Some Other Beauty
Red Geranium and Godly Mignonette
Imagine that any mind ever thought a red geranium!
As if the redness of a red geranium could be anything
but a sensual experience
and as if sensual experience could take place
before there were any senses.
We know that even God could not imagine
the redness of a red geranium
nor the smell of mignonette
when geraniums were not, and mignonette neither.
And even when they were,
even God would have to have a nose
to smell at the mignonette.
You can’t imagine the Holy Ghost sniffing
at cherry-pie heliotrope.
Or the Most High, during the coal age,
cudgelling his mighty brains
even if he had any brains: straining his mighty mind
to think, among the moss and mud of lizards
to think out, in the abstract,
when all was twilit green and muddy:
‘Now there shall be tum-tiddly-um, and tum-tiddly-um,
hey presto! scarlet geranium!’
We know it couldn’t be done.
But imagine, among the mud and mastodons
God sighing and yearning with tremendous
creative yearning, in that dark green mess
oh, for some other beauty, some other beauty
that blossomed at last, red geranium, and mignonette.
Whilst being frustrated by the obstinate formatting of WordPress when it comes to poetry, I am grateful to Molly Mahood’s wonderful book, The Poet as Botanist, for reminding me of D.H. Lawrence’s flower poems and alerting me to his keen observations of the plants that crossed his path, at home and abroad. There’s something quaint, provoking, about his musings but they always say something worth listening to. His ideas about ‘God’, his wayward investigations seem especially relevant just now as the culture seems to want to be persuaded by Richard Dawkins (et al) that science has all the answers.
My experience, at Moorbank and elsewhere, convinces me that science comes down on the side of questions. Wherever we turn for answers, full stops, they always seem too closed, materialistic – for poetry at least, which feeds on mystery. Better, surely, to stay open to looking and asking, to allow for the unknown and unknowable, however uncomfortable that might leave us.
“… the feeling I have about poem-writing (is) that it is always an exploration, of discovering something I didn’t already know. Who I am shifts from moment to moment, year to year. What I can perceive does as well. A new poem peers into mystery, into whatever lies just beyond the edge of knowable ground.”
This strange, faltering autumn, there’s not much colour in my garden. But in the conservatory, the geraniums are vivid and brazen. ‘Conservatory’ is a grand word for the hand-made affair I inherited when I moved into this house 17 years ago. Patched up with vinegar and brown paper, like so many of us, it’s a small room tacked on the end of my house where I grow a few pot plants on the windowsills, some refuge against the elements, rabbits and rodents that insist on preying on my hilltop garden.
The pamphlet of my Moorbank poems – Through the Garden Gate – has just been delivered from the printers and I’m looking forward to launching it, and Alec Peever’s sculpture for the Desert House, next week. You can read more about these and my time at the Botanic Garden on Durham University’s Writer in Residence Linda Gillard’s fascinating blog Celebrating Science.