On Stones. William Wall


The Rosetta Stone

things are devious.
they have that trick
of translating into various

unknown languages
we hunt for a stone to read
among the pebbles

until finally we appreciate
the pebbles
themselves are the alphabet

The Otolith

the ear’s sea
rubs the ear-stone
to some kind of perfection
we are water where we feel
the ground

the ghost of a coelacanth
shimmers in eel-grass sensors
his movement calibrates the planet
or what we know of it


this stone
looks like the fruit
of some bleak species
there is the rind the fruit
the pebble seeded at the heart

if we plant it in October
a stone tree will flourish
astonishing visitors
providing us
as though we needed more

with a ready supply of it
for the foreseeable future
if we collect the seed
& handle with care
we can plant a stone orchard

At the Neolithic copper mines on Mount Gabriel

we found
a piece of stone that might have been
a copper miner’s maul
or a piece of stone

we took it with us believing
it was not sufficiently a maul
to be defined by the act
but also capable
of the essential redefinition

in our new order
things are classified
by their mutability
by metaphor & symbol
to each according to his need

while our son went higher
& found deeper mines
of coppery water
the smelter ore
of prehistoric summers


if she goes home
she will be stoned to death
this simple fact
transforms the terms
there is no easy way

to think about it
we assign her
this sombre destiny
because we have forgotten
the meanings of home & stone

William Wall


13 thoughts on “On Stones. William Wall

  1. An ‘otolith’ is a particle of calcium found in the inner ear of vertebrates and involved in the process of hearing.
    Mount Gabriel is a hill in West Cor, Ireland, where copper was mined in prehistoric times. You can climb up to the mines.
    The photograph is of a deserted island in Carbery, a large area of islands (there are said to be 100) which is overlooked by Mount Gabriel.

  2. “the ghost of a coelacanth
    shimmers in eel-grass sensors
    his movement calibrates the planet
    or what we know of it”

    I imagine this verse recited by an old man with a wonderfully thick Irish accent…

  3. It is said that Nature ‘speaks’ to us in such ways because we have planted there our own consciousness (projected it into the outer world) … There is a long poetic tradition of making things speak — to/for us … One can only wonder if what actually speaks is something common to both (something willfully ‘archaic’) — meaning, it’s not so much our ‘seeding’ Nature with our thoughts and feelings as being ‘seeded’ by the same thing that is ‘seeded’ (conceded) in things … GK … Beautiful poem …

  4. “if we plant it in October
    a stone tree will flourish
    astonishing visitors
    providing us
    as though we needed more”

    Have you seen Tarkovsky’s film Sacrifice? It begins/ends with the planting of a dead tree and a father instructing his very young son to water it ‘religiously’ (“while our son went higher”) … If I remember correctly, the music is Bach’s St Matthew Passion* … What I find most compelling about this poem is the last stanza(?), is it a stanza?, wherein the whole thing shifts to a pernicious scenario of a stoning … I find that everything above has been altered as a result — that the magical intonations have become almost gruesome as a result of ‘forgetting’ … William, you cannot hide the fact that this is part and parcel of your post-religious sensibility … GK …

    *Matthäus-Passion (1720s), especially “Erbarme dich, mein Gott […]”, ethereal music that permeates both Tarkovsky’s Sacrifice and Pasolini’s The Gospel According to St Matthew (1965)

  5. No Gavin, I haven’t seen Sacrifice or anything else by Tarkovsky. St Matthew’s Passion means nothing to me either, though I’ve probably heard bits of it on the radio. I’m not attracted to writers or films or music that have religious overtones.

    As regards being part of my ‘post-religious’ sensibility, I deny that I am ‘post-religious’. God is somebody else’s fiction and i don’t have any personal relationship whatever with religion. Saying I am ‘post-religious’ reminds me of the Catholic insistence that one cannot stop being a Catholic.

    The last passage stems from an actual incident in which our present right wing government (present and forever, it sometimes feels) proposed to deny a Nigerian woman refugee status and to deport her to a part of Nigeria where she was likely to be stoned to death for adultery. This may have biblical resonances in the mind of a religious person, and if so, I’m glad of it. Equally the biblical link between stones and words, is one I am glad of. I consider the bible a very fine piece of poetry, if a little heavy on the morality side by comparison with other great works of art, such as The Odyssey, but also a wonderful wellspring of imagery. I particularly like the King James version, and keep an e-text copy on my hard drive.

    But being called ‘post-religious’ is a bit like being told you have ‘post traumatic stress’ – it’s something over which you have no control; the term really only functions in the mind of someone who is ‘religious’. It means nothing to me.

    I think the much spoken of ‘need’ that mankind is supposed to feel for a ‘spiritual dimension’ is actually a kind of intellectual laziness.

    Pontius Pilate is the great symbol of Christianity – the Christians washing their hands of the violence they engender while simultaneously standing on a hill and telling everyone how virtuous they are – the present Christianist war in Iraq being a prime example. PP will do for other religions too. The world would be a beter place without all that stuff. Give me a Maoist any day.

  6. Dear Will and everyone, sorry for being so late in expressing my appreciation for this poem. Will, I suppose the definition ‘post’religious is in a sense unavoidable for most of us in the sense that ‘post’ is (like in post-colonial) both after and in the aftermath of: I’m afraid (and your comment, Will, underlines this heavily) we all live in a post-religious, neo-religious world as much as we live in a post-, neo-colonial world. You’ve probably heard bits of St. Matthew’s Passion on the radio (although I myself prefer St. John’s), and you’ve probably read bits and pieces of the Divine Comedy…etc. etc. Too bad, you do not need to be or having been religious any time in your life to have come across and having being ‘contaminated’ by religious imaginary.
    On another note, I love the idea of pebbles and stones as fertile, like words and seeds. I like the idea that barrenness can be displaced, and fertility be found where you wouldn’t dream of it – by the way, there is a beautiful essay somewhere about the Virgin Mary being impregnated by the angel through the ear…maybe through the otolith? Well, what a closing remark for someone who is not a religious person herself! Love to all s

  7. Cara Serena, do not misunderstand me. I have read Dante (in fact an inferno motif runs right through my collection of stories No Paradiso), and I have read the bible with interest. I even know some very nice religious people!!!
    But the analogy with being post-colonial is a good one. I think countries and peoples are in a post-colonial state for a period of their existence. In time they come to terms with colonial elements and move on. When I was a young man I was much preoccupied with how to come terms with my catholic upbringing. I was fortunate that my parents were liberal catholics and I never suffered the trauma of being seriously wounded by the Church. But, I came to terms with all of that twenty years ago. I am now extra-post-religious. I don’t feel the death of god, I am conscious that the god-idea is very much alive for other people, but it interests me only as an occasional metaphor. I am not moved by religious imagery – in general I find it gross.
    I have very little respect for the opinions of authors as regards their own work, and dislike commenting, believing that the work belongs to the reader; however, I can say there is no religious intention whatever in the poem. What others find in it, is their business. Mine is simply to be grateful for their reading.

  8. Very intersting debate here. In my opinion spirituality has been hijacked by the great harlot which is institutionalized religion. I love and respect any genuine spiritual manifestation but hate the manipulation of it. In this sense Bill, I find your poem very spiritual, that is very in touch with the ground, the earth, the culture and tradition from which it was stemmed. Does it make sense?

  9. Ciao Luca. I’m uncomfortable with the term ‘spirituality’, but i recognise what you’re saying. I do feel something like a sense of solidarity with things, with the earth (I come from the countrydie and the sea). I’ve spent my life trying to describe this feeling.

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