Back to 'Poems by Peter Brooke'







The soul, being enormous, cannot fit
this narrow way, even knowing
or, at least, believing,
or, at least, thinking
that only beyond or through it
will it find
a space that is more or less adequate.

I threw myself against the wall,
against a door that is
wide open but
I thought it was too small.

And so I left the little cell
where God walked with my uncle in the cool
of the evening and ran away
to preserve my life to the 'big city'
where I walked the streets and was taken
in the arms of this one. And that one.

This enormous soul, still
thrown against the wall.

And my uncle, he
was always with me, weeping,
even a hundred miles away,

because he was in God, knowingly,
and I was in God just because
everything is in God, and that is why
those whose eyes are opened, who see
in God, see everything, and weep

So my uncle came, looking for me,
presenting himself at the brothel door,
making himself small and
insignificant, just another

We conversed
that night and our conversation turned
on the enormous pit
that is the longing of the soul and on what
properly corresponds to it.

And so I returned to my uncle's cell
and I felt like a child that is growing smaller,
a child who is
returning to childhood, to a world
growing ever bigger, a world
of infinite possibility.




In the darkness near me,
more or less invisible, the Cross
hangs from my bookcase.
This inconspicuous position seems
somehow appropriate to this
one among many
thousands of crucifixions, quite
unnoticed in the
news of the day or in
history - so
that though the crucifixion of God
might be said to have been
something special, what
was really important was
that it was commonplace - the rows
of crosses like the 1,090
hangings in kenya. It is in serie
that God becomes man, and Andy Warhol
was onto something when he replaced
the Cross with the electric chair ...




March 19th 1944
standing on the deck alone
my father saw
the stars on a moonless night
unbearably bright
shining triumphant over their own
shining triumphant in the Red Sea.

March 19th 2006
coming home in the dead of the night
from the hospital, on a bend
in the road, in the headlights,
I caught a glimpse of a badger.
He stared towards me for a moment, fixed
his eyes on the too-bright light, and then
scuttled away quickly, out of my sight.




In those distinctive
characteristics of
the earth the rivers
run through before
falling into
the sea, Evagrius
sees the marks
of our manifold disease.
But is it not the distinctive
characteristics of
the earth that we love
in a good wine, raising it
from mere satisfaction
of a need to object
of contemplation? and what
was the smack of the earth in the wine
Jesus made in Cana?
Evagrius though
was no enemy of matter, since he says
Creation is a letter
written to fallen
man by God, and what
is Creation if it is not
sight, hearing, smell, touch, taste, and what
is that if it is not
that many-flavoured and sumptuous
Earth - proud mother
whom the waters
feed as they pass,
giving birth eventually
to that
new earth that can look
in wonder at the sea.




That complexity of colour which she lived
if only for a moment, that is not a patch
on what she was, but nor is it
nothing. It would be
stupid to say she lives in it, but
it is the proof of her life, the sign,
as the prophet's word is not
the Revelation of God but the mark left
by the Revelation of God.

So how does the mark that is left behind stand
in relation to the impulse that made it? - Oh
she was in the very substance of the paint
she worked with the palette knife,
and I, looking attentively and close up,
enter into it too, so do we hold hands,
I and that lovely dead woman?

I live with you as I live
with all those dead artists who surround me,
loving what they loved, but do I love
equally the sewing machine operator in Manila, who made
my cheap jumper, whose fingers have touched,
whose eyes have embraced,
perhaps sleepily, the threads
that compass me about,
which she lived, perhaps,
as a tomb - do I think
the artist has an 'immortality' greater than hers?
Would Geraldine allow me to think such a thing?

No. The painting made her in her day and now
it is making me, and she and I
come and go but the painting endures
with a life of its own as the Holy Spirit
is a distinct Person and not
just an equal sign between
the Father and the Son.



What is this human
greatness that you celebrate?
This human heart
flaming in the sky?
This space I would have
full of a free
other than human personality,
you would have it full
of human thought
independent of a thinker
interpenetrating other minds
and bound to an iron wheel
of impersonal necessity
and you declare that this
is joyous, for after all
how else would it be

Once a long time ago
I had the notion
of a book of poems to be called
'Irresponsibilities'. and though
that was just a childish fancy
I still affirm in opposition to
you whom I love so dearly
- God's freedom as the guarantor
of the freedom of His image.
Yet there is in your Great Wheel
that gives everyone their chance, great pity -
the pity of Dostoevsky's
Grand Inquisitor
for is not that freedom cruel
that puts so many on the road to Hell?




I have gone into the inner room and shut the door and
here I am standing in a thick
forest, stretching further than the eye can see,
whose trees are people standing
still, attentively.
That standing still prefigures well
the end of time, the end to which
time tends and that was
cut off with knowledge
of the Material World,
the Good that is bound by limits
of space and time, unlike
this wood where we are standing and which is
Boundless and abounding and
bounding - for this place
that seems to be motionless
is, nonetheless, the very essence of
movement, circling and leaping
and interweaving in
a dance without steps,
a rhythm without a pulse.




I was never so much interested in
individual salvation (my own,
for example) but rather
a whole society where holiness would be known
and respected. I was a modern
free-living American
but still I hated
all that ugly waste.
I was a little too
precious and my own taste
ran to the rare and the exquisite.
I had already read René Guénon, who proposed
as the necessary prerequisite
of all religion, a metaphysical base,
which I also thought I had found
in Lao Tze, before I stumbled upon
the unmatchable beauty
of Orthodoxy.

Which created in me
at least the suspicion
that it was the beauty
rather than any
schema of objective truth
that interested me.

But that is our contention:
that it is the object of love
rather than the idea
that counts; the object
of love that makes and is made
by the lover - we are not
for nothing in the business ...

Eventually, I found my whole
society respectful of holiness
in the depths of the forest, surrounded by
animals and trees,
but still, in the skete with a
handful of fellow monks and visitors,
I was always dreaming
of an America become
And that is one reason why,
when the pain began,
when my stomach started falling apart,
I told no-one.
Yes, I did want to share,
the pain of the crucifixion.
But there was something else.
I did not want to go
begging to the technological
enemy, the hospital, to see
that America was unchanged.
There was still the old taste
for the rare and the exquisite,
the 'ingenious, lovely things'
and a reluctance to mix
with a multitude incapable
of seeing the miracle.




I sing the war for
silence, the silence of
full participation in
the Divine, the war which,
were I to win it
I would be
the war in which
the enemy is
the song I sing.




Has Your Face become
too too fixed?
too too solid?
- this story, endlessly repeated -
the cross, the nails, the spear -
this wheel endlessly turning
through the seasons of the year?
So many millions
gathered here
all in one Word -
a statue in a bird?

Was it freedom from this repetition that
Muhammad sought, and did he try
to open up a new enormity, a sky
empty of myth and personality,
open to interlocking
patterns affirming
shape, colour and musical line?
And yet the great Iranian poets filled
the Heavens with the human form
of angels and the angelic
forms came together, folding in
the shape of Ali, for the heart
needs for the object of its thought
something human,
even if, in this case,
they were forbidden
a visible, a 'plummet-measured face'.

And the gnostics, who would turn
all those endlessly repetitive
objects of contemplation -
transfiguration, resurrection -
into their own
human possession -
monuments of their own
human magnificence -
but here there is no
for how can the prodigal child
ever be reconciled
with the Father if the Father
is not still
radically Other?

We profess instead
a God Who stands before us,
beautiful in his human dress, and yet
not something we possess,
not even in the deepest
recess of the soul - and yet
He is always with us and
we cannot live unless
we hold Him by the hand.




Astraea's holy child -
a rattle in the wood ...

The child's rattle is not
an expression of the child.
It has been imposed on him from without.
It is in fact
the beginning of the moulding of the child,
the first link in the chain
that binds him to the world.
if the child should die
the rattle becomes
his symbol -
the object that most clearly has
bound up in it
the full force of his
It is what was
and is now no longer
a universe.
But someone might say it was
the mother's breast that was
the round universe - oh no ...
The mother's breast was indeed
an expression of the child
simple completion
of the circle of his need.
The rattle, though,
was out of nature. Not the mother
but the rattle was
a matter of
disinterested fascination, something quite
other than himself, vast
in its implications, the door
into infinite space.
The rattle then becomes
the symbol of the dead child
as the instrument of torture
is the symbol of the martyr.
The living child will 'become'
all sorts of things - worker,
drunk, paedophile, poet,
all determined
by what he is not.
The space that will be occupied by many things
is now occupied by one thing -
The rattle drew the child
into that solitude.

The many things are
the titans in the wood.
They tear him limb from limb.
and thus they fashion him.
They make him what he will be
throughout Eternity.




All the bright roads
to Paris explode
into a dirty grey
river on a dusty day

When I had it in the old days as
a principle that the symbol
should not symbolise anything
definite (for that,
after all, is what a word is)
I put out images of, I liked to think,
an inexplicable potency, and reproached
Yeats with writing prose -
his symbols seemed so
easily translatable.
And yet, for all my imagining
myself to be something special, all
that obscurity was really
very much of the age, when
meaningless lyrics were all the rage, and then
we discovered 'the miniature city of Kandor'
and the insane visions of Jack Kirby and they
all seemed to have that same
awesome quality.
The symbols in their autonomy
were clearly making fun of me
and so like a lovely array
of cobwebs one fine day
I brushed them all away,
concentrated my attention on the here and now and even
for a while approved theoretically
John Locke and Georgiy
Plekhanov. So how could I dare,
after a fall like that, still to declare
myself a 'Symbolist'? But where
are the 'symbols' in that greatest
of English Symbolists,
Arthur Symons? Yeats complained
there was in him no
transcendental imagery, only
the London fog and a girl
dancing on the pavement, but what
could be better than that -
'Great rooted blossomer'? these
moments of time are like a door
opening into Eternity.
The symbol wraps
space, time, eternity up
into a bundle, inseparably.
The symbol ('symbolos'), like the Church, unites, unlike
the devil ('diabolos') who separates
analytically, as in
John Locke, Plekhanov and
quantum mechanics, where time
is expressed uniquely in terms of space
and the Universe becomes
vast and indefinite,
wrapped in obscurity, a sea
of bits, blinking,
automatically -

That's certainly the case, said he.




'I sing the praise of poetry
much greater than theology
with its repetitive and heavy,
simplistic dichotomy,
good and evil,
angels and devils.
It is not a claim
to absolute truth
that can touch the complexity
and the subtlety
and the variety
of our real spirituality -
the primacy of our mental life: theology
is a mould, a procrustean bed,
an ought-to-be
smaller than what is,
plodding along, while the poet
dances with the world
ever ahead of it, ever out of reach ...'

'The poet is blind'
I hear a cry
'dazzled by the world
and cannot see the sky ...

I sing the praises of
declaring it to be
greater than poetry
because it is not entranced
by childish imagery -
but theology
is not to be confused
with the strange activity
that goes on
inside the University.
Of the theologians,
the Church honours three -
John, Symeon the New
and the great Gregory.
Their glory did not lie
in intellectuality
but in a certain emptiness,
a "negative capability".
"He is a theologian who prays
truly", Evagrius says.
Theology is not clay
lips chattering about God.
Theology is God
speaking through the clay ...'

'That is not theology
but prophecy'
another said, 'and prophecy
belongs to poetry.
The poet speaks in many voices.
They include
the voice of God ...'

'God is not one of many' I cried.
'Blake, greatest of the poets,
called what he did prophecy
but though he spoke with many voices,
angels and devils,
he never spoke with the voice of God. That requires
a work of asceticism, a renunciation
greater than anything we can imagine
of all that any poet worth his salt holds dear.
And if you would be continuous
with those not always
very agreeable men
and women Jesus calls
prophets, then
you have to eat their bread
and drink their wine.'




Quietly and with kindness I
applied it. No need to consult
the relatives. Such a decision
for them would have been -
never mind the illegality -
impossible. I assumed,
concentrating everything in
my own self, responsibility,
just as I assumed
the insults and the filth
they threw at me. I did not try
to defend myself or explain
what was so perfectly obvious -
that everything was done out of love,
watching, quietly, the dying slip
out of their suffering with no
agonies of conscience for them,
for the relatives, for society, all assumed,
quietly, by the only
possible person. But Kant's
categorical imperative asserts
that all our actions ought to be
susceptible to a universal
application, hence I knew
this quiet assumption of responsibility
no-one else could assume - not even
doctors in the future, it had to be
unspoken - was indeed
indefensible and so, in prison,
there was nothing I could say to anyone
and I did not have such kindly means
at my disposal, as I assumed
the responsibility for my belief, that where
there is no possibility of service,
there is no human life.