Back to 'Poems by Peter Brooke'


Things that Speak

On a photograph of R.S.Thomas
Stout Cortes

The entertainer
The Council of Ephesus
Reflections after reading Boris Gunjevic's 'Mystagogy of Revolution' late at night
On his (or her) blindness
Things that speak
A poet's blood
A defence of the Soviet system of 'public meetings'
Apichatpong's tiger
September 2013
The West Gallery


The Saints may look ferocious but
their anger is always not
directed against
contemptible man. They know
there is no such thing
as a contemptible man. There is only,
as enemy, the Demon,
our common property,
the mark of our
common humanity,
who was a liar from the start, and we,
like children gathered round,
like little birds with our
mouths open, listening.
Oh how innocent and foolish
we are, with our awesome
weaponry, and the Saints
recognise the liar still
in themselves, still
whispering, still
ready to call down
wrath from on high,
the judgement of God,
on their neighbour, on
contemptible man. The Saints
may look ferocious but
they are not desperate.
They are not eaten up
by childhood rights and wrongs, the past
is dead to them, except
as a bottomless
well of regret.
They do not keep
albums of photographs
that would be albums
of infinite pain - the Saints
have built a wall, and they sit
up in the watchtower, sternly
and ferociously surveying
the world of their thoughts, which is
the world where we all live.
Standing apart
from all that, they know
that that is the sea.
It isn't us.
That is the difference.
They know, we don't, and so
They intercede for us.



Standing before Your icon, Lord,
I do better than stout
Cortes, the thief,
the murderer,
filled with awe
as he might have been,
or Simon de Montfort, gazing at
the beautiful land, or Cecil Rhodes
or the Children of Israel
crossed over from Sinai,
all of whom saw
an opportunity for work,
so, allegorically speaking,
maybe I do worse,
gazing into the Eyes that see
everything, everywhere and feeling
a twinge of momentary awe but not
the opportunity to slay
my enemies and steal
- unworthy as I am of it -
the Land You promised me.



I want to please you, but alas,
I don't succeed, probably
because I don't really want
you to be pleased exactly,
rather I want
to put one over on you,
to force you
to take serious account of me.
And maybe I succeed,
but it really doesn't matter because
if I haven't
wished your joy,
even if you are indeed pleased,
nothing has been achieved,
while on the contrary,
if I have indeed
wished your joy,
even if you aren't pleased,
God is pleased.



We like, nowadays, the idea of Christ as a man
united to God. It flatters our humanity,
our notion of our possibilities.
We like less the idea of Christ as God
united to man - that the generosity
and the doing are not on our side -
that Christ is not the development
of what we are - and yet
were we to think it out we would see
that if Christ is not us, His mother
is - flesh of our flesh - and Christ
is flesh of her flesh - and she
who is the very embodiment of history
is the door, or, better, the gap
in the wall, and though
we do not pass through her to Heaven,
Heaven has passed through her to us.
Hence, if we are to discover
the real meaning of the divine nature
of our Lord and God and Saviour, then we must,
as a matter or urgency, reconvene
the Council of Ephesus.



All day, these days,
I find myself looking
forward to the end
of the day, and sleep
which I have described elsewhere
as an awakening
of it, which is
and isn't me
- all day awaiting
the awakening of this
thing that isn't me.
I have described sleep
as a security,
snug in a cocoon
of my own reality
- the reality for which
I nonetheless accept
no responsibility.
And that is my reality
- I run to it impatiently -
something other than me
looking at
something other than me.

Sleep, then, is a looking,
like the cinema
Trotsky said was better
than the pub, or the Church
- more variety,
more intellectual stimulation -
but it isn't
us - the pub
is us, and we
become the Church,
as we become
a dance, as anything
we do can become
a becoming,
and as we don't become
a dream.

So sleep,
the cinema and the pub
are a not-becoming, unlike
the Church, which,
even if we 'do' nothing,
is an act. Here
we are person to Person,
cheek to Cheek.
IT is not looking at IT.
I am looking at Him, and He
is looking at me.



No, there is no
consolation, but that
perhaps is (or could)
BE the consolation,
that there is no
possibility ever
of forgetfulness -
that there is, always,
this accompaniment, this
not seeing, this
reminder that I am.

It is no
consolation but
the flaw, in time,
seems to become the stick,
holding me up.
So through the evil itself
I could be stolen
from the Evil One

As Christ, for Whom the evil
was everything He
wasn't, assumed
everything, held
everything up,
when that everything
banged nails into His hands
to hold Him up
on a stick,
and a hold-up there was
when Jesus stole,
from the Prince of the World,
the little ones, the
treasures of the world.



Will a moment come when
I am so impressed,
so stamped upon by You I won't
stop crying,
crying out because
everything at last
has disappeared and all
that is left is all
Isaiah saw - not You but all
that isn't You,
the unformed self-
feeding mass of what
we are,
left to our own devices. That vast
hidden sea of the cruelty
that sustains us, suddenly
wrenched away, what will we be,
sold into exile, will we then see
simply our own cruelty facing us?
or that all that
isn't Your Kingdom?
I don't want to pray
short of that realisation
when there is nothing else
left to do
and no-one else
but only You,
for after all,
what did Los, the great
builder of the senses signify
in Blake's cosmology but



My poetry is not me
speaking but poetry
speaking to me, and yet
(as we know)
only a person
can speak, and so,
if poetry is other
than you and me,
a person can be
other too, and we
are maybe a variety -
or in a variety -
of persons, and why
shouldn't they include,
as well as the Muses, God,
and His mother
and the angels
and the demons
and mountains
and trees
and animals and
scrap metal.
And so we conclude
that personhood
other than us becomes
the origin of all
that we call 'us' -
personhood being
(not dust) the first
reality, reality
understood as a
of things that speak.



The Saints do not want to sleep.
They do not want to see
that bad infinity,
that corridor,
with doors on either side
fashioned by the forces
in and around us
especially for us,
the corridor that is
what we are,
the view that is
entirely ours.
To love God,
to love the neighbour,
is to look away
from that mirror.
The Saints
do not like to sleep
but we others
need that nightly wandering
through that otherness
that is us.

I think of Cocteau's film
A Poet's Blood - the poet
peeking through the keyholes
one by one.
Cocteau saw
strangely clearly
that sleep is not innocent,
that sleep is an awakening.
But what are we to make
of that other striking
image in the Poet's Blood
- the drawn eyes pasted on
real eyes? Eyes that maybe
cannot see, yet we
see them in a
startling intensity.
And what is behind the paste?
Is it a dream? a real
blindness, or
(as I maintain)
an attention, which is always
an exclusion.
Picasso (Serge
Charchoune dixit)
had the eyes
of a hunter.
What could he see
other than his prey?

The Saints
do not like to sleep,
do not like to dream,
do not stare
They, on the contrary,
do not seem to look
at anything very much,
not from indifference, but
a sort of discretion,
a respect for the essential
of everything about them.
Saint Silouan on Mount Athos occasionally
raised his eyes and marvelled,
then returned to his prayer.
The appearance of the world
wasn't his affair.

Cocteau's poet
made a statue
that seemed so real
it came alive.

Why would anyone
want to do that?




Underneath our self
justification, our
complacency, lies
something else.
Something that has eyes.

Oh, what,
O my poor soul,
are you looking at?

What do you see
that I don't see
as I look
at my walls
covered with books.

Something in us knows
that something else
is happening here,
something something in us
(like a mile-ometer,
the wheels turning round,
the numbers augmenting)

This is continuous
and known, and more
real than what is happening
in front of us.

It is

And the soul
stares at it
as at something
other than itself,
stunned by it.

I would like to pull
those eyes away from that
fascinated staring, so they,
like me, could gaze
out to the sea -
limitless, serene and, in principle, not

Sometimes, though, I descend
down to the basement, and sit
beside my soul, and stare
and that
is what I mean by 'prayer'.



Our people, projected,
despite themselves, into
the future, were not
properly modern.
They had not lived
the Renaissance, Humanism,
the Reformation.
Industry had not done
its work on them, and yet
they had to take on
the most industrial, the most
modern of powers -
they had to because by then
we were the only choice.
We had no choice -
it was us or
total collapse and the vultures
swooping down
on the carrion -
we saw it all
in 1941 - and so
in ten, twenty, thirty years
they had to learn
the Renaissance, Humanism,
the Reformation - oh not
in the classroom but inscribed -
burnt - into their souls
and how many dead did that cost you,
Europe of the superior smile.
And so - yes,
those public meetings -
they were pretty grotesque,
the denunciations, the hands
raised in unanimity, the fear
of stepping out of line (when you
don't know what the line is).
Everyone was implicated. Everyone
had to think, critically,
in a new way, everyone at once.
Even as the potter
moulds his clay, society
had to be shaped,
brought up to date.
Oh how we envied Hitler,
Churchill, Roosevelt -
their people were already
moulded, baked to perfection,
understood immediately
what was required of them.
Ours (the Russians
anyway) would run
after Nicholas
or a man with a cross
on the top of his head,
but understand
that the world they see
is all that there is
and has to be
worked and reworked
in an endlessly rational
process of production?
Our public meetings
were a work of Reformation,
turning our people into
you - hypocrite lecteur,
mon semblable, mon frère.



The demons, the heresies, that gather
in my heart, Oh! how I love them!
I do not mean
gluttony, lust, avarice etc.
I would not admit my love for them,
great as it is,
into my poetry. No!
It is the gathering of the poor
lost souls, every morning
at the hour of prayer, the hour
when I don't pray, lying
in between sleeping and waking,
listening to them talking - since
they have lived for ever, they
have a lot to say
and when they are not being
merely malevolent, there is, sometimes,
a certain grandiose
air of tragedy about them.
Oh I know
I could get as much by watching television.
Then they could come at me, all in a rush.
But somehow the impression that this
is really me,
really of my substance,
gives it a certain dignity,
raises it - look! - to a level
consonant with poetry.
How dull the insistence on the one
Principle, the only Name
that brings salvation!
Here I am in the morning, still
half dreaming, dancing with the many.
And what in the end, Yeats
would ask, is there to be saved?
What am I if I am not



The reference is to the film 'Tropical Malady by the Thai film director, Apichatpong Weerasethakul

As Adam and Eve,
having made their choice
between knowledge and life,
could not not pass
from good to evil,
from evil to good

so every
one of our choices
leads us deeper
into the wood,

the wood that has a strange
and exotic name.
It is called 'the economy'.
It is a wood
where the trees dance
and we
- as a wise man once remarked -
have to keep dancing,

dancing in rigourous
time to the trees
and so we lose
the ability not
to be taken in
slowly and even
lovingly to
the shape changer, who

could not not
change his shape,
the tiger
Apichatpong imagined,
the evil
that is not always evil,
the good
that is not always good.



While we observe, of course, that time
has a certain effect, we are not fooled
by the notion that anything
of any importance is better now
that at any other time
or any other place. Things change
but the consequence
of the eating
of the fruit
of the tree
of the knowledge
of good and evil remain
much as they were. Eternity
still masked by the horrors
and delights of the here and now. And so
we really do not know
more than we ever did,
even as Voyager slowly drifts
out of the solar system, even as
Great Alexander was once
the marvel of the world.
And so it goes on, much
as it always has, the real
battle being not
one thing after the other but
and downwards.



Looking at you on a stage -
me here, you there -
you the spectacle, or me
on the stage,
the spectacle,
I would prefer to be -
prefer you to be -
out of sight,
in the west gallery
so that the music
or the spectacle exists
in its own right.
That is why the player
wears a mask, and the priest
vestments -
a discretion that declares
that at that moment
the person that you are
But this is no contempt of you.
When it works, the work
is a work of God. You and I too
are works of God.
Why should we wish to see
two of the works of the
Master, running