Cornish poet Jack Clemo: ‘The Excavator’

The Excavator

I stand here musing in the rain
This Sabbath evening where the pit-head stain
Of bushes is uprooted, strewn
In waggon-tracks and puddles,
While the fleering downpour fuddles
The few raw flowers along the mouldering dump –
Ridge hollowed and rough-hewn
By the daily grind and thump
Of this grim excavator.  It shields me
From lateral rain-gusts, its square body turned
To storm-lashed precipices it has churned.

I feel exultantly
The drip of clayey water from the poised
Still bar above me; thrilling with the rite
Of baptism all my own,
Acknowledging the might
Of God’s great arm alone;
Needing no ritual voiced
In speech or earthly idiom to draw
My soul to His new law.

The bars now hinged o’erhead and drooping form
A Cross that lacks the symmetry
Of those in churches, but is more
Like His Whose stooping tore
The vitals from our world’s foul secrecy.
This too has power to worm
The entrails from a flint, bearing the scoop
With every searching swoop:
That broken-mouthed gargoyle
Whose iron jaws bite the soil,
Snapping with sadist kisses in the soft
White breasts of rock, and ripping the sleek belly
Of sprawling clay-mounds, lifting as pounded jelly
Flower-roots and bush-tufts with the reeking sand.
I fondle and understand
In lonely worship this malicious tool.

Yes, this is Christian art
To me men could not school
With delicate aesthetes.  Their symbols oft
Tempt simple souls like me
Whom Nature meant to seal
With doom of poetry,
And dowered with eye and brain
Sensitive to the stain
Of Beauty and the grace of man’s Ideal.
But I have pressed my way
Past all their barren play
Of intellect, adulthood, the refined
Progressive sickness of the mind
Which throws up hues and shapes alien to God’s
Way with a man in a stripped clay desert.  Now
I am a child again,
With a child’s derision of the mentors’ rods
And a child’s quick pain,
Loving to stand as now in outlawed glee
Amid the squelching mud and make a vow
With joy no priest or poet takes from me.

I cannot speak their language; I am one
Who feels the doggerel of Heaven
Purge earth of poetry; God’s foolishness
Laugh through the web man’s ripening wisdom spun;
The world’s whole culture riven
By moody excavations Love shall bless.

All staining rhythms of Art and Nature break
Within my mind, turn grey, grow truth
Rigid and ominous as this engine’s tooth.
And so I am awake:
No more a man who sees
Colour in flowers or hears from birds a song,
Or dares to worship where the throng
Seek Beauty and its old idolatries.
No altar soils my vision with a lax
Adult appeal to sense,
Or festering harmonies’ magniloquence.
My faith and symbol shall be stark.
My hand upon these caterpillar-tracks
Bogged in the mud and clay,
I find it easier to pray:
‘Keep far from me all loveliness, O God,
And let me laud
Thy meaner moods, so long unprized;
The motions of that twisted, dark,
Deliberate crucial Will
I feel deep-grinding still
Under the dripping clay with which I am baptised.’

~ by Jack Clemo

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