Phillip Medhurst

Wisdom from a Gnostic Sage

Category: nihilism

A Ship For My Death

 

I wish to leave some monument, before

I die, so I am able to reflect

On what I should have been; because the shore

That I must pass has no return, once wrecked

The only ship that might have brought me home –

Dismembered, rolling on the pallid foam

 

Of the Dark Sea. From splintered matchwood, who

Could reconstruct the beauty of that boat,

Or purpose, why and where it meant to go

In carrying my soul, how it would float

Back to that far original sunrise

Whose light exposes what is truth, what lies,

 

And what the nature of its cargo was?

So I must build a ship for death, a barque

That bears a memory of me, because

That other ship, my body, will not hark

Back to my life, for once its subtle winds

Become dispersed, and once the cord that binds

 

It has been cut by fate’s capricious hand,

Then those still travelling upon the sea

May never contemplate before they land

On shore unknown my last vitality,

As once I did in tombs that I then saw

Like upturned boats upon the Lycian shore.

 

Of what then can I build this ark of mine,

To bear within my immortality?

What oak or ash can I cut down, what pine

Or cedar hew for my security?

Whatever forest, and whatever wood,

I shall be taking what has been made good

 

By other planting, toil and nurture, long

Before the hand that plunders that slow growth

Had digitally sprouted from among

The cells established by a plighted troth

Of two conjoined in random circumstance

By centripetal force of nature’s dance.

 

And who am I to pluck the fruit of slow

Maturity? Such sacrilege negates

All righteous memory. Where can I go

When every broken bough thus violates

The work of nature if not husbandry,

And tooth of saw destroys a legacy?

 

The matter that I work on must needs be

Some thing I almost made from no thing –

An interstice which every one can see

And filled by what I was – a vacant ring

Become a diadem, a hollow bell

That tolls a fame no mortal voice could tell.

 

Perhaps the treasure I will use to deck

My ship was won by force of arms, and set

A record straight, a torque torn from the neck

Of a foul enemy who won a bet,

And came by it without a just dessert –

A harvest sprung from bitterness and hurt,

 

Now righteous cause of this my great effect.

Or maybe I could cause to rise from dross

Some thing magnificent, some thing correct

From what was wrong, to turn what was a loss

Into a gain, and thereby leave my mark,

And turn a waste, perhaps, into a park –

 

But then be charged with exploitation of

Goods purchased at a knock-down price, a way

To white the sepulchre I raised above

A mess of bones that will not rise, the pay

That I must give, too grudgingly,

To get what should be rendered to me free:

 

Unstinting praise from men for my good deeds

Which should be done with no reward in mind,

Except to make a no thing of those needs

Which buried folk alive, and help them find

A new beginning. This should be the way

My chantry-priest receives his fee to pray;

 

For well we know that knights of olden times

Paid handsomely for masses in their name,

Because the ones who wondered at their tombs,

Illiterate, saw eulogies in vain,

But yet could hear an echo of the gold

Which brought a kind of warmth to what was cold

 

And hard: the real blood enchaliced there

(At least to faith if not to sight) spelled life

Eternal to a statue’s stony stare,

And monkish chant could pass for keen of grief

As long as those whose arms, there carved, prevailed,

And could ensure it was for them it wailed.

 

But now the masses read. And read they shall,

If they are so inclined to now descend

These metered steps, to read upon the wall

Of this my tomb my verse, just how my end

Has justified my ragged means: my lines

That vanish to eternity in signs.

 

So thus it is: my ship for death, festooned

With leaves torn from the story of my life,

A rich thesaurus where each item, honed

From love and hate, from passion and from strife

Goes up in flames that blend with setting sun,

And sheds some light on what was lost, what won.

 

Except no one will read it, that’s a fact –

Unless their own concerns will prompt them to.

Then my reflections in a mirror cracked

Become a virtual quarry for some new

Memorial to some one unknown to me

Which leaves no trace of what I used to be.

 

So that’s the end of it, the full stop to

My life, the chiselled epitaph obscured

By overgrowth, my only hope a clue

In worn-out letters made out on the floor

Made smooth by those who come, then go

Of what the story was of those below.

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Ida the Fossil (2)

 

And yet I hope that soon this week will end,

That dawn will break, and broken hearts will mend

So that a wholesome Sabbath day will bring

Enlightened rest; that birds again will sing

Instead of fearsome rustlings in the dark;

And the whole world will be a pleasant park:

The wood in which we wandered just a copse,

A refuge for the timid beast, which hops

To cover, then comes out at will to see

The sunlight play, no need at all to flee

From hungry predator. A dream! As such

It does not heal, but just provides a crutch

For fractured consciousness, which seeks in vain

To mend its broken world, where only pain

Defines reality, and we are lame,

And cannot run, compete against, or tame

The ravening beast which seeks us, and devours

The meagre gleanings of successful hours.

The dawn will show a good God to be lies,

And noonday sun expose a Lord of Flies.

 

I know the time is nigh: the global scale

Has tipped towards destruction. Soon the tale

Of all man’s deeds and misdeeds will just stop,

And end in silence. Sin’s ripe fruit will drop

And smash upon the ground of all our being.

That ground may then remain, all else then fleeing,

As cold and hard as it has ever been,

Unheard, unsmelt, untouched and all unseen

By anything that mars the pristine scape

Of nothingness with any wanton shape

Irrelevant to Being-in-Itself –

All life placed on that continental shelf

Where fossils lay well out of sight and out

Of mind, mere rocks embedded there to flout

The law of life which says that we must change,

And we must use our power to arrange

Some continuity of gene, no noise

To rattle or disturb death’s equipoise.

So IDA is our perpetuity,

Extinct and petrified where none can see.

 

Ida the Fossil (1)

 

Scientists have discovered an exquisitely preserved ancient primate fossil that they believe forms a crucial “missing link” between our own evolutionary branch of life and the rest of the animal kingdom.The 47million-year-old primate – named “Ida” – has been hailed as the fossil equivalent of a “Rosetta Stone” for understanding the critical early stages of primate evolution. The Guardian 2009

 

In this, the Sabbath vigil of my life, I found

Myself prostrate, all helpless on the ground,

For sin had made me blind. It was as though

Throughout my life I strayed, and did not know

Where I was going or from whence I came,

Just led by some ephemeral, dancing flame

Snuffed out once it was glimpsed, and dead to sight

Before it could be fixed – the moth’s mad flight

More full of rhyme and reason than my life,

Now so replete with grief and full of strife.

 

I’ve looked at ev’ry explanation that

There is of life, and none come near to sat-

Isfying all criteria of truth,

Or come up with the necessary proof

That they’re the answer. All require a leap

Into absurdity – alright for sheep

Who find their comfort in conformity,

But useless for all lone-wolves such as me.

There is a way to make it work, of course,

Which is: to put on blinkers like a horse

 

And go just where the drayman tells you to.

But in your heart you’ll know it to be true

That, even though you’re willing to work hard,

All roads end up inside the knacker’s yard.

“Arbeit macht frei” is true to a degree,

But not the way we wish that it could be.

A product of conception, you will be

From life aborted, howe’er belatedly.

Meanwhile, you strive where chance gives no reward:

Your feeble hand upturns an empty gourd.

And so our ends are like a jelly-fish:

Sans spine, sans brain, a wat’ry upturned dish

Borne on through vastness we cannot perceive,

Still less control enough to steer. Believe

We may, but proof of purpose or a plan

Revealed consistently denied, we can

Not fabricate from our own stuff, for we

Are empty, blind, insensate, falsely free,

Borne on by tides, by winds, by currents, all

Uncomprehended, landing where we fall.

 

The birds seem free; no wonder, then, the dove

Is symbol of God’s Spirit from above.

But what became of all the other kinds

Of beasts not taken to the ark? – They died.

So we: into oblivion. We: free

To die and be forgotten; the elect

Disclose God’s will to naturally select.

Just like a snail I leave a glistening train

To be erased by the first fall of rain;

Or, like the scarab, roll a ball of dung,

My pyramid for when I have no tongue

To extol my own deeds. For like that bird,

(Though it may seem unlikely and absurd)

The phœnix, from the ashes (I surmise)

Once fire is spent I presently will rise

To live again; although we know within

That in this legend ashes are the “fin”.

 

Lament (2)

 

We came. We paused. We went. We had our say.

And whether night or day, it makes no sense:

Our toil receives no lasting recompense.

The arbit’ry division of the days

As hours, minutes, seconds; and the ways

In which these segments must be spent; and how

We should be happy and fulfilled; who bow

To, who revere; and where we are consigned

To at our death: all these make chains that bind

Us. We embrace these shackles, since the free

Must for themselves define what they must be:

What “happy” is, and what should make them sad,

And wherein dwells the good, and where the bad.

Night brings no rest unless we lose ourselves

Inside a dream-world where our psyche delves

Into those wishes unfulfilled, beyond

The grasp of nightmare’s reach, a pond

Beneath whose surface deep desire thrives

Without diminishing our thwarted lives;

A magic chalice where all beauty lives,

Which takes from no-one, ever – only gives

To all, and none must beg: its grace

Wells up to all, and all can find a place.

But dawn’s cold light reveals it full of lies.

Best not to dream when we must close our eyes.

 

 

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.