Martin Robertson

Now and Then

That Way Madness Lies


When first ghosts of our own begetting

force us back to the precipice

and empty air sucks suddenly

under our heels,

the sharp shock is its own cure, telling

how vain are our imaginings,

and soon our feet are travelling

accustomed streets.

But at the second and the third return

our jaded souls respond more slowly

and in the general hurly-burly

the solid truth no longer stands alone,

and anyone may one day come

to see the truth itself in ghostly stuff,

and then the void beyond the cliff

will swing him down and swallow him.


Life narrows down between our closing arms,

between our hands, between finger and thumb,

whittles and whittles and there is nothing there.

The bodily earth about us, loud and lit,

touches the senses, nothing further; form

thins into smoke, thence into lightless air;

the soul in the blackness of uncentred space,

knowing nothing, sweats with fear.


Fled are the open sky, the easy slumber.

Now in a narrowing chamber

we pace and pace and turn, and pace and turn,

and turn again.