Advice to a Poet


As you walk through the garden of this world,
Holding in your hands this crystal Now,
Passed down by Father Adam from son to son,
See on every bush the meanings furled
In tight unopening buds; then look and know
How in this glass they open one by one;

How as you tend your vines and plant and hoe,
These buds become your poems and fill the air
With longing, with madness. But, when the petals fall,
Thick on the bough the ripening apples grow
For somebody’s wife who knows you set them there
As the recurring sacraments of her Fall.

Then show your age the discipline of that tree;
Show them the images common sense denied;
Teach them to hear the music of all they do;
Replant their garden of innocence; let them see
Beyond the markets of power, chimneys of pride,
Man in free fall, never quite knowing where to.

But never forget the garden, never forget
That’s where he falls from, that’s where he longs to return;
Always remember the launching site and the bride
Intoning his count-down: “Ready, get ready, get set,
GO!” As he blasts, he opens his orders to learn
Too late, the lady has taken him for a ride.

“Ah well, they are always looking for someone to launch,”
He reflects, and adds: “But that’s what women are for;
Look at me now: I thought I was going to bed!”
The expendable sex, he opens his sandwich lunch,
Corrects his course dead on for the Evening Star
And grins as he taps out his message: “Trouble ahead!”

When she reads that out, someone is sure to laugh;
And that’s where your job begins: the function of verse
Is to provide a carrier-wave for the soul’s
Venture into the void; and the epitaph
Of the doomed explorers of the universe
Is the map you make from their log-books; between two poles

Called “I leave” and “I love”, their ego-sounding devices
Probe her cloud-mantle, crying: “Is any one there?”
Their instruments crackle and spit in the cosmic wind.
Out of that white noise yours is the ear that prises
Signals which plotted in series show the bare
Body of Venus they came so far to find.

So tell them: they will not believe you; they will not even
Comprehend what you say about that planet.
They will jeer at the crystal you carry in your hands;
But tell them, tell them: their need to be forgiven
Will make them listen. Listen yourself for the minute
When tears break through as somebody understands.

But one thing you must not tell, though of course you know it,
Since all that we are hangs on this thought alone:
The word that we carry within us only for God.
What father Adam, the exile, the bare-arse poet,
Taught me, I teach to you: learn, practise and pass it on!
(Now read my lines again: this is a message in code.)

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