The Tower - a poem for our times

The Tower                                 DRAFT MARCH 2020

                        Part I  The Interruption.

                              On a train he's made to think of more than work.

Platform One, Monday rain,
Bored aboard the London Train
Coach A, seat 2, "Hello."
Sit-sigh, drip-dry, slowly go..

Facing front, window seat,
Socket, table, trolley treat.
Eyes down, luggage stowed,
Headphones in, avoid her toes.

Wallet? Phone? Case? Keys?
Water? Change? "Tickets please".
People to see, places to go
Money to earn, things to know.

Professional, be-suited, smart, keen,
Tapping on my mobile screen.
"Judgement, Evidence and Review,
Analysis, Plan, Act and Do."

Reflecting, cool and collected
Affectingly unaffected
Enjoying my today's jam
Will they know who I am?

A man that looks on glass 
On it may stay his eye,
Or if he pleaseth, through it pass
And then the heaven espy…

This a moment I know too well,
Wandering mind, emotions swell,
Work is lost, a broken spell. 
Snap shut laptop, "What the hell!”

Glancing through the glass, I see
A derelict tower, in burgeoning trees.
Suddenly, that tower flashing past,
Is mesmerising me...

                                       Grafton Tower (a close image of what I saw)

Bemused I ponder on The Tower
It fills my head a puzzling hour.
Still seeking explanation,
The buffers nudge St Pancras Station.

I speak of My Tower to good friends,
Chaucer's longen folk, on pilgrimage we wend.
My companions' words enlighten me
Offering clues to the mystery.

Rambling through ruins and mountain ways
Even Rupert from Nutwood rhymes to play.
I count the notes and know I'm blessed,
As their thoughts unravel my mess.

Work continues but in a minor key
My mind is wandering away with me.
Jobs done swiftly clear some space
For creative urges to rise and race.

Then scribbled verses unravel free,
Shaping patterns from complexity.
And Rupert's doggerel from childhood days
Is the rhythmic pulse for each new phrase. 

In slow motion recall, with no thundering,
My Tower, replays, in calmer wondering,
Its absurd interruption, an intimacy,
A landmark, mind-mark, with meaning for me. 

Oh, still column of solace in the gentleness of rain,
Do you tempt me from my life of gain?
Hauntings amass through shattered glass. 
My life is flying by too fast!

Dreamweeks later on Cuillin ridge I climb
Misty, night-films reel in my mind.
I soundtrack scenarios in minor arpeggios
With lyrics like operatic arias.

Thanks to a friend on the Isle of Skye.
The Tower becomes a metaphor for, “Why?”
Then it’s back to drudge, swapping pen for PC,
Deep in work when suddenly I see...

A seer-woman, rising from her sleep
Chanting the Pedagogical Oath and ethics deep.
Stirred by Schoenberg, Yeats and Fleetwood Mac,
Leafman with his Abacus is stumbles back.

It's my muse awake!  Her whispering voice
Coaxes my hand, I have no choice.
Now, granted freedom of the page,
I channel these lines from the sage.

Yeat's Tower
(Thoor Ballylee, near Gort, Co Galway)

                             Part II  Night-Film

                             A Woman, Leafman, Professor and others meet by the Tower

It’s dark, dew-damp, dreamy but not yet dawn.
Green hills curve round in soft human form.
The Tower, newly built, hides in moonlight shade
Above English woodland trees swaying in a glade

The pilgrims' camp is awakening it seems
Some idly whispering, some stretching out for dreams.
These are the waking worried, dressed as if to mourn.
Their tattered banners rippling on the Tower's lawn.

They'd lived in hope, they'd learnt despair
Most had given up, others couldn't care
One last push, one last try
"One more march!" had been their cry.

An early dawn-light, reddens up the skies,
I have to climb the Tower,” a woman cries
"Let me pass, let me pass” 
A maternal love-light glistens in her eyes.

Exhaling clouds of helplessness and hugging onto hope
The people turn to watch her ambling up the slope.
The morning glow following her, lightens the night
Is this the moment when wrongs began to right?

She weaves her barefoot pathway in the glistening dew,
Some touch and murmur,  “Let her through, let her through,”
And as she walks she softly smiles
For one she once knew.

And as she moves she whispers,
"Onward upward, brothers, sisters,
Can't you see, you must see,
This isn't just for me.”

At the Tower's door she waits,
Then turning hesitates,
“Make me strong, make me strong,
I must recall the soulful song".

The slip and pad of her feet on stairs
Become echoes of breath as she disappears.
Breathless, at the top and almost done,
She pauses, rehearsing the words of her song.

Then steps, above the parapet, to show her sunlit face
She's sings, "The Tower's Grace"

And though her voice is eerie
Her notes are clear and bright,
And though she is now weary,
Her aria ends the night.

“I must sing, you must sing,
For me, for us, for everyone

And yes, for everything!”

The crowd stood silent, stunned and still
Hoping something here might have eases an ill
But... not yet knowing and becoming strangely sad
Some thought of going when they saw others had.

Then The Leafman stumbles forward,
“He means no ill, he means no ill,”
And, in his tongues, a patois roars.
And most are listening, still.
“I searched for sleep and dream of you
And This Tower I see, for why?
Make me some sense and I sing too
Your night-song from on high!"

"I came along a listening 
Your Poem-song of belief.
I too need share my thinking,
In the symmetry of the leaf!”

And holding up his Hawthorn crown,
A silhouette on the moon,
He kisses it and lays it down,
Humming her gentle tune.

Then the Professor steps up to lecture
In loud stentorian tone,
His mask of study inflected
In a logic, all his own.

“Functionality and formality
Was my work, published with pride,
I referenced Verklärt Nacht's reality
To prevent my suicide."

"I was vulnerable in my selfishness,
Your night song let me see,
There is purpose in togetherness.
We need interdependency!”

And from his breast he takes a book
Handwritten in copper plate,
"Read this simple sense, please look,
Perhaps it’s not too late?"

The watchers frown shaking their heads
“What must we do? What does this mean?”
And wanting peace but fearing dread,
Puzzle at this breaking scene,

An embarrassment of unanswered questions
Pulls more to the silent wood,
Leaving all but Three Illusions,
Rooted to where they stood.

My romantic trio transfixed
Met at the moonlight hour,
Brought together by common goods
In the dawn shadow of The Tower.

Just standing there and being there
With one who knew of good,
Bonded the intimate friendship,
Of three strangers in that wood.

Then, from the shadowed tree-line
The others come back to view,
Moving with new purpose,
Now barefoot in the dew.

Uplifted faces, calmer
Harmonise from the wood.
The crowd begin to harmonise,
"We understand, you understood!"

Brushing silver Desire Lines
On the moonlit woodland grass,
They sing, "We too must climb the Tower
Let us pass, let us pass."

And as they come they carry gifts
Each with a shyness proffered
And place them gently on the grass,
Where the leaf and book were offered.

And then from atop the Tower
A dishevelled dawn chorus broke
They sang in amateur harmony
And as they sang they choked,

“I must sing, you must sing,
For me, for us, for everyone
And yes, for everything!”

“We must sing, you must sing,
For me, for us, for everyone
And yes, for everything!”

And then laughter at their performance
Took hold, to their delight
Tears down smiling faces
Banished the dark of night

Tears then laughter - laughter then tears
The balm that heals us down the years
They left, of course, and went their weary ways
Vowing to chant the "Tower's Grace"
To the end of their days.

The Woman, Leafman and Professor watched
Whispering their deepest thoughts.
"Something had been done that had to be done
But what learning have they caught?"

"What means this Tower we gather round,
And these gifts laid on the dew?"
How do we encourage more
To bring offerings too?"

Whalley Abbey

                   Part III Deliberation  

                       Where the trio share their thoughts.

My Leafman answers first
In his awkward, stuttering way,
Juggling words to approximate
What his muse was trying to say,

"We search our hearts to find a gift.
That was hidden and yet found,
It's sometime hard to find a use,
So, we lay them on the ground."

“How many with talent are troubled?
How many with skills feel strife?
We must find… How you say?
A better way of life.”

My Professor smiles agreement,
And with a new integrity,
“I can explain this Tower’s meaning
Or, how it seems to me...”

“The ground floor was mine, all mine,
Selfish and just, ‘For me’.
Blinded by my ego,
I simply could not see.”

"The second floor, 'For us, just us'
But in cherishing my chosen few
And giving only them my trust,
I was rejecting you.”

“On the third floor, ‘Everyone’ comes to mind,
And here a truth I see.
We need humankind,
Living interdependently”.

"Then, as we reach the top 
'Everything' is understood,
Wisdom, nature and all our world
Shared for our Common Good"

The Woman smiles, embracing her men,
“You see my meaning now,
Everyone and everything
Is the Why? That leads to How?”

“Leafman, caress your Hawthorne leaf 
Lift it lovingly from the dew.”
You must cherish the physical,
It’s the gentle touch for you.”

“Professor, think in hierarchies.
Theory and research, are your measure,
Go, relish the cerebral,
It’s where you’ll find our treasure.”

And I will stay in this Tower to sing,
With all who have gifts to bring,
"For me, for us, for everyone
And yes, for everything."

The Tower
(Oil Painting - Unknown artist)

                 Part IV The Moral  

                     Where the man thinks about how the Tower has changed him.

Alone, much later, I ponder
Of my Tower and what it meant,
And revealed, in a moment of wonder,
I find a conscious intent.

In the struggle of these verses
My life and work have became one.
Not a metaphor but a purpose,
Caught in the Woman’s song. 

By chanting her words we're believing
Knowledge is more than seeing. 
Life is watching, learning and giving
Doing, embracing, caring, living.

Our tomorrows cannot be as yesterday.
We must search for the better way.
The Tower signposts what the best desire,
Paths to lead us way up higher.

We should touch and think with body and mind, 
Be connected, together, linked, entwined.
All things and thoughts must be combined.
The physical and cerebral make humankind.

We must work for sisters, strangers and brothers,
Friends, enemies, neighbours and others,
Be empowered, together, caring, connected.
In UNCommon Goods resurrected.

So, I vow from this day of writing
I'll honour My Tower's sighting,
I'll do what I believe and say,
"Come with me and walk this way".

We must seek out Towers and Mountains,
They point a way from despair.
For, with enough time, we can walk anywhere
Live life, make love, 'Because it's there!'

So, let us clear time to climb and sing,
Making our voices loudly ring,
'For me, for us, for everyone
And yes, for everything."

To be deep in work or leisure
Without purpose brings no pleasure,
Repeating mistakes is insanity
Searching for good is humanity.

May you search and find a place
To sit and chant "TheTower's Grace"

Samagoan Temple Nepal 2014

John Pearce
First draft July 2010
This draft March 2020

 Notes and challenges from The Tower...

The Tower is based on a true and powerful experience. It was very similar the the experience of seeing the Leafman retold in an earlier poem and short story The Leafman

Yes, I did actually see the tower.  I was on the early morning train to London in 2010, deep in work.  It was in the middle of woodland and I sensed a sudden and deep significance in the image. Intrigued and puzzled at my reaction, my first challenge was to make sense of what I'd seen and felt. So, I began to tell friends about it and ask them what they thought. Many seemed to understand because they offered thoughts, quotations, references, even music. Many of these thoughts were referenced in the first drafts of the poem. Thank you especially Hal Sheets, John Squires, Simon Brister, Pippa Manson, Phil Holmes, Coreen Morsink, Jill Boyle, Marian Birkett, Vanessa Rowe, Dave and Pam Ward, Peter Pearson and Zoe Elder, Dodo Pearce, plus many others later.... My second challenge was to write and explain the sense I was looking for - so I began.  It started as a tower, became My Tower and ended as The Tower. I spent many hours writing and thinking about it.  Never have I spent so long on a single piece of writing. It still entices and inspires me as an image, a metaphor and task.

In 2012 my interest waned - I had never invested so much time on one piece of writing - it was proving tough but fascinating.  Was it worth the effort?  Then, in my friend Pippa Manson's house, I selected a poetry book, at random.  It fell open at Yeats' poem "The Tower".  I was stunned into rethinking and redrafting.  It is obvious now that Towers, Mountains and "getting up high to see it all clearer" is a common muse. My quest to complete the poem reignited, I made a more direct link to The Leafman story.  John Squires, my writer friend, who has stayed the course from the beginning, made some comments and as a result I tidied up some lazy rhymes and inconsistent use of punctuation, whilst retaining the rights of a maverick poet, to break convention. I also added a final section where the man decides to act, to DO something tangible as a result of the interruption.  The real interest, for me, was how the poem was beginning to link, in one theme of interdependence, everything I believe and do at work, in my workshop, play and leisure.  That has been a powerful, reassuring personal insight I am sure I would not have had without the sighting.

I met Coreen Morsink in Athens in 2015. Coreen is a composer, who found the poem, liked it, and offered to write piano music as an an accompaniment  to each section - we are collaborating, still, on a mixture of words, music and images.  The challenge to complete a musical version with Coreen remains.  Then another lull came in 2016 and The Tower remained a dormant work in progress. My challenge to add more was refreshed after the echoes of despair I, and many others, feel, in this Brexit, Trump and increasingly selfish, hateful and nationalistic world, now without Jo Cox...  The theme of humanity's interdependence was already in earlier drafts but one version (February 2017) powered it up somewhat.  The ideas, frustrations and influences on me are well (or badly) chronicled in my BLOG and increasingly in my professional writing.  It's all about us DOING things to make our little personal and the wider worlds better.  It's about NOT being #SilentWitnesses to bad stuff - we are interdependent!

Later revisions and rewrites tried to capture the sense of despair with the Climate Emergency and more wars, deaths and destruction.  Not to mention the invasion of social media, attacks on privacy and bullying in, oh so many areas of life.  I added the verse...

Now! Take the iconic photograph - Paint this beautiful scene
Shoot the dramatic video - they'll get what it means!
Fly lower to grab the lot.  Get me her face now
I want the money shot - I don't care how...

I removed it because it allowed the paparazzi to invade into an intimacy yet again...

The March 2020 version tried to strengthened the lead up to the song and added the title of the aria as "The Tower's Grace"   I like the idea of it being a chant, a prayer, a grace to be said at meals....  I have started using it as a meditation chant too.

Your challenges....

Your challenges, poor reader, are first to read the damned thing.  It is long - think of verses as tweets - there are 66 or so.  Second, I'd appreciate your thoughts about how, if at all, it affects you.  Experience suggests  ideas may find their way into later drafts.  The medium is the message - the writing is already interdependent.  Third, I want you find something positive in the moral, even a resolve to climb higher, when you can, and consider what we might yet do to rekindle a better sense of collaboration, care and interdependence in our troubled world.  To regain some of the great values and ethics of trust, open-ness, honesty and genuine collaboration - an interdependent - search for truth.

Our challenges....
And, finally, the challenge for us all.  It is just too easy to become a depressed observer of life... and kid ourselves we are doing something as a mouse clicker... a chat room responder... a bar room commentator... a signer of on-line petitions... or remain a moaner, or worst a #SilentWitness to wrong doing.   We know, deep down, none of this make much of a difference. Even poets and protest marchers achieve little - unless they, we, act act out, in daily lives, what we believe we are marching for..

Meanwhile and perhaps because of our relative apathy, they are building big walls out there and the borders are closing in on us...

Don't give up for me, for us, for everyone, for everything...