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Justifying the Search

by Raymond Tallis


Loudness is not the deft or apt retort
to the jabbering bustle of events and
process seething and soaking through
the braided capillaries of time.
Nor an assumed and deliberate quiet,
rebuking by understatement the rustle
of passage as it dies into nobody’s noise
and the constancy of evanescence.
Adjustments of volume, my conspecifics,
will not comb or command the slippery foam
of becoming where we surf and slither
and sink until we are ownerless jetsam:
neither shouts nor screams; nor thick
and dusky whispers, sound-hedges frosted with
sibilance, nested with hairballs of meaning,
dunnocked with fidgetings of sense


What escape from the shanty burrows
of busyness, the dithering dapples
of occupation and preoccupation, distractions
that burn the dew off self-presence?
How incise something permanent on this air
that sleeves our passage through time
to the end of time, air that so briefly
assumes our shapes, and in that brief
assumption still confounds our forms
with its own roccoco of turbulence
– cross-rolls, knots and varicosities –
a litter of grace notes garnishing the
architectonics and harmonics of intention
with accidents and unforeseen consequences
that remind our minds of the opacity
of the world to mind, the intractability
of matter to our embodied will?
How shall we cancel the cancellations,
the erasures that close space behind us
innocent once more of our imprint,
virgin of our violation, as we, and ours,
and all we made and marked,
wrinkle out of being to an unbeing
untethered to any private wake of going?


Unanswered, the question justifies
the ache that justifies the search –
for words, for voices, neither loud nor quiet,
querulous or seductive, hectoring or sinuous,
to tune the marriage of Being and Time
to whatever verberation is most ourselves,
and so scorch anamnesis on the noise-pocked silence
after our going, iterating that we were This:
that we haunted happening, that we stopped
the light and cast shadows, and that our
folded thoughts and intuitions, touching
and painting the twin-panelled nothingness
of the no-longer and the not-yet, seemed
almost to grasp our coming and stay our going,
as if shimmers could be arrested to flowers
unfadingly embroidered on the silk of time itself.


Alas (and of course), there are no such words,
no such voice; there is no tone of voice
can finesse our flight from the closing fist
of the forces that forged and fathered us,
the dumb collisions of the boulder-grained
enemies of our delicate delight.
And yet even a grandmaster of disenchantment
may believe that there is, or will be,
someone who will (somewhere somewhen)
uncover a muffled music of meditation, a melody
whose scattered notes are not entirely damped
even in the ugly narrowboats of abstraction;
whose strangled pianissimo still tingles in
in straight-laced and earnest propositions,
well-formed formulae and dun syllogisms
barked into ranks by martinet connectives;
a music not wholly missing from those
parched heathlands of the mind, where sour,
thin soil and sifting dust-grey dunes
are tufted with ‘notwithstanding’ and ‘because,’
and other xerophytic inedibles, dry concepts,
whose spines cut the minds that think them.
And may believe, what’s more, that he is that
someone and that that somewhere is here
or hereabouts, that the threshold
of that somewhen is now, and that,
borne up on unfurled possibility,
he will soar free of the penitentiary
of the ordinary locked by unexpectation,
barred by the habit of Habit and bolted
by the master-habit of indifference and despair.
Yes, even a calcified logician may believe
in the marvellous, unwavering cry
that will arrest the unregulated ‘whoosh’
of the hours skeltering from ‘will be’ to ‘was,’
frogmarching each thinking “I” to oblivion,
and stay the varnished vanishment of the instant –
that mouse’s-tail-down-a-hole eluding
the prehensive pinch of little fingers
pressing nothing between their warm pads,
that snake of water through a crack,
that edge of edge of smoke. Believe
in a buried song of thought whose silent echoes
will harmonise the thermals of inner space,
the twisting tassels of sadness and of joy,
and all the vectorless cut grass the senses harvest;
and so orchestrate this inexplicable gift
of consciousness to its own idea of perfection


Believe that, though our destination will remain
the pre-destined, our conclusion the foregone that
all the fields and files of variegated something
will lead to the unformatted monotony of nothing,
we shall, from time to time, in this journey
that digests tomorrows to yesterdays,
burst upon a transfigured Wednesday
and move among its scattered occasions,
ourselves transfigured for unrepealable
moments of hope, of lucid delight, and,
in absolute waking, unaching BE.

© Raymond Tallis 2003

Raymond Tallis is Professor of Geriatric Medicine in the University of Manchester and a consultant physician in Hope Hospital, Salford. His non-medical writings include The Raymond Tallis Reader and A Conversation with Martin Heidegger.

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