The Poetic Memory IV

By Stu Whitley

This is the fourth post in a four-part series.

may be that memory is the Well of Wisdom: this idea is central to
Celtic mythology. In Celtic lore, the well is situated at the centre of
the Otherworld, the spiritual source, the land of the dead. Where it
gushes up, pilgrims drink from it using a skull as a vessel, thereby
creating a direct link with the dead. At the well of Llandeilo in
Dyfed, Wales, this practice continued into the twentieth century. The
skull was said to be that of St. Teilo, the ruins of whose church
loomed over the well itself. The voices of the wells, usually feminine,
were released in dreams. Keepers of the wells were considered to be
oracles, dispensing analyses of past conduct, future guidance and even
the whereabouts of lost objects. The image of a well as memory seems
apt: if we had the capacity to let down our bucket sufficiently deeply,
what universal truths might we find? I think it’s arguable whether we
have enough rope on the well’s spool. The intuitive proof of this lies
in the toss of the coin accompanied by a wish that, at one time or
another, has gripped the imagination of all of us: the wisdom of sacred

I sit silently beside a dark well so deep
the splash of tokens echoes faintly
like distant, mocking laughter
each arcing coin that tumbles under
carries a wish for, what? serenity?

I wrote of the ‘editorial memory’. By that, I mean the mind’s capacity
to organize thoughts into their essential message, to synopsise, cull,
re-frame or otherwise adjust what we have heard or experienced so that
we can cope with it, or at least participate in the filing of
particular things. This is not always helpful: after all, we may be
contumaciously dismissive of something that turns out to be quite

I think, too, that we often need to simplify a
thing when it seems unnecessarily complicated, or where we are
disinclined to put in the amount of effort to truly grasp the heart of
the matter. Whatever the reason, memory craves simplicity. It is why we
use mnemonics to remember number sequences and names.

contemplating the ammonite’s graceful form
it strikes me at once how beautiful
the simple things in life truly are
and how, like the ram’s horn shape
that has endured the primordial muck so long
our interest is aroused to look beyond
what is readily apparent

beauty, the lesson is, resides mainly within
exercising mysterious power
compelling us to move beyond ourselves
taking time to look, to hear, to touch
inhale and taste—to engage fully
in what Thoreau called the great enterprise
—to make living poetic

© 2007 Stuart James Whitley. All rights reserved.