In the previous post I described how the verse in my first collection, Eileanan (1980) showed me to be a rationalist and an agnostic, a person as far from God as it is possible to be. This was how I was in my teens and twenties. The march of science and philosophy had disproved the God my parents believed in, or so I thought at the time. This attitude of mine was to continue into my thirties and early forties. To myself I would say, ‘I want to believe but I can’t’.

Little did I realise at the time that this rationalising was all an excuse to not believe in God; it was a rebellion of the will, not the intellect. I valued my autonomy, my freedom to sin. As long as one didn’t hurt anyone else, that was okay then! It was an ‘as if God were there’ morality. God isn’t really there, (hasn’t modern thought done away with Him) but let’s act as if He is! For if we don’t, then anything is allowed, and the world will be murder – literally. Better to pretend God is there.

Moon with birch tree near Braco

Moon over Braco   Photo: Scott Murray

Silent moon time

The evidence of how I thought about life and the spiritual side of things in my thirties and early forties is in two verse collections, Bailtean (Gairm, 1987) and A’ Càradh an Rathaid (Coiscéim, 1988). Why did A’ Càradh an Rathaid (Mending the Road)  come out so quickly after Bailtean (Villages)? Normally there would be a gap of many years between collections. The reason was that, at the time, Coiscéim asked me for a collection and I gathered together, wisely or unwisely, what scraps I had that hadn’t been published in Bailtean.

Perhaps the two most relevant poems in Bailtean which show what I was thinking about spiritual matters are ‘Silent Moon’ and ‘The Great Artist’. The ‘moon’ represents the divine and it is ‘silent’; there is only ‘nature’s laws’ and the despair of the decaying world:

Silent Moon

We / in the wood. / Above it the sun, / above it the moon. / Moon world, / sun world, / the one burning, / the one wan. / The moon is pale / in the same sky / in which the leaves are falling. / If I should catch the pale moon / the sun would fall / if I should catch the leaf.// Mud smell / in the brown path, / the leaf falling / according to nature’s laws, / and dying. / It will fall forever, / dispersing, uniting.// The pale leaf / in the mud, the white swan on the wave / and the sun without light.// What town is this / that is so silent? / For God’s sake / say something / about unity, about scattering.// The leaf broke in a thousand pieces. / The moon was silent. (translated)

 The ‘sun’ represents reason and the rationalising power. ‘If I should catch the pale moon’, that is, if the divine were real for me, ‘the sun would fall’, that is, my rationalising would cease. What the poem is saying is that I need something supernatural – or supranatural – to convince me of the divine reality. But ‘The moon is silent’.

On the surface, ‘The Great Artist’ would appear to contradict ‘Silent Moon, but it doesn’t really. It celebrates the sublime beauty of nature, but not a personal God who can speak to the heart:

The Great Artist

In the silence of the wood / where the sun / gilds the winter grass / and everything is still / in the clearing, / I thought of the great artist – / so skilled a painter, / so fluent a musician, / the world’s chief poet: / I thought that He / also deserved praise, / that He wishes to be extolled / for his terrible visions. I will certainly take His picture home / and hang it / beside the Picasso. / The birds will sing their love / in the happiness between us. (translated)

 If anything, this is a sadder poem than the previous one. The incredible beauty of nature makes us yearn for the divine to speak to us, but it is an impersonal speaking; certainly not enough to satisfy the immortal desires of the heart. The phrase ‘hang it / beside the Picasso’ says all that needs to be said.

In the next post I’ll look at some relevant poems from A’ Càradh an Rathaid. It was about this time that I took an interest in the work of the psychologist Carl Jung and his writing on synchronicity or meaningful coincidence. The title poem in the book is about such a coincidence. That and a few other events that took place in my life made me start to question the purely materialist point of view, although the supranatural things that were to happen were far in the future.