Peter Dale Scott


Five Canadian Poems


to Susan Burgess Shenstone

A half-century of silence
and now thanks to a friend’s email
I can write to you for the first time

about our bicycle trip together
after that freezing winter in Paris
when my new friend P went insane
and I myself my socialist
faith having foundered
in the intrigues of post-war Europe
between the Communist graffiti
and chars blindés in the boulevards                           tanks
was reading the letters of Van Gogh
waiting as I thought for my own 
inevitable madness to kick in

when two Americans proposed a tour
of the churches in southern France
I was ambivalent from guilt
at my many absences from Sciences Po
and you who had just gotten engaged
only joined reluctantly 
because Chuck and Lute would be there
as necessary chaperones 

We bicycled from Périgueux’s
cathedral so restored
a century earlier by Viollet-le-Duc
it looked like a railway station
to the cave of Lascaux
opened just three weeks before
where we all stood in darkness
until the tour-guide lit his match
so that we too could discern
the galloping silent bison
hidden away in this cave
for twenty thousand years

It was thus our eyes opened 
to the art of the Middle Ages
Beaulieu where the angels danced
above the opened coffins of the dead
the basilica at Conques
crammed into a small canyon
we looked across as the dawn sun 
came down the opposite hill 
through blossoming almond and crocus
to where they opened for us the crypt 
of the tenth century gold virgin
whose stiff imploring arms were 
for better or worse encrusted
with Roman cameos and gems

We biked unwittingly down
the same narrow roads where
Eliot and Pound had walked together
only thirty years before us
the wave pattern cut in the stone	                       Cantos 29/145
to Albi’s fortress cathedral
austere outside sumptuous within
memorializing the struggle
of the church against the Cathars
in an inscribed world of saints 
heretics suppressed cultures
and sublimated adoration
I had never conceived of 
in my Protestant corner of Quebec

And then disaster – the missed
rendez-vous at evening
with our chaperones simply gone
us panicked at being alone
and you red-eyed insisting
we must return at once to Paris
but there were no good connections

so we didn’t We took a bus
up up to the high bare
causses of the Massif Central
with crags like agonized dolmens
barely sheltering the sheep
and down to the warm paradise
of Lodève and Montpellier
for me at least an entrance 
into a new and menacingly
fragrant Mediterranean world
of flamingos landing in the Camargue

the courses de taureaux 
in the Roman arena at Arles
the ruined abbey at Montmajour
we explored alone at sunset
whose stairwell I descended into darkness
step by step until suddenly
there was nothing more to step on

All my life I have tried
to recover this. Next spring
I at La Pierre Qui Vire                                           Burgundian monastery
walked among jonquils once again
After that with my first wife 
I hitch-hiked through the Dordogne
en route to Bosnia
Finally with my second wife
I toured Provence in a rental Lancia
It could not be the same

as that first awkward trip
with fumes of diesel and cherry
over wet tarmac
or crushed thyme on the hillside
and the hot breath of the mistral
in our face as we struggled back north
(towards the broken bridge at Avignon
and the inevitable train station
back to our Canadian lives)
pedaling by the columns
of a restored Roman city
and the very olive groves which
unbeknownst to us
Van Gogh had painted
from the small nearby asylum

When you left I was still 
as inhibited as when we began
We never even kissed good-bye
nor did I receive any hint
if your heart had melted
like mine and Bernart’s  	                            B. de Ventadorn
at the faint falling cadences
of the skylark tumbling overhead
after the sunny rainburst
still heard after decades
of teaching Bernart here out west
Can vei la lauzeta mover
When I see the skylark beat 
With joy its wings against the sun
Till he forgets to fly, and falls
From the sheer sweetness in his heart
Ah! what envy I have then
Of those whom I see rejoicing
I marvel, that from desire
My heart does not melt at once

as I a self-made medievalist
came slowly to realize
I had not been ready at twenty-one
for the deepest mysteries in life
but was blessed to have suffered
intense Petrarcan yearning
with pains I cannot now conceive of
to open my eyes and heart
in that miserable first year
of my supposed adulthood
and disengagement from my private past
I would not now change
for anything in the world.


  From Susan Burgess Shenstone

And then your email reply: 
we had stopped for a rest 
above the side of the road. 
with the hills behind us, hills 
which had sheep grazing
it was after we had missed the train

and we heard this sweet haunting voice singing 
Il y a des moutons blancs
Belle rose du printemps
Nor could we see anyone near us 
It just seemed to float down from the hills 
as the day was ending. 
It was quite magical. 

I remember only				
that I sang it afterwards for years		
on the road by myself --			
Belle rose du printemps. 
                                 1950, 2007


These novels promising
sexual insights and delights
why does something wake me before dawn
and murmur in my own voice No!
I do not want to read them? 
Am I still at seventy-eight				
just being inhibited
or am I like those in our republic
and those others outside our republic
who consider it shameless?

And why do I instantly remember
Geneviève half-blocking the doorway
to her room in the Austrian chalet
with a half-profile stance that somehow
seemed to beckon me in
when I knew nothing about her
except that she had a French title
and was intently sexy? ---
As I retreated in confusion
from the voice clamoring No! 
I was filled with self-loathing
at my failure to be like my friends
a normal Benthamite 
pleasure-seeking animal

like J at a near orgy
the serene take-charge woman
who confronted me in a doorway
kissed me hard on the mouth
and said, You know I love you ---
She was my best friend’s wife
I fled Montreal
I had to start life over

or years later in Geneva
the British diplomat C
with whom I shared fondant
and slightly drunken flirtation
while Maylie was back in Ottawa
pregnant with our first child --
our walk back was so auspicious
I thought that after I left her
at the large door of her room
in the Hôtel du Rhône
she must have been puzzled if not angry
at the uncouthness of this Prufrockian  	    
Strether out of Woollett

or the dyed and acned blonde
who strode into the Canadian pavilion
where I sat in for our Embassy
at the Poznán Trade Fair
and told me what good times
she had had the year before
with my predecessor O---
my instantaneous revulsion
had nothing to do with my sense
that she was bait from the UB	                          Polish secret police

or the student in the ‘60s
who in my office hour
sat on my desk and told me
with her calf grazing my knee				
it was wonderful
how the new permissiveness
enabled students and faculty
to become more intimate –

by then I was thirty-five
and opening to the erotic
electricity of a new age 
but a voice still whispered No! 

or B the writer in Manhattan
on topics we both shared
who ordered in for lunch
three dozen oysters on their shells
and whose urgings to reschedule
my flight home to Berkeley
I eventually declined –

for all this I am now grateful
I have arrived where I am
in a place where it is o.k.
to be (like Eliot and James)
a tad abnormal

It wasn’t ever that I was 
or was even trying to be virtuous --
between my two marriages
thanks to the stratagem
of a friendly go-between
I lived with someone for years 
and was quite at ease
after I had overcome
the initial ambivalences of shame

It wasn’t at all a matter
of virtue resisting temptation --
at times this was stronger than fear	
an involuntary warning
something precious was at stake
something perhaps in the right lobe
a Socratic daimon
that might be lost
or even something sacral
unto all generations

or even if it were nothing more
than to do with my dear father
with his nighttime absences at work	
his two trunks full of love letters
(Not to be opened until
fifty years after my death) 

and his books not finished --
to me now it would still be precious

I suspect I was selfishly			
protecting in myself				
a source akin to what 
is celebrated in music
and easily translatable
into so many languages
yet nowhere in the vocabulary
of our left-lobe Western science

which I recognized
in the Thai woman 
who called me her  or grandfather --                       	  
we talked together for three years
until when we said Goodbye
she finally for the first time
hugged me 				  
and her tears fell like pearls       

* I have not included the Hebrew (nefesh), the Chinese (ling hun), or the Thai (duangjit), because for historical or other reasons these terms do not make the bicameral distinction between mind (animus) and soul (anima).


“He who sees a need and waits to be asked for help is as unkind as if he had refused it.”
                                                                                                                                   --- Dante

“Hell is realizing that one did not help when one could have.”
                                                                    --- James Mawdsley

I have come to this Holy Land
of limestone and olive trees
with signposts to Armageddon                                                       Megiddo
where every salutation --
Shalom! Salaam! -- is Peace! 				        
but talk is of we and they
I listen and am obsessed
by how much I dare not say 

The young settler on the escarpment
looking down on the Dead Sea
spoke of the vineyard they had planted
and how much she loved the land
Pointing down to the Arab villages
she said one was OK
the other not so good
Who will pick your grapes? I asked
and was mute when she said she would

The Tao that can be expressed
is not the true Tao…. 			                                             Tao Te Ching 1
Can this excuse or explain
my reluctance throughout my life
to meet hate with lovingkindness?

Like those many times in Berkeley
when N boasted of his practice
at the Lake Chabot rifle range
with Black Panthers on his left
John Birchers on his right
all aware they were getting ready 
for the day they would shoot each other
What did I ever say?
What was there for me to say? 

Useless to give that settler
Auden’s anguished dilemma
We must love one another or die
but perhaps I could have appealed
to the faith she was living by
the truth laid out in Torah
if not Thou shalt love thy neighbor                                      Leviticus 19:18
at least do not oppress
the stranger among you	  	
since you were strangers too                                           Leviticus 19:33-34

Our West Coast faiths are mellowed
remote from the hate and blood
exhausted years before
by decades of Holy War
Josephus lays out clearly
how through murder and treason
Jewish Zealots defiled this Mount
till the Romans burned the city                             Jewish War IV.286-388, VI.401-VII.1
For hate to be satisfied
will it be necessary
to endure all this again? 

Just as Aeneas’s escape
from the walls of burning Troy
is said to have helped refine
his archaic piety
into that of a new city
imposing peace with law       		                                    Aeneid VI.852
for the haughty to be brought low	                        Isaiah 2:17, Aeneid VI.853

so Rabbi Yochanan escaped		                                 Yochanan ben Zakkai
Jerusalem’s holocaust			                                 Talmud Gittin:56b
and developed prayer and study	                                         Mishnah
to replace the burnt-out temple
of animal sacrifice.				      
This has been the way of the world 
refinement by conflagration
Is there not some other way? 

The neglected masses
of Christendom and Islam
from the hillfolk of America
to the hillfolk of Lebanon 
confounded by the forces
of merciless intellect
retreat into the solaces
of simplifying sect
And as empires spread again
so Zealots too return

Something hovers over this poem
nudging me to affirm
I have glimpsed the right path
where our lives are not deformed
which is why I feel such pain
that I did not express
what Dante had envisioned --
with Empire and church collapsed
in fearful apocalypse			                                    Purgatorio 32:121-160
Popes and Emperor in Hell
from selfishness and greed --	                                    Inf. 10:119, 11: 8, 19:44-118

as a sweet new
different society
with the force of a gentle heart		                                              cor gentil 
able to change the world
I was able to share with my class

No time to grieve for roses
when the forests are burning		                                                   Slowacki
here in this Holy Land
of Katyushas and M-16s
with the dollar in steep decline
from the war our mellowed movement
was powerless to stop

my memory now half gone
I must look to a stronger voice
with more settled conviction
to narrow the jagged gap
between the truth we are born into
and the truth that has always been 
(for in these things I delight, saith the Lord)                         Jeremiah 9:24
in lovingkindness

		  	Jerusalem 11/13/07


La vraie civilisation n'est pas dans le gaz….

                 --- Marcuse, Eros and Civilization, 153

From some deep instinct roused
by the shock of a kindly man
muttering softly but intently
as we drive from the shell-pocked city 
to the mosaic of Orpheus
gently charming the birds

in the ruins of Sephoris		                                                 Zippori
where Judeo-Christians healed                                     Renan History of the Origins V 
the Mishnah was compiled
and until 1948
the Crusader tower
was an Arab school      

the Americans should have taken all their planes
and flattened Mecca…      

and the shock of my silence

I am absurdly obsessed
by my gaffe two decades ago
at the radical chic party
for Astorga the Sandinista		                                               Nora Astorga
guerrillera  and UN ambassador
(with connections to the powerful 
Somoza family)					      
by then pale with terminal cancer
but still beautiful

who quit her safe career
as a corporate lawyer
having finally been convinced 
that a rifle
cannot be met with a flower			                                           Astorga

and who professed no guilt
(He was too much of a monster)                                                       Astorga
when the Somoza general 
she had seduced to her apartment 
resisted being kidnapped
so her comrades slit his throat.

From some wild impulse                                             cf. Virgil Georgics 4:488
while chatting with Dekka Treuhaft 		                                 Jessica Mitford
the Communist whose sister 
was Duchess of Devonshire
Dekka who helped bust racist
housing covenants in Berkeley
who gave a little needed 
pizzazz to our antiwar movement
and whose son Ben outwitted			
the hapless State Department
with his exports to embargoed Cuba 		
of used pianos

I was moved to tell Dekka
how in the Cotswold graveyard 
below the hilltop church 
with the stained-glass windows
naming her titled parents
the very same day 
I had revisited Sally’s home 		                              Sally Philipps Kavanaugh
I had stumbled incredibly
on Sally’s tomb 	
showing her dead at twenty-three

as if Sally my Rilkean angel          
had guided me there herself
the way her mother Rosamond Lehmann
had spoken of her
in her bizarrely spiritualist book
as a corn goddess Persephone                                 Lehmann, Swan in the Evening,101
with a sweet returning force

at which words -- Rosamond Lehmann --
Dekka turned away 
with a look of what I still 
vividly remember
as Communist aristocratic 
anticolonial scorn.

We are mysteries to ourselves!
As to why I plagued Dekka
with Rosamond’s belief
in Sally as a revenant
which was treated solemnly    
by a feminist critic	                                   Shirley Neuman Genre, Trope, Gender, 62
but by Nancy Mitford not                                Selina Hastings, Rosamond Lehmann, 354,
				                                               Guardian 6/8/02
I suppose what I really wanted
(assuming it was I)
was to engage her with Dante
who from the refining love
of beauty transfixed in death
wrote of a sweet new
different society
with the force of a gentle heart	                                                      cor gentil 
able to change the world

Dante who expounded
what love dictates within			                                  Purgatorio 24:54
and who dared to name the cause		                                        
of what makes the world wicked 	                               la cagion che’l mondo ha fatto reo
as bad government	          	                                              mala condotta
not nature corrupt in us                                                           Purgatorio 16:103-05

followed by Hölderlin 
Schiller Marcuse
who all hoped original sin 
would prove to be historical
diminished by civilization	                                              Baudelaire; Eliot; Marcuse

like Wordsworth who after 
his faith was nearly broken
by the shock of the guillotine
and years of counterrevolution
claimed he himself could soften 
the future --  what we have loved,
others will love, and we will teach them how                               Prelude 14:446-7

but facing hunger and massacre
how could one have hoped
to persuade Dekka’s rebel
aristocratic heart
with middle-class Canadian
talk of gentleness
not to mention courteous love?

Amid the senseless crowd
Dante’s hopes for empire shattered
he wrote in the end it was best
to be a party for himself	                                            cf. Paradiso 17:62, 68-69
just as Hölderlin broken-hearted  
that the world had denied his freedom     
died in an asylum

And now a vivid nightmare
of the counselors at my camp
gone off to some rich hotel
while those bullies long forgotten
cast my belongings about
evincing the violence
that explodes within myself
I awake relieved
to be only where I am
chastised with self-rebuke

The Tao that can be expressed
is not the true Tao…. 				                                  Tao Te Ching 1
How then shall we make use
of the most incomprehensible
mystery of the universe --
that as Einstein said
it is comprehensible?			                               	     Einstein 1935

If the deep structure of our mind
is somehow fitting
to the structure of the cosmos
dare we imagine our instincts
however fallible
could be somehow fitting as well

in the universe emerging
since the axial age	                                       Jaspers, Way to Wisdom 99-100
dreamt by meditators
the whole world over
all clinging tightly 
to the virtue of peace		                                      Rebbe Nachman of Breslov

as our hopes whirled
in the conflicts of history
slowly become gentler
just as pebbles tossed
by the tides of the sea
surely become more smooth

to help explain how 
in the throes of disaster
hatred violence madness 
the world becomes more lovable (as in
the faces of the young women
who brush right by me
on their morning runs)

so that a few maintain
that all will be well                                                 Julian of Norwich, Showings 225
and others rightly or wrongly
are still willing to risk death
for love to prevail?
Mosaic Orpheus in the House of the Nile gently charming the birds and calming tigers mulcentem tigris Virgil Georgics 4:510 with wisdom from having seen ghosts driven like leaves in the gusts of a wintry gale with great Caesar once again on the Euphrates Virgil Georgics 4:560-61 I write of a trivial wrong and bless that kindly man who helped me recognize in the light beyond all words the world can what it can Haifa 11/14/07

   for Paul Almond

I saw myself as a humanist 
searching the right way to love
our religious species

who became a theist 
accepting God’s will 
that texts be critically examined

and slowly released
from their burdensome and divisive
contexts of external practice

but at last seeing myself 
as a child of Jewish observance
and of Buddhist compassion

a small voice inside me
has persuaded me to confess

I am a Christian			
seeking to be enlightened		
enlightened: not in the sense
of Naipaul’s Beyond Belief

or the gnosticisms
of Yeats and Pound

but openness to the simple
living waters of the Lord’s Prayer                       Song of Songs 4:16

in the spirit of Merton’s
I am a Jew and a Moslem	                         Merton, Striving Towards Being 137

open to other precepts
love the Lord in Hebrew	                                              Deut 6:5

love thy neighbor in koine Greek	               Septuagint Leviticus 19:18
the straight path in Arabic                                     Qur'an 1:6

all things are impermanent		                         Mahaparinibbana Sutta 14
the nameable name is not eternal	                  	         Tao Te Ching 1

precepts unburdened 
by the travails of past Councils

like the priests in Utopia
of exceeding holiness 

and therefore very few                                            More Utopia 2