Fred Beake: Towards the West
A Poem in Three Movements
'Music is a mathematical consideration'
so utters our knight, most contritely
following a ridge above a stream and looking
at a sky that is black, grey and blue, and battered
by the wind. Branches of the beeches along the way
creak a music not of Heaven.
He remembers his lady's fingers on her lute
- like a flight of small birds her tunes -
and knows her desires are not large or far reaching.
Another mistress must be looked for soon;
but for now this image still sustains
even as a subject for violation.
Leaves are slippery under the hooves
and almost like clouds the jaws of the pass.
Is it that lion of the true transfiguration
or the dragon of former magics
which he sought to consider as the Dark One's works
but whose volutions he begins to feel
must be before those becomings in the soil
which worm, beetle, bone know.
Midnight by a stream, whose molten black water
might be the ultimate metal,
the moon a perfect round in a sky of annihilation
which is the beginning of creation.
He longs at first for the warmth of anyone,
but is chiefly constrained to pee.
He considers the violations of his friend Francis the monk,
but a monk must pee and fart.
Has brother Francis ever considered
the motions of the spider in its weaving,
that are done not for money or god
but to trap the living flesh?
Is it a sin in this tiny spider
to eat of the flesh of the insect ape,
to drink of the blood of the insect child,
disembowel the woman of the kind?
But here sleep takes him and he finds himself
in a garden full of thorns,
that once were young maidens, and hot for child,
and now are full of unkindness.
The awakening at midnight, the endless birdchatter
(worse than women discussing their rivals
with insinuation rather than anger)
the distant glimmer of the bars of Heaven
this surely is no beginning to charity
- merely a day of aloneness, and riding towards
the pass, where hovering from time to time
possibilities, always possibilities.
'You arouse me' she had said 'To be with you
forever , and not a queen
to a man who is no man. You have done what I asked.
Get off. Plead your quest. Well
if you can't then you must think of something
for me dear, unless you want me dead.'
And he had gone, weary as in a dream
of great waters closing over
the eye of the silent king, in his own eye
the blood dripping through the bandage on the thigh.
About the middle of that day (the sun was behind cloud)
he came upon maidens and young men
making a bonfire of the leaves of the autumn
looking they said to summon past spirits
to give hope that the Spring should return.
'Why' he enquired 'Are you dressed in green?'
'Because' they said 'Although we must grieve
all things return, if not for us.'
'But you' he said 'Have all the youth of the sun.
You are the heat we rise upon.
I am who am neither old, nor indeed young
go to the West, always towards that pass
confident that from you shall arise new heat.
I have seen love miskindled and betrayed,
I have seen Love that woke only in dreams
but still I continue towards the West.'
Eyes, eyes like swords in a sheath
that may be watching from the trees
- as once with the army of the king
in the forest of the Idlings.
Cowards! Why would they not come into sight
- at least unleash an arrow -
but all was still except for footfall
too quiet for knight in armour to hear
and once a fox trotted in front of the column
glancing at the king's majesty
without fear,and then loping on,
and birdsong unnaturally slight.
The king had not declared he had put by conquest,
but the column never re-entered
that wood, and those that came out
questioned their knighthood.
And now that old fear of having no purpose
strikes on a still afternoon
in quiet woods with gentle sun
by a translucid stream.
To lounge in the sun with armour off,
drinking deep of the nectar of Apollo,
and forgetting the pains of that other son
whose blood redeemed the winter's woe
and forgives the casual spearings of the spring,
this is to know the reality
such as it must be to drink of that cup
of heart red, unseen and unseeable
whose power lies through the dark high rocks
of the pass somewhere further to the west,
which if he did not sometimes see
like clouds of storm
he would think was another pretence
of that false reader of signs
who walks fat by the side of the king,
and is said to spend time with the queen.
Ambling along the river valley he met
with messengers sent by the king
their surcoats fierce with an imprint of lions
demanding why he was taking so long.
Had he stopped too long as a guest of the nuns?
The Mother Superior had hinted as much.
They could not speak of maidenheads broken,
but there are other ways of doing the same.
And had he not heard of the great dragon hunt:
Sir Archibald slain and the hunters disarrayed?
One more spear might have decided the issue
and another church set up to Saint Michael.
He did not speak of his sympathy for dragons,
the peacefulness of their fires unless aroused,
nor yet of holy converse with the beautiful and fair,
and unusual things done at midnight.
He did speak gravely of his utter dismay
that one on a quest should be called on for dragons.
Were there not a hundred dragon-skilled as he?
And so the messengers pursed lips and went.
At fords knights hang basins to get a good joust,
but he objects to having his brains beaten out,
So he never bangs upon such basins,
but avoids all fords like that
even at the cost of swimming the stream.
Doing this today he thinks of baptism
- Christ and John the Baptist at Holy Jordan
and the voice that uttered out of the clouds.
That voice then had not spoken for centuries
and has not ever spoken since.
The fullness of water is the beginning of things.
The Lord uttered it wisely before time was.
And now today he enters gladly the bath of wisdom
whereby he shall be cleansed
of the human animal's illdoings,
and be fit for that cup of heart red.
Waking up in the full light of morning
it has been raining the shepherd says
(who gave up a bed for this flea-ridden knight)
and rain will come althought it is bright.
Perhaps the lord would care to stay? He looks
at his dream-driven guest
with that pity the practical and treacherous feel
for men whose minds are just a little astray.
The knight proceeds by the compass of instinct,
swimming the river where none should have dared,
leading his horse through misted water meadows
mud and trees to the edge of the moor.
Following an old track (high over the moor)
are those armed men that he sees on the other side?
Who travel the path the shepherd told him
- sent by a king to judge by the ensigns.
An escort to the pass that none will go through?,
conceivably protection against wolves or thieves?
Or murderers, sent by that monarch of the bleeding thigh
to avenge the adultery of a few summer evenings?
Or recall (conceivably) from that other king, his own master,
at some whim of the wizard who enthrals the queen?
He takes off his surcoat, covers his shield
and takes out the favour from his helm.
He lets it fall in a pool of mud.
The time of her is done.
He must go on alone, unhindered.
Chaste music only sings in the pass.
The river grows narrower, faster, towards the pass.
The heather is passing out of its purple.
Soon will be winter, and blackness
- as in the time of his first beginning...
the peat hovel on the edge of such a moor,
the few brief people who cared for such a child,
till the fever took all but him,
who was given good herbs by a wandering man.
He was no knight whatever in his origin,
so why did they choose him
to go through the pass for the cup of heart red.
A moorland child perhaps with natal sense
for such country, or had better knights died
in decent oblivion?
Such information is so hard to come by
and perhaps better not known.
He returns to the mathematics of rock and cloud.
Black versus white does not equal grey.
The white shapes of the devil are very many.
The true black is so very rare.
Scree scattered with black boulders
marks the first beginning,
dark lichened cliffs to either side,
and the air heavy, stale.
The horse - apprehensive - requires the spur,
and himself tense at some predator
nibbling his mind, speaks only of dreams,
and here and there scatters of bones
which might be sheep, goat, knight.Probably
not knight, for the scrolls show none entered here,
nor would he have done, but for that magician
who has, it is said, the ear of the queen.
Yet having come he continues on.
Return is shame, outlawry, the rope;
Present a tune made out of numbers
- a deathly thread to dance upon
but a thread, and one that may not snap.
But slowly he moves, glancing side to side,
sees only rocks with the faces of demons,
but he knows that they are rocks.
Night coming on, and the pass all blackness
he pauses, considers where to lie down,
noticed a slight opening under the cliff
- perhaps the horde place of a dragon
but that smell was wholly absent,
and in anycase he enjoyed conversation with dragons
- their jokes of great learning, their flame of creation
out of the wordlessness long before Man.
A place opened full of strange shapes.
Thought it at first the entrance to Hell,
and candle revealed twisting shadows, but proved just rock
rubbish, the bones of some human
which he buried with correct courtesy
(not wishing for the haunt of its ghost)
then laid out his cloak - and his few provisions -
and made ready for sleep.
Walked in a place whose floor was of green
and purple the pyramids scattered around
and there came fair young girls
with the face and the fangs of a pitiless snake
and kissed each one a pyramid
so it turned to a youth hirsute as a goat.
And they made such a dance
of twinings and buttings, such anger, such laughter
such entries to places not normally used
and green was the corn in the field
and green the anger of the wind
and stern the mountains over
and oppressive their cloudbeard.
Awoke next dawning, teased, worried.
Found the horse under Death's rigor.
Carried such things as a man may carry,
stumbled to whatever end.
So similar - grey rock to grey rock he wondered - time to time -
if he had turned, was going backwards;
but still he continued on a day of fierce rain,
wind absent, hail down-battering
till, around noon, he found another shelter
- inside it rubbish that might burn -
which he managed with difficulty
- body shaky, teeth chattery -
fell suddenly asleep, bread and cheese still in hand.
And this time there cavorted
- grown fat, slack-buttocked - that queen he had loved
with her king of the bleeding thigh
grown suddenly young, eager for lust
- though the blood still streamed from his thigh -
They beckoning to him (so it seemed)
but he watched as one frozen to unmeaning
and they laughed at him for his discourtesy
said that he disdained a true discovery
- that all true love has no outward seeming,
then tickled his nose with a feather.
Awoke - the first motion of the sun
since entering the pass,
but fitful, without any real heat
- just a flower ghost in the clouds -
but a sign - as after that flood -
whether of the Ark Man or Deucalion
(whether the wrath of the Lord came twice
or different poets told the same differently)
and there was even the sight of an arrow of birds
threading westward (into what realm?)
- not quite the dove with the twig in its beak,
but a sign of something to one alone.
Suddenly he pauses, looks at the lichen
and sees bright sunlight on it,
and finds it wonderful this world of many beings
is remote to man as this pass.
And he took off his boots, and bared his feet,
and washed his sores in a pool.
Cool as a girl's breast the water, and he felt whole
almost. But this could not be the end
for all said the pass led into the west
to the cup of heart red:
of which no man knew the true property,
but so many desired. But he was now hungry.
Hunger stalked him in his joyfullnes
- hunger like a tide, driving.
Was Death the water of that tide?
But Death he feared no longer.
It was dread of Time that drove him on
at a greater speed than a well-fed man
but sleep became more necessary
and he lay and slept in the sun.
One with a staff, a striding rock
(birth-stone to fanged flyers)
and glares with an eye of winter blue
and snarls as one who knows everything.
And this our knight would have followed to the end,
but a wraithe of blue light
made the time-fast free, led into waters
and sweet as air to the taste:
creatures there were without any flesh
- being, all being, and out of any time;
but this must all come to an end.
He strode it seemed suddenly upon dry land
- land sweet-natured for the planting,
and spade and cup both only in wood,
and no dark one, no quake god to harm -
but this he knew was vision beyond attainment;
and he woke weeping, ravenous,
resolved to push on to whatever end
(though dubious if this pass would end).
Stumbled up the pass with the dusk light over,
body creaking in its joints,
the last bread gone, weak.
One it seemed gave him a staff
- his own and forever - if only he would go on;
but laughter came on him,
and he knew that anyway he must die,
and suddenly - and abruptly - lay down to blackness.
Woke dreamless to a sun of great radiance
the whole pass a coal about to burn.
And surprised not to be quite yet dead
creaked round a corner, and saw
a wide plain - greener in its grass
than the music of the spring -
and clouds of rain - sufficient and adequate -
and elderly dragons (puffed up with importance)
demanding to know the reason for this intrusion
by a scarecrow, come from the sinful and human
- whence none had come since Time first evaded,
though a guard had been fixed at early eternity.
He said he was just a poor simple knight
- come in search of the cup of heart red -
but presently in need of food, drink and a bed.
But they looked at him uneasily
gave him a bed in a middling dungeon
with a stew with good herbs and a better wine.
But the door was guarded very closely,
and instructions were asked of the heirarchy.
The colour of slate - the table -, and grey as dust
the three creatures - there, not there
(perhaps with beaks like voracious vultures;
perhaps frog-slimy, or beetle-black).
They asked (they seemed to know) why he had come here?
Why did he trample the preserve of sinful dreamings?
And just to tell those of flesh that sin is chosen,
but not by man, and unmaking rattles
in the dreams of the smiling infant
like peas in a pod;
and sentience is a dance to a brittle end
and death in full brainhood the best.
But he said to them emptily (confused by their assumptions)
that he had feared too much to be afraid,
and found himself back in his ill lit dungeon
(and the mailed feet on the stones).
One came to him with a great clamour of locks
- a dragon in blue, striped dark and light -
demanding to know what was his claim
to enter this realm no knight ever entered.
His glance attached to the poised quill of the secretary
the knight could give no answer
- beyond commands clearly given by a king,
and unaccountable compulsion.
And this he realized as the scene was switched
to a circle of aloneness
was not the answer they intended
- however much the truth.
It seemed then suddenly that this circle of grey
was on top of a hill where nothing might grow,
and there came a young girl (like his first lover)
to immolate herself that the land might have growth.
But none could she find to draw blood from her willingly.
And he who would have helped her
at cost of eternal pain
knew himself beyond her sight.
And he wished that he might be drawn skywards as cloud
to rain down the blood that might save her young shaping.
But she continued to dance a step of futility
lacking the life to take away her own.
Suddenly news beyond all expectation:
a pass from on high
- great grumbling of dragons officious as ever -
but a pass come suddenly.
So he set out treading lightly on air
(his escort of song birds)
and the air warm scented as after love yielded,
and all beginnings to somewhere.
Cloudshapes of anguish cloud idyllic sky voyage:
sense of brothers, who were one (however dissonant)
relationships divided to the sword's push,
and daydreams as of some woman
- perhaps that very queen he once doted on -.
So he finds in this journey of revery
the very seed of her devilment,
which dark arts should have wrought
but seem in his eye like an outcome of lusts
and the egging on of a king
(who may or may not be his own master
but is too careful of his honour)...
Or is this all angst to spoil his delight?
The green copses are singing
shades of all making, and the boisterous mating calls
enliven an easy passage.
Sudden the great wind - causing descent
toward the bank of a brown river -
hastening away in total unmerriment
the joys of all lovers whatever.
He pauses, a wraithe dismayed on the bank,
seeking a ford to this fearsome being,
tending a case but hardly believed in,
longing again for the touch of the real.
But the ghosts of past memories spite him,
remind him of lusts that were barely conceived,
and shrivel him up at wise paths sensibly taken,
good causes shrewdly not fought on.
But came that first breath of all beginning
and renewed him to the rock of new singing :
so the water of that river covered and cleansed.
And surely he became as his first spring
and green growth in abundance filled him out.
and still at centre his first meaning
- at which he flew again through air
with haughty escort of eagles.
Landed safely in meadows fit to lounge in,
and the brooks babbled like half dreams at sleep-edge,
and warmth as of a truer sun
than ever shone this earth upon.
And he lay, all mazed, with no forming,
aware of the shadow upon the field,
which was of a castle - grey, oracular
as if offered truths none living might know.
But for the time expanded the wraithe of his meaning,
and gathered from root of all beginning,
and made his sense from matters precedent
to the first memoried coming.
Rock of all rock, and before rock what?
The eagles over never knew
how this wraithe gathered sense past thought
while they warded away his ill seemings
till gradually he rose, and looked at that castle,
and put on new flesh of that further place,
and strolled towards that gateway, eagerly
expecting - he knew not what.
Passed first great sentries, dog-headed in stone,
then in the courtyard unformable flowers asleep
- fold of rich velvets, that concealed new beginnings,
having drunk of oblivion.
But these he put not on, scorning to be
other than as at first his sense told him ;
but walked steadily to the second wall
of glass that distorted all
so the face of his being was wholly unmale.
But he knew to consider the self as it was,
so came quickly to a place of great ruin,
where once was the treasury of All
- now looted, and spilled on the ground
such small jewels as still remained.
And at this he cried for all sentient,
and turned a little nearer to nothing.
Entered on the spiral of nothing next
that returned always to beginning;
and this continued as surely as annually
the bee comes and goes.
And this he continued with all the pure strength
of one who cannot go any further,
and therefore must stay in the same place.
And this continued forwards and back
always glimpsing the illogical real
- men bold into badness
(women as bad) and creatures he knew not
- could never quite touch their being -
plaiting strange air of stranger places
with an appearance of ugliness
worse than man's, or rising with infinite
rareness into great beauties
uncommon as his kind's. But as he came
more and more, to feel as all
- and yet to be separate, he began again
to become perhaps something.
Suddenly, that cup of heart red
- all liquor of all beginning before
all beginning, seizing all sense
out of nothing and all -
and he looks on it, and knows he will go back,
must, though the guise of flesh has no comfort,
and they will warp his true being,
and of all the true journeying will be no remembering.
Alone the young woman, since her lover chops wood
and the child's coming is abrupt;
and the ferns of her bed know flood of life water
and the hovel leaks.
And the future is sere for any here born,
and the ague shall take her
before the child has seen ten summers,
and before many days the child as well.
And one shall come wanderingly, half mazed
and discover a boy near to death;
and out of his healing make new beginning,
and steer him to intellect in this wildnerness
till time come to take him to the Court
(always eager for knights to slaughter its nightmares)
but out of this one shall come the evasion
- the singing out of all beginning.
Written Bath 4th-14th May 1992
Revised Bath 4th-31st March 1993
Bath late summer/autumn 1993