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Stone

by James Graham 

Posted: 14 February 2005
Word Count: 173


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I brought a stone from the river,
from just below the humpback bridge,
where I once possessed a little cave
under the bare roots of a beech.

Sleek stones, familiar as furniture.
I called them treasure-markers then.

Now they are nameless,
stranger than moon-rocks.

Something lies heavy in my rockery
among stars of something I call saxifrage.

You'd think, if not sight,
then touch would prove it,

but if you made it sweat, if you
could squeeze it like a sponge
until your fingers met, even then
you would fail to know it.

The word assigned it by the water
is not disclosed by its unforthcoming heart,
nor by the flood that silted its rough hide.

In the spate of what we call time's river,
meaning loses touch with stone.

On long school afternoons I'd drift away
from rocky-mountain geography, reach out
left-handed for the steadying beech-root,
lodge in the temple of the stone.

I weigh it here and now, and lay it down.
I've not brought home the meaning of the stone.







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Comments by other Members



joanie at 21:28 on 14 February 2005  Report this post
Hello, James. I remember my lovely Dad showing me fossils in stones. My son studied geology and is fascinated by rocks. I can really connect with this. Holding a smooth stone, rubbing it gently, stroking it.... thousands of years in the palm of your hand... beautiful.

I get a sense of something lost here - a desperate longing for what once was.. of schoolboy dreams.

The opening words, 'I brought a stone from the river tie in beautifully with the ending, I've not brought home the meaning of the stone.'

Wistful, thought-provoking, even challenging.

I enjoyed this very much.

joanie

Mac AM at 13:42 on 15 February 2005  Report this post
Hello James,

I loved reading this as you will see from my thoughts below:

I loved very much the possessing of a cave, it packs so much more detail than just a passing knowledge of this place. Instantly, I am under what I imagine to be tightly packed roots, just beyond the bridge. I have an image of grubby knees and secrets. Then I have these stones, as familiar as furniture and I feel like Iím there touching them, turning the smaller ones in my hand, feeling their history, even the security of touching something so old, that hasnít changed. And that you gave them a name, to emphasise the secrecy.

Then suddenly, Iím snapped back to the present and these stones are nameless, their names lost, forgotten. I love the image of moon-rocks being used to distance them from the poet and also the use of rocks, which seems to emphasise the lack of familiarity that they now have. They are no longer stones, but rocks. Then there are the dark, heavy plants that you are calling alpines, but not necessarily with conviction, so you seem even more unsure and at odds.

Now Iím a little confused because you talk of making them sweat, or squeezing them like a sponge and I am a little lost as to whether we are back to the stones or still with the alpines. You canít squeeze rocks, but then we have the old saying about getting ďblood out of a stoneĒ and so the sweat might fit. At this point, Iím less confident about the meaning of the poem than anywhere else. Iím a bit lost myself here James.
Except for the fact, that no matter what you do, you cannot get back that lost recognition.

Then in the stanza beginning The word assigned it by the water, I know we are with the stone, because alpines and rockeries thrive in extremely dry conditions and good drainage. I really liked the discovery that the water is party to the secret and will not give the name away, or its meaning away.

We are back in time again, and thereís that crisp image of geography lessons and the escape to the beech-root cave again. Iím not clear if there is any significance to the left hand.

The final couplet is tremendous, wonderful. Back to present day, with the stone in your hand, you can feel itís weight and shape but you have no grasp of its significance, what it stood for all those years ago.

I very much enjoyed reading this poem James. I can imagine reading it in the haze of a summer afternoon and being transported even more clearly to that time long ago.

Mac


Ticonderoga at 14:27 on 15 February 2005  Report this post
James, there seems to me to be a very rich mix of almost classical formality of expression and extremely moving intimacy of memory and regret, which combine to create what I can only call a splendid creative tension between form and content, almost making your poem a combination of stone and stream, but yielding so much more! That's a very long-winded way of saying I enjoyed this enormously and will re-read it often.


Best,

Mike

James Graham at 14:45 on 16 February 2005  Report this post
Joanie and Mike, thank you for your positive comments. That experience of handling a stone and being aware of how ancient it is, is part of it too. And 'a combination of stone and stream' - fluid, transient memory and 'meaning' contained in a poem that's quite formal (for free verse) - if that's how it comes over, that's fine!

Mac, thank you for such a long and thoughtful reading. I hadn't been aware of the switch from stones to rocks, but there is a difference and it does add a little to the poem. I can see how your confusion in the middle was possible, but the saxifrage is meant to get only a passing mention, everything else is about the stone. The thread of it is: I brought home a stone from the river to add to my rockery. Now this 'something' (the stone) lies among the saxifrage - but I call it a 'something' because I don't know what it represents; a significance it might once have had, in my childhood, seems to have gone and can't be got back. Just looking at it tells me nothing. Maybe the sense of touch would put me back 'in touch'? But no, even if it were possible (but of course it isn't) to squeeze it like a sponge, that elusive meaning would never yield itself up.

Your reading of the section beginning 'The word assigned...' is just as I would have thought of it myself. 'Name' might be better than 'word' - as if the river, i.e. nature, by washing over the stone and smoothing it and silting away its surface, not only shapes it into a round pebble but somehow defines it, determines what it is, gives it a 'name' in a 'language' that we can never know. I'm aware that this is where the poem goes off into something rather mysterious and hard to express. But from your comment I'm pleased to see it seems to have come across well enough!

There's no significance in the left hand, by the way - except, as I recall, it was easier to use the left hand rather than the right to hold on while scrambling into the cave, to avoid falling into the river! It's something that nobody but me could possibly know, and a slight distraction in the poem.

James.

Zettel at 11:14 on 17 February 2005  Report this post
James

In form this strikes me as lean, sinuous, strong and accessible. Evocative and on this level I find it very moving. (I tried something much simpler and less well, with Sea Glass).

It is also though, in a very subtle way, for me, very philosophical: in the best sense that it resonates with philosophical ideas. You put this I think as "goes off into something rather mysterious". The same thought I think expressed in different ways.

E.g if we create meaning in our lives rather than discover it 'out there' (or buy into a belief system), then the fact of the poem rather than it's content, answers the last line - the meaning of the stone lies not in the stone but in the individual consciousness and memory that invests it with meaning. And a sense of the continuity of the of the meaning 'in' the stone is generated by the wonderful and mysterious fact that this is just something that human beings tend to do - not in itself capable of further analysis because such a response to the world is a given upon which shared experience, including appreciation of this lovely poem is based. For that reason, though valid, the fossil interpretation is too literal and reductionist for me.

Sorry to bury a beautiful poem in philsophical verbiage but in another sense your stone, sends very strong philosophical waves when dropped into the mind. (And don't even get me started on memory!)

Loved it

Regards

Zettel







James Graham at 18:53 on 18 February 2005  Report this post
Z, your philosophical comments register with me. I recognise the philosophical aspect of the poem, and I think I was vaguely aware of it, but you've set it out better than I could. I think I meant by the last line: I've failed, unsurprisingly, to revitalise the 'meaning' that as a child I attributed to a particular place. A vestige of that meaning is in the poem, in the recollection and in the desire to recall - but a memory of an experience, however vivid and charged with feeling, is always different from the experience itself.

The image of squeezing the stone like a sponge, in order to somehow find meaning 'in' it, is absurd. Any notion that we can discover meaning in the external world has always seemed to me absurd. But during the actual bringing home of the stone, which gave rise to the poem, I did have that impulse to squeeze something (blood?) out of it.

Thank you also for your complimentary remarks on the poem generally.

James.

engldolph at 11:23 on 19 February 2005  Report this post
Hi James,

A bit late to this, and will try not just to repeat the insightful comments above

..I am late because this is a poem by its very word structure, rhythm and tone encourages (demands) you to go back again and re-read, and to re-search..to pick up different lines and carefully weigh up, like a stone in hand...the full feel of the poem cannot be taken in one... (the piece is interesting enough to make you want to go back)... the reader's wanting to going back through the poem is intelf a parallel to the subject of "going back"..


Like otheres have said, there is a strong feeling of longing and "why-can't I find this" ... be best captured in the image of trying to squeeze feeling/memory out of a stone; a brillint and tangible image.


I like the way you establish intimacy in the first two stanzas ..particularly: familiar as furniture (brought the image of your cosy den by the river ...we all had one of these! mine was in a blackberry thicket by the railway)..and the use of the word "sleek" which to me carried an image of smooth stones in shallow water..

Stranger than moonrocks ...to me was about the distance of childhood..and again this strangeness of not being able to recpature feeling through past objects..

The metaphor of river and time works well through the piece.. time moves one way.. (although some say time is a curved river that you meet again on your dying day)

The something I call saxifrage was a line that threw me at first...didn't seem relevant... but on coming back to I find it fascinating and critical..to me it a window into the writers way of thinking: analytical and precise, yet deeply poetic: a star-shaped rockery plant which he is not sure of the name of but which he names without much worry..just as he named stones as "treasure-markers"... this creates an unconscious, thread of a link to childhood essence that has not been lost..

I liked the way you snap the reader back, after some philosophical questions, to the precise details of memory at your school desk..in the penultimate stanza the word "temple" was interesting for me... sacred, also temple as in the part of the head ..the mind of the stone.. talked to me about the all encompassing spirit of childhood and childhood places that become your own sacred places...


In all, a wonderful piece that on one side shows how tangible childhood memory can be ..how objects can evoke strong memories...but fail to bring the same elcticity of experience... how an effort to recapture this at a conscious level is like sqzeezing blood from a stone, or holding water in your hands..

Enjoyed
Mike



James Graham at 20:37 on 19 February 2005  Report this post
Mike, thanks for taking the time to post such a detailed comment. As well as reassuring me that the poem more or less works as I hoped it would, you remind me of a point I wasn't aware of until the poem went public. 'Something I call saxifrage' can be a bit of an obstacle; it was for Mac too, I think. The line possibly needs to be changed, partly because it's there more for the parallel phrasing, the something/something, than for clarity. It tends to convey only the speaker's confusion about what these rockery plants are called - a bit of a distraction in the context of the poem. On the other hand, your working out of the line, especially the idea of naming 'without much worry', is just about good enough to justify leaving it as it is!

James.


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