culture, literature

Poem: how to make a life

Here is a poem I have written this morning that is, I suppose, a kind of reflection on the task that lies before all of us, so much harder than making a poem, of making a life out of the events, circumstances and culture we inherit and encounter.

How to make a life


Not in circumstances of your own making
As if
The real was free of madness.

You never know
Whether to break the rules
Or obey tradition,

The long river that tethers
Past to present,
Blessing to catastrophe,

Where sails trade and war,
Disease and invasion,
Faith and the curse of ideas.


With passion and purpose
As if
Our fate lay in our hands

Our daemons were discovered
Speaking truth to power
Perched on our shoulders

Like an imprisoned angel
Who lost the power of flight
And decided to stick it out

Come what may, through thick and thin
Seeing through this choice
They did not make but must endure.


By stooping to drink from the slow river
As if
Anyone has time for that today

When humility has become another brand
And there are no quiet spots
Left on earth

Where the psyche can build its tower
From stone shaped by hand
In a lonely perfect circle.

Still, the clear water flows on,
While we chatter on the banks,
Onto the harbour we fear to know.


Through some kind of amor mundi
As if
The world deserved our love

Not our critique and contempt
And constant claims for change
Our clamour for the conquest

By the last ideas
Of this frail imagined world
That will survive beyond our fall

In the flow of an inherited dream
Whose meaning we never know
Even, at the end, as we sink into its depths.

Image source: An artist’s (H Melville) rendition of The River Of The Water Of Life (1874) from The Complete Works Of John Bunyan (1874) – Wikimedia Commons

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