The Human Condition – “Not Our Own”

On a previous blog I published a relatively straightforward poem called The Question of Belief. A few years earlier I had written a more difficult poem about my beliefs, and in fact a few friends said it was too obscure to make much sense. I added an epigraph by Rilke, but I am not sure that succeeded in clarifying anything. Here, therefore are a few words of explanation and then the poem. The title ‘Not Our Own’ is intended to alert the reader. The poem refers to the experience of unfamiliar, indeed unprecedented emotion which one struggles either to own or disown. It is disorientating, frightening. It can come over time to feel like a blessing or a warning, a gift or a temptation; and it can be discarded, not without effort, as an aberration. If this sounds fantastic and grandiose, what I would counsel is this: do not dismiss the arrival of such a disturbance to one’s accustomed patterns of feeling, try rather to move with it, grow with it. It will be difficult, perhaps exceedingly so. I think of Eliot’s line ‘We had the experience but missed the meaning’. Such upheavals, that most of us will have during our lives, are the strongest evidence we have of our deep connection with others, and our deep disconnection with parts of ourselves. It points to what is transpersonal in our experience. And it suggests that the temporal horizon, which provides such an apparently inviolate limit to this “our little life… rounded with a sleep’, is not as it first seems. Our sense of self and our sense of time are deeply implicated but are not the same. That is why the first part of the poem tries to express something very general and very familiar about all our lives, the bonds of family and friends, and the communion, even holiness, of eating together. It is an attempt to express an atavistic truth about what it is to be human. But there is another meaning intended in the phrase ‘Not Our Own’. In some strong sense our lives do not belong to us. We come to feel, unless our lives are overwhelmed with suffering and misfortune, an indebtedness and responsibility which taxes us and which we often fail to discharge to our satisfaction. Call it care. Call it love.

plain room
bright table

with a flourish
steaming dishes

the moon 
through cedars

beneath them
children playing
in the dust

at a call
they run back
to their places

Always the presence of the past
bright in flashing eyes
a tone of voice

sometimes passion from nowhere 
not thought of as intrinsic 
or imposed.   
How to find words for this scruple
over feelings 
not our own nor another's -

should we say 'hint of a disjunct future'
or as further off than memory and sorrow
'trace of a different life'?

For we are bruised by what is 
foreign in us -
the fight to let it be.

Published by davidcookpoet

I am a husband, father and grandfather. I retired from a busy working life as an adult psychiatrist in 2014. My interests are in literature, philosophy, modern jazz and horse racing. I might represent those four fields by Shakespeare, Kant, Charlie Parker and Lester Piggott. Like nearly all of us, I can identify a number of formative experiences, one of which was a psychotic episode in my first year as a psychiatrist. This reinforced an already established interest in mystical experience, and a sense of how little human beings know. My intellectual bugbear is reductive materialism, and I am surprised at the lack of moral imagination of those who promulgate such views. It seems to me they need to consider ,perhaps by exposure, just why totalitarianism is so horrific.

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