The poetic imagination

I went to a wonderful talk given by James Harpur yesterday at the University of Wales in Lampeter. James is the editor at Temenos Academy Review, the poetry journal that has published more of my poetry than anybody else, so I feel an affinity.

The talk was on enchanted landscapes, particularly apt when we are staying just outside Brecon on the Northern side of the Brecon Beacons, surely an enchanted landscape if ever there was one. I love it here, the hills , waterfalls and valleys are beautiful and have such a presence which always excites my creativity. We come most years.

James quoted from Blake who had been a huge inspiration to me when I was younger and studying his poetry for my English A level at school. There was a circularity in returning to that early excitement at discovering Blake’s idea of the poetic imagination which locates truth in experience , particularly a level of experience in which the soul and imagination is fully engaged . It resonated much more deeply than any quest for abstract or conceptual truth devoid of human perspective. My scepticism of ideology, dogma and even science, developed further as I became interested in Existentialism at University and travelled in India.

Later in my 20s I remember visiting the Sisters of Bethany outside Winchester with my friend Anne. She was an associate of their order. I had not long come back to my faith and one of the sisters was excited about this and asked me to go for a walk in the countryside near to their convent and to open each of my senses in turn carefully and attentively .

In my heightened state of attention or openness I was experiencing vividly what it was like to be in an enchanted landscape . Everything was communicating , everything was alive and I had a profound experience of the unity of all things which has stayed with me ever since.

It marked a changed relationship , in which there is no gap between my inner world and external reality. Nature and other people are not commodities to serve the self, all is in relationship . Everything is communicating. It is the belonging for which my soul yearns , the love which unifies., a glimpse of heaven. James talked about St Colombo who lived in this unified way and had an easy affinity with animals and nature. An understanding which is now all the more prescient with the emerging environmental and mental heath crisis’.

The crisis necessitates a change in our relationship to the natural world. As Jung says , through science the world has become dehumanised, people feel isolated in the cosmos . Nature no longer speaks . God has been silenced. The poetic imagination allows us to respond to our experience of nature with all our faculties, not just reason , to hear what is being communicated, so often a joy in being alive , that is easily missed. Poetry is layered , ambiguous, paradoxical, outside of concepts but resonates with us deeply . Like all amazing art , there is revelation at it’s core.

Reason on the other hand is deductive and can be a blunt and divisive instrument . It is only a tool which can be used for good or ill. Like science, like money, though necessary , they are not God and should not consume us or direct the way we live our lives.

We need to start paying attention, I think this is happening, the move towards mindfulness is key. We need to listen. We need to rebuild trust, this will be our healing. The world, nature, God is speaking to us if we keep open and pay attention with all our senses, as the Sisters of Bethany showed me so wonderfully all those years ago .

Author: Lucy Calcott

I write poetry, children's stories and the occasional article. I also love to paint and usually work in acrylic, water based crayon and charcoal. I am principally interested in an emotional or spiritual response to landscape so I am more focused on creating atmosphere than actual representation. I like figures too. In my writing I am searching for a contemporary religious female voice which is tolerant and open hearted . I have a MA in Creative Writing from Sussex University and have had poetry published in various journals. I also have a small collection of poems in print; Magdalene and other poems. I have exhibited paintings and poetry locally in Eastbourne and the surrounding area and with Christian Arts nationally. I am also a nurse and a mother of three grown up children. I long for a greener, more compassionate, unified world and am active in the interfaith movement.

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