Recurring images

Sometimes a particular image emerges in one poem I write and then comes back once or several times more unprompted. Sometimes there’s a bit of planning or prompting involved. I’d be keen to hear whether other poets experience the same.

This is a different matter from recurring themes or topics. For example, DRAGONS are a theme, as is EXPLORATION. I can treat exploration in many different ways: it’s a topic that greatly interests me, but it’s not a single image. In “Explorers”, my focus is on the restless curiosity and adventurousness of the explorers. I recognise that their exploration has an impact on the lands they discover, and that means, like addicted people, they must move on to new lands – but the impact I describe in that poem is mainly on the natural environment. In “Visitor” I descibe a European explorer in Africa from the Africans’ point of view and where I suggest impact, it’s the impact of being “discovered” on the local people, not the environment.

Images are more mysterious. They can appear and disappear in a few words with no explanation. At one time I found the image of a dying or wounded magician repeated itself in several poems. This was not by plan (“I think I’ll write another poem with a wounded magician”) and the magician was central to at least one poem, but not central to others. I don’t want here to explore what that image meant to me – mainly for reasons of space! Then it vanished.

Two or three poems featured a clever, rational detective in some kind of struggle with darker, perhaps more instinctive forces. In several more recently, I’ve referred to some kind of leading or beckoning female voice, never quite there to be defined and measured. Again, this is the core of two recent poems but has a more peripheral role in others. Of course, once I’ve used the image once, it stays in my consciousness and this may prompt me to re-use it. Equally, of course, it isn’t unique. It may come from a “collective unconscious” which may be universal or limited to some cultures, or it may be the result of something I read in a book quietly metamorphosing in my unconscious.

In one recent poem, I made a passing reference to “lawless borderlands”. This is where a bit of planning or preparation comes in, because I thought then, “That’s an interesting phrase. Maybe I could expand on it in another poem.” But I didn’t timetable writing a poem about lawless borderlands. I let it hang around until a few days later I suddenly thought, “I might be ready to write that poem about lawless borderlands” and then I wrote it – or rather, as I was about to go to bed, I roughed out a few lines, jotted them down and returned to finish the poem the next day.

These are always images that are numinous and resonant for me.

So, other poets – do you experience something similar?