Monthly Archives: August 2008

God’s cryptography

I recall one of my oldest ideas. The Czar is the leader and spiritual father of a hundred and fifty million men. An atrocious responsibility which is only apparent. Perhaps he is not responsible to God, but rather to a few human beings. If the poor of his empire are oppressed during his reign, if immense catastrophes result from that reign, who knows if the servant charged with shining his boots is not the real and sole person guilty? In the mysterious dispositions of the Profundity, who is really Czar, who is king, who can boast of being a mere servant?

— Léon Bloy

Lachrimae antiquae novae

 Crucified Lord, so naked to the world,
you live unseen within that nakedness,
consigned by proxy to the judas-kiss
of our devotion, bowed beneath the gold,


with re-enactments, penances foretold:
scentings of love across a wilderness
of retrospection, wild and objectless
longings incarnate in the carnal child.


Beautiful for themselves the icons fade;
the lions and the hermits disappear.
Triumphalism feasts on empty dread,


fulfilling triumphs of the festal year.
We find you wounded by the token spear.
Dominion is swallowed with your blood.


— Geoffrey Hill

The silence

When we first moved there, she loved it: the silence and solitude. She liked it when I didn’t speak much, so I spoke less and less. I felt marvellous in that peacefulness, though I sometimes missed my family. She did her work and sold some of it, enough for us to get by. She still didn’t sleep well, but she never complained; she just got up sometimes and went to the kitchen to fix a drink.
I laughed when she wanted to draw me. It was embarrassing, I felt like a model. She said if she drew me once a week she might be allowed to have me.
Thinking back it was a strange thing to say but I suppose drawing was her way of feeling connected to things, or to herself. I don’t know.
Once when she returned from an excursion and I went to kiss her she avoided me, then turned back, looked me deeply in the eyes, and said nothing for the rest of the evening. The next day she showed me the sketches she’d been doing: fearful things, like the gargoyles on cathedrals.
She started only sleeping during the day. She said the dark made everything seem too still and sinister to sleep, that the things in our house were conspiring against her.
One evening she said: ‘Say something. Please.’
I thought and said: ‘Isn’t it strange how two people who’ve lived together for years come to resemble each other? In their thoughts and faces. I want us to grow old like two trees that grow together, you’ve seen the ones in the forest, with all their cracks and wrinkles, even like the old couple at the store, you’ve seen the way they move, or that old man and his dog.’
She said, almost to herself: ‘It’s like God making Adam in one piece. Whole thoughts. Whole feelings. Then Eve with her sinister curiosity.’
She said nothing the rest of the evening.
She started selling fewer paintings and our savings dried up. I had to cook every meal and food isn’t easy to come by in those parts.
One day while she was painting I found her diary.
She’d written:

The fact is that life itself, everyday life with its people, chatter, money, dramas, ingesting and excreting, is nothing to me, has always been nothing: a paltry illusion. I don’t want it to be so but it is so. Landscape and portrait painters are ridiculous to me. Everything is ridiculous but what points away from, out of this life.

Talking to other people, socialising, falls so short of what it ought to be, of reflecting our real selves, that it disgusts me.

There was nothing about me, my name wasn’t mentioned once.
She asked me to stay up with her. She said she was afraid of her mind. She wanted me to ride out the silence with her.
After a week it started frightening me too. Some nights it seemed it would never end. She comforted me and told me she knew exactly how I felt.
It was the first time she’d caressed me for months.
She looked almost happy.
It was that touch that made her absence palpable to me. That was the moment I knew I had to leave.

(Based on Bergman’s Hour of the Wolf.)


The words stopped coming. He enjoyed the respite at first, later less. Much less. He cleared away ripped pages, unwritten books. Sometimes they appeared when he was drunk. Then through a haze of phrases he came stalking meaning, like some Kasper Hauser trying to make sense out of a childhood murk. Was it him or the words? He listened to them and they spoke him; there was no getting behind them. But it was exquisite when they dropped into the right places. But fleeting. There were turns and fading paths, but there were vantage points too. Or rather walks that got you lost then brought you back as someone new. The words woke him at night, phrases in his head like worms in a box.

Neti neti

Do not think that because I call it a ‘darkness’ or a ‘cloud’ it is the sort of cloud you see in the sky, or the kind of darkness you know at home when the light is out. That kind of darkness or cloud you can picture in your mind’s eye in the height of summer, just as in the depth of a winter’s night you can picture a clear and shining light. I do not mean this at all. By ‘darkness’ I mean ‘a lack of knowing’ — just as anything that you do not know or may have forgotten may be said to be ‘dark’ to you, for you cannot see it with your inward eye. For this reason it is called ‘a cloud’, not of the sky, of course, but ‘of unknowing’, a cloud of unknowing between you and your God.

The Cloud of Unknowing

That which is infinite is known only to itself. This it is which gives some notion of God, while yet beyond all our conceptions — our very incapacity of fully grasping him affords us the idea of what he really is. He is presented to our minds in his transcendent greatness, as at once known and unknown.

— Tertullian


It is terrible to desire and not possess, and terrible to possess and not desire.

— Yeats

‘One cannot lose what one has not possessed.’
So much for that abrasive gem.
I can lose what I want. I want you.

— Geoffrey Hill

In the doorway where I stood

In the doorway where I stood, where I was and was not. Can’t seem to get out of the way. So it’s like that today. Now I see only my reflection in the window — there for anyone to see through. Berating myself, I panic to whatever obscurity —


I pointed you to a pier where you could dive as I went up to the bar. In the evening we went through the old ritual of drawing hearts in the sand at low tide. Later still we made love accompanied by the song and sting of mosquitoes, your body burnished red-brown by the sun I avoided.

Making strange

To crack a nut is truly no feat, so no one would ever dare to collect an audience in order to entertain it with nut-cracking. But if all the same one does do that and succeeds in entertaining the public, then it cannot be a matter of simple nut-cracking. Or it is a matter of nut-cracking, but it turns out that we have overlooked the art of cracking nuts because we were too skilled in it and that this newcomer to it first shows us its real nature, even finding it useful in making his effects to be rather less expert in nut-cracking than most of us.

— Kafka (quoted in Kafka’s mouse)


I came out from my hole, from my dust pit, from the rubble and rubbish of myself, like a worm coming out of the ground. I found myself in a field. In the centre of the field was a chair and a man seated on it maintaining a constant silence. The trees were undressing with sly secret smiles.

All roads are the same road. Destinations. We set out in different directions past fallen signposts. I prefer hilltops to valleys, clear views to a dark sleep, and the birds thrown up like a cloud of fertile dust. The sky sends me baffling directives — a twisted tree on the skyline and, when I reach it, the way the sunlight grows into the bark.

Making love, my alter ego waiting behind the screen, she is a mirror of my left side. If I rub her body some breath will cloud the glass. A column, a trunk covered in bark like lizard skin, this is how she was found, escaping from the tyranny of verse.

Behind a stilled screen of eyes bodies are marching down the street, more or less upright. The countryside has to be tamed with titles.

And now the desk is cleared for breath.

John Welch