INQUISITIONS    forays in consciousness, apprehension.

5.1  Master Thomas Tallis (1980)

Thomas my grave lad,
why can I not but smile at
your shy and cloistered dance! yet
we cannot laugh you from your measure
nor shame you from your gloom,
not shake you from that strong vision
born from the long dark sleep.
Thomas, yours is man's awaking
having thought and proper doubt,
and bravery and joy.
Master both of lamentation, and
the well-enchanting skill,
to your measure the solemn step is matched,
the pavan stately done: your skill
it is to draw the very sigh of sadness,
for time and man are sad, and then perform
the gentle rite of gaiety.

Chiswick - 1980.

5.2  Early Music in Late Summer (2013)

What’s happening here?
What kind of immortality is this
as sound climbs high
in Garrick’s little temple dome beside the Thames?
What meets the watcher’s eye
is simple – digits dance
upon the narrow octaves of a
harpsichord, and propagate the
foreplay and the flight, well-tempered
waves of sound which bear our spirits up:
that’s what it is, or what it seems to be.

But more’s at play, much more:
who is the master here?
Is it we, who all came here to sit
in expectation of a
summer evening’s transport –
do we command? Without our ears
there’d be no sound, indeed
there’d be no score. And I, as part of this?
My eye has chosen not to close but
watch, to try and see what’s happening here.
Electric is the oriental face engaging
with the densely figured score:
intaken breath, with eye intent and fingers poised,
is this where everything begins?

Or is it not the source of sound itself?
There’s male and female here: the passive
waiting instrument implies three centuries
of craft, her body, throat and heart invite
analogies, but nothing contradicts her readiness,
so tightly wrought, to please and serve her
purpose, as soon as she is struck. Her
deeper registers, more womanly than virginal,
vibrate and resonate: she yields to touch, and
fully played upon can render up
the fullness of her self. This whole, a single
instrument, a single flow of energies which runs
from score, through fingers, notes and
subtlest physics, to reach the ready and attentive
ear, the mind and heart behind.

What more is there? Of course!
Who orchestrates, inspires, the whole?
Vast, his shadow on the dome reflects the gleaming
river and the setting sun; he over-arches us –
that fleshy German smile, the rigorous eye, observe
as yet again his priceless gift is given,
his art applied, to even such a few as we:
his the spirit, his the inner ear and voice
which animates the whole –
born of all those years of culture, faith,
and industry, and love. The immortality is his,
not only for today but till the very end of time.

Hampton - August 2013

5.3  Dream dungeons (2013)

I’ve travelled far this night.
I know I must have done because
my mind is peopled thick
with unremembered places I have been,
with themes of gravity and consequence which
undermine my conscious thoughts all day.
Observer I, the guardian of this consciousness,
tries hard to grasp and recollect the dreams:
but truth be told, it’s more than
themes and dreams I’m wrapt in.

Down those stairs I did go this night –
the darkened realm I’ve visited before
of fears which brush my face, reminding me
… what of? Mortality we all inherit,
so it isn’t that, and nor is it
impending death, disease, unhappiness
or fear of failing self or those we love.
It’s none of that. The wing which
brushed my face this night had whispered words
I couldn’t catch, about unshackling
of the mental frame, the fragile
bridge on which we tread above
those chasms we can usually contemplate
with equanimity but which,
when glimpsed on such a night as this,
remind us just how tenuous are
the ties which bind our whole reality.

Hampton Wick – July 2013.

5.4  Flights of mind (1976)

The unlocked level of the mind
enables us to see
the wafer wall between
the trousered knee
and unfathomable sky.
Or waking to sunlight
our love extends
from the third floor window-frame
to the small and nameless figure
in the door across the street.
Or struck by the wild cry
of some remembered song,
we wonder why
we don’t dissolve in open winds
and cast, like Rimbaud,
along the slip-streams of the sky,
leaving all the papers of our life
to sink like white bats
down and out of sight.

And then there is that other kind
of unreality: lens we look through,
see the things that might have been -
the confines of our life
reduced to pass the needle’s eye
and thence emerge convex
to let us glimpse
the gardens where we never trod,
our other selves, contingent loves,
that so familiar gate
which beckons us, and mocks us,
but knows full well
we’re not yet fit to pass.

Out of Casablanca - 1976.

5.5  Promis (1996)

So carefully reserved –
the final Stella and
her final cigarette
(and even that was broken).
And then she went to face
her waiting demons,
ubiquitous because lodged in her,
the livid demons of her dreams.

O prize apart my bloodless lips
to shout their names,
these maggot-coloured
writhing homuncules, which
thrive like human fungi there
beyond the margins of the mind,
nocturnal fiends – my dearest.
Could I but share with her
the grappling with their slimy skins.
And more unspeakable
the wounds she seems to witness,
hideous the dismemberments,
the blood, the pain – my dearest.
And these are just hob-goblins
of a night or two – they’re not
the ceaseless voices in the dark,
compulsive and insidious
assailants of her naked mind –
churning, churning
at the anger and remorse,
the penance of her vacant hours.

O Promis, purge these fiends, and
hush the voices, cleanse those hours,
for her, for me.

Clapham - 1996.

5.6  Mirror Mirror (1999)

Hello false friend, familiar face.
We’ve had a drink or two.
I’m so at ease with you –
can we get closer to myself through you?
See through this dull unanimated eye?
Vis-à-vis with any other face,
so intimate, there’d flow
a certain electricity: if only I
could look afresh,
see something I had never seen before –
I even find my head inclined
as if to catch me unaware.
But that’s not it: I have to search
for clues to what goes on behind, to focus
on the self behind the brain behind the eye.
This mask is something interposed,
this barely navigable map – which we have come to use
to read and write
our subtlest messages, to kiss,
to laugh, to fear, to dominate –
is just a living interface,
a compact box of pathways
to and from the brain, a mobile
interactive, multi-medic set – no more.

If I could only set aside this mask,
strip bare the intellect,
if I could watch the pulsing brain
and see if that would help me understand – of course
it won’t: it has no tools,
we cannot comprehend the unexpressed
however much we know it’s there. And
even if I could I know that’s
just a front as well – the
master, atman, self resides behind:
his coachman cracks the whip
to drive the steaming horses on:
behind the curtain atman secretly conducts
his dialogue with brahman –
God – yes! – is in my head
and in my understanding: he doesn’t sit outside,
he knows, as David said,
my downsitting and my uprising,
he understands me long before,
because he’s part of me. In short,
however hard I try,
I’ll not discern the smallest clue to all of this
behind that interface: I’m
handicapped, my power to penetrate
and see behind is neutralised.
I slowly come to realise
that subject, object both are compromised;
I’ll find out nothing new about myself
this way, however much I am
at ease with you, my useless friend.
Begone, turn out the light!

Boston – December 1999.


5.7  Practising my Disembodiment (2013)

I am Ariel, I am
(I tell myself) disembodied spirit.
These days I’m
thinking constantly of how
to free myself, to demonstrate
that I’m not body-bound.
My other parts – my body, senses, mind –
conspire to mock me: What
is this freedom which you crave?
Tell us where and we will take you there:
we are your earth, your water, we
have grounded you, we give you
substance and identity; without us
you are nothing.

Without them I am everything, I know:
to think, to sense, to realise -
I’m borrowing their tools, I recognise,
but I’m their owner after all, their
feudal lord and all they offer
is subsumed in me. This
frightens them: they realise in turn
without me, they are nothing, just my
coarser clothing – they, like I but differently,
are nameless having no identity.
They cannot see that I am
air and fire, I’m ether, I
inhabit space, I have no place –
if only I can learn to free myself.

It’s not enough that I’m a bird,
can freely soar and relocate myself: the
eagle’s no more free than I –
she carries all her parts. In truth
I care not where I am, embodied
with my other parts: it’s my imagination
gives me wings, transcending
place and hour with ease, and practising
my disembodiment: with these
I’m in my element.
But I am frightened too – so used
am I to drive this vehicle, to
use those tools: and these include that
ego, wilful and unruly little self
whom I allow to dominate my other parts:
I love his energies, in truth he is
my chauffeur and my demiurge – his voice is one that
mocks me too, and he’s the hardest
to defy. But when I’m free he’ll fall
away as well, and I’ll not grieve for him.


Without them all, I’m nothing but I am
Everything: I’m Brahman, my divinity
is trapped for now in these
my earthen walls - and but for this it
could not share in earthen things
nor strive for virtue, beauty, truth in men’s affairs.

So, tempted as I am to try and break apart
this trap, to crack the atom, liberate myself before
my time is due, I have things that
I must do, some love to exercise, and all too soon
the sun will set on these; beyond that sun
the Light is always there, my proper home.
For now, my simple knowledge of myself’s
enough, will help me better serve
my purpose every waking day and live
in greater certainty of life that lasts
when body falls apart and goes to ground.
Is that not good enough for now?

From Wincanton - April 2013.


5.8  Song for May (2011)

What is it makes my blood run cold as though
I had chilled vodka coursing through my veins.
This morning of all mornings
a deep unease, profound agitation whipped up
by ceaseless river wind which bows and bends
the mighty cedar heads outside
and claws at all the corners of my mind.
I’ve heard such wind before: it’s everywhere –
it tells me of some impending great departure:
a loosing of the ties, of letting slip
the moorings of my life, an imperative embarking
to another place which vaguely frightens me,
it makes me ventilate, it leads my heart to groan,
and poses unfamiliar questions to my mind.

And through this violent wind, there’s incomparable
glitter of the sun on every animated leaf,
and everything’s alive this half-spent day,
although I know not where it’s leading me.
While wind is sweeping clouds across the fiery blue
and dissipating vapour trails to make them milky ways,
old helion glares at me, strikes down
through every orifice and blinds me off the table-cloth.
A tiny spider treks across my page, alert but purposeful,
more sure than I on how to navigate
this sun-spell, God-given space of time.

So what’s this all about? Can I identify
in this my early elder age what strange new alchemy’s
at work within and whence it comes to me?
All very well it is to share politely with my friends, my
heart’s companion, my speculations
on memory and sleep: but some new chemistry’s
alive in me. I now know what it is,
the terror when my fingers lose the grip
upon the gunwales of my bark,
when places that I know so well slip through
the framework of my sense so I must learn
to re-learn them: when people
that I know so well drift out of reach while I
work hard to re-assemble in my mind
events that I participated in a bare few months before.


My wretched mind’s a hotchpot
of memories and dreams, things done, undone;
unregulated thoughts fired off by tiny triggers
from that ever-hidden world of my emotions,
disordered information, not organised to some intent
but swirling dangerously around in my receptacles
wherever they may be. It feels as though it’s coming
to a head, as if I need today the courage to embark
upon a different sea, to climb a different hill
and leave a lot behind.

Of higher power I have no doubt, and can
rehearse the faces it assumes for me: with others
or alone I stretch my hand in search, or in surrender:
redemption is my thirst, the hand of the redeemer,
the words of hymns. In this my wilderness I sense
I may become reborn – agitated by this harrying wind,
animated by this merciless sun and
the unspeakable beauty of this morning of all mornings.

Teddington – May 2011.

5.9  The Dialectic (according to Plato) of Candle-light (2003)

Observing thy dancing stillness, constant size, unwavering vigilance,
Thy great and disproportioned gift, the beauty of thy vulnerable innocence,
I seek to understand what makes thee be, and what conditions regulate
Thy being, how we depend on thee and thou from us, and therefore say:

If thou art …..
Then for thyself:
what follows is
thou well dost marry fire and air and earth,
what follows not is
that thou movst thyself,
what follows and does not is
thou art a fragile power.

And for those around thee:
what follows is
that thou illumin’st us,
what follows not is
we are burned thereby,
what follows and does not is
our love and thine reciprocate.

But if art not …..
Then for thyself:
what follows is
thou servst thine office,
what follows not is
that thou art a dead thing,
what follows and does not is
thou hast forgot thine elements.

And for those around thee:
What follows is
thy light from us withdrawn,
what follows not is
thou liv’st in memory only not desire,
what follows and does not is
Light and life are one in thee.

Harnham Farm – March 2003.

The method of reasoning employed by the dialectic of Plato, was invented by the Eleatic Zeno, disciple of Parmenides, and is as follows …. Two hypotheses being laid down, viz. if a thing is, and if it is not, each of these may be tripled, by considering in each what happens, what does not happen, what happens and at the same time does not happen, so that six cases will be the result.

5.10  The Seven Gates (for Madhu Tandon) (2000)

After years enough
I learned that living I
could rid myself of guilt and fear:
but when it came
to the time of dying
you showed me a hill with seven gates.

At the first, I shed my raiment
and walked forward without nakedness.
He who watched the second gate
asked me my name:
I gave it up and went on
walking nameless, just myself.
At the third gate
I had to give up my desire:
walked free, but
did not lose my thirst for you.
The fourth required of me
to leave behind my knowledge:
I surrendered all that I
had ever known, and all my works,
proceeded less a fool.
The fifth gate was such
that my body could not pass:
I left it there
but kept my essence going on.
At the sixth gate I declared
I carried only love,
and the guardian waved me on.

At the seventh gate
you received me, bade me through:
you kissed me, pitied me
and said that those had been
the seven gates of life, not death,
and that I was out of time.

New Delhi – December 2000.


End of Inquisitions