Thursday, 19 July 2012

Plotinus and the Snake

   A snake as dazzling as the sky
   Crept softly from its lowly hole.
         “Death’s in your eye,
         Cold’s in your hand,
   What is there left to understand?
   I have watched you through your final days,
      Your cleaving to your goal,
   And marvelled at your stubborn fight
   To prove the old philosophers right.
         Unlatch your gaze
         At this last gasp,
      Turn to my worldly ways
   And die with sunlight in your clasp,
Your breath become a slow surcease of soul.”

   The dying grand philosopher,
   His limbs assaulted by his sores,
         Would not concur,
         He shook his head
   And kept the centre of his bed.
   “The holy light is from the sun
      Which in its goodness pours
   Its metaphor upon the whole,
   Its light is that of living soul
         And from the One;
         And soul is such,
      Its journey once begun,
   It will not worry overmuch
At what is lost behind the slamming doors.”

   “Come look,” the snake in anger sighed,
   “At what the world once offered you;
         No flower lied
         Nor turned its back,
   The sea wind strummed the floating wrack
   And on a sandy foreshore gave
      A vision shown to few –
   Of beauty in a fish’s bone,
   And in a mewling seagull’s moan.
         O shun the grave,
         That place of tears,
      And think upon the wave
   Which riding roughshod on our fears
Dips its salt head and is forever new.”

   “And yet we die,” Plotinus said,
   “Though dying we should bless this earth.
         The quick and dead
         Are simply sides
   Of coins tossed up by many tides,
   And though I know a rose is sweet,
      Its bloom a painless birth,
   Yet life is in intelligence
   Which goes beyond this world of sense,
         Which must defeat
         The old desire
      To hug an honoured seat
   And doze in stupor by the fire
Become as dull as ashes in the hearth.”

   Plotinus coughed and breathed his last
   And was not where he once had been;
         The snake aghast
         At what it found
   To be so serious hugged the ground
   And wished it never had been born.
      It knew what it had seen,
   And as it lay there in the dust
   Wondering what was safe to trust
         It tried to mourn
         The passing of
      The great man in the dawn
   But though it knew the word for love
It could not understand what it might mean.

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© December 1980

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