These poems serve as an introduction to Nicholas Hagger’s poetic works, which include nearly 1,500 poems, more than 300 classical odes, two poetic epics and five verse plays. They are grouped in two parts which reflect the two aspects of the fundamental theme of world literature outlined in his A New Philosophy of Literature: ‘Quest for the One’ and ‘Follies and Vices’. They present a quest for Reality along with moments of heightened consciousness in which the universe is seen as a unity, and condemn social follies and over 220 vices in terms of an implied virtue. This selection of poems combines image and statement in the reconciling Universalist manner, and in different poems blends Romantic search and organic form with classical social attitudes, verbal precision and architectural structure. The poems cover five decades and include extracts from ‘The Silence’, which describes Freeman’s quest for Reality in Modernist style, ‘Archangel’ (a reflection on Communism following visits to China and the Soviet Union), poems written during a Dark Night of the Soul, glimpses of illumination and poems of social satire. There are also extracts from Hagger's verse plays. As can be seen from his ‘A Metaphysical in Marvell’s Garden’ Hagger derives his inspiration from the 17th-century Metaphysical poets and seeks to unite the later Augustan and Romantic traditions. This selection offers a chance to reappraise a poet whose material, accomplished technique and reconciling sensibility places him in the forefront of poets writing today.
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About the Author
Nicholas Hagger is a poet, man of letters, cultural historian and philosopher. He has lectured in English Literature at universities in Baghdad, Tripoli (Libya) and Japan (where he was a Professor), and is the author of more than 35 books. These include a substantial literary output of nearly 1,500 poems, over 300 classical odes, two poetic epics, five verse plays and a thousand stories, travelogues and innovatory works in literature, history and philosophy.
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Selected Poems: Quest for the One
Selected by the Poet with Convenient End-Of-Poem Notes On Theme, Basis for Inclusion and Setting
By Nicholas Hagger
John Hunt Publishing Ltd.Copyright © 2015 Nicholas Hagger
All rights reserved.
from A Well of Truth (1958–1963)
Ode to a Prospect from a Window Frame
I sat in wonder at the window edge
And breathless watched the peace of day recline
Over the still green hill. The soft grass sedge
Waved to the fleeing evening beneath the pine,
And oh what glory in that dying light!
My heart leapt clear to streaks of russet cloud,
My mind fell free and walked with unscaled eyes
Down flimsy-paper streets at triple height
And peered through panes. My body was a shroud;
The wilting world wept at my spirit's size.
But then the cooling window froze to night;
There was no noise to disturb the sleeping grass,
No chirp of bird or insect. I had no sight
To glimpse a moonlit movement, for – alas –
Too soon my tingling nerves grew calm and sour;
I saw my hands caress a picture-frame,
A wilderness of art in nature's paint.
My heart was heavy in that shrouded hour,
An artifice that left the feeling lame,
And left the well of knowledge to the saint.
O for a well of Truth that all might see,
A well of clean and lasting Light to soothe
The souls of all who dip their hands, to be
A cure for hearts that are like a soundproof booth.
That picture will soon be in winter's sprawl
And slow Decay will sing the frost of time
And the slow dance that sighs the grave's embrace
For years to come, for aeons past my fall
To a lich bed, beneath the hoar-frost's rime,
Beyond the eternal smile of Beauty's face.
To capture beauty now should be our aim,
Undarkened by the shadow thrown by death
Across the water-lilies breezes tame
And whip to fury with their dying breath.
Who has not stood and looked into the lake,
And seen the dancing pictures flow and fade
Deep in the grey pool's heart? And soon each one
Will dance again. Now sleeping souls awake.
The fleetest shadow might be Beauty's shade.
Behind each shadow reigns a glorious sun.
1961; revised 10 October 2012
Quest theme: early yearning for truth, the Light of the One. The
prospect is of Port Meadow, Oxford.
from A Stone Torch-Basket (1963–1965)
The Seventeenth-Century Pilgrim
"Wyrd oft nered unfaegne eorl ponne his ellen deah."
Once I complained of many bitter facts,
Of ruins and epitaphs on empty hopes,
That I was born to die despite my acts
Or the futile benedictions of the Popes.
Yet as I watched the seasons ebb and flow
I saw the tides that swirled across my brain
In fickle flood and moon-fall – [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]
No self of mine felt constant agony.
And I resolved to evolve from pointless pain
(My Hell) and grow a Paradise that I could know.
Since then I have journeyed through rocks and pines,
Have sat by rivers in the summer sun,
Watched timeless dawns flush golden Eastern shrines,
And knelt to my shadow when the day is done.
Now I am still a sequence of moments;
But my abiding eye of strict assent
Nakedly loves the underlying Power
That pulses through existing's every hour.
Don't ask me where I'm bound. It brings dissent
To analyse perfection's senseless sense.
And yet I know from the wild wind's sound
I too will rot to nothing underground.
5 December 1963; revised 2012
Quest theme: awareness of Power. Set in Tokyo, Japan.
from The Early Education and Making of a Mystic
All morning we clamoured to go down to the sea,
I chanted "Miss Whitworth's in the ba-ath"
Knowing there would be no ogre to chase me;
At the bedside of the paralysed neighbour
I pulled a face and made the others snigger;
But when, tears in her eyes, she squeezed my hand
I was well-behaved. Being immortal
I found her wrinkles funny, and her silent room
Like an agonised church.
On the promenade
The prophet squatted and raked his glowing embers
Of potash, carbon, tugging his mariner's beard
And pointing a scrawny finger at a red-hot omen.
My aunt tried to hurry me past, but I broke away,
Joined the small group, waited for him to speak,
Read the boarded feature from The Daily Express:
PROPHET CYCLES BLINDFOLD TO FIND WRISTWATCH.
He spoke in a grating voice through clods of earth,
"Verily, I say unto you, my experiment shows
God died in his bed after a long illness,
God is dead."
So can't God curl down like a genie and spy
Through the window?
"God is dead."
No one cheered. With uncomfortable smirks
They dispersed. I stayed, aghast.
Into the sky.
"Is God really dead?" I asked my flurried aunt
As she dragged me away.
Quest theme: scepticism, God dead. Set in Folkestone, Kent.
An Awakening in London
(for Colin Wilson)
Digesting Sartre on a Chancery Lane platform
I saw a concave poster, PHILOSOPHY,
And should it not be my free choice for the day?
I memorised the address as the tube rushed in.
In a room off Haymarket, I was reborn;
For two enthralling hours I heard one message:
"Not by reasoning, or words, or learning from books
Is a wise man wise, but by observation,
Awareness of habit, command of experience.
Be more conscious."
On the top of a London bus
I sought enlightenment, in a City suit
I broke the circuit of fragmentary dreams:
First I relaxed, then I commanded 'Stop all thought',
Then, one by one, I observed the senses,
Saw the seat in patterned red and green
And the platinum streak in the middle-aged woman's head,
Heard chesty wheezings under the diesel engine
And inane non-sequiturs on foul-smelling breaths,
Felt the weight of my body like a tired machine.
And after, the world was rich in varied detail,
It was as if I had been living in a waking dream,
And I glimpsed a future superconsciousness
Whose shadow crossed the yob in the front seat.
And Amos came up from the country
and spoke against Baal
And town-bred Isaiah listened
Before Tiglath-Pileser pushed West;
And modest Jeremiah came up from his village
and spoke against Baal
And cataleptic Ezekiel listened
Nineteen years before the fall of Jerusalem.
There was ferment in the Fleet Street coffee-bar,
You could see it in everyone's eyes, the old repudiated,
The new a question; a time of transition,
Few saw we'd settled down into a quiet decline.
When he came in we applauded, when he went
We stood in a ring near the empty beer bottles
And, battered with books, we scratched our heads and puzzled
Over his angry message, "Our civilisation
Is in spiritual decay."
But I knew,
From the unreal limbo, there is descent downwards,
To the earthy real, and ascent upwards
To self-surpassal in consciousness;
I knew [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]
The way up and the way down are the same.
And I knew that nothing could ever be the same.
Quest theme: awakening to higher consciousness. Set in London.
The Power by the Lake
No missing breakfast that week. I was down
Early, searched the pigeon-holes daily, until
My father's envelope came. I left the Lodge,
Walked past the Cottages to the College gardens,
Meandered to the lake, sadly detached
From my doom, the entire future pressing
And I observed my feelings, free
Yet foreordained. Could I abandon Law
For Literature? Under the stone arch, alone,
I opened it, swallowed the broken surrender,
"I consent", and some great shadow of authority
Shattered into fragments. Sun-flecked, lawless,
Free, I wept.
The early morning blazed,
Trees of every green linked earth and blue-white sky
In the lake. Adazzled, a great power filled me.
Purified, I grew, head sun-scorched, feet earth-rooted,
Stomach pulsing water-trees; I towered
Giddy, vast as God, I had always existed,
Earth-trees-sky would die, not I, the life-beat
And order, the permanent sole meaning.
I knew without understanding, as now
Without thinking, I know my own surname.
All creation was me, a pounding power,
And infinitely good.
Breakfastless in my room,
I pondered the impure sleep of my lake-like mind
Which, when woken with such purified force,
Could be transformed by such a mystic power.
Quest theme: experience of the One. Set at Worcester College,
This room on the first landing is unfriendly.
Beneath the laboured breathing of the dying man
I can hear the nocturnal ravings of a brother,
The rustle and silence of French au pairs,
And my father's quaver from the dark dark corner
As he told me I wouldn't rock my sister any more.
(And I was filled with importance, confided in.)
In the door I wonder whether to disturb him;
Out of the window the stark indifference of lights
In his Council Offices.
The last drink,
The ritual Guinness in the pewter tankards
To pledge recission of a lifetime's disagreement.
I raise him, put a pillow under his shoulders,
Then pour slowly to preserve the richness.
(Not too much froth, says his glazed, critical eye.)
He stutters, then his trembling hand reaches;
Disregarding aid, with shaky defiance
He gulps, then splutters. His breathing is convulsed.
He labours. I snatch his tankard. He conquers.
Then disintegrates, crying incoherently in the dark
"I don't want to die"; groping for my hand, gripping
The living, clutching. And I was all and helpless.
"This is the end," he sighed, baffled, angry,
And downstairs the television tube went
And the picture shrank to the size of a postage stamp.
And looking at the moon, he understood:
From one single cell during a gleam of sunlight,
Into night and silence, man came and swelled and went.
From the end of priceless existence, he saw through:
An icy cinder, in an endless night.
Later my mother said, "Look there's nothing frightening
About death," drawing back the sheet in that stillness.
I lingered on alone near his grey still face,
Fascinated yet afraid in that awful stillness.
Quest theme: death and the One. Set in Loughton, Essex.
The Splitting of the Dark at the Strawberry Hill Pond
In the late autumn I took my last look
At the pond. By the fallen tree I happened to exist,
In the sunlight I stood bereaved in an inner dark
In the disturbed reflection.
Ah, but the darkness split;
In the late autumn sun I thrilled to the point of the plan,
The pond blazed in an unknowable revelation.
The silver birch caught fire, then I lit up,
The white branches flared up in a living scheme,
Licked and glowed and crackled into flame, burned
Up the blue sky. Mallards and water boatmen
Bobbed, throbbed and sizzled in the roasting orb,
Generation after generation, caught
In a spiralling dance of consciousness,
Whirling round and upwards and up, evolving
To the fire-like power of a higher consciousness.
I thrilled with order, I knew why it all meant,
I turned and left the spreading furnace of my heart
And walked back through the beeches to Robin Hood Lane,
And a deep calm and peace filled my bereaved dark.
Quest theme: experience of the One. Set in Loughton, Essex.
As I tortured my body
In satori's outer form
An amorphous shadow obscured the polished floor
And spoke to my self from a future dawn.
On Tower Bridge, I felt gravity snap,
I fell headlong into space; I was alone
In a vast and indifferent universe, waiting
To die and not-exist for ever, not knowing why:
A smallness in an eternal silence without purpose
While hostesses served drinks and pickled prattle.
And not the lanterns in the gnarled pine trees,
Nor the dark outline of fishermen's boats by the road,
Not the phallic lanterns in swollen Shinto shrines
Nor the bamboo rustling in the breeze could deceive me.
Quest theme: seeking enlightenment. Set in Tokyo and London.
A Vast Palace and a Chiming Clock
In this suburban hall, the dust resettles
On warming pan, on gong and padded stick,
On dumb-bells, on the broken barometer,
On treasure-chest and silver visiting-plate.
Ghosts of aproned maids and side-burned butlers
Glide in the cluttered stillness of neglect.
In the sitting-room window, on a summer evening,
I put on the hands of a clock that will not start,
I am free from historical progression.
Now I am like an improvising actor severed from my plot.
That old man, waiting on the village bench,
Has he taken possession of himself, or does he know only
Fragments of broken moments, fragments of himself?
I said to myself, I must occupy my experience,
For to know one's past is to know one's present,
And unescorted at the exhibition
I could not connect each arbitrary fragment,
Each marble head or faded painting. In no deserted hall
Could I relate myself to a pattern,
Juxtaposition denied the development
On each wall. I said to myself,
I must explore each chamber, for I am like a stranger
In a vastly complex palace of my own construction
Near ivied walls rippling in a distorting mirror.
I ask the wind: a stranger, or a prisoner?
Do I repeat myself according to a pattern?
Who is the agent in my self-creation?
I skulk under the rim of my collar.
Self-discovery is a self-uncovering,
To know one's past is to know one's present,
And the past is a complex image of oneself,
Which is only to be known through experience,
And to know oneself is to cease to be surprised
Both by what one does and what one never
Suspected oneself capable of doing.
To know one's past is to know one's present
And intensify one's everyday consciousness,
And intensification is the beginning of affirmation.
I am the quality of my states of mind,
I am the intensity of my consciousness.
Art leads us back to ourselves: like a hall pendulum.
This sudden chiming of the childhood clock.
Quest theme: seeking pattern. Set in Nobe, Japan.
from The Silence (1965–1966)
from The Silence
[lines 249–273, Freeman encounters his Shadow]
*1 Said Freeman, "I have rebelled," and arrogantly stood alone,
Opposed to the drifting High Road, parting shoppers like a stone.
But what dream hung over the church, what surpassing image
Like the dream of a fallen seed in a dying season,
What dream like a twilit moon?
In a broken life-line
Is a sunset in a library, when, laughter in veins,
What could prevent if one had the belief, what save one's own will?
To a violin's scales
I made a renunciation;
I unchose my self for a Law routine.
But now in the electric light each man's shadow spread years before him;
And can they not see, looking through the Hobbies, the motor
Can they not see that each is awaiting creation,
Awaiting the features of a giant or dwarf?
Do they not know they are sculpting themselves,
This one his drooping jowls, that his sparkling eyes,
Can they not see that every second carves the future idea?
O Shadow, can I not ascend to you? Who are you,
Out there in the future like an inscrutable sage?
The vision faded like a dream
Into foggy air;
An artist's quest began again,
A Tammuz resumed his despair.
[lines 800–840, death of father]
*2 What is that scream from the summer roses
Like an unbearably beautiful pain?
And what disturbance in the condemned men's ward
As madness raged in a provincial's bleeding brain,
As with terrible logic he proved his tormentors wrong,
What triumphant shriek like a discordant chord
And then silence and the patter of rain?
In a lucid moment, lying in the bottom of a bed,
He groaned, "What have I done, what is the reason?"
And seeing him fall apart into a collage of bones,
I could not shake my head and say, "It is all in vain."
In the lush serenity of a sultry hollow
A distant rumble closed a prayer, and echoed
When will all this suffering reach an end and serenity follow?
In the angry autumn a storm came,
Breaking summer defiance,
Licking down from heaven with a white-hot tongue,
A blasted bole in the after-calm,
And a charred inside.
Weary, he resigned his pride,
Surrendered a slurred confession to his inquisitors
And heard the twitter of migrating birds
In evening skies.
At nightfall in the unfriendly room,
Baffled by the indifferent lights of a lifetime lost,
He sighed at the yawning nothing round the flimsy moon
"This is the end," and shivered at the early frost.
And looking at the moon, he understood:
On a blind and slumbering retina, one flicker of light
And a universe; was no more:
Man, nothing and all.
He saw through, saw through.
An endless night.
He cried out – panting, labouring, groaning, he cried out –
groping for my hand, grasping, clutching,
clutching the living, gripping, gripping
under the lamp
And I was all and helpless; while downstairs
The TV picture shrank into a
Excerpted from Selected Poems: Quest for the One by Nicholas Hagger. Copyright © 2015 Nicholas Hagger. Excerpted by permission of John Hunt Publishing Ltd..
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Table of Contents
ContentsPreface to Selected Poems,
PART ONE: QUEST FOR THE ONE,
PART TWO: FOLLIES AND VICES,