Friday, 18 February 2011

Thought water

A little late, here are my thoughts on David Henschel's poem Thought water.

I need a pool of thought
to dip my mind in
cool and clear and sweetly springing
from some deep source on some high mountain.

We all have thoughts and plenty of them. The overwhelming majority of them are useless.

Worries about things that may never happen, anxieties about what we think other people think of us, resentments of things that could not have been otherwise, dreams unaccompanied by the least intention of working to realise them, items in the news that we're powerless to do anything about, impotent opinions based on no knowledge, churning in the mind of last night's television or a tune that we don't like that won't go away. That is why the denizens of hell are said to gibber.

This is not the pool of thought that the poet is asking for.

The poet is asking for a pool cool and clear and sweetly springing.

It seems to me that there is no room for such a pool unless we first detach ourselves from the thicket of our usual thoughts. I like the idea of the pool being up a mountain. As we climb higher, the thicket of useless thoughts is still there, but we pass through it, it is below us.

Another thought: in the fairytale Sleeping Beauty the prince has to make his way through a thicket of thorns. But those who had gone before perished in the attempt to hack them back. It is an effort doomed to failure. But because it is the right time, the thorn thicket separates before him, without effort. No doubt he came prepared, with a sword and ready to do battle. But no battle was required.

The poet goes on:

There is no pool unless I make one
from depths of spirit in the heights of mind.
It can only be cool if I am clear
only as clear as my own seeing
only as deep as my own loving
only as high as my own thinking.

My commentary: seeing is not thought, love is not thought, and thinking is a ladder, rightly used.

How we wish we could be clear.

It seems a last reality
necessary to truth
to recognise what living water
can only be drawn from one's own well
and nothing comes out
of nothing put in.

Lewis Carroll recommended making the effort to learn a poem by heart. That way, at least there is a corner of the mind that is filled with something worthwhile, something that becomes part of our own inner singing.

The impressions we expose ourselves to - literature, music, theatre, films, the clouds in the sky, the birdsong that even a city has, the smiles of strangers - make our thinking what it is.

Of course it is not I alone
who conjure rain into my earth
or trickle truth and understanding in;
but I am sand to parch my givers
thin earth which gives scant blessing back -
yet I have caves
and through my fissured rock
slowly the water gathers in my dark.

If we have received something then we can only be grateful. We can do nothing of ourselves, though we should like to think otherwise. Even so, I am richer because of these poems made by someone else.

I wish
it lay less deep and more accessible
I wish it lay upon the mountain side
and had the colour of the sky -
in which to bathe would be to fly.

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