Not loose in the sense of dissolute, but in the sense of a “loose cannon” (which is not a churchman of dubious morals).
From time to time I repost some poems with more explanation or discussion. Here goes.
The beast in the mud has gone to sleep
It hasn’t moved for three years now
Only the wind makes shallow waves
Only the workmen shake the ground
I don’t think that the beast is dead
It’s slept for several years sometimes
But studies of the warning signs
Have not much helped predict the next
The sudden knowledge “this is it”
The change of shape, the sudden crack
The haunting song, the sense of loss
The settling fragments of the map.
I remember very well the circumstances of composing this poem: it began to come to me as I was driving back from Maldon to Harwich along a B road, quite twisty in places. Obviously I couldn’t stop to write it down, so I made up a few lines, repeated them to myself several times and then went on to invent more. By the time I got home I’d revised the poem as if I needed it for an exam.
The Beast reappears in similar forms in other poems, but here it’s clear that while destructive and frightening, it isn’t entirely negative. After its interventions the old order has been destroyed and a new one is forming. So what is the Beast? Chaos, the collapse of civilisations, death, mental breakdown or a mythical beast probably based on our ancestors’ experience of African predators? Maybe.
In this poem I use particularly everyday language to express something strange.
THE FLYING DUTCHMAN
You have a kind of faith I cannot share,
Thomas my saint, the doubt of a darkening sky my glory
And in the wonder of the half-heard things
I march on a stumbling track not for the faithful.
The Flying Dutchman is my dream
But in the end to reach another harbour
Insinuated by the alien forms
Brought on the currents from the unknown shore
Which even then I felt I knew before.
I suppose the subject of this is fairly obvious – religious faith and the possibility of life after death. Thomas was Jesus’ disciple who doubted his resurrection until he’d put his fingers into the nail-holes in the “stranger’s” arms. What I’m trying to express here is not just a kind of religious agnosticism, but a sense of things half-known and suspected.
The Flying Dutchman was the ship (and captain) condemned to range the seas forever after (I think) the captain cursed God. I’m not suggesting that I’ve cursed God, but that I sense a constant wandering – though then I suggest a finding and a coming to shore. I think the last three lines refer to the arrival on European shores of strange flotsam from the Americas, suggesting that a different land existed.
The words “the doubt of a darkening sky my glory” resonate especially for me and the whole line is one of my favourites.
I’ll stop there because the next poem in sequence I want to talk about is “Empire”, which is LONG.