Silence and Absence in Rumi

Rumi (1207-1273), astonishing for a poet, was preoccupied with silence. Now, on superficial examination poetry, writing, speaking is the antithesis of silence. But, for Rumi, silence like absence was the ever-present nothingness from which things, including speech and poetry, emerge. This insight, a miraculous insight, upends our usual understanding of how the world is, what…

The cellar of memory

Isaiah Berlin (1909-1997) described Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966) in 1945 as   immensely dignified, with unhurried gestures, a noble head, beautiful, somewhat severe features and an expression of immense sadness.   I never met her except in her poetry. When I first read her poems, I found that they were charged as like with intensely powerful…

I pass as all things do, dew on the grass

The title of this post is from Bazan's death poem. He died in 1730 at the age of 69 years. His death poem refers to “dew” an image of transience in Buddhist literature. In my childhood, too, dew would settle, overnight, on the blades of grass, on leaves and flowers like a miraculous secretion on…

Vallejo on the 1550 to Euston

My train is hurtling towards Euston. It's that time of the year when all the trees are freshly green and resplendent especially in the full afternoon sun. We've just gone past Rugby. There are no more stops before Euston. The fields to my left have yellow buttercups bordered by Mayflowers. There's the occasional hedge of…

Octavio Paz and Me

I don't believe that I've told you how much I was influenced by Paz. Here was a writer who was constantly seeking the gap between what is real and known and that indefinable domain of the imagined and ephemeral. And in that gap, even though words too are deficient and far too inadequate to the…

Seneca and Books

In Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic he wrote […]this reading of many different authors and books of every description. You should be extending your stay among writers whose genius is unquestionable, deriving constant nourishment from them if you wish to gain anything from your reading that will find a lasting place in your mind. To…

Neruda at St Brides

  I have been re-reading Pablo Neruda, in a collection that Jan bought for me in the USA in July 1982. We were married later in October of that year. The trip to Philadelphia, Washington and New York followed a successful trip to the West of Ireland. At the time I was still obsessed with…