Phillip Medhurst

Wisdom from a Gnostic Sage

Category: Poetry

Lament (1)


If I knew what the living of this life

Obtained, I would obtain it. All that strife,

Anxiety and hurt would contribute

To some exchequer full of meaning’s loot

Which, plundered from the stinking hold

Of death, would help me to pay off, all told,

Those bitter creditors who lay in wait

At each day’s wakening – not to this state

Of ignorance, bankrupt, without defence,

To give up hope without a recompense.

For once I rose, then fell. Again I rose

And staggered to this path. This one I chose,

To leave a trail (which will be overgrown within

Another lifetime) – not that I begin

Anew: my marks and tracks haphazard fell

Throughout this forest floor, which scarcely tell

Of feet that trod this way. For no-one cares.

Each too in isolation, lost, each fares

Towards a light too briefly glimpsed, before

A rush of wind removes what we just saw –

If not imagined. Then, sometimes, we look

To see if we can scry within the brook

From which we drink an image of the stars.

Instead, the canopy of boughs, like bars,

Blots out the sky, an ever-growing lid

Built by our past mistakes – nor can we bid

It stop. It grows and grows. The image of

The light which we remember up above

Gets dimmer as we go. And so our trail

Bequeaths no thing of value, and we fail

To teach to those who follow a true way.


The Immortal Apathetics (Zardoz)


Immortality confounds

our zest for life.

Apathy has frozen us

To monuments.


Come, Oblivion, as friend:

a longed-for harm,

Pyramidic heavy, light

as chambered dust.


Death Eternal grant, O Lord

of Sudden Ends.

Dozed with soporific balm

your bullets zing.



Etruscan Sarcophagus


Seianti Hanunia Tlesana

Now wants to protest. But the lack of

Her jaw-bone and loss of her front-teeth

(As well as her flesh) means that she is

Unable to speak for herself and

Is glad to accept this scribe’s service.


When still in her prime she foresaw in

Her wisdom decay would prevail. Thus

Some clay was amassed, and instructions

Were given to artists to model

Her image seductive and buxom,

All tinted in natural colours.

Thus she was shown forth as a gift to

The future, that this work of beauty

Might sound a soft echo of pleasures

That she brought to men. The fine lady,

This done, could put up with old age and

The dribbling of lips that in youth were

Adorned with love’s whispers and kisses

Before her sweet breath became foetid.

And so her life’s shade could endure the

Denial of sunlight, content that

Her beauty shone over her coffin,

Preserved just as she had decided.

But cruel necromancers, the priests of

Your science, put flesh on the time when

She did not have beauty, so they could

Enjoy some cold cerebral pleasure. In

The impotence that death has imposed, her

Indignant remonstrance can not be

Sustained without pity’s assistance

In place of the promptings of love. But

True praise, she asserts, must derive from

Erections desired, not from duty.


Behold this effigy, and while you have a tongue

Pronounce out loud once more my long-lost name.


The Fight at Finnsburg


Brand beat edda,

Doom on dooming.





We pass over unknown lands

Eastward bound.

We see nothing.

Tunnels echo the rattle.

The wherefore fades

Of our herding to

This trembling wagon,

Rubbing shoulders

Bolt upright.


I still hope, regardless,

For a little red house,

A little white house,

Music playing

In snow-showers, fine as ash.

For then we shall be free –

Work shall make us so –

From fear incontinent.

But only a chimney I see.


Where is the pillar of cloud?

Where is the column of fire?

Will the cyclone be

The fiat “not-to-be”

From the powers that be

As I scramble, naked, up

A mound of sacrifice,

My nails scoring a riddle

On those blank walls?




Black Hole


Not in control,

A big black hole

Drives me on:



I thought I sensed

Some thing beyond –

Surely non-sense

For only no-one


Rules this world,

Until it’s rolled

Up like a scroll

Inside that hole.


And did I see

A face look down? –

No: space-time ripples

Feigned a frown.





Behind the grimy concrete and

Glaucoma’d glass old Pelles groans.

He feels the stain grow wider from

His thigh, and looks for meaning in

The ceiling cracks.


Mordrain, spastic tetraplegic,

Turns towards the upraised Host. (His

Head is all that moves.) The priests some

Formulaic salve dispense from

Tarnished pyx.


Elsewhere a youth is kneeling at

A stream, and catches silver to

His downy lips. By this refreshed,

He cycles on again to do




Francis of Assisi


My verdict is as follows (mark it well):

Francesco Bernadone is a fool.

He thinks that he can strip our Mother Church,

And rob her of her dowry held in store.


If she is to be wed to high-born men,

We should not treat her grossly as a whore

Who gives her favours freely, from the heart,

To all who beat a path up to her door.



Cathedrals are not built with lepers’ hands,

Or chantries by mere gutter-deaths endowed.

Bejewelled shrines must dazzle tear-filled eyes,

Not rustic dolls laid out on heaps of straw.


Francesco and his half-crazed crew may stalk

Unto their hearts’ content this countryside,

But they shall not invade our frescoed walls,

Or stigmatise the icons we adore.


We rest secure beneath our mosaiced domes.

The chant of priest, the tinkle of the coin,

Ensures the soul’s release, the sinner’s balm,

While gospel-truth is safe beneath the floor.




In the fish’s belly, I,

Crowned with slimy weed,

Feel odds and ends of recollects

Slide past, a monster’s brunch;

But no repast for me,

The bearer of bad luck.


Staring, dreading nought,

Disembodied eyes

And scales and teeth and bones

Swirl round and on and down

Through retribution’s maw,

To God knows what.


The storm outside abates.

His anger; is it spent? –

Repentance rolls perhaps from port

Unto metropolis.

The giant tail, now purposeful,

Flicks the new-stilled waves.


The sway of swerve round roots

Of mountains, through drowned valleys

Stops. Now patient, I await

A resurrecting belch,

Hoping that those Ninevites

Get just what they deserve.





The rich reduced, the poor endowed,

The weak are raised to thrones of power.

The good Lord rules while kings are cowed;

He undermines the tyrant’s tower.



In tatters, stripped, from field walled,

God calls us to his banquet spread.

Let super-substantial manna fall,

This day our daily-given bread.



The full are starved, the empty fed,

The fertile pine, the barren bear.

He flattens fields, gives landless bread;

Both weal and woe our God can share.


I am his wheat, ground in a mill

By tooth of beast to make fine leaven;

I shall rise up to do His will,

As done this very hour in heaven.