Castles in Our Heads

The old Italians once long held
The mind as ordered hall;
And in their arm-chair coffers swelled
A wealth beyond recall.

Each room was filled with hint and clue
To trigger thought and mind—
Around the halls like sprinkled dew
Shone truths like gems refined.

And from these palaces of soul
Where men began to dwell
Came works of worth and wit sprung whole,
Resounding like a bell.

Possessed and led by Learning’s search,
Both soul and heart grew rich.
Empowered by this secret church
Within a sacred niche.

But over time such arts have fled—
Such practices were lost.
And in our need for haste we’ve bred
Distraction and its cost.

No longer do we sit in thought,
Reflecting on our lives.
Too busy now with toys dear-bought
Like insects in our hives.

At times a spell or mood takes hold—
Demands beleaguered mind;
And so we come as strangers cold
To halls that should be kind.

These rooms—wait, yes!—I was a child
When last I lingered here.
But now ‘tis dim and dust-defiled,
And nothing seems as clear.

So, for an afternoon we clean
The castle in our head.
Within is housed the world we’ve seen,
Though there we rarely tread.

Too soon we’re summoned back to life—
Pulled back from mem’ry’s shelves,
And flung to busy, worthless strife,
Becoming less ourselves.

 

 

In Chest Bound Tight

Above, bright Artemis
__shows her face,
Beyond the silver,
__clouded lace.
And yet to us
__reveals her grace—
So cold and white.

Her brother rests
__beneath the shore
Of the dawn’s
__unopened door,
Leaving each to him
__implore—
So fair and bright.

Yet in this starlit
__night we hide.
Our pains and sorrows
__each must bide,
From each misery
__sown with pride—
In chest bound tight.

 

 

All I’ve Left Behind

A rising mist or leaf on air—
A glimpse and then I’m gone.
A wind-blown field or meadow fair
Will bear me off ‘til dawn.

A splashing brook or creaking bough
Pulls ear and mind away.
To terraced hill and man with plough
In quiet, verdant May.

A whiff of pine or cigarette
Obliterates all thought;
As shaping distant silhouettes,
The sun by earth is caught.

A sip of tea, green dried-up leaf,
Reveals where I’ve been.
Retracing steps with happy grief—
Repeating life again.

The scrape of bark or winter’s bite—
A pain from long ago.
Remembered on a sleepless night,
Made soft in mem’ry’s glow.

A waking thought, soft-treading dream:
Dim footfalls in my mind,
Step onto paths that seem to teem
With all I’ve left behind.

 

 

Talbot Hook is an educator and nascent writer currently living in Des Moines, Iowa.


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15 Responses

  1. Russel Winick

    Mr. Hook:

    I much enjoyed reading all of your poems this morning. Thank you for sharing them!

    Russel Winick

    Reply
    • Talbot Hook

      Russel, I’m glad you found them enjoyable. I hope they brightened your day in some way. Thanks for the kind words.

      Talbot

      Reply
  2. Joseph S. Salemi

    “Castles in Our Heads” uses a beautiful conceit — the mind as a rich manorial hall filled with beautiful and precious things.

    I have only two criticisms: the use of the silly archaism /’tis/ in the eighth quatrain, where the normal form /it’s/ would have worked just as well; and the use of an apostrophe for the word “mem’ry” in the last quatrain. I don’t know why poets here at the SCP are addicted to this eighteenth-century practice, unless they are obsessive syllable-counters who haven’t heard about elision. Intelligent readers of poetry know enough about meter to read the word “memory” as two syllables when necessary — they don’t need an apostrophe to guide them.

    Reply
    • Talbot Hook

      Thanks for your criticisms. When I first came across the concept of the memory palace, in relation to Matteo Ricci, I was astounded by its conceptual beauty. It’s a lingering fascination to me.

      I generally agree about archaisms in literature, which is why perhaps only two of my poems use such things; the rest avoid them for the reasons you state. For this poem, however, I wanted a sense of archaism (even if artificial, though hopefully not grotesque). Perhaps I overstepped. But I do appreciate your feedback greatly. Have a lovely day.

      Reply
  3. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    What a rich tapestry of beautifully woven language. I have wrapped myself in the wonders of all three poems, though I especially like the sensory aspects of “All I’ve Left Behind” with its “whiff of pine or cigarette” and “scrape of bark or winter’s bite”. It’s amazing how the imagination can draw on these moments of pain and pleasure and engage the senses so vividly. Your poetry does an admirable job in conveying this. Well done and thank you!

    Reply
    • Talbot

      Susan, you always have the kindest comments; as many before me surely have, I appreciated your words.

      Although I try to be as present-oriented in my life as possible, I have to recognize the powers of the senses, and how they can rip me from whatever I happen to be doing and fling me into the past. It’s a beautiful and very human thing, that. Again, thanks for your lovely compliment.

      Reply
  4. C.B. Anderson

    My overall sense of these three poems is that you didn’t quite know where you were going with them.

    In the first, you begin with the conceit Joseph Salemi pointed out, and end with with it all coming apart due to “haste” and “distraction.” And since when have insects been busy with toys dear-bought? And what does being “flung to … strife” have to do with “becoming less ourselves?”

    In the second, strangely, I have no idea at all what you are trying to say. It seems a disjointed assemblage of images with no discernable point. Ah well, that’s what poetry is supposed to be these days, isn’t it?

    In the third, we have a series of evocative lines that add up to nothing at all. OK, it’s a mood poem, and I can appreciate that; after all, logical connections have always been overrated. But in stanza 4, line 2, you seem to require that “Reveals” be pronounced with three syllables. “Veal,” though the the vowel is a diphthong, has only one syllable. What you should have written is: Reveals where I have been.

    If you think I’m being hard on you, then think again. You have the grace to write in perfect rhyme, and your meter is nearly flawless (though some here would say that that is a flaw in itself). All I ask you to do is not settle for wishy-washy lines such as “To halls that should be kind” or “And nothing seems as clear.”

    Reply
    • Talbot

      Good morning! First, thank you for your criticisms. I have taken them all to heart. As someone just beginning the poetic journey, this type of feedback is invaluable to me. Half the reason I sought publication on this website was to garner intelligent, well-intentioned criticism of my poetry, and, like Dickinson, I was hoping people would “say if my verse is alive”.

      As to your first point, I think Margaret (whose comment is below) offers me feedback that clears things up. The “becoming less ourselves” notion hinges upon the fact that we as moderns don’t spend the requisite time with ourselves (our memories, thoughts, etc.) to allow us to realize any potential (universal or individual) humanity we might have. We throw ourselves into the workaday world, following up the 9-5 with media of whatever variety, and this “strife” of the marketplace, while giving us some of the fuel for growth, shouldn’t ever be the end to our engagement with the world. There also needs to be reflection. Perhaps my choice of the word “strife” wasn’t precise enough.

      As to the second, it’s basically a reflection on dealing with one’s vices/shortcomings/sins after the sun’s gone down. The moonlight can offer a reflective grace, if we allow it to, but many just long for the sun to come up so they can get on with their day. But, until that happens, we’re left with ourselves, for better or worse. I hope that’s not too much in the way of explanation.

      I can accept that suggestion on ‘reveals’ in the third poem. I suppose the slight schwa that exists when I say the word might be some delightful remnant of the Midwestern dialect.

      You haven’t been hard on me, or at least not overly so. As I said at the outset, I really do appreciate you having taken the time to comment on my work. It means a lot. If I didn’t want it, or couldn’t take it, I’d just keep them in my desk! Thanks again.

      Reply
      • C.B. Anderson

        If nothing else, Talbot, you are a very thoughtful person who is well aware of what you are about. I’m glad you are not one of those “sensitive” types. I can assure you that you will enjoy your poetic journey if you keep at it. No matter what anyone says, or has said, about it, English is a language rich in rhymes and alternative expressions. For nearly every meaning there is both an Anglo-Saxon word and a word derived from Latin, and therefore creating lines that express exactly what you mean in an interesting way is always possible. Sometimes a person has to push him- or herself to find more apt expressions. You’ve gotten almost everything else right, so I think you’ll have no problem with that.

  5. Margaret Coats

    As I appreciated especially the first poem, “Castles in Our Heads,” please allow me to deal with some unclear things in it. You are using the castle as an image central to mental exercise developing mental agility, as did Italian and Chinese scholar Matteo Ricci, with the aim of organizing a vast quantity of memories and being able to recall them easily. The fourth line of the poem, however, says the castle contains “a wealth beyond recall,” exactly the opposite of what you mean. Something that is beyond recall cannot be remembered anymore. Try changing that line to “Wealth open to recall.” Then it makes perfect sense to go on to the “hint and clue” that open the mind’s wealth of memory in the second stanza.

    Stanza 6 should not have a period after its second line, making the third and fourth lines an incomplete sentence. Instead, remove the comma after the first line, add one after the second, and another after the third. Then you have the subject “we” described three ways: (1) reflecting on our lives, (2) too busy now, (3) like insects. This helps dispel Mr. Anderson’s confusion at finding insects are playing with toys.
    However, it’s not good construction to have “we” modified first by a participle, then by an adjective, and then by a simile (expression using “like”). When you have a tri-part structure like this, it’s clearer to use parallel construction with three participles, or three adjectives, or three similes. Hard to do on re-write, so it’s something to think about in your original planning for another poem.

    You do have good parallel construction in the poem’s final stanza. There we are (1) summoned back to everyday life, (2) pulled back from memory, and (3) flung to busy, worthless strife. Perfect staging for “becoming less ourselves” in the final line. That final line is absolutely splendid justification for spending more time in memory. It helped me stop feeling guilty for devoting all day yesterday to memories that are quite precious, because they help me better understand my past, and therefore sanctify my present daily life and its crucial decisions. Today I am more myself, and your poem, Talbot, gave me welcome confirmation of that.

    Reply
    • Talbot

      Margaret, thank you for such lovely words. The sanctification of the present through understanding of the past is a wonderful way to put it. I appreciate all your comments, and have given them due thought.

      The “wealth beyond recall” (and this is perhaps overly vague on my part) was meant to be a reminder to those of us currently alive: about those things that have been lost, or about which we’re simply ignorant. “Wealth open to recall” would work well, though, should I tweak the poem.

      Your advice for my sixth stanza is excellent, and I will make the requisite changes (at least in my personal documents). Upon looking at older versions, there was a structure similar to what you laid out, so I’m not sure what my brain was doing at that moment. Another thing to reflect upon!

      Again, thank you, and have a lovely day.

      Reply
    • C.B. Anderson

      Margaret, your comment was incisive and, dare I say, absolutely brilliant. Joe Salemi couldn’t have put it better. I studied grammar seriously in high school, and now I wish I had done so in college, but, alas, in college there were no courses to be had in grammar. The upshot is that, somehow, you have learned how language works, and if you taught a course on that subject in my locality, I would pay good money to take it.

      Reply
      • Margaret Coats

        Thanks. Wanted to let you know I saw the generous compliment. As our material is language, its basics are important to good poetry. I learned a great deal from much good reading, both prose and poetry.

  6. Horus

    Sir, I was thrilled to read your poetry regarding the Method of Loci, and this would certainly be the first of its kind I’ve seen.

    But I confess I might be a little intimidated by anyone’s ‘Castle’ if it took them the better part of an afternoon to walk those ‘halls in their head.’ Or, perhaps I’ve read too much into the metaphor. It’s said that those sacred rooms and corridors could number in the thousands among the most proficient scholars of the past. But as for mine, I think your poem would be a fitting addition to my humble halls. Thank you for your good work.

    Reply
    • Talbot

      Horus, thanks so much for the kind words. I too would be intimidated by such a capacious hall; that part of the poem is more so speaking to the realms of memory in general: not that everything necessarily has an intellectual/scholarly idea tied to it, but that every object in the hall resonates with memory – either personal or societal. I hope that helps clarify! Thanks again for the lovely message. Have a meaningful day.

      Reply

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