Saturday, 17 May 2014

On a Raised Beach

It's been a while! Various things (broadly divisible into commitments and priorities) have contrived to stop the flow. However, I've been away from the blog for too long and it's time to get it going again.

Now and again, other bloggers I read write posts about their personal view of life, the universe and everything. When I read them I invariably feel inspired to do so myself. I've always ended up deleting my efforts, though. One of the great things about blogging is that the act of writing down one's thoughts is a great test of those thoughts. What seems to be profound a revelatory when one mulls it over in the confines of one's own head often looks trite and full of holes when written down. I'm sure I'm not the only person to experience this.

I've recently read And the Land Lay Still by James Robertson. I've rarely enjoyed a book more. It's a panoramic exploration of Scottish society in the fifty years that followed the Second World War. I'm not going to go into detail here - except to mention that the book features a walk-on part for the Scottish poet, Hugh MacDiarmid. I also spotted several allusions -surely deliberate- to his poem, On a Raised Beach. As soon as I'd finished the novel I reached for my complete MacDiarmid and started to reread it. I found myself reading that blog-post I could never write, written far better than I could ever write it! There is an insidious side to reading: one can read something and be profoundly influenced by it, only for the memory of the details of the book, poem or article to fade and influence remain.

From On a Raised Beach:


Deep conviction or preference can seldom   
Find direct terms in which to express itself.   
Today on this shingle shelf
I understand this pensive reluctance so well,   
This not discommendable obstinacy,
These contrivances of an inexpressive critical feeling,   
These stones with their resolve that Creation shall not be   
Injured by iconoclasts and quacks. Nothing has stirred
Since I lay down this morning an eternity ago
But one bird. The widest open door is the least liable to intrusion,   
Ubiquitous as the sunlight, unfrequented as the sun.   
The inward gates of a bird are always open.   
It does not know how to shut them.
That is the secret of its song,
But whether any man’s are ajar is doubtful.
I look at these stones and know little about them,   
But I know their gates are open too,
Always open, far longer open, than any bird’s can be,
That every one of them has had its gates wide open far longer   
Than all birds put together, let alone humanity,   
Though through them no man can see,
No man nor anything more recently born than themselves   
And that is everything else on the Earth.
I too lying here have dismissed all else.
Bread from stones is my sole and desperate dearth,   
From stones, which are to the Earth as to the sunlight   
Is the naked sun which is for no man’s sight.   
I would scorn to cry to any easier audience
Or, having cried, to lack patience to await the response.
I am no more indifferent or ill-disposed to life than death is;   
I would fain accept it all completely as the soil does;   
Already I feel all that can perish perishing in me   
As so much has perished and all will yet perish in these stones.   
I must begin with these stones as the world began.

Shall I come to a bird quicker than the world’s course ran?   
      To a bird, and to myself, a man?
      And what if I do, and further?
I shall only have gone a little way to go back again   
And be like a fleeting deceit of development,
Iconoclasts, quacks. So these stones have dismissed   
All but all of evolution, unmoved by it,
(Is there anything to come they will not likewise dismiss?)   
As the essential life of mankind in the mass
Is the same as their earliest ancestors yet.
My apologies to any Facebook friends who may have read this passage already. Oh well, if you ask me it's worth re-reading!


7 comments:

am said...

Thank you so much for the introduction to Hugh MacDiarmid:

"... The widest open door is the least liable to intrusion, Ubiquitous as the sunlight, unfrequented as the sun. The inward gates of a bird are always open. It does not know how to shut them. That is the secret of its song ..."

I've just finished reading The Dylanologists by David Kinney. Now I'm thinking that it is likely that Bob Dylan has read the poetry of Hugh MacDiarmid. I found this quote by HD in a Wiki article:

"The greater the plagiarism the greater the work of art."

Enigma said...

What a beautiful poem! Sadly, I don't think I understood as well as I wanted to. So I am probably going to read it again. :)

The Weaver of Grass said...

Beautiful words. May I borrow your complete poems so that I can read this excerpt at our Poetry meeting on Wednesday please?

Might I suggest you go to Pamela's blog (From the House of Edward on my side bar)to read her brilliant piece on 'Why I write', which seems to fit quite neatly with this.

The Solitary Walker said...

On first reading — this is fabulous, Dominic. I liked it at once. And, Like Enigma, I'll be returning to it, as it's quite dense and profound. Those lines quoted by Am also made an immediate impact on me.

Dominic Rivron said...

Thanks for these comments, everyone. am got me researching a Dylan/MacDiarmid connection. I can't find one but I did find an interesting short film about MacDiarmid on Youtube which I've added to the post.

It's interesting how one can admire an artists without agreeing with them. I don't share MacDiarmid's strong views on Scottish independence. On the contrary, I think there are enough borders in the world already and we should work towards having fewer rather than more. I've also heard him express a very negative view of English people - and I'm English. Then he goes and writes poems like On A Raised Beach and I let him off, as one might a wayward uncle.

George said...

Welcome back, Dominic. My favorite lines of the poem were the ones quoted by AM, but I agree with Robert that this is a poem that deserve more reading. There is much to be mined here.

Adullamite said...

The contents of the mind once delivered to a blog do indeed look full of holes. Sometimes it is important to put it down whether serious or minor, earth shattering or personal.