Getting On

A new poem

Robert Conquest

Into one’s ninetieth year.
Memory? Yes, but the sheer
Seethe as the half-woken brain’s
Great gray search-engine gains
Traction on all one’s dreamt, seen, felt, read,
Loathed, loved…
                                      And on one’s dead.
-Which makes one’s World, one’s Age, appear
Faint wrinkles on the biosphere
Itself the merest speck in some
Corner of the continuum.

Too extreme a distancing?
So let a nearer focus bring
The strange gaze of a sloe-eyed doe
On a cave painting from Lascaux,
Rock reamed by eons upon eons
Of such extreme, intense
Water-pressure as finally
Broke through southward, leaving high
Smooth-bored complexities.

                                                And then
Up through those darknesses climbed men
Working towards each masterpiece
Lit by candle-wicks dipped in grease
Brought up there in hollow stones.

After five hundred generations
We have no other knowledge of
How they would feel, or think, or love.
Their speech-lost. Surely they’d curse and bless.
Their chants? Alas, we can only guess.

In faintest clues to that lost future
How might our meanwhile outlooks feature?
Dim distillation that releases
Endless potentials for the species,
Though all too soon perspectived on
Dark outposts of oblivion?

Back from those caves, at least we find
A muse-mode in the human mind:
Part poetry emerging now, part history,
The message it seems to impart is, “Try
To filter realities, out through past blunders
To a smooth flow”. Is that beyond us?


Of course one’s read a lot of memoirs
And always found the trouble with them was
Their pasts remained a jungle-viewed
From afar, from above-in any case skewed.
So try one’s own experience,
Deploy some data, sense by sense,
Strange, fluent input from behind
The flat stage-scenery of the mind.

Visual. -In various lights displayed
Solar and lunar, shape or shade,
Their fine particulars all found
In the sky and the sea, by the stream, on the ground.
So it’s not just the mind’s eye that follows
The weaving flight of swans and swallows,
Starlit horizons, sunsets on
Plynlimon or the Parthenon-
And women-sometimes in the nude
Or other poses of pulchritude
-One of them keen to show she owns
White pearls like satin cherry-stones.
(Miniscule? Yes-to balance the huge
Spurts from one’s cranial centrifuge…)

Sonic then: the ears like the eyes
Swing through the todays and the centuries,
Nor can one complain of the lack of any
Melody or cacophony:
Striking a bell, striking a chord,
The thundering charge of the Golden Horde,
Susurrus of oars in the Golden Horn,
The lovely lilt, too, of Goldie Hawn,
A sea-lion’s bark by the Golden Gate…
But ‘gold’s too visual? So resonate.

See, Hear, now Feel-the sense of touch
Stroking so little, striking too much:
From silky skin that soothes one’s fingers
To swimmer’s flesh that’s torn by stingrays…
Extremes? Yes, But there’s also sex and love
Those two non-identicals, fused enough
Into a skin-and-psyche blend
That insistently cries ‘transcend’!

Let it simmer awhile -Mature?
There are some minds that take these newer
Insight gleams as giving perhaps
White-hot mountains for value-maps,
Whose failing volcanoes leave lava-clogged vents…
Yet, should such flow-depth somehow condense
And philosophy-lyric be seen as the aim
Some future archpoet might one day proclaim…

Till then, one can probably not do better
Than a quite superficial scatter
Of notes towards that perhaps eventual
Meld of the subliminal and the sensual.


Some would start with those well-tried stocks
Of monosyllabic building blocks,
Inflexibles which, for what they’re worth, are
Hardly such as to take us further:
Out of control high words become
Off-putting, pretentious, numb
Whose marble platform soon rejects
One’s futures and one’s retrospects.
Yet personalities carved in stone
Somehow preserve stress, feeling , tone,
Leaving cool clarions to approve
The higher notes of Life and Love.

But first, as through murmuring minds it sweeps,
Remember how Life plays for keeps
-A game that one can only lose.
Hearing the sputtering of its fuse
One needs to concentrate on Time
(And tomb, its natural pararhyme).

Stroll through those earlier sheaves of verse,
As soon an old harvest-hope recurs
And throbbing with the pulse of years
Through the cleared mist Love re-appears
The sort of love that holds distilled
Those sweeter essences that yield
Flowers, lions, meteors-everything
About which one might dream or sing.

So far we’d barely touched on love
-And first in speechless contexts of
The wild heart racing, with the mind
Dragged half-helplessly behind.
Yet mind and body both survive
Largely through a superlative
Memory-wisdom of heartfelt care
Pervading one’s always, one’s everywhere,
Out beyond these short verses’ scope
Vistas through which one can only grope.
While as they each of them possess
Good halves of their joint consciousness,
The beds and memories they share
Leave little other life to spare…


And if one’s asked can one recall
A slight acquaintance with the ALL,
Challenged so, one’s muse-mind sees
How, in potential symmetries,
The poem beats time in several ways.
Some harmonies that it conveys
Come close to the intrinsic? No.
A pause for meditation, though.
Moments of calm closure?

As an imagined voice cries “Cut!”
Unorchestrated cyclones blow
From above, from beyond, from behind, from below,
Raising a brain-cell fog that blurs
Muse-moons-and brings new cosmographers
Who tell of near suns crushed so tight
Older reactions can’t ignite,
While our far probes no more respond
From that faint featureless Beyond…

“Dark matter” next, “dark energy”…
Where is this darkness none can see?
An arid stretch of times and spaces
With human life its lone oasis?
Have galaxies failed to interbreed?
Is every mind-stream choked with weed?
While one’s ready to disavow
Philosophy’s Why, psychology’s How,
Perhaps one’s shown too little patience
With all those symbol-thick equations?


Let one just say that one prefers
To their pretentious Universe
How skill or accident deploys
The rich depth of the human voice
Come strongly out up from among
Lung-thresh, throat-clench, on to the tongue
That special instrument of thought
With which lost futures can be caught.

Always leaving one free to choose
What portion of the mind to use.
-Take human history, an immense
Portfolio of theres and thens
And check that Personality Cult
(With Unpersons one sad result)
While some who’d fought against the odds
Sought recognition as Ungods.
Then off to others that await
Contexts in which to replicate,
Free from each single obsessive train
Of thought, leaving an open brain.

For yes, these verses have ranged wide,
Caves, word-worlds, spectra-with the tried
And truly personal defences
For which the mind attuned the senses.
“Subjective?” – yes, say some who’d seek
To average out what’s quite unique,
Whose winds and words can still outface
Negation with one warm embrace,
While lifespan, whether of days or years
Somehow up to a point coheres.
With open skies, hearts almost fit
To represent the infinite,
But no perspectives that suppose
Mind-maelstroms calming to a close.


Validities do not depend
On how their bearers fade or end;
With no conclusion on the way,
One needs the briefest holiday.
Inputs accumulating still
Find yet more questionnaires to fill.
And all these rhythms to satisfy…
One takes a breath…

And then – a sigh…

Underrated: Abroad

The ravenous longing for the infinite possibilities of “otherwhere”

The king of cakes

"Yuletide revels were designed to see you through the dark days — and how dark they seem today"