The artist is an opener of doors and Lindsay Clarke’s hermetic sequence sketches for us images of gates and crossroads, gaps in landscape where the eye, itself a window to the soul, can reflect Janus-like upon the self through attention to intricacies of form in the natural world. In the ‘Note at the Threshold’ to this intriguing glimpse at the shimmering light of a Greek world Lindsay Clarke acts as our host:
“That they recognised so many impersonal powers at work through him suggests that the ancient Greeks well understood that the young Hermes who entered the Homeric world of the Olympian gods brought with him deep-rooted associations and attributes from a far earlier age. In any case, there is always an essential ambiguity in the nature of this god of the stone pile. He may be there as an invaluable guide across difficult terrain but he is not entirely to be trusted and may also choose to lead us astray. Hikers and climbers still add herm-stones to cairns, and Hermes still often faces us with choices at a crossroads; but as the image evolved in ancient times, instead of a rough stone pile, a monolith was erected in some terminal places, and a bearded head was carved on the standing stone, and out of its limbless pillar was thrust a vigorous penis. Here was Hermes as the god of fertility, drawing generative power up from the dark underworld – an ithyphallic alpha male, formidably guarding his herds beside the life-giving female presence of a spring.”
The herma marks that liminal space, that boundary between territories, that moment in both geography and imagination where one world becomes another. This is a junction, a cromlech, a door and the “sly / light-fingered god of crossways, transit, / emails and exchange…” acts as the door-keeper:
“…..the wing-heeled, shifty,
wheeler-dealing go-between, who’ll slip right
through your fingers if you try to pin
There is a quiet lyricism in these poems and a tone of determination that places the evanescent within a topographical steadiness:
“Herma: a heap of stones such as a traveller
sweating in the noonday heat might make out
shimmering in the haze, then feel his dry throat
freshen at its signal that a spring is near.
And having drunk and put a random stone
on to the pile, might he then wonder whether
others who have placed an offering on that cairn
have also caught a glimpse of Hermes standing there?”
This lord of the threshold possesses a darker side and his rape of Chione introduces the world to Autolycus, grandfather of Odysseus the man of wiles. That figure of course also gives his name to the duplicitous snapper-up of unconsidered trifles in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale: woe betide he who encounters this singing knave as the Clown discovers to his cost!
In his ‘Note at the Threshold’, Clarke alerts us to an association between the Greek Hermes and the agent of transformation in alchemy, Mercurius Duplex. He offers us a “regular use of half-rhymes to suggest the elusive nature of the god – something almost grasped but not quite” and suggests that the format used for the opening poem, ‘Koinos Hermes’, “became more or less standard for the sequence of verses which followed hot on its winged heels almost by dictation”. This quality of elusiveness reminds me of the work of Edward Thomas and I am drawn back to those fine statements made by F.R. Leavis in 1932:
“Edward Thomas is concerned with the finer texture of living, the here and now, the ordinary moments, in which for him the ‘meaning’ (if any) resides. It is as if he were trying to catch some shy intuition on the edge of consciousness that would disappear if looked at directly.”
It is surely no accident that Jeremy Hooker, the man who wrote about Thomas in 1970 in an essay titled ‘The Sad Passion’, should have written the blurb on the back of this new book from Awen Press. In 1970 Hooker had referred to Thomas’s “quest for wholeness”, the relationship of a whole man to human society and its home on earth. Here, dancing with Hermes, he writes:
“This is an impressive collection, with an ancient and perennial wisdom”.
The Awen website can be located at http://www.awenpublications.co.uk
Ian Brinton, 23rd September 2017