Posts Tagged ‘symbol’


what can I create?
— to match that fantastical
freedom to believe —
that gift of the madman to
himself — anything I like

Ten years ago I tried to write a memoir of my madness. It ran to 600 pages before I shelved it. But I’ve never quite given up the ambition to see myself in print. Yesterday I spent an hour or two drafting a new opening chapter for the umpteenth time. I saw clearer than ever, that madness was something I first encountered (and in some sense, actually chose) in the person of my gay lover at the age of fifteen. This translated into the image of him as a spider in last night’s dreams. He was crawling around inside my bed and I was very much afraid I had squashed him by mistake in my sleep. But no — he had survived after all. The implication, by simple algebraic equivalence — goes something like this. Call my lover X. Call madness Y. Call the spider Z. And then X = Y, X = Z, therefore Y = Z. Lover equals madness, lover equals spider, therefore spider equals madness. Back in the day when I used to read the Collected Works of C.G.Jung avidly, there was one small paragraph on the spider which drew my attention, where he interprets the symbol of the spider as a warning against madness. The quote does not appear to be on the ‘web’ (ha, ha) but it revolved around a pun, a play on the meaning of the verb ‘to spin’ in German which apparently can be used to mean ‘going mad’.



when the worst human
nature can do has been done
— hope is discovered
in the ritual sharing
of hot mulled wine at Christmas

I dreamed I was ladling out some kind of drink. It could have been soup. Or hot mulled wine. With me was Barbara Windsor. In another part of the dream I was in bed with the Queen Mother. Both these women were important to me at a symbolic level, in the eighties. They both appeared to me as having something of the goddess about them. The poem is really a reflection on how it feels in reality, at that moment when you reach down with the ladle into the mulled wine — a profound connection with so many thousand years of human history — since the time the very first apemen and women cupped their hands and offered a drink to another apeman or woman. And I felt that connection reaching forwards into the future too. Whatever happens on our planet in terms of climate change and the collapse of civilisation, or not, there will still be hope, there will still be this kind of ritual. There are also resonances for me with my personal life at the moment. Still suffering the shockwaves within, from my own behaviour towards my stepdaughter last week, in helping throw out her old schoolbooks behind her back. And beginning to realise it is not the end of the world. Or maybe it is. But that doesn’t preclude a rebirth of hope. I have always loved mulled wine at Christmas, and it also happens to be something my stepdaughter loves too.

mythical beast

the greatheartedness
God Himself symbolises
remains a distant
vision — I cannot make it
happen in the here and now

In my dream, I felt inspired to take a stand on a high place, seizing a pestle (or is it a mortar? anyhow the phallic component of the mortar and pestle) from out of my pocket, and brandishing it as a makeshift self-defence against several different wild animals all at once. I was really just hoping for the best, with no idea what I was doing or why or how. Down below me in the sea there was a whale, and it was seeing the whale which had somehow given me the idea of taking a stand. My poem is really a kind of meditation on the symbol of the whale. In the dream, the battle with the animals ended when an ordinary domestic cat got through my defences and clung to my breast — turning out to be a friend rather than an enemy. Awake, I am reminded of a scene in The Horse and His Boy by C.S.Lewis, where Aslan comes to a frightened young boy in a graveyard in the middle of the night, in the form of a domestic cat cuddling up to him. Our own domestic cats were very important to me as I was growing up and this was one of my favourite passages in the Narnia books. Maybe the reason the poem reflects so sadly on the difference between the me I would like to be and the me I am, is because I continue to struggle so unsuccessfully with the pornography habit. I should really call this blog perhaps: Pornography and Poetry!


one human being
or the human race — which of
these contains deeper
self-ignorance? — who can see
clearly into his own heart?

I’m afraid this is just a bit too contrived, and the overall effect of so much striving after profundity is triteness. I dreamed I was homeless in the rain. I wandered into a town or city in the North of England with an ancient-looking Town Hall. Was it Victorian or mediaeval? A bit like Bruges. Or Gormenghast. It felt simultaneously familiar and foreign, known and unknown. My poem was based on the idea, what if the whole human race and its civilisation were actually symbolic of everything least known about myself? This is surely a bit counterintuitive. And in that case, where does the darkest self-ignorance reside? In me, or in the human race as a whole? Maybe it isn’t a meaningful question. On the other hand, is there anything of greater importance than the difference between self-ignorance and self-knowledge? And is this quest for self-knowledge, in that case, a collective one or an individual one? Presumably both at once. On the whole, it’s actually easier to think of an individual person as being capable of self-knowledge (and therefore self-ignorance), compared with the whole human race. I can’t really think these things through very effectively. But important to try.


an erect penis —
so much more than an item
of biology

Against the odds, I’ve managed a half-decent attempt to capture in words the flavour of last night’s dream. I found contemplation of the dream quite disturbing and depressing, and I began to despair of finding any kind of acceptable representation for the issues it raises. As a teenager, I had French horn lessons, because my father had been a French horn player. The French horn I learned on was his, the French horn teacher was someone he knew professionally. Then when I was 16 I moved to London and had a new teacher — a younger man with much more awareness of the latest ideas on horn technique. I had severe emotional problems and although obviously he could see that was the case, he rarely displayed anything other than suppressed impatience with the pathetic mass of insecurities which was me. But he was a good teacher who improved my playing, and we somehow found a way of working together. In my dream last night he seemed to be concentrating deliberately on sustaining an erection while he was teaching me. The penis was hanging visible. I thought I had to imitate him. At the literal level, I should make it clear this dream refers to nothing that ever took place in real life. At the symbolic level, I guess manhood (or assertiveness) was somehow the issue between us. I was a closet gay at that time. In the dream I was fascinated in a horrified way by the penis. In reality he was quite an assertive character. I used to hate his assertiveness, because he seemed so deliberately unsympathetic. But I had nothing better to offer.


a symbol is a
spiritual metaphor
— the material
world in its entirety
strikes me as probably that

I was eating pomegranate seeds in my dream. Then I was trying to decide whether it was advisable or even possible, to explain to people around me, what I believe about extra-terrestrial intelligence(s). This poem is my best effort this morning to do just that. The faculty of consciousness in itself constitutes the most impenetrably mysterious area of the unknown we are ever likely to encounter in our respective journeys through our lives. It may seem like a perfectly arbitrary belief, plucked from nowhere — but I do in fact believe that that unknown region at the very centre of our conscious awareness has to be some kind of portal where, unwittingly, we have the potential to know the cosmic ‘other’. It’s a moot point whether, in encountering our unknown selves, we are caught up in a symbolic enactment of an encounter with aliens — or whether vice versa (as Jung thought) the idea ‘alien’ symbolises ‘self’. Either way, by implication, those huge interstellar distances across the material universe have turned out to be an illusion and also a symbol, both at once. I can’t help wondering if — with so much congruence between on the one hand mystery in the form of ‘consciousness’ and, on the other, mystery in the form of the idea ‘alien’— I might just as well have done with it and claim them both to be identical. Maybe the drama of our lives which seems so human, is actually cosmic not just in a metaphorical sense, but in some literal sense as well. It sounds crazy to say we are aliens, but we just don’t know what we are. It seems quite plausible to me that each individual human drama here on earth could be having repercussions on the other side of the galaxy or universe, among some other race or community of races, where they are aware of each other and of us, mentally, even though we are not aware of them. In that case we would be members of a community of aliens without knowing it. In this I go further than Jung, although he thought seriously about these things. As well as his Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies, I just googled Jung UFO and found a scanned letter to an American in 1957 in which he says:

The problem of the UFOs is, as you rightly say, a very fascinating one, but it is as puzzling as it is fascinating; since, in spite of all observations I know of, there is no certainty about their very nature. On the other side, there is an overwhelming material pointing to their legendary or mythological aspect. As a matter of fact the psychological aspect is so impressive, that one almost must regret that the UFOs seem to be real after all. I have followed up the literature as much as possible and it looks to me as if something were seen and even confirmed by radar, but nobody knows exactly what is seen.


I hold my breath — swim
underwater — re-emerge
again and again
— what is the sea? — a place of
death — or life — or both at once?

Diving underwater as a Jungian symbol of encounter with the unconscious, has been a constantly recurring dream image throughout my life. Four or five years ago, I heard Janice Hartley give a brief talk about her understanding of how The Hero’s Journey (a recurrent theme across all the world’s mythologies) can help make sense of so-called mental illness. I was deeply impressed. When I was a child I had a paperback by Rosemary Sutcliffe with illustrations by Charles Keeping, which was a retelling of Beowulf. It should have hit me sooner than this morning, that my lifelong-recurring dream of diving (in which I feel myself to be the hero) connects with the myth of Beowulf. Isn’t it about time I got to grips with Beowulf, the original poem? Sadly I find I seem to have culled my copy of Seamus Heaney’s translation!