only when I sang and played that woods began
To gather sense in wind and cloud, and emanate their thrills.
The inkling of the knowledge of the chasm is a curse –
When it makes plain what he sought most she did not need
While founts of life sustaining happy ends already flowed without.
If I could learn to live like that affirming even ignominious death,
I may no longer wish to hate wherever I have failed. Even
Deities wouldn’t always be so providently calm. And what am I?
I see these flowers on your clothes and realize how sunbirds might
As well be flying in to settle on your palms. I understand, I too
Have blamed the trees for callousness and misconstrued their calm.
One ought to have a shadow lost in thought and gained a view
In skin. How inhuman to separate the sad, emboldened strength
From feathery leaps of joy, and how arduous to go along with both!
We bind ourselves with times as well, but loosely though – these trees
Swing gently through the shivery, clueless wind until their counsel
Twirls like sleep before the weary mind when thoughts are stones,
Or reinvent eternity with every new appraisal or malaise.
Resistance and geography can barely keep us to our caves –
We’ve gleaned some frozen relics past the recent settlements.
Again it seems we humans may not always have that choice,
Or will or want or daring to disrupt the latency of deeds. What joy
To contemplate a change and interpret a thawing consequence!
Devoted action meditates the flights of idle willingness
To capture cosmic loops of loosened thought from end to end.
In seeking pleasure, in dispelling myths, we keep creating more.
What could another whim be worth, although I know
Some clay or stone fashioned with enduringly erotic ecstasy,
But what are we to make of every excavated artifact?
What of these monasteries – what of smoky loneliness?
The noblest statutes could not hold my gaze for long,
Nor stucco temptresses holding snakes and flagons.
I far prefer the glistening backs of children bathing in the sun,
Their skins burned golden brown and smiles immersed obliviously
Into the muddy waters – all cares wash down and slake the lands.
A flower is the sun in bloom, the light of someone’s eyes,
The love of other lives, inflections of the fire allayed in moon –
Devotion, of necessity, reverts to its dispersing source.
From where it flows again to animate a self created way,
Reflected through the synthesis lighting up the scrolls
In some of which we sense and reinvent the impulse of our sways.
This lone retrieval of the self through otherness assimilates
The tug of want into the flawless order of aesthetic labyrinths –
The pain particulates the shame, reforms each loss as light.
One dream is of fulfillment, the next of scorn at all that has
Been tepidly undone. The drops immersed in clouds will each
Expound a tale. Once I fell to my knees and wept, to no avail…
I have no words to explicate my own unknown upheavals,
A lot like you, I slave the weather I invoke along
These bastions of habit and slivers of necessity.
Does such resignation elevate? Can dragons, the
Protectors, be devoted to the world of vanity
In any special way? Make pertinent exceptions?
The world is bustling with stale winds. Even dismay
Has had its day – the warp of stars has glimpsed
Our earthiness across eclipses and never shed a beam
Of immortal intrigue. And this, my trust, relies on passing
Reds of sundowns after thundershowers, on the sea-deep
Blue of ordered heavens rapt with shooting stars sinking
With a different vigor in the potent splash of waves – the sea
Itself another world that must remain a stranger to vicissitudes
Of land and all the fish oblivious of the mindlessness of man.
Striving thus beneath the calm of night, who would
Have thought it may not be all peace and purity,
And ‘peace’ and ‘purity’ not words alone but things!
Consider your dearest haunt, the mosque; think of the flowers there.
I can’t imagine if one spoke to them they would ever spell
The scorn that populates the mats. See in their eyes the gentle lust
Of petals whorled in circles of proclivity. That too becomes
A wilderness with many sorts of prayers – another quiet
Conference that is a thought, if not some word or thing as yet.
The lovely flowers climbing up the walls, suspended in the domes!
I dare not pluck a word or thing to relegate their worth.
Mere letters don’t suffice to spell the genesis of dreams.
I think of rain and seem to know it all, but then the sun arrives
And glories in its reign. I know, the refutation is subsistent only in
The sheltered embryo – once it emerges through the day, green is
The sacred raiment of our earth, sun‐worshipping, man-sparing
Virtue of the leaves. How many worlds will even now arrive
At worship’s door and keep the knower bowed to infinity!
To reconcile such distances may mean reviling prior unities –
Destruction all the same with rare convergences of note.
There seems to be no rule to the ruliest of lives.
And even to the assonance of love when it arrives. Who knows
What glide, what melody construed the broken ladder of experience
Or runged the helices in such a way that life could not be otherwise!
And then it seems we had been living round an act within a play,
In chores and practices of measured faculties with solid ends at hand,
We watered all our flowerbeds right before it rained.
Whereas the moment passes by its rave, root, wind and wall,
The images and tones collide, participate in fusion of
Unlikely balances intended for the gates of strange abodes.
Surprising is this faith in words, the immanence of change,
The limits of the world! These rearrangements looming loud,
This cochlear and focal consonance! These vacillations jumping
Pons on pons, nerve by nerve – the flux of ions mute about
The difference of views – the flanges of unclear order; the
Endless file and furl of relevance recalibrates the homeless deed.
I wear all thwarted deeds as scales – all aspiring words are decked
With fragrance of the tenses. Had I not made a backward journey to
The tomes with you, I would have turned to stone – remained a tale.
If blood both warm and cold can gather passion in the snow,
How can children of the sun live solely by the light and blaze
Emerging in their vaults and ventricles – and shun the charges and
Commotions of contextual comport? Piety is not the end of some
Ideal sentiment behind which our becoming is foreclosed – it is
A sanguine rush of youth, the sacred superfluity of origin…
Of promises ahead? Perhaps we’ll understand, perhaps we’d love
To know the death of love in black holes of indifference where even light
Becomes a hostage, and past them seek the temperate, arboreal
Preeminence of life. That is why each stage is a stage, a season of
Maternal kindliness that rains once like this, another time like that,
And leaves a trace on our despairing brows, recurring in our songs.
The summit of a slope is the precursor to the view of ranges
Sleeping in the clouds, in ceaseless pondering. The vision born
By any instance is the likeness of an ageless form temporally construed.
I’m glad to live these greater swarms of molting likenesses
Where each appearance arguably wears a varied vesture of
The mind and variance grows out of the mélange of uncertainty.
The branches interpret the nourishment of roots, and leaves
Invent the opulence of flowers. The sprouting may not know
What way the source implies and freely fashion its own fruit.
I’ll carry home this semblance of a form and plant it in my soul.
While I could only let it be and wish it thrives along the course
Of paradox, may it also seek the sun and liven up my way.
Visions and communions are domes and days suspended in
An hour imprinted on our wills. They find us in our sleep
Or lead us wide‐awake up countless flights of twilit stairs.
I see what living signifies and searches through perpetual bestowal.
Art is play that vindicates the value of a vacant breath
And beauty is a predicate of bearing out the difference.
No spite, unease, no muted grief or plea;
just skill to swim this atemporal sea…
To what song shall I now my mind prepare
and which undoing of this eve repair?
We cannot leave the unknown to streams of leavened lust;
the ebb and flood of silt and smoke retains
the quiver of each breathing pulse in chains
of flowers lurching in our spans of dust.
Set store by love, and ire too – it is all flowers
and kindling in our blazing gardens, fruits and
dreams of honey and streams of milk to feed the
squirrels gone mad with joy, scurrying in the trees
and chirping nonsense for the lack of better claims.
Owls meditate in the bushy tamarisks, and when night
approaches the dead, they glide along the arc of life;
they too shall kill to eat like us before they die.
The flood of life cannot be drawn outside the plain of death,
we know; tradition sings in bones and assent smiles in skulls,
the fingers come apart and neither rake nor slake
our primal fears. So why be scared of a shrunken jaw
of a beautiful woman, and not admire the lover’s wreathes around her?
It is no sin to refuse one’s charms or to engage in the courtship dance;
the peacock’s tail never sins – if only man had such a tail!
Sin is a specter of sullen minds allergic to uncommon sense.
Man was born of suffering, and woman to travail –
just as my soul has leaned upon a woman’s bare arm that
has it quietly budding in the silence of slumbering streets,
its breath intent on the limpidness of air and the night in parted hair.
My heart quivers to find some mother woo so tenderly
her nestling – with bricks of hope, reprieved obsession
in nooks and narrowness. What could the child bring forth?
Was she not once herself a child? Does she not know how childhood
seldom grows past the pestilence of heart, the mind, and
the stomach too? The sweetest love may congeal and the greatest scope
reveal that we only live our pride with pain evoked in other wombs
while day slips by. Oh lousy, lonesome luckiness!
The twigs of hope keep sprouting in the spring
and a little gesture swells on a shop window, in an icy street;
the verdure means new life, signaling a return to the old;
the arm that bore the strength of raging seas
now porously can blot a drop of rain.
Faces go around and seek some consonance
to feel alive but lose all ardor in the crowd –
we all must die, like those to come, would love and lie
with cheeks that are pomegranates born to future mothers
who would pray their proud sons may sing the song of songs
in vast invisible circles. Those eyebrows too, terrible
as the arches of roofless palaces, would seek life
beyond themselves where grasses sprout on walls and sparkle
in the sun. It is animus taking turns in the same abode
and love waiting to enamor the next cursory eye,
and flood it with images of enchanting disarray.
I’ve nailed the coffin of countless causes with a little
hammer from the musty case of a beloved uncle; the house
went soon past him, the implement he thought I would mislay
abides. Elements of care do not risk the rut of rules.
Fates may be sealed like bees misled into a cozened room,
harrowed by the wind. Now that the tone is mellow,
life need not be an empty bowl or shallow – wills transfigure,
even after vows that bind one and loosen the other.
There’s wisdom in the senses of our soles, and sense
of conscience past conflated consciousness of time.
Where do we stop, when did we start at all?
We cannot ground ourselves in rills let loose
by constant drizzles raveling our deeds – each deed
a somber emblem of our being, our being a stance of
melting moods – daughters to the wind. Each deed being a need,
what do we trust – the elemental self, the providence of rain?
Let no one doubt the wisdom of a shapely nose
and bloodless lips, and a soft voice and mellow eyes –
the features speak or smile and teach the savant
a late lesson. Is it too late for homely incarnations?
The mist is there, so are the clouds, and even if they
should clear, their smiling visions squint and scamper
in the air, all around in the snow and the sand and
on my native land, and scatter my sleep on your gracious palm.
I have known maternal consolation in some fictional
woman or the other, and in you, in your uncertain
kindnesses, in the taste that lingers at the back of
my nose while the song in my eyes still brims.
We’ll yet dig up ancestral tombs and know the names
beyond reproach, take each cell apart and you will
build them up again, in your own image. Here life may be
revisited, even the mosque is there for our first prayer,
and another kiss reminiscent of god. Derision does not divest
a kiss of its sweetness or meaning, and a kiss does not die
of disapproval – it lives on, now on your faithful lips,
and now on faithless mine – this sapling of our souls.
What were those little sadnesses that filled your heart
on cloudy rooftops, under dinner table lamps? What was
the sense of such superfluous spawn? Robbing you of sleep,
did it also bring you the swarm of butterflies and gnomes?
And all we may complain of is never that which hurts like
our own faceless demons ‐ they do not show, we do not see
and they are sleeping in the cranial vaults fed by, God knows,
what artery. And mine will not recline but on a woman’s hand.
Patience and patience without asking, it takes
patience to the last, even in the most senseless
dying just as in the midst of the crimson flying
above the core of life in a beckoning dream.
Befriend the demons, invite them to your hearth and grave;
they are all your kin after all, and it is
in convivial things that the night fires burn brightly
to heat the cauldrons – for some huge unnamed
ceremony you’d still like to behold – what we barely
know is there. If love were consumed with a
thing or two, it would be a shallow ditch that
sprains ankles of unwary guests, and never abyss.
And you would not remember the dying butterfly
and the gashed yellow rose in a remote corner.
Perhaps you were raised with a vapid tongue
but a gently rocking knee under your afternoon
naps – perhaps there was wisdom of the stars in
the countless kisses surrounding you like a
poppy field in spring, and not the tumid gall
in the woman’s hate for man, or the man’s
little diversions. Take it all with the ancestral flood;
part lies here in dust and part is flesh in you.
Lay wreaths to these dead mounds; forgive
them and you forgive your selves; retire to all
your wanderings. Those who fight the dead bruise
themselves for the lack of armor – you do not
know what they have already become, beyond
all silences, a door awaits ajar beyond the grave.
We are our thoughts, intentions, apparitions
inside deeds, and know not all we own,
do not own all we claim through filial rites.
The neighbor’s unsure son may be more an heir to my
father’s craft or I a bearer of true breeding foolishness –
it is all fate, the genes and contingencies decide; life
is full of gods and surprises, and both we cannot wed.
We believe in joy, and even the birds believe with you
only because there is so much pain to go around,
and fireflies to comfort the eye where stars do not
light the way. But if you must, bear this flower gently to its grave,
let it pass on in its dream that could not see the light of day.
I too have something akin to faith in your plumes of silence,
in my needful exile from your gravid world to which
all my thoughts keep turning and mirror themselves
in you with April angst or the molting light of March.
And we were fated to be such that you would
hold out your hand to me once or twice and I
would only see butterflies flit around your smile
and wispy raven eyebrows curling back into the night.
We may have seen better days with kinder breezes
entering the gates of sensibilities across the bamboo trees
with constellations holding their breaths right above our heads,
watching us in awe, wondering at our work and song.
All fragments of adoration may be living worlds, since our
becomings would be lost if sensations were not beliefs.
Diffident angel, don’t let it all unsettle as a starless night on
your sweet lips – take it as the afterglow of a sad, verdant
evening so precise in its confusion, unmistakable in its
vaguest yearnings, jugular to our selves, unmarred by distance –
or the smell of freshly painted walls and polished doors
and the cold pedantic flood that drowns the artless muse.
A river slowly flows by these inviting graves
to slake the thirst of living things, and through them
swim the effortless centuries – it’s only the you or I
that has to keep on and up and try.
It will never be wrong to delight in the day;
with our little limitations and vast consolations,
we will get along, draw the vigor of simpering youth
from sweet abundant apples that bide the seeds of wisdom.
Consider the bark that bears our shadows asea –
the dawning orb of tenderness, the belovedness of rain,
the little smiling girl who blooms now in this face, now that.
The silver in the voice heralds the speechless foam
and cloudy blankets blink on rolling hills;
the trees have come to life and thrushes frolic in the fronds.
Be still, engrave a smile on lifeless sprawling plains,
release the rancor foaming in your breast.
The book that smelts in all the passing years,
the swooning soil, the ah, the sigh renewed,
the green assault of trembling, daring limbs,
the muted dare of caring in the clouds.
Let in some air, let such infancy inhale,
let’s build a world conflating shards of time
and turn evanescent tunes in lapping flames,
come back to the expanding fold that reckons me.
An impulse ripples on these shallow pools
next to the fields and palisades of trees
where starlings march behind the plowshare,
engrossed in chase of wriggling starts of life –
the same permanence that flows from bone to bone
and lives in us as flowers of the soil;
and everywhere either the ardor fades or the mind wanders,
and between us too, it has sensed the scare, grown pale
in your little hands grown rough with homely toil –
looked up at you and made its fervid plea,
engaged with you in sweetest argument
and dared to scribble sounds inside its caves.
The listening ear is slave not only to the fatal horn but to the queerest change
in land or sea, the tide of time, the warming breeze, in you or me.
Janus‐faced, Argus‐eyed, god‐forsaking warmth tongue-tied,
the silent seeds have taken root in fertile carcasses.
Soon there will be almond blooms everywhere to plead the eye
and clothe the awkward nakedness of solar‐humored pain.
The sway of words, the path of gods has so impressed itself
upon the weary knees of flaming hearts, jingled its assent,
showered all its keys, and cleansed all swill in bends of living streams,
meandering away from overgrown expanses of weathering palaces,
lulled the quick of urges in their gently arching halls – the bricks are tender
motherhood, the beams are little girls – emerging brides and diadems of dawn.
Look, what words have done to us! Lettered our horizons – swept us on!
Still, words will do, I say, my blood, my sound in any tongue would be as red and bound.
Look, what love has done to us! One cheek is pale, the other flushed,
the spirit is cocooned in seemliness, and the range of sympathies pecked green.
Patience! Avail, longsuffering worthiness! Rustle, leaves! Ruffle, winds!
Gravid words, flourishing compendiums, words whirling on our irises,
read, regale her mind, and scribe her name onto your ageless leaves.
Today, I wish to woo all living things to gently break their silences and sing.
This mold of thought and form and awe – assurance in my sinews and temper
in my loins – what contingency explains a communion so sure, a union so ripe?
The code of time, the plumbing of the future is more than a palmar crease.
Love is ulterior to the drag of days. Love is a synopsis of the self.
The mud that makes a man
molds women into birds,
although we know avians
come from dinosaurs and
humans from a heavenly
jubilation of glad apples.
The spotted dove between
the flowerbed and a melody line
bobs on the grass and scans
in peace for pearl millet.
Its ruby heels don’t bruise
a single blade of grass;
sunburst dragonflies glimpse
the spring she wears on her wings
like incidental violas, babies,
bees and lyrical cuticles.
She notices, or senses some
of this – the scent and more…
snakes are gone, turtles died,
kingfishers have flown away –
dust is rife with invocations
that the flesh poorly dreams;
rooms are locked, beds are made,
a white curtain lifts in a light breeze
behind the impatience of tendrils
vaguely pronged like green laws.
If only she could speak! That dove.
Would she then bob on
with a sidelong glance
and say, “Of all the shades
prewritten in this noon
I choose your home and prune
the flailing hours to decide
in which books you confide –
a fellow rambler who’d distil
a fate from retrograde freewill
and learn how god of time inheres
in sequences of telomeres.
There may be more beyond my clue
to sound a thing past coo-coo-croo.
Stir the sugar gently in your tea.
Stir gently, sweet, don’t startle me.”