Petra White

Ode to Coleridge

On the toughness of the physical soul



Feeling around in the human,

as if inside a sack, soul fends for itself,

fends off, prunes, cultivates,


makes itself up, says

‘is this right?’

(and tries to be reasonably consistent)


tending itself, lurches like Sisyphus

into forwardness, backwardness,

urges itself to form a comma,

something next, next,

please move along now, please,

same again thanks,

as usual.


Those Dialogues of Soul and Body

seem bureaucratically polite.

The one complains of being chained by the other,

much like the married,

each certain of its own bounds.

What is darkness,

where does it come from?


Heavy as our fleshload,


as petals.

Here comes the train in the tunnel

(a cold blasty wind comes first and stiffens us)

will you step in front of it by some

sleepwalking whim?



Nature’s anti-depressants:

some trees, blue blue blue

a three-legged dog

running as if on four,

a pet pigeon on the windowsill,         

feet planted on the tired old clay of its own shit,

or a lone goat, tethered to a field it eats tidy,


skies and delicious rain

there on brain’s doorstep.

Wordsworth climbed Mt Snowdon,

setting off at couching-time to meet

the climbing sun

‘forehead bent Earthward, as if in opposition set

against an enemy’.


Stepping up,

grimly, grimily out of primordial self,

bearing what can’t be left,

skull’s cargo, hellbent thoughts.

What does he want?

To survive, a wandering human,

by some ‘fit converse with the spiritual world’.


Nature his accomplice.

To climb a mountain is to climb himself.

His childhood is a looming rock,

silently glided towards

by the man remembering,

the child approaching,

then one or the other or both



oaring away in terror.

He cannot know who stole the boat.

‘There was a boy’,

he mutters to himself.

Nothing much happens.

The naked moon

pleases with a tricky light, the mist


rears up and writhes

its ‘ocean’ about his shoes.

His mind, greedy,

opens its trap.

Magician, he breathes free

the soul he keeps chained

like an animal inside him.




"Ode to Coleridge" is from The Simplified World (John Leonard Press, 2010).