The only calibration that counts is how much heart people invest, how much they ignore their fears of being hurt or caught out or humiliated. And the only thing people regret is that they didn't live boldly enough, that they didn't invest enough heart, didn't love enough. Nothing else really counts at all.
He could not stand. It was notThat he could not thrive, he was bornWith everything but the will –That can be deformed, just like a limb.Death was more interesting to him.Life could not get his attention.
Nobody wanted your dance,Nobody wanted your strange glitter, your flounderingDrowning life and your effort to save yourself,Treading water, dancing the dark turmoil,Looking for something to give.
The inmost spirit of poetry, in other words, is at bottom, in every recorded case, the voice of pain – and the physical body, so to speak, of poetry, is the treatment by which the poet tries to reconcile that pain with the world.
I think it was Milosz, the Polish poet, who when he lay in a doorway and watched the bullets lifting the cobbles out of the street beside him realised that most poetry is not equipped for life in a world where people actually die. But some is.
Imagine what you are writing about. See it and live it. Do not think it up laboriously, as if you were working out mental arithmetic. Just look at it, touch it, smell it, listen to it, turn yourself into it. When you do this, the words look after themselves, like magic.
The difficult thing is not to pick up the information but to recognise it - to accept it into our consciousness. Most of us find it difficult to know what we are feeling about anything. In any situation it is almost impossible to know what is really happening to us. This is one of the penalties of being human and having a brain so swarming with interesting suggestions and ideas and self-distrust.
There is the inner life, which is the world of final reality, the world of memory, emotion, imagination, intelligence, and natural common sense, and which goes on all the time like the heartbeat. There is also the thinking process by which we break into that inner life and capture answers and evidence to support the answers out of it. That process of raid, or persuasion, or ambush, or dogged hunting, or surrender, is the kind of thinking we have to learn and if we do not somehow learn it, then our minds lie in us like the fish in the pond of a man who cannot fish.
If you're all so peaceful up there, how did you get such greedy and cruel ideas?The dragon was silent for a long time after this question. And at last he said: It just came over me. I don't know why. It just came over me, listening to the battling shouts and the war-cries of the earth - I got excited, I wanted to join in.
Well, the terrible fact is that though we are all more or less thinking of something or other all the time, some of us are thinking more and some less.Some brains are battling and working and remembering and puzzling things over all the time and other brains are just lying down, snoring and occasionally turning over. It is to the lazy minds that I am now speaking, and from my own experience I imagine this includes nineteen people out of every twenty. I am one of that clan myself and always have been.
It is not enough to say the crow flies purposefully, or heavily, or rowingly, or whatever. There are no words to capture the infinite depth of crowiness in the crow's flight. All we can do is use a word as an indicator, or a whole bunch of words as a general directive. But the ominous thing in the crow's flight, the bare-faced, bandit thing, the tattered beggarly gipsy thing, the caressing and shaping yet slightly clumsy gesture of the down-stroke, as if the wings were both too heavy and too powerful, and the headlong sort of merriment, the macabre pantomime ghoulishness and the undertaker sleekness - you could go on for a very long time with phrases of that sort and still have completely missed your instant, glimpse knowledge of the world of the crow's wingbeat. And a bookload of such descriptions is immediately rubbish when you look up and see the crow flying.
Even the most misfitting childWho's chanced upon the library's worth,Sits with the genius of the EarthAnd turns the key to the whole world.--Hear It Again
The difference between a fairly interesting writer and a fascinating writer is that the fascinating writer has a better nose for what genuinely excites him, he is hotter on the trail, he has a better instinct for what is truly alive in him. The worse writer may seem to be more sensible in many ways, but he is less sensible in this vital matter: he cannot distinguish what is full of life from what is only half full or empty of it. And so his writing is less alive, and as a writer he is less alive, and in writing, as in everything else, nothing matters but life.
There is no correct way to write a novel, or rather, there is only one, and that one way is to make it interesting. That is very easily said, but how do you make your writing interesting?The answer to the question is, that you write interestingly only about the things that genuinely interest you. This is an infallible rule.
And that's how we measure out our real respect for people—by the degree of feeling they can register, the voltage of life they can carry and tolerate—and enjoy. End of sermon. As Buddha says: live like a mighty river. And as the old Greeks said: live as though all your ancestors were living again through you.
What I am going to propose is that you write a novel.As you know, the practical advantages of being able to write out your thoughts fluently are very great. For one thing, when you are used to writing them out, they present themselves, one after another. When you are not used to writing them out, they mill around among themselves usually and you see nothing but heads and tails of them when you sit down to get them on paper. I know from my own experience that the first two or three hours of every exam I ever took were spent simply getting my pen warmed up, and by then it was too late.
In writing these poems about relatives, I found it almost impossible to write about the mother. I was stuck. My feelings about my mother, you see, must be too complicated to easily flow into words.
If you were writing a book to be published, you might be restrained by the fear that your wild imaginings might drive some people crazy. As it is, you are free, you can go off in any direction whatsoever, so long as the flame in your mind burns that way.
So we found the end of our journey.So we stood, alive in the river of light,Among the creatures of light, creatures of light.
Everybody tries to protect this vulnerable two three four five six seven eight year old inside, and to acquire skills and aptitudes for dealing with the situations that threaten to overwhelm it... Usually, that child is a wretchedly isolated undeveloped little being. It’s been protected by the efficient armour, it’s never participated in life, it’s never been exposed to living and to managing the person’s affairs, it’s never been given responsibility for taking the brunt. And it’s never properly lived. That’s how it is in almost everybody. And that little creature is sitting there, behind the armour, peering through the slits. And in its own self, it is still unprotected, incapable, inexperienced...And in fact, that child is the only real thing in them. It’s their humanity, their real individuality, the one that can’t understand why it was born and that knows it will have to die, in no matter how crowded a place, quite on its own. That’s the carrier of all the living qualities. It’s the centre of all the possible magic and revelation. What doesn’t come out of that creature isn’t worth having, or it’s worth having only as a tool—for that creature to use and turn to account and make meaningful...And so, wherever life takes it by surprise, and suddenly the artificial self of adaptations proves inadequate, and fails to ward off the invasion of raw experience, that inner self is thrown into the front line—unprepared, with all its childhood terrors round its ears.And yet that’s the moment it wants. That’s where it comes alive—even if only to be overwhelmed and bewildered and hurt. And that’s where it calls up its own resources—not artificial aids, picked up outside, but real inner resources, real biological ability to cope, and to turn to account, and to enjoy.That’s the paradox: the only time most people feel alive is when they’re suffering, when something overwhelms their ordinary, careful armour, and the naked child is flung out onto the world. That’s why the things that are worst to undergo are best to remember.But when that child gets buried away under their adaptive and protective shells—he becomes one of the walking dead, a monster. So when you realise you’ve gone a few weeks and haven’t felt that awful struggle of your childish self—struggling to lift itself out of its inadequacy and incompetence—you’ll know you’ve gone some weeks without meeting new challenge, and without growing, and that you’ve gone some weeks towards losing touch with yourself.
That’s the paradox: the only time most people feel alive is when they’re suffering, when something overwhelms their ordinary, careful armour, and the naked child is flung out onto the world. That’s why the things that are worst to undergo are best to remember. But when that child gets buried away under their adaptive and protective shells—he becomes one of the walking dead, a monster. So when you realise you’ve gone a few weeks and haven’t felt that awful struggle of your childish self — struggling to lift itself out of its inadequacy and incompetence — you’ll know you’ve gone some weeks without meeting new challenge, and without growing, and that you’ve gone some weeks towards losing touch with yourself. The only calibration that counts is how much heart people invest, how much they ignore their fears of being hurt or caught out or humiliated. And the only thing people regret is that they didn’t live boldly enough, that they didn’t invest enough heart, didn’t love enough. Nothing else really counts at all.
That's the paradox: the only time most people feel alive is when they're suffering, when something overwhelms their ordinary, careful armour, and the naked child is flung out onto the world. That's why the things that are worst to undergo are best to remember. But when that child gets buried away under their adaptive and protective shells—he becomes one of the walking dead, a monster.
Black was the without eyeBlack the within tongueBlack was the heartBlack the liver, black the lungsUnable to suck in lightBlack the blood in its loud tunnelBlack the bowels packed in furnaceBlack too the musclesStriving to pull out into the lightBlack the nerves, black the brainWith its tombed visionsBlack also the soul, the huge stammerOf the cry that, swelling, could notPronounce its sun.
I had let it all grow. I had supposed It was all OK. Your lifeWas a liner I voyaged in.Costly education had fitted you out.Financiers and committees and consultantsEffaced themselves in the gleam of your finish.You trembled with the new life of those engines.That first morning,Before your first class at College, you sat thereSipping coffee. Now I know, as I did not,What eyes waited at the back of the classTo check your first professional performanceAgainst their expectations. What assessorsWaited to see you justify the costAnd redeem their gamble. What a furnaceOf eyes waited to prove your metal. I watchedThe strange dummy stiffness, the misery,Of your blue flannel suit, its straitjacket, uglyHalf-approximation to your ideaOf the properties you hoped to ease into,And your horror in it. And the tannedAlmost green undertinge of your faceShrunk to its wick, your scar lumpish, your plaitedHead pathetically tiny.You waited,Knowing yourself helpless in the tweezersOf the life that judges you, and I sawThe flayed nerve, the unhealable face-woundWhich was all you had for courage.I saw that what you gripped, as you sipped,Were terrors that killed you once already.Now I see, I saw, sitting, the lonelyGirl who was going to die.That blue suit.A mad, execution uniform,Survived your sentence. But then I sat, stilled,Unable to fathom what stilled youAs I looked at you, as I am stilledPermanently now, permanentlyBending so briefly at your open coffin.
You solve it as you get older, when you reach the point where you've tasted so much that you can somehow sacrifice certain things more easily, and you have a more tolerant view of things like possessiveness (your own) and a broader acceptance of the pains and the losses.
The only thing people regret is that they didn't live boldy enough, that they didn't invest enough heart, didn't love enough. Nothing else really counts at all.
Every single person is vulnerable to unexpected defeat in this inmost emotional self. At every moment, behind the most efficient seeming adult exterior, the whole world of the person's childhood is being carefully held like a glass of water bulging above the brim. And in fact, that child is the only real thing in them. It's their humanity, their real individuality, the one that can't understand why it was born and that knows it will have to die, in no matter how crowded a place, quite on its own. That's the carrier of all the living qualities. It's the centre of all the possible magic and revelation.
Right from the start he is dressed in his best - his blacks and his whitesLittle Fauntleroy - quiffed and glossy,A Sunday suit, a wedding natty get-up,Standing in dunged strawUnder cobwebby beams, near the mud wall,Half of him legs, Shining-eyed, requiring nothing moreBut that mother's milk come back often.Everything else is in order, just as it is.Let the summer skies hold off, for the moment.This is just as he wants it.A little at a time, of each new thing, is best.Too much and too sudden is too frightening -When I block the light, a bulk from space,To let him in to his mother for a suck,He bolts a yard or two, then freezes,Staring from every hair in all directions,Ready for the worst, shut up in his hopeful religion,A little syllogismWith a wet blue-reddish muzzle, for God's thumb.You see all his hopes bustlingAs he reaches between the worn rails towardsThe topheavy oven of his mother.He trembles to grow, stretching his curl-tip tongue -What did cattle ever find hereTo make this dear little fellowSo eager to prepare himself?He is already in the race, and quivering to win -His new purpled eyeball swivel-jerksIn the elbowing push of his plans.Hungry people are getting hungrier,Butchers developing expertise and markets,But he just wobbles his tail - and glistensWithin his dapper profileUnaware of how his whole lineage Has been tied up.He shivers for feel of the world licking his side.He is like an ember - one glowOf lighting himself upWith the fuel of himself, breathing and brightening.Soon he'll plunge out, to scatter his seething joy,To be present at the grass,To be free on the surface of such a wideness,To find himself. To stand. T
Keep your whole being on the thing you are turning into words. The minute you flinch, and take your mind off this thing, and begin to look at the words and worry about them... Then your worry goes into them and they set about killing each other. So you keep going as long as you can, then look back and see what you have written. After a bit of practice and after telling yourself you are going to use any old word that comes into your head so long as it seems right, you will surprise yourself. You will read back through what you have written and you will get a shock. You will have captured a spirit, a creature.
T.S. Eliot said to me 'There’s only one way a poet can develop his actual writing – apart from self-criticism & continual practice. And that is by reading other poetry aloud – and it doesn’t matter whether he understands it or not (i.e. even if it’s in another language.) What matters above all, is educating the ear.' What matters, is to connect your own voice with an infinite range of verbal cadences & sequences – and only endless actual experience of your ear can store all that in your nervous system. The rest can be left to your life & your character.