Meditations on Lost Psyche — Robert Nelson

Songs for the end of rhapsody


The thoughts that thrill the mind are of their time

and don’t transcend the hour from which they sprang.

We dream of fixing moments, holding smoke

that streams between the fingers as we clutch:

the harder is our grip, the less we grasp,

the more we squeeze it out and end the space.

I think my thoughts stand tall, expand, transmit,

are in a thousand listening ears at once,

that beauty which is shared could range beyond

and spread its happy humours outward, onward,

yet buoyed by copious vanity: how it’s mocked

when future ears are deaf and eyes are blind

to all the witnesses of closed experience!

To think that moments, cut from time, endure

and shed the very substance of their being,

as if the ashes of my intuition

once having birth in me would rise again,

and spread fecundly, striking fertile seed,

engendering thence prolific parturitions,

no longer me but mine in sempiternity!


My language dates me more than hoar and wrinkle.

The things I hear and see are all consigned

to ancient chambers, broken books and pictures

crazed with sombre layers; every screech

that shatters peace with piercing imposition

is either entertained within my library,

encrusted well with antique preconceptions,

or else disperses, muffled. It follows then

that all the things I say which find an ear

will either reach an alien shelf to rest on

or fly in air till nothing more is heard.


My consciousness is made from me. It lives

because I gave experience this receptacle:

me, that confluence of past events

whose meaning multiplies within the frame

that also hosts a will, a love, a hope.

In countless currents coursing over time

experience folds its meanings one by one

in rushing strands that overtake each other

until outreaching one another’s drift:

if breathless streams could reach an equilibrium

and form a pool, that patient pond were me,

a depth of aggregated droplets calmed

from high confusion into settled volume.


You too are like the waters, formed in flows

that share their changing substance wave by wave

with all contiguous fluids racing free

and then compounding thus to form your core.

Chaotic histories make us what we are,

both shared and random, striped with running strands

whose slippery likeness neither rises elsewhere

nor even might recur in you yourself.

Each moment lived is gone. But what we are

though nevermore is whole and indivisible,

of that integrity that singly trumps

the tossed vicissitudes of restless change,

to spell our final triumph: that we have been!


The immigrant

This shore is where I am and where I stay.

A home is something else, a place where waves

have crashed and wiped the basis of the past

that swims like flotsam, floorboards now unmoored

to toss their figments of a gentle future

in seething agitation. I came from there,

a gracious place of rich resplendent streets,

a place that now submits its distant grace

to present floods of monstrous weight and fury

as if submerged by all the zeal to own it.

It’s gone. The site remains but not the place itself

whose very fable now is cast adrift

like froth that mocks the ear by dampened roar

and whisks its foam in airborne permutations

as if to tell a path that leaves no trace.

If I could say: ‘that place was generous, warm,

of such a noble cast that sage and songster

migrated there, attracted by the conversation’,

unconsciously, you’d scornfully react:

‘how dare she speak of virtues from that place

that so refused to house her! Where’s her gratitude?

To celebrate the place that shut you out

insults the tolerant folk who took you in.’

And yet for me to reconcile these poles

defines my whole experience: these contentions

describe the person who I am and stay.

Sublime traditions perish; cultures ebb.

Another coast, less beaten by the storms,

receives my sad entreaty; tempests rage

within that country too; they too divide

like heavy waters caught in frenzied gales,

though condescending to the placid beach

to make a weak pretence of calm civility.

O great horizons shared by all the elements

and so comprising us of every contintent:

we still have time to mourn and start again.


The Storyteller

I bring seductive truth and sweet deceit,

unpleasant facts and also spiteful fibs

in guileful equipoise. No story told

has art or grace but something in the texture

enjoins your wishes, like the carded yarn

whose catchy fibres stretch their clumps of fluff

and pull their likeness to each other, threadlike,

to form a single line. Just so my stories

entreaty your desires in countless twists.

My diction rolls around your need to know

and folds it in with calm rhapsodic wiles.


My gentle pitch upon a grassy bank

where only things imagined flow and stay

belies the fearsome grip with which I clutch

the world’s imagination. The world is language

and all the stories make the ponderous sum

that is your larger life’s combined instruction.


The land itself contains a narrative. Whose?

A story woven by the original folk

or one of equal fantasy, one which says:

this land is yours to take at such a price

and then possess for endless profits hence?

Though stories map the river-course of history,

I never say: I speak for you alone

and therefore not for her who idly joined.

All stories presuppose a friendly audience.

Though artificial, weird, invented, wanton

provoking sadness with the Wyven’s cry,

my story comforts, pleases, makes a promise

and then disperses through the country air.


I live in transformations, and am myself

transformed beyond the orbits that I’ve spun.

Till now, my stories wind their loopy skeins

on faithful bobbins pegged upon a loom;

but now the story boasts a heavier weave

of endless capital, entrepreneurs who seize

the gift that is the luscious narrative poison

and turn it out on vast industrial scale.

The story might be mine but not to keep.

Once trafficked far the story gets its fame

from those who take it on and build it up

who act, design, direct, produce and market

in corporate plans beyond the story’s edge.

I’m gone and yet I stay. What story next?


The Orientalist

My world was horizontal, tame and perfect.

The charming reason for my studious being

was for curating nature and to polish,

to render perfect nature yet more scrupulous.

This horizontal world lies flat like me

to match a point to which all parts defer.

The bridge is for a path, the bush a prospect,

the tree’s a temple made for tone and balm,

the grass a carpet, nature’s minimal way

to show respect to greater things and lords.

This kind vignette submits its glorious peace

to open up the heart to perfect days

where nature and our minds are intertwined.


Yet now the world is vertical. Townscapes soar

and all around the towers implacable symbols

express ambition, zeal and endless energy.

Where once exotic things were borne in miniature

they now achieve distinction in their vastness,

in noise and tumble, height and brightest flash.

Retiring nature now means twice the fantasy.

It always was imaginary, even when

in feudal times the garden kept its bud

to mimic stately pleasures by its ornament;

but now this leafy haven hangs its fronds

in pictures, virtual vistas, branded horticultures.


I’m not and never was my garden’s gardener.

I make the garden yours and make myself

that gladsome image which you’d most possess

if gardens could be ploughed with vigorous seed

and turn their fertile beds to sprouting shoots,

where limbs that languish rise in virile regrowth.

This damp and porous place I keep for you.

It has no purpose other than for us.


The Troubadour

My song transfers from place to place and lives

by sundry skies to thrill the eager stalls;

it draws its borrowed breath from those who hear

and makes communal empathy by enchantment.

My tent is swollen with the infectious sounds

that so engorge the ear with complex harmony

that words and music billow forth their consonance

till every humble cell forgets its lowness

but reaches out in uncontainable buoyancy.

I too am filled with public inspiration

and crave that crowd that waits and sits for me

and harks, despite the numbers, like a friend

who joins in confidential intimate closeness.

I animate hundreds; they, though, animate me.

But then the mob moves on and leaves me here

to plan my next appearance somewhere else.


To play the minstrel leaves me on the edge

of being who I am through love-sick song;

I trade my sadness, trysting for a while

till people gain the measures of my plaint.

The happy chant belongs to someone else

who knows to make the listener share the bliss

as if the very ownership of pleasure

could be transferred by music’s dancing pitch

and you, the reveller, love to be seduced

to prove that rightful claim to access joy

whenever whim should strike and work bows out.

Not me. My music tickles languid heart-ache

a world inside where aspirations clash

with amorous hardship, all the heart’s travails

that sleep their torpid dreams in listless chords,

and rise and fall as if their cadence imitates

some reasoned march of passion, consolations,

a solace borne in sweet but strained abstractions.

If I were glum, it’s only that this song

has spent its melody nor will chime again.


The Poet

I sing of moody existential moments,

narrations cast between a static picture

and epic tales that start and end in passion.

My subject isn’t just the scene or story

but rather how my language gains a grip

on each conception, every word or phrase

arising in the texture of the thought.

To know that thought has weave and fold and stitch

commits our hasty diction to the warp of time

where all the threads that make our story hang

stretch out their grid in quaintly laboured metres

as if their loom encased the thought’s experience.

O rhythmic object, ply your twisty artifice

and make your tidy convolutions spell

the fabric’s fringe beyond the argument!

The art of language means extrapolation

a word beyond the word whose sideway tug

invokes extensions, lateral wanton meanings.

O metaphor, slip and churn, distract the term!

Define the insight as a form that runs,

that madly scurries over facts and fictions

to seek suspected parallels, not a monument!

The handsome word that sings is just a symbol

whose thrust is most direct when least contained,

as if to muster seas and soaring skies

the word has shifting fins and beating wings,

that dives and glides in atmospheric volume

to clinch whatever existential moment

might hover through the thickest clouds of memory.


My craft is now dismissed as convolution,

not talking straight, obscure, indulgent, idle.

An anxious culture seeks control of language

and calls for rationality, verbal plasma

that’s free of colour, symbol, skew analogy,

a non-elitist language good for children

that never mimics how the mind proceeds,

how language seeks organic correspondence

to hatch ideas distilled from random wishes.

What desolation now defines the field

I know too well: it sits around our eyes

with dull discredit to the fanciful impulse,

a wasteland built from economic modules

of no creative flight of near and far

that sharply hems our every flounce and feather

to bring discouraged wit to rest in ruins.


The Antiquarian

My mother’s tongue is English. English language

creates the scaffold of the thoughtful edifice

that is my intellectual shrine and temple.

My education, though, has many storeys

that rise from deep foundations built with stones

that antedate my towering mother tongue

and also jamb their blocks from other places,

exhumed from ancient Greek and Roman soils

with lustrous crystals grown to hold the glint

of sun-struck lands with brilliant myth and lore.

I study ancient texts, divine their sense

and take their meaning home to lay my walls,

my claim to hold the past and stretch my footprint

upon the classic ground that props my birthright.

The past and present both secure my place.

Italian, French and Spanish, sundry others:

their accents give me access, path and road

to claim and boast familiar conversation

not only with the folk but with the place.

I seize the language, seize the precious card

whose writing grants the passport and authority.

From there, I seize the fine impassive marble

from careful excavations, digs and shops

whose agents know the archaeological price

and gladly sell their cultural goods to me.


I know you scorn my project, hate my claim;

your judgement crimps my page with deprecation

and all my learned papers prove to you

that scholars turn their arts to pious treachery

denuding those whose soil they would befriend

of all that once belonged to them and theirs,

their humble heritage, reassigned to me,

so stripping them by charm of precious ancestry.

I feel your keen contempt. The shovel’s edge

now disinters my rest and reputation;

it’s wrested from my grasp and starts to dig

beneath my feet, my seat, my proper place,

by angry hands that want their treasures back.

I’m gone and blame has buried all my hopes.

No history helps me now. But note, brave critics:

that sanctimonious sneer and cold disdain

that you direct to me is yours in future.

You all retain an antiquarian soul

and carpetbag the whole of cultural experience.

No person lives who ever learnt of Others

but didn’t grow by taking foreign stock,

by making friends, exploit colonial language

and then abscond, enriched with fat identities,

and with impatience dropping any obligation

to cross the broken bridge of fractured time

and bring the plunder back. Oh no, oh no,

you make the cunning rapprochements to brag

that I was there and understood the Other.

In modern guise you’re just as rude as me

but I had faith where you are only sly.


The Summer Clown

The seasons change and I transmute with them.

Today the air is calm and time can stretch

through humid grossness, almost slowing down

as if held back in atmospheric inertia

to drag its languid hours through denser measures.

The light itself retards its course but grows the brighter

by hanging longer, bearing luminosity

as if the rays could aggregate their shine

by whiling longer through the hazy air.

And so with time, the heady breezes waft

as if distracting all the things we count,

to lull the steady beat of marching seconds.

So time itself is stretched but then compressed,

seduced in step but cloyed with thicker presence.


How nature, like myself, has timeless rhythms

of faint subjective long and short durations

composed in constant hum, a thrill, a tickle!

This light and heavy mole of time and air

reminds me just how like an insect I,

how like a buzzing gnat that gads about

with pretty wings and frenzied stroke and flutter

who lives a busy day without exhaustion

but then will perish, going beyond its pace,

not tired, never sensing time as spent

but gobbled up, consumed and at an end.
Ephemeral act! My fine serene performance

projects a tranquil soul but struggles madly.

I’ll only last this season. Autumn comes

and all the measured scenes within my play

will toll the time to quit and leave the stage.

Mind you, my season comes again: it blows

with eerie regularity back to shore

and all my springy steps can recommence.


For you, however, the changing seasons stop.

You live indoors in constant filtered air

consuming foods of several disparate climates.

Your transport masks the sky and bans the breeze

with bland denial of hot and cold in cycles

afforded by immense expense of energy.

Your planet doesn’t turn, respects no orbit.

Your comfort needs no humour nor distraction.

Your satisfaction shapes its needy course

by arch complaints that something isn’t perfect,

like restless children spoilt by absent love

constructing all relations on the gripe,

the bitter spleen of automatic resentment

that more is owing—more is my entitlement—

for which no flood or endless tide can compensate.

But here’s the happy truth to break your frown:

the antidote to brat remains the clown.


The Duchess

My aristocratic lace, though once a symbol

of haughty status now adorns vulgarity.

Now every person has the aspiration

and better still by modest means at large.

The captured takes her captor captive. Thus

though gone, I still enshrine persistent hope

where privilege can’t begrudge dissemination.

Prestige and wealth are all that people want,

beyond their health, by social organization.

Democracy only makes my values grow

in mass consumption, marketing, commerce, ads

whose underlying pulse describes your zeal

to go beyond yourself in high prosperity,

exceed your nature, be more gorgeous, young

and rich, for which our culture makes its pledge.


Democracy, do your work and spread your blare,

your loud and raucous din of contestation!

Where once a despot ruled in rigid silence

a thousand tyrants strive to gain a perch

and screech their wild appeal to public deafness.

Like angry birds that seek to lead their flock,

pretenders all around make protestations

whose flap and fury dive and rise and plunge

to guide the lead to no gregarious purpose.

A spirit born of fairness, set to glide

through thick tumultuous air with noble freedom

alas achieves a consonance of squawks,

where difference jockeys for a higher pitch.

The public buildings laid on deep foundations

that boast controlled and settled styles and ornament

are like a cage for shrieking beaks and feathers.

Our politicians now transact their yelling

beyond the bars in media built for show

where fast amusements reach their speedy pace

for rapid superficial entertainment.

Debates of serious kind detest this platform.

It makes the mountains stoop beneath the clouds

the rivers stanch their flow and dry their banks;

no natural earnest language knows its place;

no breath of wisdom streams the vapid air

but that it first belongs to entertainment.


Democracy, run! You need a safer place

to hark and speak to those who want to hear.

Your soul is all contention not with voices

projecting wise or bad ideas in struggle:

the competition lies between the topic

and greedy market discourse promising bliss,

with values set on selling superior lives

by goods and services made for gross consumption.

The leaders speak to one another’s theme:

with me, you’re better off; you’ll have more money;

with me, you’ll pay less tax and work for more;

with me, you’re earning more and paying less.

These tawdry claims cement the ugly discourse

that none can alter. No sustainability

can enter there, no talk of other values

that aren’t composed of greed or mean resentment.


From grim autocracy now you’ve seized the hate

and turned it into hope with broken trumpets.

You wrangle fairness, yet in blasting waves

you duplicate the error. Participation

has disappeared; the public disengages

and lets its thousand tyrants course at large

with venal promise, vulgar rants and insults

to make absurd emotion do its work

and let the less unworthy team prevail.

The left discards its virtues like the right

to follow any popular chance in sight.


The Merchant

For foreign ports I sent the sacred leaf

whose weak infusions lend such mighty force

to slow and many-folded contemplation.

I saw my trade as blessings from afar,

that gilded swill would swirl in foreign cups

and bring delight to me as well as them

who ply their trade in other spheres to mine.

In time, I sold the china, lacquer, paper,

and sundry wares that pleased a growing market.

The manufactures here increased in vigour

like plants that rise on soil enriched with dung.

The exports thrived and struck their business roots

in every kind of clay or silty bed

where hungry folk would gladly fill my carts

with all that spawned an invoice. It made me rich;

the ships, the warehouse: these were like my toys

upon a board-game, jointly chance and wisdom,

entailing loans and irksome threatening risks.

So even now in envied high prosperity

unsettled qualms attend my grateful leisure.

My fortunes, sure, are stable, full of equity;

but commerce has no bounds nor even compass.

It spreads like empire, keen to make its inroads,

encroaching everywhere, crushing competition

like rival weeds that still pretend to grass.


I sold in bulk, where now the jars and bags

are hijacked by their label. Now the contents

assume their value not by taste or substance

but immaterial virtues superimposed

by branding, marketing, claims to global fashion.

I didn’t know, while building grand emporia

that this my work would lead to globalization.

This force has flattened mountains, seas and values.

I didn’t know that selling things that people want

would one day make a world that’s just a market.

No sacred things exist unless they’re marketed

and therefore match industrialized desire.

The things that people did uncued by commerce

have died beside the stronger stimulations

of sexy youthful fantasies, greed, prestige,

excitement felt by jingling: this is currency!

The popular made by claiming popularity

in endless reels of solipsistic illusion!

Beside these signals, nought retains its charm.

A tune upon the pipe has winded breath;

a basket woven with those self-same hands

is like a tomb for lost naïve autonomy;

a walk, a wide idea, a conversation,

a blessed moment spent in holy contact,

these ancient joys are either gone or languish,

unsponsored by a market, ad-campaign

or promise, like a gift of false identity.

To be immune from commerce means to die.

No zeal by marketing takes the concept on.

A joy, though intellectual, meets its doom

for want of minting by the mill of fantasy.


All pious cultures now confront their end.

Triumphal globalization scorns their spirits.

As holy wars erupt, I know their reason.

The priests declare that ‘we reject your culture,

your market porn, your meretricious brands,

co-opting all our youth to learn prestige

from false enticements steeped in sex and cash’.

I too despise this global force and wish

that commerce stayed the servant, not the chief.


The Daydreamer

This tranquil sky with tardy breeze is mine.

I own the waters, sands and far horizon.

I boast: my empire reaches, further, further,

than feet can tread or calculation measure,

that all around the globe it wraps its arc

of such immense diameter. So large it is

that only in my inmost intimate thought

can such a scale be felt; and then it shrinks

to me as if that compass point that turns the orb.

The sun can never set beneath this canopy

as more will spool around. Eternal daylight

distributes myriad kisses upon the ground;

the seas that gently stir reflect the rays

and send their languid dazzle through the clouds

where space describes the infinite dome of dreams.


To own the elements doesn’t require estates,

dominions, palaces, holdings; nor, indeed

is peace obtained by owning costly property:

more likely such possession spoils the gift

and taints the grace of time and space that float

with anxious cares and anchorage. Nor does travel

conduct your soul beyond the clutch of zeal

that fills you both with greed and indignation

that time and space deny you opportunities

and so you hunger more and still resent

that while you’ve travelled here you can’t be there

and when you’re there you can’t be somewhere else.


To claim the mighty arch that spans the heavens

requires no solitude either. I bask in peace

but like the space, it’s something made by me.

Around my figure a dense and turbulent throng

betakes its hectic business hither and thither;

a teaming surge of human company seethes

in constant uproar, locked in fervid tumult.

Why not? The world is made of endless movement

and who can blame my friends for tireless energy

for thriving thus and making raucous noise?

To dream by day means taking leave of scorn,

forget complaining, take the noisy company

and find the nook in time, the breach of moments,

that interstitial blessing: that’s my consciousness!


To dream by day is free; and there’s the rub.

Who drives a dream? Who gives it stingy strategy?

To which aggressive plan can dreams belong

that makes the corporate individual pay?

Construct your dreams as hope, as sharp ambition.

Let’s redefine the dream as hungry zeal

that turns to bitter anger once denied;

let’s market dreams, demand that people have them,

declare their dreams as needing wakeful help

to climb toward an aspirational nightmare

where new fulfilment aches by old frustration

and closed desires beckon hope to failure.

Condemn the daydream: henceforth no one wanders.

A life is planned. Within it certain holidays

are set aside and even these have blueprints.

The plan for life expunges empty moments.

That child’s distracted, dreaming through the day,

and needs instruction. Fix her loosened stare:

let vigorous motivation structure feelings

to set a course against depressive dangers,

to prime her best for goals in competition.

Then learn to strive; denounce the daydream: go!


Achieve your business, great competitive culture!

With all your striving, nought to dream remains.

The daydream’s gone; instead, the anxious checklist

describes a ledger signed by disappointment.

Rip up your registry; lose your sterile catalogue

where scripted leisure equals dissatisfaction!

I know to dream and rhapsodize endless calm,

transcend the end of garbled teleology

and leave a world of reckless agitation

to learn in infinite charmed expatiation.



Robert Nelson

October 2014