(after Rilke’s ‘Alles Erworbne’)

In conquered hollow spaces of the mind

You make your palaces, O slaves set free,

Creations worshipped, Golden Calves, MACHINES!

Not for an instant are you left alone

To lubricate in silent workshop-prisons;

Set up like Gods, you order, make, destroy

With equal grim resolve. Our yesterdays

Are stripped of grace; your buildings rise immense

In rigid lines of stone that craftsmen once

Cut hesitant, in shapes of beauty.  You suppress

Both nature’s play and human words, whose fewness

Drifted once to silence, and where human

Music conjured hope in empty space,

Yours drowns our souls in repetitious newness.


Four Poems written for The Journal of Consciousness Studies (2000).


  1. Prelude: Consciousness.


I woke from dreaming I was a frog

To consciousness.  A message came to me

(from somewhere in my brain):

Go get your breakfast.  I obeyed.  Over my newspaper, I read

Of a man called Fred, who killed his children

In search of short relief (perhaps)

From conscious pain.


Oddly confident of my own consciousness,

I took my dog, who does not seem to possess the faculty of reason

(though to call him unconscious would seem an abuse of language and himself,

so busily does he seek out diverse information, and his own satisfactions)

For a walk.


While chasing squirrels

(who seem short on that extraordinary quality known as empathy,

something my dog certainly has, though perhaps he does not know it)

My dog acquired a tick, whose complex sense of warmth and smell enabled it

To burrow in his flesh and drink his (tasty?) blood.


I surmised:

The consciousness of ticks may be less than that of squirrels

(who gather nuts with an oft-admired foreknowledge)

Lacking, as it does, an awareness of seasons.


I watch the water of the lake, while

The tick feasts on his diet of blood

(and Fred has killed his children)



How great and many faceted the consciousness of ticks is,

Compared to that of trees

Which, lacking an animal’s complex organs of perception,

Rely on concerted cell reactions

To make their mighty hymns to the Creation –


That shared and primal mystery

Whose solitary and eternal being

Is the unprovable, undisprovable axiom

Around which all our are worlds are built,


In front of which all posturings, save an offering of self,

Are laughable and self-deceiving folly.


2. Dead-Ends in Evolution


When peacocks spread their showy tails

The jungle holds its breath:

Such brazen self-advertisement’s

A knife-edge walk with death.


Now that Man’s intelligence

Admits no greater master,

‘His’ progress gains momentum and

May lead us to disaster.


Such strange self-hatred, seeking power!

We should bear in mind:

The human brain was born of chance,

The alley it leads us is blind.



3. Unconscious


Unconscious and the city:

Two things that never sleep.


Depths of night:

Streets are cleaned,

Computers whirr,

Planes land.

Cars are on the highway,

Things are being planned.


Is my unconscious conscious in my head?

Distinct – another being,

One I’m not aware of (besides my dreams and its commands)?


The thing called ‘I’

turns off at night

like an electric light;


Yet while I sleep, something


Makes good,

Assesses what’s best for us both.


Do I belong to it, or it to me?


That’s a problem I may need to sleep on.



4. Threnos for Mystery

(with borrowings from Shakespeare’s ‘The Phoenix and the Turtle’)


Fleeing his dependency,

Man, by ingenuity,

Built a pyre for mystery.


Beauty, truth and rarity,

Grace in all simplicity

Here reduced, in cinders lie.


In his worship of machines,

Which give to every cur the means

To manifest his wildest dreams


Man imagines he is free,

Each in his obliquity

Using ‘I’ to pleasure ‘Me’:


Virtue lost to history;

Devilment to impery;

All become banality.


Truth may seem, but cannot be;

Beauty brag, but ‘tis not she;

Truth and beauty buried be.


Yet still is mystery all we know.

Banish it? Then with it go

Spirit, freedom and the soul.


To these words let those repair

That are either true or fair;

And for our futures, breathe a prayer.



A Gloomy Poem

This world, that once (perhaps) span lovingly

Now grinds and grinds

On poison gas and piles of trash

And human minds.


Machinesafter Rilke.

In conquered hollow spaces of the mind

You make your palaces, O slaves set free,

Creations worshipped, Golden Calves, MACHINES!

Not for an instant are you left behind

To lubricate in silent workshop-prisons:

Set up like Gods, you order, make, destroy

With equal grim resolve. Our yesterdays

Are stripped of grace; new buildings pierce the sky

With rigid lines, where craftsmen once built stone

In soft-suggested shapes of beauty. You kill

Both nature’s play and human talk, which kept

Its peace with silence; and, where once

Our music conjured hope in empty space

Yours drowns our souls in repetitious newness.


John Bull and the Parliament of Fleas


Now John Bull was a lusty dog,

He strode the world with ease;

And on his mighty person

He supported many fleas.


Full many a-year they flourished

On blood he never missed;

His mighty jaws seized food enough

For millions to subsist.


But as John Bull grew weary,

From age and strain of might,

He could not help but whine and whelp

From all their nagging bites.


So finally he told ’em

“If blood is all you want,

You’d better make provision

And form a government


Which guarantees you endless blood

No matter how it’s got;

And satisfies your every need

Regardless of the cost.


Meanwhile, I’ll turn my paws up

And die in abject shame,

While clever fleas pour scorn on me

And say I’m all to blame:


That all my former greatness

Was just a giant theft;

My governments were rip-offs,

Which left their lands bereft.”


And so the Parliament of Fleas

Took over John Bull’s court;

They put his old and scraggy frame

On global life-support.


For this, they use a nasty wheeze

Devised by Uncle Sam

A century or more ago,

(A pretty simple scam):


First find a victim country, then

Befriend its evil worst

Then give them lethal weapons

To kill and to coerce:


Too strong for opposition

(Beyond a token squeak)

The country’s theirs to ravage,

And to fleece of all they seek.


Now John Bull’s fleas get what they need,

And day by day they’re fatter:

‘Free trade’ brings in so much blood,

It’s slopping off the platter.


And poor John Bull, he lingers on,

His great frame slowly dying;

A while ago, I heard these words;

I’ll swear that he was crying:


“Regard the world, you parasites

And tell me what you see!

Do lands released from my ‘harsh yoke’

Reap bliss in liberty?


“Or have you rather stitched them up

In much a worser deal:

Discharged of duty to their woes,

You plunder, cheat and steal.


“Your guilt misleads you when you say

I acted as oppressor:

It’s true I took, but what I gave

Was mostly far, far better:


“Just and honest government,

Health and education;

Replacing cruel fiefdoms

With democratic nations.


“But who will listen to me now?

Your skulls are thick with money;

Your young are tripping off on drugs

In lands of private honey.


“Smart fleas make their livings

By mocking all that’s good;

Their brains are made of circuitry,

Their hearts are made of wood.


“Flocks of greedy morons

Chase across the sky,

Churning out the poisons

That make their children die.


“Now truly we’re a scabby curse

On all the world’s poor:

But there’s no point in blaming me;

I’m lying at death’s door;


“Blame the fleas, who man my knobs

And drive their automobiles,

Relaxing at my seasides

And eating filthy meals.


“So – let me die! That all my fleas

May forge off through the grass.

Where spiders wait, and greedy dreamers

Meet their dooms – alas!”


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