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The Cloister by Charles Bryant

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Uploaded on Jan 28, 2011

THE CLOISTER

by Charles Bryant, read by the Author

'You must not loiter in the cloister now the rain is over.'
Out, out, out into the world. Or what must pass for world
to us who pass. And what must pass is vision, feeling,
memory, comprehension. And with its passing we too
pass away who are as grass; as shattered glass, gone
with our reflections; into shards. Spiders weave our fragments,
webs that hold, an eye where was a limb,
breath in place of function, a speaking hand.
We sink into the slowly sifting sand and disappear.
Fear for an ear, fright for light. Sound subsides in silence
wave on sliding wave to cover and subsume in wrack and foam.

Do not loiter in this cloister. Sling your hook elsewhere
upon the mountainside, however sheer its slopes
of vertigo. Your crampons will not hold. You must be air,
as free as light as air to do or dare, where's nothing
to be done, whether you care or not care; nothing
to be done. Rope frays, shoes wear. Clothing in shreds,
you fear the mountain's coldness. Beware the sudden avalanche.
Beware the yawning gulf. Prepare for the final plunge
of the living nightmare, the existential and abrupt abyss,
the hiss of ice, glissade into the dark.

Now the rain is over; the sky is clear; your mind is clean
of concept, the idea of self, the illusion of a suffering,
suffered world. Suffused and overarching, bending, reaching,
the Rainbow of the Promise lights the sky. It is the last
deception. Neither you nor I are real. The cloister fades,
its comfort pure illusion. There is nothing left but air,
but empty air. Oh for the wings of an angel,
son of wisdom, sprouting from our shoulders
in a shower of snowy pinions, white-robed in a chasuble
of light to fly from this cathedral of despair
into the air into the upper air. And fade there,
air in air and light in light.

* * * * * * *

The first line is from 'The End' by Samuel Beckett. The last section is a descant on the medieval Latin 'Natus sapientiae in aere nascitur' (the son of wisdom is born in the air) from Senior's alchemical treatise 'De Chemia' (About Chemistry.) I think that the message of the poem is fairly basic. Beckett was of the opinion that there was nothing to write about. It does not follow however that he wrote about nothing. Or perhaps he did. The idea of the void, of nothingness, is a thoroughly compelling one. Why? Perhaps because only at the level of complete negation are we at last in sync, in tune with the universe. Besides which, the occasional dose of nothingness is the smallest glimpse possible to us of the ultimate reality we feel to be just within reach of our blind and outstretched fingertips. If nothing else, a tremendous amount of psychic energy is released, and made free for our use, by this act of surrendering. It is as if by abandoning, for however short a time, the macro world of Newtonian physics and plunging into the microcosmic swirl of the quanta we witness those atomic breakthroughs that we have so far known as only destructive forces; but which now appear as fruitful implosions of awareness and real wisdom.

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