Trailing my dark


I’ve had a line from a poem by Sylvia Plath going around my head for the past few days.

At the Zen meditation group last night, the line kept coming to me as it seemed to say something about the way we bring, or fail to bring, our attention and focus to the present moment.

It also had something to say about the vehemence of some of the reaction to Thatcher’s death – I was surprised how many people have been trailing the darkness of those divided times for decades.  Sometimes, there’s something about the dark we are drawn to, expressed so succintly in Robert Frost’s masterpiece ‘Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening’ where the line ‘the woods are lovely, dark and deep’ conveys such yearning and ambivalence.

Some of the MT reaction was deeply dark – the mock-funeral in Grimethorpe looked like a ceremony from Haiti complete with voodoo dolls.  Others, such as buying a Judy Garland download with all the consumer comforts and access to technology that suggests  – seemed like recreational darkness, similar to the way children who are essentially safe, enjoy scaring each other.

But when I went to look for the poem,  I found that I’d misrembered the line.  The phrase that kept recurring and haunting me, pregnant with possibilities and resonance was ‘trailing your dark as owls do’ whereas in the poem, it’s actually ‘trawling your dark as owls do’.  It’s a poem I know well but hadn’t read on the page for many years and I was flummoxed by how I’d rewritten it that line in my head.

‘Trailing our dark’ seems to be something we all do, carrying it around behind us like a cape, a grubby comfort-blanket or a shapeless hold-all.  Or perhaps our dark follows us like a shadow or a ghost.  Trailing our dark seems a good way of expressing the Jungian shadow side.  Everywhere we go and in every interaction, we trail our dark.  Delmore Schwarz wrote about the ‘withness of the body’ and there’s also a ‘withness of the dark’.

Sylvia Plath’s poem addresses a baby, and a baby spends lots of time asleep. The  image of an owl trawling its dark invokes for me the world of dreams, which we can profitably trawl for imaginative writing . It also suggests our unconscious and semi-conscious  motivations which can be trawled with caution.  Perhaps taking the analogy a step too far, given how over-fished the seas are, we should trawl modestly and only as much as we need to for nourishment.

And one dark we all trail is that of our past and future non-existence, at least in this particular bodily state.  We start in the dark of the uterus and end in the darkness of the coffin.  My Auntie Winnie, my Grandad’s much younger half-sister  and the last of the Field line, has died aged 92.  She had a rich and happy life, full of love and was active to the end. I’m sure she’s headed from darkness into the light,