Another Palace Green moment, and one of the few moments in a nondescript three years of uninpiring lectures and tutorials when I felt I was in the middle of something significant and simultaneously peripheral to to the real purposes of life. Thanks due to Dr Von Leyden, then, who really looked like a philosophy lecturer if you were to imagine one, and who decided one warm June afternoon that if we were to continue our deconstructions of Descartes then it were best it were done outdoors in the shadow of the cathedral.Meanwhile the axes of the world were slipping and shifting and the times really were a-changing.
Al fresco philosophy: Durham 1963
He perches, crow-like, on the sandstone plinth;
a spring breeze lifts his trailing sleeves,
embroidered black on black, exquisite
as his logic, or the incised knotwork
of the Celtic cross behind his silhouette.
Out there, beyond cathedral bells –
in Silver Lonnen, Pity Me – they’re hewing coal;
smelting steel in Consett; laying keels
downstream on Wearmouth by a sluggish sea.
On Palace Green we deconstruct reality.
Amber in the sun, the great towers touch the sky;
we wrestle with ontology, Anselm of Canterbury,
how the self arises in the world. Dark birds call
through trees; uncounted angels dance on pins.
Bob Dylan’s singing ‘Blowin’ in the wind’.
While we chop logic, worry at Descartes,
the masons’ ghosts are splitting clean gold stone,
carving chevrons, mouldings,lozenges trefoils;
spinning a spell of stone that soars impossibly
around the infinite: a dream of incense, plainsong, God.
Meantime, the logic is inexorable, beautiful
as proofs of maths are said to be
His steepled fingers, clipped enunciation,
fine ascetic features brook no argument.
I’m wandering. Out there. Where the masons went.
[This poem was first published in Backtracks (2014) For details see My Books at the top of the page]