Posts Tagged ‘courage’


the courage to do
wrong — all our very cheapest
stories recognise
— in some blind way — that nothing
makes sense like a paradox

My last night’s dream was really quite powerful and significant. It entailed my being seduced by Beryl Graves, the wife of the poet Robert Graves. Currently I am reading his historical novel Count Belisarius, and finding it a little bit tedious. Graves is an important figure for me. He captured my imagination in my mid-twenties, when I was struggling with so-called ‘psychotic’ experiences, and I made the journey to his house in Spain, in 1982, to try and gain enlightenment from the great man. I knocked on the door and was kindly entertained for an hour by his wife (then in her sixties) while Robert himself sat inert in a wheelchair. He was 87 and had retreated into dementia.


infinite vista

within me — there’s more
wealth, more courage, more beauty
— more exquisitely
cruel ignorance — than my
soul will ever comprehend

I did try hard with this poem. Last night I dreamed of a girl and a guy on a blind date. The guy was clearly me — he had written some lovely music — and I exclaimed that this music was just like the music I used to try and write — only better! At one time in my life, in reality, I did entertain ambitions of becoming a composer. The girl was a girl to whom, in reality, I am attracted quite a lot. She is thirty years younger than me, so I tend to deal with my attraction in real life by denying it. It is painful to have to realise, thinking about this dream, that there is a much more pronouncedly romantic flavour to my feelings for her, than I am capable of holding properly in consciousness. The poem is about that contradiction — that discrepancy — between what the dream shows me, and what I am able to accept.

grim truth

was I better off
homeless and mentally ill?
I possess enough
imagination — but not
the courage — to believe it

It’s a familiar thought. When I tell my story of recovery from mental illness, for an audience, I make a point of floating the idea that I was better off homeless, or at least suggesting that there was a loss involved for me, in becoming ‘normal’. But I never allow myself to believe it completely. In my dream last night there was a kind of lift shaft, but it was bottomless. Myself and a couple of others were perched precariously near the edge, at the top, and it was understood that someone had actually fallen. I chose to believe it might be possible that she would have landed in water and been able to swim to safety through an underground river. In writing my poem, I felt suddenly aware how protected from the fact of my own (and for that matter, other people’s) mortality I am, in my cocoon of ‘normality’, my bubble of safety and prosperity. That’s a terrible indictment of normality, safety and prosperity. And in that moment I briefly grasped what I habitually evade: it could be true quite literally, and completely, that I was better off in that previous era of my life when I was homeless.

personal history

my inner child’s heart
will preserve its innocence —
even should the world’s
evil speak using my voice
— act employing my own hands

We are all storytellers, and the inner child reveals itself by the stories it loves. It loves its own story of course, above all, and the story of its own innocence which it rehearses, in one form or another, constantly. These reflections were provoked by noticing how scared I was, this morning, by the memory of my last night’s dreams and by my latest pornography lapse (yesterday evening). In part, the dream itself contained this fear. I was handed some cake by a woman whose hands were diseased, and I was scared of contagion. But funnily enough, another dream last night involved my rescuing an MI5 agent who was drowning in a river — I didn’t feel as though the courage was mine, it seemed to come from somewhere else. So, unlike in the poem, it was good rather than evil which was acting through me.


so much sheer terror
within me, of Life itself
— human discourse trades
shamelessly in denial —
I befriend my fears alone

This has turned out more or less exactly the poem I wanted to write. I was inspired by dreaming of Dina Lecache, the girl I met in Israel in 1983. She was one of my many romantic failures, but one of the ones I loved the best. I suppose from there, I fell to thinking of how I failed in a more general way as a young man, to grasp life’s opportunities. I never plunged in but always held back. I was frankly scared. Having that kind of past puts a weird strain on existing in the present. Although I feel different, I suspect myself of being still at heart the coward I always was. And how many other cowards are there, out there? We wouldn’t know, because we sustain our social relationships on (what seems to me very largely fictional) courage.

Vivien’s courage

the sky shits blood — bomb
after nuclear bomb, they
drop like rain — somehow
I dodge them all, dancing my
absurd dance of denial

If trying to dodge nuclear bombs suggests denial, what kind of alternative response would indicate acceptance? Standing, arms stretched wide in welcome? Maybe yes in fact. I also dreamed my father was affirming and encouraging my interest in learning New Testament Greek. He says (in the dream) he knew someone who ditched theological studies and was left the poorer ‘with nothing to be afraid of’. Yesterday I was thinking of my copy of the Greek New Testament which I had in the eighties. In the introduction it explained that normal practice among the Romans was to crucify people on a singe upright stake. Chances are about 90% in favour of believing that Jesus was crucified on a single upright stake with no crossbar. The central symbol of Christianity — Christ on the cross — is well worth examining critically. I am still reading Painted Shadow by Carole Seymour-Jones, about Vivien, first wife of T.S. Eliot. And still finding it disturbing and distressing in the extreme. Maybe both dream and poem reflect this. She was an excellent dancer apparently. Thinking of the nightmare which was her life, the image came to mind yesterday of a woman crucified on the cross: the only image to sum up what they did to Vivien. In terms of theology, what if God had crucified his own daughter, rather than his own son? What if we were required by Christianity to pray to a woman on the cross? How absurd would that be?

therapy session

while I talk, his eyes
have a habit of rolling
back in their sockets —
is he dozing? — or is it
his way of concentrating?

In my dream, I was seated outside a pub or restaurant and suddenly noticed I could see a woman’s reflection in the window and she was revealing all her most private parts. Although interested, I decided to close my eyes politely and pretend to doze. Awake, this reminds me of a Jungian psychotherapist I had for a couple of years 2006-08, and his habit of seeming to doze while I was talking — while I was presumably revealing all about myself. Yesterday I had my quarterly psychiatrist’s appointment. Oddly, although I regard medical psychiatry as a complete fraud and Jungian psychotherapy as something more like a path to enlightenment, I have a much better relation with my psychiatrist than I did with the therapist. I cannot imagine the psychiatrist ever dozing while I speak (to be fair, the therapist was well into his eighties). My decision in the dream, to close my eyes against the sight of the vulva, suggests some kind of choice in waking life. Negatively, it could mean a choice to avoid becoming conscious (of my own feminine side?). Positively, it could refer to the decision not to watch pornography. In real life yesterday, I was telling the psychiatrist of my hopes that perhaps now I will be able to give up dallying with internet pornography for good — since a couple of weeks ago I finally confessed to my partner that I’ve been suffering from such a problem every now and again, ever since I’ve known her (13 years). The secrecy did seem to be feeding the habit. So I am hopeful. But, hearing myself trot out this pious hope to remain ‘clean’ for the rest of my life — I did feel like a slight phoney. Or at least, as though I were somehow missing the point. As long as it still seems like the end of the world if I lapse, chances are, that in itself will be enough to ensure that I lapse. But also, the choice to avoid becoming conscious is a perfectly valid one. Sometimes conventional morality — even if it is a kind of sleep — works wonders.