The Poetry of Saying (2)


I wish to look now at another poem. This one is by Kenneth White, a Scot well-versed in the spiritual traditions of the East. His poem is called ‘Valley of Birches.’


Entering this valley

            is like entering a memory

            obscure the feeling

            of a plenitude lost

            about to be regained

what is this valley

            that speaks to me like a memory

whispering with all its branches

            this November morning?

A valley is located between mountains. A low place, moist and hidden, it evokes re-membering of soul-spaces that can also be hidden but teem with a promise of new life.


The wording would have to come from mental territories still unknown to me, like those phrases I sometimes wake with and that delight me with their freshness and complexity – as when, only a few days ago, I woke with the words ‘Kanaan Ross’ in my mind, the strange ambiguity of the name satisfying me, and its linking of North and East. And it is as though I were myself that Kanaan Ross, walking in this place, with the need to voice it.

The register shifts to one which is reflective and left-brained, yet mindful of having awakened from unknown territories, and of a need to voice them.


I must enter this birch-world

and speak from within it

I must enter into

this lighted silence

contemplation is not enough

never fully realised

without the necessary words

The birch is a shaman’s portal into other worlds and symbol of the Bard’s expressive art. But when is silence lighted? In contemplation, evidently, but never enough: words are necessary to its realisation. To bring it back to where we journey from and complete it in some way. To speak (from) lighted silence. A place where inspiration flows, which is (en)light(en)ed. Silence is where we learn to truly hear, when all our ego-noise has died away. This is the place of Attention, where Self beholds Self. For Heidegger, all words come into Being charged with light and retain vestiges of the in-sight they originally name. This points to a process whereby Being reveals itself to beings through ‘openings’ in which light becomes manifest. Psychologically, we may think of dwarf/doll voices calling to us from a Source that is dark and mysterious to our present eyes. We glimpse the depths and nature of consciousness as this happens: as Many are re-minded that All is One.


Without the necessary words

but the most needful words

are the rarest

and how can we come to them

maimed as we are

except through

a power that wings us

out of the maze of unknowing

and enables us

to quietly

penetrate the reality -

this is no question

of industry

Basho feels. Tennyson speculates. Eliot says poetry is a raid on the inarticulate. Given a stewardship more akin to Basho’s, it becomes an efflorescence, spoken from a place of transcendent awareness: a lighted silence. And just as the ‘artefact’ which grows from our gardener’s trans-action with the plant is not artificial, neither are the poet’s words, being born of  similar trans-action with the birch-world. They are not his. They are born of silent waiting, in that place, of a power that wings and enables one who is willing to be borne. Tennyson notwithstanding, the poet cannot act on nature since s/he – no less than the gardener – is already nature, which is also a manifestation of Spirit. Destroying the flower, Tennyson obscures the integrity of Self while awareness is both augmented and embellished by the Basho-nazuna composition.


And yet all the work, all the research I have done is not irrelevant to this encounter. For some time now I have been studying, with a rare sense of recognition, the geography and mytho-poetry of north-east Asia … up in those regions, to which I feel a strong attachment, so strong they must in some sense be ‘my world’, the birch tree is sacred. Indeed, the birch-tree is to the North-East what the bamboo is to countries farther south: the very heart of a culture. It is the birch culture at the back of my mind which has given rise to my fascination with this birch-wood here this morning. Like any complete culture, the birch culture links sexuality … with the furthest reaches of the mind. Hence too the plenitude felt by me earlier, and which I maintain now deep in the dark, protecting it as it were with this prose periphery, like a bark …

Research is not irrelevant to this encounter. White allows his discretion to be guided by ‘a rare sense of recognition’, careful not to overlook nazunas as non-roses. He is drawn by a culture that links Eros to ‘the farthest reaches of the mind,’ offering intimations of  full-fill-ment to all who would wait on a power that wings them, and on necessary words. Waiting and receptivity are essential, granted that aware discretion has led to a situation where both can be indulged to good effect. But what of this power that wings? There is a Chippewayan song that says

                              Sometimes I go about pitying myself but always

                              I am carried by great winds across the sky.

The ego-identified self is prone to wallow in such pity, intensifying its suffering by efforts to  disown it. One way of seeing  these ‘great winds’ is as a force of  karma rushing through the world, carrying the genius flame we each incarnate further into    evolutionary play. At least that is how it might be were we not, as individuals and as a culture, ill-prepared to abandon positions vainly fortified against the breath of spirit stirring deep inside us, seeking to in-spire. Even White’s sense of plenitude, earlier felt, needs consolidating by a prose periphery. A secondary function of necessary words?  What then might be the first? To guide us Home?


Waiting for the words

to come out of the silence

words for this emptiness-plenitude

this absence-presence

words for the sensual spirit

infusing those trees

words like the nichtwesende wesenheit

of Meister Eckhart

words like the buddhist sunyata

but more rooted, more rooted

rooted and branched

and running with sap

Emptiness-plenitude. Absence-presence. Conceptual polarities adrift in Quadrant V. Cups emptied of self awash with Self. 

We have seen how Heidegger reworks the Greek conception of truth as aletheia to mean unhiddenness or unconcealedness. This depends on allowing the world to reveal itself and ‘speak’ through us, since we are the conduits through which language flows. This is our flowering – a midwifery of Lighted Sound into the world, whereby the light that things are is brought to awareness in a marriage of co-evolving complements: World made Word and the reverse. All words proceed eruptively from dark places where unhiddenness is proclaimed, for the Tao is mysterious and dark. All are originally ‘poetic’, having entailed a ‘bringing to light’ of phenomena which were once allowed to ‘speak’. Words like these have been are branched and rooted. They run with sap. We need such words to replenish all that has become withered  through neglect. We need them to re-mind us. They are necessary.


‘No people knows now the sensual language’, writes Jakob Böhme. Victims of concept and model, our subtle lives flattened under the weight of the general, we move in sterile worlds, doing violence to everything, including ourselves. Before we can ever say anything, anything at all, we must link ourselves, by a long silent process, to the reality. Only long hours of silence can lead us to our language, only long miles of strangeness can lead us to our home.


For words ‘to come out of the silence’ demands a waiting which is not a waiting for. The anticipation of expected results would compromise our receptivity and preclude a ‘rare sense of recognition’. Heidegger extols poetic thinking as the most appropriate response to the self-disclosing activity of Being. Authentic thinking must also be a form of thanking for the gift which living is. Having acknowledged the miraculous, irreducible inexplicability of Being and the mysterious terms of our participation in it, we must then assume response-ability for it. We become guardians of Being and show gratitude by staying aware of this wonder-full precondition of our lives. The same might be said regarding God/dess, Source, Self or All That Is.


Rain falls from the blue immensities

See the nazuna

As below, so above. Sap rises from the darkest depths. Light quickens in the Earth.


I have come in under the trees

making love to them with my inarticulate hands

for the beauty at least may be sensed

I have traced out the black on the white

like an unfinished poem -

always broken off, always recommenced

Language, like Being, is not an entity which can ever be present to us, or re-presented. It is a form of presencing, the medium through which Being’s constant activity of self-disclosure is most readily conveyed. To appreciate this, and to overcome effects of our habituation in regard to language, we must attend once more to origins. We must learn to speak originally. This is where White’s long hours and miles come into play: to restore awareness of language’s hidden depths, to which we have become oblivious; a discipline that leads to freedoms that cannot otherwise be attained. But because the presencing of Being is continuous and indefinite, any poem that seeks to express it must be forever incomplete: always broken off and recommenced. All poems are therefore facets of One Poem – a Song of Creation that resounds in many parts.


In the modern world, poetry points the way to original speaking. It presents itself to those who wait. Despite the alienated condition of our culture, it remains the type of all language in this respect. Even ordinary speech has had its light-ed origin. Thus it is mistaken to fetishise poetry and see it as distinct from the rest of language. Such a distinction hinges on forgetfulness. In Heidegger’s words: ‘Poetry proper is never merely a higher mode of everyday language. It is rather the reverse: everyday language is a forgotten and therefore used up poem, from which there hardly resounds a call any longer.’ One reason for this is that feeling as a mode of knowing characterised by unformulated awareness has been effectively suppressed in our culture. Thus many intimations that press on the borders of ordinary consciousness get overlooked. Our attempts at understanding tend to favour highways of commonsense rather than keeping watch for points of ‘lighted silence’. We have lost the disciplines of waiting and receptivity. This suggests a depth of conformity never envisaged by Asch: if everyone is engaged in the same kind of understandings as I am, how can any of us ever come to question the validity of these understandings, particularly when they concern the fundamental nature of reality?

There is another possibility. Lighted silences might be allowed to gather.  Necessary words might eventually be pronounced, returning us to poetry: a domain of original saying that rises on winds of inspiration from within, with power that wings.  Our awareness might be relocated within Psyche, away from Ego-Head back into Heart-Self, closer to those valley regions of our being where Feeling registers in silence before being dressed for ego purposes and public circulation. But how does this establish our need for necessary words?  Why should we not be content with unformulated awareness and the illuminations that ‘lighted silence’ brings?

When not taken for granted, the ego is often negatively viewed.  Critical psychologies deprecate it as reactionary and defensive. On occasion, however, it may be entirely appropriate for the ego to react conservatively, particularly during early years when experiences are likely to arise that can’t be fully lived.  Whatever defensive attitudes might be engendered as a result will need to be maintained until a time when it becomes safe to relinquish them. There is a clear advantage to defensiveness under such circumstances. Developmentally, also, the ego has to be affirmed as a necessary vehicle while esoterically it is the Rising Sun (solar disc) of both physical and spiritual evolution. However, as the Tao Te Ching warns:  


                                  Woe to those who innovate

                                  while ignorant of the constant.


The ego’s primary purpose is innovative. Its role is to adapt and then move on, soliciting integration of inner and outer worlds as it constructs them. Stuckness arises due to wounds. Imbalance and disharmony build in ‘progressive’ cultures such as ours because they support only those aspects of the ego’s mission which drive us beyond what we already are and encourage us to identify only with them. An ego moulded in this way learns to view itself as sacrosanct, forgetting Self, the Constant and response-ability vis-a-vis in-spiration. Can necessary words correct this?

In esoteric tradition it is said that there was once a Time of Silence, when we didn’t speak at all. Our thoughts were communicated instantaneously, by telepathy. Lying wasn’t possible at that time; neither was dissociation. We all effectively participated in One Mind. This was a Paradise Time of Unconscious Perfection. Then Paradise got lost in the course of our dis-memberment into individualised minds. Language played a key role in this process of atomizing and convoluting personal awareness. It also gave us the freedom to attempt truth or deceive. Such freedom invariably complicates our human lives. Moreover, language is strongly associated with a particular development of the left cerebral hemisphere of our brains. This underpins the active, searching, spotlight mode of consciousness identified earlier. Esoterically, it is linked via the lower chakras with physical consciousness of the earth plane. Before this specialisation of cognitive functioning led to preferment and then predominance of the left brain, we were all ‘psychic’. We still are, except that our right-brain dwarfs and dolls are mostly left to sleep or seethe. Yet many clues are left to facilitate re-membering, not least in the uncanny abilities of primal peoples and the records of our own ‘lost’ magical traditions. We can still access ‘altered states’ but as a culture we lack articulate maps to guide us through journeys where we are always in danger of getting lost. We ‘moderns’ have come so far, not least in terms of ego development, that we need a constant means of integrating what we are becoming with all that we have been. This is where necessary words come into play.

It’s as if language, having set us on a path to dismemberment, must now serve as the means of our remembering. There is a curious twist in this. Ego-identification, as we have seen, corresponds to the Self-alienated phase of Conscious Imperfection, after Paradisial Innocence has been lost. This ‘fall’ sets the stage on which our crucial karmic learning must take place. All that we have lost must somehow be remembered and returned having first passed through a spotlight mode of consciousness which arises in the course of our species’ historical evolution. This underpins the difference in terms of awareness between Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained. Language is the bridging mechanism which makes such retrieval possible as well as necessary. We are all originally artists in words. They constitute our distinguishing gift and liability as a species. They are instrumental in our alienation at the level of egoic delusion and in the redemptive transformation which this warrants. The constructed self-in-isolation longs for restoration of a sense of destiny, integrity and relatedness; a sense that one is at least becoming what one most truly is. Yet when we think of integration, the process of fostering integrity, we usually think in terms of the ego gaining access to more or less remote, formerly closed off areas of experience. This preserves the cardinal error of Sovereign Egotism since it continues to cast the ego as a necessary Managing Director of our experience.

In addition, we find it hard to recognise that the One World which our dominant ego-ideology allows is surrounded on all sides by a trans-rational domain that cannot be reduced to stock-in-trade categories of scientific rationalism. Indeed, since the trans-rational encompasses everything within which our rationality evolves, it is a vain attitude for rationality to try to classify and reduce it. Far from this, the proper disposition of rationality must be to open itself to trans-rational inspirations that press upon it from all sides and realign itself according to their urgings. Then our innovations would be mindful of the Constant, moving with rivers rather than pushing them off course. Assertiveness would be balanced by receptivity, informed by due awareness of the context and implications of its actions.  All that can follow from failure to make this change, or from efforts to engage in more aggressive subjugation of ‘unknown mental territories’ is karmic distress.

The ego has discretion in this process. It is still the Rising Sun and has its place but the more properly attuned to What Is it becomes, the more it sees that innovations made in ignorance of the Constant lead to woe. This stricture applies to our cultural  as well as to our personal awareness. We need to see that there is a purpose to feeling, re-membering and soul-making before we undertake the disciplines associated with them. Our best option, therefore, is to render the truths of  trans-rational awareness into forms which ego-consciousness can digest; through which it may become nourished, integrated and brought to  proper realisation of its role. Poetic language in Heidegger’s sense can serve to bridge the abysmal-seeming gulf between ego and Self in this respect. Then, as well as facilitating the self-disclosure of What Is, poetry as the type of language facilitates a continuing, reciprocal assimilation of ego and Self.

Note that our focus here is on assimilation of the ego, not just by it. What is innovative needs anchoring in the Constant; what is timely needs anchoring in the timeless, as well as vice-versa. New thresholds and dispositions of consciousness are created every time we integrate a new aspect or potential of Self. Our relationship with both the internal and external environments of consciousness is perpetually reconfigured as this happens until, eventually, the ego’s proper role as servant-executor rather than Master-Controller is finally assured. The tail now steers the dog (informed by directions from elsewhere); it doesn’t wag it. And consciousness becomes free to acknowledge dimensions of being that early mediation by a specialised, defended ego once prevented it from registering.

Language can be a primary means of this recalibration, and of the expanded awareness which is achieved by virtue of it. Clearly, the ‘idle talk’ of hackneyed, everyday discourse cannot bring about such change.  Poetic language, blessed by the Muse, is required to carry  lighted silences from aspects of  Self which might otherwise never become integrated; necessary words, as distinct from words which dissipate light by scattering  silence, pre-empting what might have been most transforming about felt awarenesses that conceptual filtering keeps at bay.  Necessary words are needed to convey a non-reductive sense of what must come to light in such a way and with such impact that our analytical, left-brained ego-selves (and cultures) will be forced to take account, beyond imposing worn-out categories. Such words come only to those whose waiting is not a waiting for: who don’t pre-judge and thus allow their felt impressions come to term. They constitute messages from Home and have their place at the heart of any authentically functioning culture. They remind our constantly probing ego-dispositions of where we have come from and what the true nature of our mission is. Without their inspiration, we are ever likely to become stone wo/men, desperate and stuck, the promise of our Gold Rings forfeit.

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