Category Archives: Tim Lilburn

How to name this land?

There are two paths, said early mystical writers, the via positiva and the via negativa, the way of light and the way of darkness. Affirmative theology, the way of light, is an understanding of the divine nature as it is exposed in the intelligible orders of being; one declares, tracking the divinity in ekstasis, that the source of being is good, intelligent, beautiful and so on. In negative theology, however, they said, a richer knowledge of the divine nature comes, the intimate knowledge of human ecstasy, a no-knowledge […] This theology is a path of disorientation, muting and appetite ending in conjunction with being’s apex. On it, all names for the divinity are rejected as inadequate: God is not good if by this one would constrain the divine in images of human beneficence, not just if one has in mind mere human justice. God is supra-goodness, beauty beyond beauty, No-thing. Some of the same cancellations occur as one edges toward the brome grass head, the porcupine faced at the foot of the drive in grey false dawn, in their unknowable otherness […]

I walk in the hills in winter. A sharptail grouse explodes from drift-fold where she’s hidden from the cold, her faeces bunched around her. I am going into the hills where the deer in February browse juniper. Lost place, the original grass cover has never been broken. The snow would come to mid-thigh if I stepped from my snowshoes. The ground is blank except for some fox or coyote tracks; once, last winter, I saw an ermine out this way. I walk through heavy poplar, each grove rhizoming from the first tree of the bush, ghost wood, smelling like stale bread when you cut through it. I come over the rise and there are the deer, standing in the pits they’ve hoofed into the snow to get at juniper tips. They do not see me. I look beyond them, further south, more poplar bush, hills, an old fence line, willow in the hollows, still: nothing. How to name this land? It’s a skellig, black rock in the Atlantic. It’s a half-scraped hide. What does it speak in memory? What titles to give it in praise-singing? Language again and again springs at the essence, reaching for clarity, the exact fit between the look of the slow hills, occultly breathing and their feel, then denies each time what it comes up with.


The thisness of the nearest doe bent over the juniper, her transfixing oddness, is the littling of language, mortification of the desire for clarity, yet an occasion of the love which is one shape of contemplative attention.

— Tim Lilburn,  Living in the World as if It Were Home

The deer’s stare into the world of things

Deer come out of the poplars just as day becomes night; they move in the blue air. Dropped grain near the house glistens in the hollow they’ve licked and stamped over the weeks into snow. Their bodies are dense with strangeness and are weightless, brief electric arcs on the eye, eloquent, two does faring well this winter, bow-sided, v-faced, coming down the slope through low willow and wild rose that holds the last of light. They stop repeatedly, their coloratura caution; their bodies seem the constant, quavering afterglow of this strained attention. Yet the gold of the grain pulls the goldenness of them. They come the last steps quickly along a path notched with their prints from nights before and bend to eat. Shadow soaks into them. One of them jerks up a look, then the other. They see me standing by the woodpile. They stare. I stare.

Consciousness walks across the land bridge of the deer’s stare into the world of things. This is knowing. It tastes of sorrow and towering appetite. Their look seems a bestowal; I feel more substantial, less apologetic as a physical thing from having been seen. The traded look goes on in the building dark. There is no intention here, noting of fairy tale or hagiography, animals lying down with the solitary, animals bearing messages, scrolls caught in the clefts of their hooves. There is only wild seeing, the feel of it unimaginable: I am seen straight through (of that, no doubt) but cannot say how I am seen. Travelling back through the conductor of this gaze, something of me, a slant I’d never guess, enters them. Their look has a particularity, an inexpressibility, so high-pitched it attracts myths. No wonder some say the darkness of the forest is a god.

— Tim Lilburn, Living in the World as if It Were Home