Posts Tagged ‘moral’

no choice

the gut argues for
sexual congress — never
such raw compulsion
as now — two bodies wholly
determined to do their thing

In 1969 Ian McKellen toured playing Marlowe’s Edward II, which I saw at the age of thirteen at the New Theatre Cardiff. Ironic, given at that point in my life I was oblivious to any homosexual feelings — nevertheless I was profoundly impressed and moved by the representation on stage of the historically fairly-accurate love affair between Edward II and his court favourite Piers Gaveston. Twenty years later, a dream told me that that particular couple had had ‘no choice’ — it had been fated — and I knew immediately, awake, that this had been my own feeling about my own gay love affair on which I embarked in 1971. Some decisions come from such a deep place that they can only be right however much misery and heartache they subsequently bring.

In my dream last night I was embracing another man’s wife. My poem describes the dynamic between us quite well. She was Judith whom I knew in 1977 by her maiden name of Everard. I was thoroughly smitten, but she was out of my league. Not in any carnal sense, for I don’t think she would have been interested in ‘sex before marriage’ in any case. But morally out of my league. She had a strength of character and integrity which I lacked. She has stayed firmly on a pedestal in my memory for the last forty years. It feels momentous to dream of her now as another man’s wife amenable to being seduced by me. I have dreamed of her reasonably often over the years, but cannot recall any similar dream where she comes down off her pedestal so decisively. In the dream, I was mainly concerned for my own unfaithfulness, not hers. I knew I’d betrayed Liz, and was looking desperately for ways of remedying the situation.

Guinevere

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.

moral

relativity –
where the light shines for as long
as the dark permits

Last night I dreamed of Darth Vader. Wasn’t surprised. It’s at least as good a way of conceptualising absolute evil as the Nazgul two nights ago. Am a passionate relativist and this poem pleases me as helping me towards understanding what I actually mean by that. It seems to be inextricable from another passionate belief, which I guess comes out in the poem – that darkness is more powerful than light. That may not be literally true. It may not even be philosophically true. But it’s something to bear in mind as a necessary counterpoise to the inane positivity that human beings generally tend to strive after, and which can never be anything but overloaded in the direction of the light.

otherness

if I could only
get beyond my own contempt —
I might see the world

I have been worried in the past week or two, to find myself remembering nothing whatever of my dreams each morning. In terms of organised religion, I am a complete dilettante — unable to derive satisfaction from religion at all, because my loyalty is spread so thinly between so many different ones. But if there were such a religion as ‘paying attention to one’s dreams’, then I would be a lifelong pious devotee. Hence my unease and even alarm when I don’t recall anything at all in the morning. Finally this morning I remembered a small fragment. I was playing soccer, dribbling towards the enemy goal. I encountered a boy named Stephen Venables (a contemporary of mine at school), but felt desperate to know if he was on my side or the opposing team. This unanswered question was left hanging.

This poem is about contempt, which is the only word to describe how I felt towards Venables in reality. He was much better at football than me. I was much better at schoolwork than him. His father was a vocal supporter of the school rugby team whereas I had made it into the team if anything despite rather than because of my father. It’s a question whether the contempt in this poem is mine or my father’s. And by the time I had thought about this for a little, it became a poem about a sort of generalised blind contempt with no object. I grew up dealing with (or not dealing with) my father’s tendency to pour his contempt onto specific people behind their back. Or indeed to their face, indirectly. My attitude to Venables mimicked my father’s towards various people. But how did my Dad get to be like that?

I saw former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks being interviewed yesterday, by journalist Andrew Marr. He was talking about how the Book of Genesis shows us how to recognise ourselves in the ‘other’ (Cain and Abel for instance). I was impressed with his sincerity compared with the general run of politicians and journalists who talk about politics on Marr’s show most of the time. In my dream, Venables is either ‘on my side’ or else on the opposing side — in which case he is by definition ‘other’. And so I can draw a moral from the entire experience of dream/poem, which amounts to this: Contempt is a defence against otherness. Like I said — paying attention to one’s dreams can be like a sort of religion.

moral

where do I get my
categories and concepts
concerning evil
versus good? — why do I live
gripped by their fascination?

I dreamed of Tim Watts, my Cambridge roommate, for the 2nd night running. He was a strong character and I realised after I’d left Cambridge how much I’d benefited from sharing college rooms with him over the previous two years. In retrospect, his Roman Catholicism took on an importance it never had while I was at Cambridge, although I did accompany him once to Mass during that time. Within a year of graduation, I’d decided to convert (from Anglicanism, in which I was brought up). While it’s true these memories kickstarted this poem, the poem isn’t really about Catholicism or even Christianity. Which is older? The idea of a good supernatural force and an evil one? Or the universal human tendency to find meaning in the terms ‘good’ and ‘evil’ to start with? Either way, these are mental processes which are surely much, much older than Christianity or any present day religion. I believe Nietzsche discussed these issues at length. I have never had the patience to read one of his books all the way through, and I am more interested in the utter mystery of where the power of these ideas (‘good’ and ‘evil’) comes from, and in refusing to take them for granted, than in having them necessarily debunked in the way Nietzsche seems to set out to do.

adulthood

the discovery
of courage to do evil
by the grace of God

This poem took me by surprise this morning. I was struggling just a little with the fact that I could barely remember any dreams. As far as I can remember, I seemed to be saving both myself and possibly society, by finding the courage to sleep with David Bowie. Not that sleeping with David Bowie would be an act of evil. But certainly an act of courage. And his stage persona, for me at any rate, has always been the embodiment of both sexual and moral ambiguity. I have conjured this in the poem by juxtaposing two incompatible extremes in an unusual way (‘courage’, ‘grace’ and ‘God’ juxtaposed with ‘evil’). I think my poem is probably open to considerable misinterpretation. I am not offering a universal truth, with this definition of adulthood. Yesterday I ran up against an all-too-familiar stumbling block. I started talking about myself as being a ‘Jungian’ — which always makes me feel amazingly foolish, and this time was no different. This morning I seem still to be trying to process this. The poem encapsulates my understanding of the most daring end of Jung’s thinking.

Lofty

mornings, clear-seeing
through the lens of poetry,
things fall into place

Having forgotten my dreams yesterday morning, there was no poem, and now I’m back in my morning slot again, I think today’s poem must be some kind of ‘glad to be back’ greeting. Lofty was the name of a character in Eastenders when Eastenders started on TV in the mid-eighties. I used to find it a little uncanny that Lofty and me were so similar. Last night in my dream I was arguing passionately that politics must be moral. Hence lofty in the other sense.