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Russian Doll

by Zettel 

Posted: 27 May 2018
Word Count: 317

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Russian Doll
A hint of shame a tinge of guilt
that I am not content
with the what the how the where of you
but am drawn towards the why
The self of secret silent solitary hours
when doubts and private pain prevail
The you that only you dare see
I long for you to share with me
Best once put thus

Your pain is your flower
and I would not pluck it
though It’s scent
turns my head
The trust to see so deep is rare
a privilege beyond compare
for in this precious private space
I can say I am frightened too
but thrilled excited just to know
the self that perhaps only lovers show
Another mind another guarded self
that only courage and the miracle of language can release
but words can deflect obscure and hide
in the what the how or even where of self
the why is not said but shown
In truth language can unguard the soul
it’s sentry dispatch to unwitting sleep
but if ever trust then invites you in you must never play
with what is deep in another soul.
Our many selves live many lives
we are who we choose to be
but exhausted by pretence and show
somewhere deep inside we know
we long to set our essential spirit free
For lovers this is a moment's passing bliss
for friends a sharing what’s amiss
for child and grandchild their innocence echoes
blind faith in good the world destroys
Ah me if only we could once again
be those trusting little girls and boys
And so we stand we sit we lie
we long to reach the other mind near by
perhaps it is just longing, love
but there is a deeper mystery
We live the what the how the where
but it is the why that sets us free
The why of you that entrances me

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Comments by other Members

James Graham at 20:59 on 30 May 2018  Report this post
I’ve been a little slow to respond as this seems to me the most ‘difficult’ poem you’ve posted in WW. By ‘difficult’ of course I simply mean it takes a little longer to get to know it.
It may be that I haven’t yet properly thought about it, but I’m still a little puzzled by
the what the how the where of you
– and the ‘why’ too. I think I know, from the rest of the poem, what you mean - that the poem’s speaker longs to know and share ‘The you that only you dare see’, ‘what is deep in another soul’; longs to ‘reach the other mind near by’. That is, to know not only what appears on the surface but also to share the other’s inner life. To achieve a complete mutual understanding, or rather to experience the other in the fullest possible way. But I’m not sure your formula ‘the what the how the where…the why of you’ is the best vehicle to express this. What is the ‘how’ of a person? The ‘where’ – and maybe this is too literal or even frivolous – seems to be about merely whether they are in the next room or the garden or in town. And if I ask the question ‘Why am I?’ or ‘Why are you?’ it seems to be a speculation on our existence – why we are here on this planet. Not the sort of question you mean to ask.
Let me say that your central idea that we wish to ‘experience the other in the fullest possible way’ is very eloquently expressed throughout the poem, including lines that pass the most stringent test – when we read them we simply say ‘That is true’. Here is a piece of the truth about human life. I mean for example:
The trust to see so deep is rare
- perhaps the best line in the poem. ‘Trust’ is the magic word here – it’s not the desire to see so deep, or the imagination, or anything else, but the mutual trust. That is very profound, I think - as is this:
if ever trust then invites you in you must never play
with what is deep in another soul
and I like the simple line ‘we long to reach the other mind near by’, which speaks of the physical closeness of someone we say is ‘close’ to us, but in a deeper sense may not be close at all.
I mean by all this that the whole body of the poem is eloquent and insightful, but I stumble over the ‘what the how the where…the why’. Perhaps the idea might be better expressed in terms of surface and depth. Imagery along those lines would not be hard to find. I see the poem beginning:
I am not content
with the…(imagery of surface?)
but am drawn towards the self
of secret silent solitary hours
when doubts and private pain prevail
 As I said at the beginning, maybe I haven’t yet properly thought about it. But let me know what you think.

Zettel at 16:01 on 31 May 2018  Report this post
If I have a philosophy of life I guess it is summed up by this aphorism at the head of one of the chapters in George Eliot’s Middlemarch:
1st gentleman:  “Methinks our fetters are chains we forge ourselves”
2nd gentleman: “Aye but methinks ‘tis the world that brings the iron”
My use of the ‘what’ the ‘where’, the ‘how’ of …. was simply meant to represent the everyday facts of a ‘person’ and the mundane everyday events of their life; breathing, eating, drinking, sleeping: having breakfast; going to work; commuting etc etc etc. Of course these don’t exist in a vacuum separate from the ’person’, the ‘self’ but in the everyday ‘commerce’ of our lives; the innocent total ‘openness’ of the child, the developing, emerging ‘self’; gradually gives way to a sense of ‘privacy’ those things in our thoughts and experience that for many reasons, some good, some bad, we keep ‘hidden’. Some things from everyone; and some things but not others from other people depending on circumstance and relationship etc etc.
My poem tries to express something of both the difficulty and fascination of deserving to make ‘connection’ with this private self; to earn the trust necessary for someone who touches you in a special way. This is very specific and individual: I have never quite understood or perhaps identified with people who say ‘I like people’ (or even ‘I like dogs’); because some ‘people’ (and dogs) aren’t likeable. This of course is not to say that all people, human beings qua human beings are not valuable, to be valued: but that’s a different emphasis.
I try to explore the rights and wrongs, the respect and trust that a ‘deep’ interest in another demand; and to recognize that such precious intimacy must be freely given (it cannot be demanded or claimed). Although at the source of the possibility of such ‘connection’ is an instinctive human empathy and sense of shared experience; those general responses acquire the unique colour and ‘patina’ of the specific individual and this richness arises for me from the fact that we share language (not French or German or English – but language). So I suppose my fascination is both emotional and philosophical. To ‘know’ another ‘person’ is more than to know another ‘mind’ but it is through their unique personal thoughts and ideas as well as their emotional responses, that their unique individuality emerges and language is its primary form of expression to establish that ‘connection’.
In our culture I suppose one paradigm of this depth of connection is between lovers: but then novelists and artists have pondered for centuries quite what ‘love’ is or can or should be. I wanted to just hint that the notion of ‘knowing’, ‘connecting’ with another ‘mind’ is a very special feature of our lives together not limited by or exclusive to ‘lovers’.
As ever I am conscious of the gap between what my poems actually manage to express and the emotions and ideas that prompt them. As it has been said: “I never seem to quite manage to express adequately what I feel or mean” to which justly, the reply must be “who has, who has anything interesting to say”.
So I hope this at least helps to remove any sense of ‘deeper’ meaning behind the ‘what’, the ‘how’ or the ‘where’: they were just meant as the prosaic everyday contrast to the deeper sense of the private, complex ‘inner’ self of  a person one may be deeply attracted by, as well as to, for many reasons not just romantic or sexual. Some may say e.g  it is the appeal that wisdom can have for us.
Whatever the limitation of my efforts to say it; I comfort myself with the above thought that perhaps that is partly because it is something worth saying - or trying to..
Thanks as ever for your thoughtful, empathic consideration.


James Graham at 20:42 on 01 June 2018  Report this post
Thank you for this very full and considered response. Your explanation of your use of ‘what’, ‘how’ etc persuades me that they are not at all out of place. I think after one or two re-readings I was coming round to that anyway. It's worth living with a poem for a few days; it can make you aware of a weakness that you didn’t notice to begin with, or conversely (as with this poem) what you thought was a weakness can be seen to be justified after all.
I never seem to quite manage to express adequately what I feel or mean
Who has, who has anything interesting to say?
As far as this poem is concerned, I would qualify these observations by saying that what you have to say isn’t merely ‘interesting’; it’s something absolutely central to human experience. I mean especially our need to know ‘another mind, another guarded self’ and the reflection that that need, that fascination, is not enough and that the right to know another person in that way must be earned. Mutual trust must be established. I imagine there must be couples who become estranged without fully understanding why, but the underlying reason has been that one or the other has tried to get past the sentry without having earned the right.
Perhaps too, in regard to this poem, the statement above could be altered to ‘I never seem to quite manage to express perfectly what I feel or mean’. You have expressed it, I dare say not perfectly (who ever has?) but more than adequately. As I mentioned before, some lines such as ‘The trust to see so deep is rare’ and ‘we long to reach the other mind near by’ are the kind of poetic lines that in a few words open doors for the reader, admitting us to the heart of the poem. But it’s not only isolated lines; the whole passage ‘The trust…another soul’, though complex, is full of insight. There is the element of fear or anxiety in the longing for deeper knowledge of another self:
in this precious private space
I can say I am frightened too
For me this rings true, as do your lines about language and the way you offset and balance the ‘miracle’ of language with its limitations and dangers, ending with the warning:
…you must never play
with what is deep in another soul
There’s a generous helping of wisdom here – it’s more than ‘adequate’!
I didn’t mention your excellent title, which in its way opens a door too.
One other thing: the lines ‘Your pain is your flower…turns my head’ are introduced as if they are a quote, but it doesn’t ring a bell. Where does it come from?

Zettel at 00:43 on 05 June 2018  Report this post
James:  thanks for your kind comments. It is always most encouraging when one feels that someone takes the trouble to look closely and think about one's efforts; which of course you do for others as well as me. And we all benefit from it enormously. And perhaps we don't always thank you enough for the commitment that demonstrates. Your insights and careful analysis  helps us write more; and perhaps just that bit better.

The quote is a poem by a Poet called Roger Yates: it was published in a limited edition of 22 short poems and Haikus called The Blind Charioteer in 1968 and is no longer available. Yates was born in 1944 but am unable to find any recent information on him.  I was briefly acquainted with a friend of his who helped publish the above and I always admired several of these brief but evocative poems. As they are no longer available in any way perhaps it is ok to quote the following of which I am espcially fond. None of his poems are titled.

The bee hanging beneath his small rainbow
Who visits poppies in the deep garden
Has forgotten himself
For he has passed
Far from remembrance
And his soul is drugged
By the sanity of flowers


To the wind which is like water
And the earth which is like bread
I offer you the part of me
Which has kissed the lips of lightning


The tree fills its branches with the sky
In the love of giving
The roots in the dark earth
Are in the love of taking
And the earth takes
For the earth is a rough lover


No food. No sleep
A hungry animal
Prowling round my city


Words can curse or bless
The scattered petals of camellia
Bless the ground




Zettel at 09:22 on 05 June 2018  Report this post
I have a vague memory that the original quote I used or something very like it occurs in Tibetan/ Bhuddist writings. 


James Graham at 14:27 on 07 June 2018  Report this post
Roger Yates – 50 years after the publication of his book he is almost forgotten, it seems. Just over a year ago I ordered from Amazon a poetry collection called ‘Elegies for the Dead in Cyrenaica’ by a Scottish poet, Hamish Henderson. The poems are among the best of WWII writing, notable for compassionate tributes to German as well as British dead – not enemies but victims. Amazon keep sending messages to say they can’t locate the book but are still trying. I can’t find it on sale anywhere. Henderson was a fine poet. Those short pieces by Yates are powerful too; his imagery is very innovative. Conclusion – immortality isn’t guaranteed, even for good poets. A resurrection like that of Gerard Manley Hopkins, who was rediscovered in the 20th century and is now in the pantheon, is rare. What a waste!


Zettel at 01:59 on 08 June 2018  Report this post
Maybe remedy at least one of these:

Abe Books at


Have two of 'Elegies' available at £5 + pastage of £2.50



James Graham at 21:31 on 08 June 2018  Report this post
Thanks - I'll follow that up.


James Graham at 16:43 on 09 June 2018  Report this post
Thanks again, Zettel. I've ordered the book and it should arrive in a few days.


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