The Tower - a poem for our times




The Tower                                 DRAFT MARCH 2021

                        Part I  The Interruption.
                              On a train I am caused to think of more than work.





Platform One, Monday rain,
Bored aboard the London train
Coach A, seat 2, "Oh hello."
Drip-dry, sit-sigh, off we go.

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

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

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

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

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 the 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 (the closest 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 wend
Offering clues to the mystery,
My companions' words enlighten me.

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

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

Shaping patterns from complexity.
Scribbled verses unrolling free,
The rhythmic pulse for each new phrase,
Is Rupert's doggerel from childhood days

In slow motion recall, no train thundering,
My Tower, replays, in calmer wondering,
It's absurd interruption, now 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!

Dream-weeks later on Cuillin ridge I climb.
A blurred Night-film reels 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 back to drudge, swap pen for PC,
But deep in work I suddenly see...

A seer-woman, rising from her sleep
Chanting a Global Oath and ethics deep.
Then Leafman with his Abacus comes stumbling back.
Stirred by Schoenberg, Yeats and Fleetwood Mac.

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


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

                             Part II  Night-Film

   Coreen Morsink's accompaniment to Night-Film


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

Green hills curve round in human form.
It’s dark, dew-damp but not yet dawn.
An ancient woodland sways in a glade
Our Tower, new built, in the moonlit shade.

The pilgrims' camp awakes it seems,
Whispering, still stretching out for dreams.
They are waking worried, dressing as if to mourn.
Tattered banners ripple on the Tower's lawn.

Last night's campfire no longer warming
In the early light of this colder dawning.
They'd lived in hope, but learned despair
Most were giving in, some couldn't care.

"Yes, we gazed into the golden flames
Made new friends and learned their names
 Vowed, 'One last push, one last try
One more march, before we die!'

"But reality dawns too, deep down we know
We must now go back, to reap and sow.
We've had our fun, our songs, and dance.
You can't feed a family on romance"

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

Exhaling clouds of helplessness and hugging on their hope
The people turn to watch her ambling up the slope.
A morning glow follows her and lightens out the night.
Was this the moment when wrongs began to right?

She weaves her barefoot pathway in the glistening dew,
A guide touches and murmurs,  “Let her through, let her through,”
And as she walks she softly smiles
Remembering one she knew.

And as she moves she whispers,
"Onward upward, brothers, sisters,
You will 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 now sing the soulful song".

The slips of the steps of her feet on the stairs
Echo her breathing as she disappears.
Then breathless, at the top and almost done,
She pauses, rehearsing the words of her song.

Standing on the parapet, we saw her dawn-lit face.
I was there and I heard it. "TheTower's Grace.

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

And though her voice was eerie
Her notes were clear and bright,
And though she was so weary,
Her aria ended night.

The crowd stood silent, stunned and still
Something in her grace had eased their ill.
Some did not hear, remaining strangely sad.
Others thought of going when they saw that others had.

Then one stood up and cried, "Be still!
Let this one speak, he means no ill.”
So, The Leafman stumbled forward,
He spoke in tongues. His patois roared.
"You make me sense and I sing too
Your night-song from on high!
I search for sleep and dream of you
Now this Tower I see, for why?"

"I now know after listening 
Your song-poem of belief.
I too share my thinking,
In the story of my leaf!”

And plucking from his Hawthorn crown,
He made a silhouette on the moon,
He kissed his leaf and lay it down,
Humming her gentle tune.

Then the Professor stepped 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, now in simpler sense, please look,
Perhaps it’s not too late?"

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

An embarrassment of unanswered questions
Pulled more to the silent wood,
Leaving we few and the Three Illusions,
Rooted to where we stood.

My romantic trio were transfixed
When they met at the moonlight hour,
Now bound together by common goods
In the dawnlight of The Tower.

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

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

Uplifted faces, calmer
Harmonising from the wood.
They smiled and begin to sing,
"We understand, you understood!"

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

And as they came they carried gifts
Each with a shyness proffered
And placed them gently on the grass,
Where the leaf and book were offered.

And then from atop the Tower
A dishevelled 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 ran down laughing faces
Banishing their fear 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 all their days.

The Woman, The 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 their offerings too?"



                   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 in hearts to find a gift.
Once was hidden is now found,
Somethings we found hard to use,
We lay for others on the ground."

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

My Professor nodding agreement,
Spoke with 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 climb.”

"The second floor was, '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 is the truth I see.
We'll only thrive as humankind,
Living interdependently”.

"When we reach the Tower top
'Everything' is understood,
Wisdom, nature, and all in our world
Shared for The 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, you 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,
For 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 I think about how the Tower might change us.

Alone, much later, I ponder
Of my Tower and what it meant,
Revealed, in a glance of wonder,
I found conscious intent.

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

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

Our tomorrows are too soon yesterdays.
We can find the better ways.
The Tower signposts what the best desire,
Paths that lead us way up higher.

Walking, talking, thinking with body and mind,
Ideas and thoughts will be combined,
Connected, together, linked, entwined.
The physical and cerebral make humankind.
 
We empower only when connected.
Working for sisters, strangers, brothers,
Friends, enemies, neighbours, others.
Our common goods will be resurrected.

So, I vow from this day of writing
I'll honour the Tower sighting,
I'll do more of what I believe and say,
And ask others to walk this way.

I'll say, "Clear time to climb and sing,
Find your voice and let it ring
'For me, for us, for everyone
And yes, for everything."

"Seek out your Mountain and your Tower,
Climb up and away from despair.
Live life, make love, share your powers
With enough time you can walk anywhere."

Go, search for your best. Go, find pleasure.
Refreshed in new work and leisure,
Repeating mistakes is insanity
Striving for good is humanity.

And may we rest sometimes and find a place
To sit and chant "TheTower's Grace"



Samagoan Temple Nepal 2014


John Pearce
First draft July 2010
This draft March 2021
 



 Notes and challenges from The Tower...


"The Tower" is based on an actual sighting and experience.  It was like seeing The Leafman retold in an earlier poem and short story The Leafman

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.... (And The Next Stage Radicals in this latest edit.) My second challenge was to write and explain the sense I was looking for.  It started as a tower, became My Tower, and ended as The Tower. 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 the increasingly selfish, hateful, and nationalistic world, now without Jo Cox and pot Brexit. 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. 

The March 2020 version tried to strengthen 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 get through the damned thing.  It is long but 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 the best ideas find their way into later drafts.  

Our challenges....
And, finally, the challenge for us all.  It is just too easy to become a depressed observer of life...They are drowning out there and too many of us are describing the water.  Let's not kid ourselves we are doing something as a mouse clicker... a chat room responder... a bar room commentator... a signer of on-line petitions... a moaning complainer.  At worst we are #SilentWitness to wrongdoing.  We know, deep down, none of this makes much of a difference. Even poets and protest marchers achieve little - unless they, we, act out, in daily lives, what we believed we were marching for.

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

Please don't give up on me, us, everyone and everything.