Practicing the Line

My pilgrimage to the Cathedral in Canterbury is not far. Thirty minutes if I cut through a field near the university, wander a dry path in the hedgerow grown taller than my body, and amble over the cobblestone where old cottages and contemporary flats mingle on the same streets. If my walk has left my throat begging for a drink, it can be easily appeased at the Cathedral gate with a cup of Starbucks coffee. I would never take that cup. Not in Chaucer’s day would I ever settle even for the last mutilated dregs of espresso and imperialism. So I go without the coffee and curse the water in my Nalgene. The Holy Eucharist is sung at the service I attend. Mostly in English, some Latin. The sermon is on mystery and although I intended on paying attention, my imagination has better plans. I think first of the Tales written by Chaucer. I have committed to memory only a few lines of the Prologue and in speaking them and repeating them over and over I find myself entranced in a Liturgy of Literature. The flint and steel: “When in April with his showers sweet with…” Sparks fly out and here in the Cathedral I know as the setting for T.S. Eliot’s Play, Murder in the Cathedral, I’m now muttering lines about April from Eliot’s Wasteland, “April is the cruelest month, breeding/ Lilacs out of the dead land”  Who knows how the cosmic leap occurs but there my mind settles on another image, not just from Eliot, but from Dante; the Multifolate rose. The sermon has ended and communion has began when I wrestle free from an attempt, with somehow less than no success, to outdo Dante’s metaphor. The only remedy I think for such a morning is to find a garden and prostrate myself their until words befall me or scales drop from my eyes. Gardens, however, are lonely places. Quiet  and proper if one fancies to dream of places walled out from the world, cut out and made to be more beautiful and bright than that which is on the other side of the ivy.

None of my poems that I offer to you in this blog have any common thread with what you just read except one contains an image of a flower and the other of relationship and knowing. They are perhaps significant only because they were written in that garden. Writing and looking at flowers was what I wanted to do, and aside from dwelling upon the classical parallels of Gardens and Paradise found in Milton and what I think was gained in losing such a place that one might call Eden, this was what I wrote:



He had the look of a man

Staring at a lover

And she the look of a lover

Who is stared at,

Like a shy rose in a vase.

Red is the rose that blushes

Not because it blooms that way,

But embarrassed by being

Seen beautiful, a rose is.



If I remember the face of a woman

Then I misremember her.

If I can write the shape of her lips

But cannot sketch the compass of her heart

Then what portrait is there to display?

What of remembrance of certain eye flecks

But not of the tears that swell to disturb them?

What of commitment to knowing her past

When unable to hold the hand walking to the future?


I welcome your thoughts!


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