This weekend, I’m going up into the high mountains of the Pyrenees to bathe in the wild pools of warm sulphurous waters that bubble naturally from fissures in the rock.  This act of flight is in response to spending too much time at my computer. Making contact with ‘wildness’, as a source of strength for life and writing, has recently become a little too theoretical. And because of that, when I read my writing, it seems to have lost a little of its soul.

The final death-knell to my computer discipline occurred when I came across two poems that described the torment of caged animals…or was it this caged writer they were speaking to?

The first was Maya Angelou’s poem ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’. Here, the lines that most struck me were:

The caged bird sings

with fearful trill

of the things unknown

but longed for still

When we are frustrated in our life, or writing, the impasse created in the tension between the hopes that urge us forward, and the fear that holds us back, is agonising to experience, and heart-rending to observe in others.

The second poem that spoke to me was Rilke’s ‘The Panther’.

It seems to him there are

a thousand bars; and behind the bars, no world.

These lines describe terror, and the absence of hope. It’s a feeling we’ve probably all known at some point, but which we pray never to come across again…

The mighty will stands paralyzed

Here is the physical freezing of the panther’s muscles. His system becomes trapped in perpetual helplessness at the continual repression of his wild nature. In the poem the mechanism is a literal cage, but in writers it can be a multitude of perceived threats, both real and imagined. And physical block always translates into mental fear and block.

However, it was the final stanza of ‘The Panther’ that really took my breath away. How beautifully Rilke captures the fleeting emotion in the eye of the panther, and what a yearning this too sets up in the heart of the reader. I’ll leave you with those lines. In order to break out of my own cage, and to satisfy my own yearning for wild, I’m off with my notebook to the high peaks of the French Pyrenees.

Only at times, the curtain of the pupils

lifts, quietly--. An image enters in,

rushes down through the tensed, arrested muscles,

plunges into the heart and is gone


The Weekly Prompt

The caged bird sings

with fearful trill

of the things unknown

but longed for still

Imagine ‘the hopes that urge us forward’, and ‘the fear that holds us back’ are two characters. What would they look like? How would they walk and speak? What other physical mannerisms might they have? Once you have fully formed image of them in your mind’s eye, spend fifteen minutes describing a conversation between these two characters.

As always, if you’d like to send it to me, I’d be delighted to read it.