One Near-Death Experience at the Royal Bournemouth Hospital

To be dazed out, phased out, near to dying
In a hospital bed
Somewhere in a street near you,
Pain excessive, crying,
Eyes blank at blank ceiling staring ahead
And nothing, nothing to do.

Only night comes on, but what matter?
Light in hospitals’ always the same?
Like light that never has a heart
To live, or living lacked voice to utter
Its own radiance, alias its name –
Why in hospital all falls apart.

So phased I stared and from me streaming
Upwards spirit sent
Itself into darkness, void,
A place to live only dreaming,
Fugitive, somewhere not here, lent
From that beyond never destroyed

Because never created either:
Some deepness, then, words don’t get to.
But I saw the finger twirl the candy-floss
In that spiral outwards and wider,
Until approaching it let go,
One flick, casual, spun off like dross.

And I was there, suddenly, abruptly, realising
What it was I saw:
The index finger drifting in its wake –
No candy. One white hot star striving
To be in place, to be what light’s for;
A universe forming for my sake.

There, above the hospital bed, the atmosphere,
In rare company
God’s finger worked its magic work;
In doing so all painless, clear
But I still lost in pain below the sky:
In hospital’s hopeless and resistless dark.

Unforced, but necessary as hell, I blurting
Out, ‘God help me!’. Above me that serene,
That power which moved all things by its Will;
Below weakness, racking pain, everything hurting.
This disparity hurting more, obscene;
No part of me at rest and nothing still.

How can these things be? Such distance
Between us, flesh
And blood, that order above?
Intellect powerless, save to wince,
Or be nothing, only less.
Yet …instantly turning in love

That finger did, straight at me, pointing
Faster than light
Through me and I back in bed
Propelled, crashing Earthwards, wanting
What? Some sign? Some sight?
But in my scar its presence formed instead.

In that presence, then, converting suffering:
What was pain
No longer it at all;
Through God knows how, one new offering –
Nothing now in vain
And up is after every fall.

Pure joy – no citadel can withstand,
No fortress barricade,
No castle keeps out –
Pure joy – no wit to understand,
No mind to be afraid,
No inch even to doubt.

Pure joy – alive and in me –
Closer than blood,
Deeper than the well of my own soul:
Convulsing me in tears and mystery,
Aware of that profound good
I felt, and feeling made me whole.

And more than that His purity:
How pure beyond created things,
Or sullying that was my case;
He was, He is, is always, absolute and free;
While I in filth, caught in my own strings,
Longed now, not just to feel, but see His face.

How long His comfort comforted, endured,
I cannot say;
But diving into dream-rich sleep
I woke next day, assured,
As one, lost, who’d found his way,
Broke, given treasure to keep.

Then I knew truly mercy’s meaning:
Cancer abating,
Hospital, one distant and deserted shore
I’d leave. Death real but Spirit weaning
Me from nothing towards creating
And being what life is, what life’s for.


An Imitation of Sonnet 15

Sonnet 15

By William Shakespeare

When I consider every thing that grows
Holds in perfection but a little moment,
That this huge stage presenteth nought but shows
Whereon the stars in secret influence comment;
When I perceive that men as plants increase,
Cheered and cheque’d even by the self-same sky,
Vaunt in their youthful sap, at height decrease,
And wear their brave state out of memory;
Then the conceit of this inconstant stay
Sets you most rich in youth before my sight,
Where wasteful Time debateth with Decay,
To change your day of youth to sullied night;

And all in war with Time for love of you,
As he takes from you, I engraft you new.


By James Sale

Lord God, I have been on a long journey
With one I come and am coming to love:
Place? Right by the border, The Willow Tree,
There for a while we stopped and said we’d have
Refreshment together. Thus, in a bright room
Decked in apparel suitable for those
Whose aim has shifted from their self’s same tune
To harmony with each other, we’re close,
And all doors exit into paradise.
Yes, Lord, with her, on the border between
One country and another, with surprise
Discovering how much true lovers mean.

And winter comes and willow trees must weep:
Oh Christ! Please let this dying be but sleep.


James Sale, FRSA is a leading expert on motivation, and the creator and licensor of Motivational Maps worldwide. James has been writing poetry for over 40 years and has seven collections of poems published, including most recently, Inside the Whale, his metaphor for being in hospital and surviving cancer, which afflicted him in 2011. He can be found at and contacted at james@motivational He is the winner of First Prize in the Society’s 2017 Competition.

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15 Responses

  1. Amy Foreman

    Such a perfect representation, James, of the near-death experience, and how, in that moment, the three-dimensional world falls away and we comprehend that fourth dimension–our Creator and His radiance, holy and apart, but ever speaking to us in the Word. I was there three years ago, and I will never be the same. Thanks, James. Your poem is moving and beautiful.

    • James Sale

      Thanks Amy – yes, one can never go back to being what one once was after the living Spirit has touched one in this way. For me it was exactly that – I did not see God or a manifestation of God, but as the finger sliced into my body at exactly the point the cancer had been, I felt God, an experience so not like anything else, and so superior to anything else, In that moment I was aware I wanted to die, but am glad I am alive; there is a purpose for each one of us to fulfil.

      • Amy Foreman

        Jesus began the Sermon on the Mount by saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” In those near-death moments of suffering, when we realize our lack, our inadequacy, our powerlessness, when we blurt out, as you did, “God help me,” that’s the moment His Kingdom comes to us. In my poem cycle on the Beatitudes (, this concept stands out:

        Poor in Spirit

        Because you understood your lack,

        Your deficit of soul,

        You held aloft your empty sack

        To Heaven’s welfare dole.

        Though others said, “I have no need,

        I’m rich forevermore.”

        –(Not knowing that their state, indeed

        Was wretched, blind, and poor)–

        You looked within your heart, perceived

        Your insufficiency,

        And Heaven’s Kingdom you received

        To end your poverty.

      • James Sale

        Thank you Amy – your Beatitude is lovely and the link to the page looks a fabulous website. I shall return to it.

  2. Sathyanarayana

    One Near-Death Experience at the Royal Bournemouth Hospital: a splendid display of poetics, imagery…a very thrilling read

    • James Sale

      Thank you Sathyanarayana: that’s is exactly what we want our readers to say – ‘a thrilling read’ – what could please me more? Thank you so much.

  3. Joseph Charles MacKenzie

    Among poets who had suffered deadly diseases was John Keats, a tubercular, and I think even more immediately of Marceline Desbordes-Valmore whose influence had extended to Victor Hugo himself. With “Royal Bournemouth Hospital,”—a title starkly contrasting with Bournemouth’s reputation as a dreamy resort destination complete with palm trees and seven envied miles of beach, James Sale gently invites us into the world of a cancer patient’s face-to-face meeting with death. Here the lyrical refinements for which the poet is known in his more contained productions are broken, jagged, strident, and at times disjointed in appearance. For, the lyrical in our majestic art does not, and never did, exclude the possibility of realism, that transposition of a deeply personal experience which, by its very nature, defies a neat and tidy ordering of thought. In this sense, “Bournemouth Hospital” is a an important and remarkable development, stealing wind from modernism’s bleak and ugly sail to fill a diaphanous canvas of spiritual light. Amid the tossing and turning of the mostly octosyllabic verse—perfectly transposing the painful physical gesticulations of the patient’s body imprisoned in his bed—we are given unforgettable words so very boldly extracting the essence of an experience the poet universalizes to the mortality of all:

    Upwards spirit sent
    Itself into darkness, void,
    A place to live only dreaming,
    Fugitive, somewhere not here, lent
    From that beyond never destroyed

    And so the unlit stage of the poet’s internal universe at a critical moment is set. But its darkness cannot rest, because the poet’s gaze, that of a kind of modern gisant on his back, is ever upward. The poem’s “regard,” if I may borrow a useful term from the French critique, is vertical. And this is truly the hallmark of the lyrical in art, a defining note of the Ars Poetica Nova spearheaded by Evan Mantyk. But in “Bournemouth Hospital” is even more, a conversion of pain into joy through grace, a transformation exquisitely rendered in all the immediacy and authenticity of a pure moment in time, and not only rendered, but offered, as grace is diffusive of itself. Had the poet actually died after penning his poem, his triumph over death would be no less breathtaking than it is here.

    • James Sale

      Well, marvellous, Joseph, your appreciation of what I am trying to do/to say is profound. I was indeed very close to death, but the key word that you rightly identify is very simple: grace. By grace… the creator of all worlds, including those within, pitied me and in one almost imperceptible moment transferred me from the pitch of pain and despair to the height of ecstasy and pure beauty. Which is as much to say, to be awestruck in that Presence. Thank you for such kind and supportive words; I so appreciate your contributions.

  4. David Hollywood

    Most forlorn and poignant! Allied to these is the strength to write them. Terrific.

    • James Sale

      Again, thank you David – that’s it – the strength to write them! It was Jung who commented that all our neuroses derive from our attempts to avoid legitimate suffering. Thus, to heal we need to face suffering – and if we can write about it then that accelerates the process. I am so pleased you enjoyed the piece.

      • David Hollywood

        Dear James, The thanks is all mine for the opportunity you provided, and I wish you continued fortitude and creativity. Well done!

  5. Damian Robin

    Hi James. Thanks for the majesty you have shown in “One Near-Death Experience at the Royal Bournemouth Hospital”. And to Mr MacKenzie for describing its achievement in just words.
    I read your “Inside the Whale” collection of poems leafed with prose descriptions of hospital life and gratitude to the medics and loved ones who were, literally, by your side through the interventions and conflicts and push to recovery. This above is something I felt missing from that collection – a direct meeting with what is beyond the daily fatigue of carrying on and striving to ‘get better’. Perhaps it needed the tranquility of time and what I know is called remission. Or maybe those poems were part of a document of experiences and insights that happened before the major meeting with … something that a single word here cannot get close to but that you show in these verses.
    You give us the perpetual experience you became aware of; something ‘lent/From that beyond never destroyed/Because never created’. What you describe we are all part of all the time but don’t have the conflict and openness to help us ‘see’. You show you know this by modestly calling it ‘One Near-Death Experience’, a singular, though profound, experience among many people’s.
    Your poem has descriptive elements of the Gawain poet’s “Pearl”. However, you describe it straight, not with the convention used in “Pearl” of falling asleep. Maybe this is something new in the age we are entering: That there is more immediacy of spiritual feeling and contact.
    And you have not lost something precious but gained great insight and comfort, I think. And you kindly make the effort to let us into your moving picture of a particular part of those events. Thank you.

    • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

      Damian, I believe you have touched upon something very important when you state: “Maybe this is something new in the age we are entering: That there is more immediacy of spiritual feeling and contact.” You have perfectly identified what for me, and I believe for Mr. Sale, is perhaps the keystone of the Ars Poetica Nova, that sense of immediacy which flows from the vibrancy of the interior life. This is, in my mind, precisely the kind of thing which defines this generation of poets. We are all of us counter-revolutionaries, men and women who have rejected the crass materialism and spiritual emptiness of the generations preceding our own. And you have rightly pointed to the “uncreated” in “Bournemouth Hospital,” a signifier of what the Thomists refer to as Highest Truth—simply their metaphysical term for God. So that not mere lower-case truth, but Highest Truth, becomes one of the defining notes of the new lyricism. Can you see now how important your comment is as the attributes of the Nouvelle Poésie come into ever sharper focus? It is not easy to grapple with fine lyric verse, as its depths can seem ponderous. Yet, you remind us that the text is there in all it clarity, as here in this stanza which presents the struggle between earth and heaven so perfectly:

      And more than that His purity:
      How pure beyond created things,
      Or sullying that was my case;
      He was, He is, is always, absolute and free;
      While I in filth, caught in my own strings,
      Longed now, not just to feel, but see His face.

      • James Sale

        Thank you for these comments too, Joseph. They speak for themselves and I completely agree with them. You choice of quotation is especially apt if I tell you that one of my personal favourite quotations from the Bible, which means from any text anywhere, is Psalm 27.4 where David, who as king has and can have anything he wants, asks; “One thing I asked of the Lord, that I will seek after … to behold the beauty of the Lord”. That – to behold the beauty of the Lord – is the essence of the spiritual quest and is also why one is a poet (or artist), for in the form of words we are seeking the Lord and imaging forth He who cannot be imaged.

    • James Sale

      Hi Damian – thank you so much for your comments, and for also for buying and reading Inside the Whale, the collection that directly addressed my hospital and cancer experience. To write the One NDE poem has taken a while to brew; but it did occur actually whilst I was in the hospital back then, and when I was at one of my weakest ebbs. You may know that 40% of cancer patients in the USA die of malnutrition and I was on in the UK what we call ‘Nil by Mouth’ for nearly 5 whole weeks. This means that I couldn’t eat any food or even drink any water (I found starvation no problem, but thirst an agony); belatedly, I was put on an IV-drip but I lost about 63 pounds in weight and was completely wasted post my two very serious operations. But the wonderful thing was, when I woke the morning after the NDE had occurred, I knew I was going to live; that God, literally, was going to deliver me out of the hospital. There was no message, but a certainty I felt throughout my whole body, and it hasn’t left me. And you are right: it is One experience – all peoples everywhere can have and have had this experience and it is part of our human entitlement. Sadly, so many reject and deny its reality, which makes it so much more difficult for deliverance; for the Spirit does not overrule our own decisions. Thank you so much for your deeply thoughtful comments – really appreciate that.


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