Purpose We've Forgotten


Whispering shingle packs a breakered beach.
Chained, slavish waves break free in racing foam,
Pour lashed and stumbling from the deep sea's reach
That drags them shackled back into its womb.
Out there, a grumbling outboard chugs a wedge
Of off-white scum across the swell, from time
To time the blunt snout surfacing. A ledge
Of chalk; two seagulls combing off their crest
Of thistly cliff like spirits of white spume -
What songs have they of human rust and rack?
And yet there's beauty in the oil's blue bloom;
Blood and disease are some of nature's best
Known miracles; whole choirs of saints were blessed
With syphilis; and Ludwig Van partook
Of benediction's surfeit . . . So I look
At nature through a semi-silvered glass,
Watching the wildering images of man,
Cloud-shadow-wise across her dreaming face,
Make animate the meaning of her stone
And lonely centuries. The gulls
Gabble above the catch a smack lugs in
A mile across the bar, but it's for tin
And slab as all the others were. They swirl,
As if some purpose they've forgotten niggles on,
Their wriggling finny dinners far downwind.
She with no talent but what hunger taught her,
Tumbling, twirls above the floss as fleet
As any dancer can unfurl the practised gesture.
Does she work out her rancour through her art,
Some sympathy of images that gleams
And ripples between underwing and water,
Or redeem in dreams her crabbiness of heart?
Or is it here - here, free from name or fate
With only the white winds brawling round the cliffs
And the crawl of the grey sea; neither hour nor date
To fret the quiet breast of time; adrift
On tides we may grow too wise to calculate -
Can this be grace? Yes. But is not our need,
Too, to recall some purpose we've forgotten
(Waves break. Winds blow. Gulls breed)
Through arts that are half-remembered out of Eden
Or seem to mock some half-imagined heaven?
Our phantom pinions ache. The stumps yet bleed.