Poetry Shelf meditation: John Gallas ‘Self-Isolation : the Hermit-Poet copes’


Self-Isolation : the Hermit-Poet copes.


Being an Isolate Hermit, but not ill, is as awful as being under mild house arrest, kept in by a distant flood or too much sun, or just disliking the season or the times : that is, not very.

Guthlac of Crowland retreated to an island in the fens for twenty years. Wulfric of Haselbury shut himself inside some big rocks at Haselbury Plunkett. Julian of Norwich spent most of her life in a tiny wee cell stuck on her local church, watching Jesus bleed above her head while the population dropped dead of the plague outside.

There is a lesson here : that With Purpose, Away from the World, Much May Be Done.

Guthlac , who would not go to the shops for fear of (mostly moral) infection, ate clags of barley- bread and drank mud-water, and saw Demons with shaggy ears, horses’ teeth, throats vomiting fire and scabby legs, who would never stop shreiking. With much self-scourging, however, his soul was made safe, and his time passed usefully, and he now has his statue at Crowland Abbey (second tier up the old nave). When Guthlac died, honey poured out of his mouth and he flew away on a beam of sunshine with some Angels and became a Saint. How good is that ?

Wulfric (29 years a Hermit) had cold baths and wore a hairy shirt with chain-mail on top, and gnawed turnips and clover. His isolation focused his mind so well that he became an expert weather-forecaster and doctor, and told King Henry by cosmic vibes that he (the King) was soon going to die of food poisoning, which he did. One-nil to the Isolate ! (also now a Saint).

Julian of Norwich, of course, is perhaps the finest example of Retreat & Thrive. She wrote. Lord, did she wrote. While most of us might take up knitting or play Scrabble, Julian established direct communication with God, who Revealed Things to her via (note well, you isolates) the pure and specialised air of her cell, which was subsequently filled instead with crowns of thorns, submarine journeys, lots of blood and three different versions of Heaven. Julian now has a splendid swing-bridge named after her near Norwich Railway Station, something more than any of us can probably hope for.

These are more secular times, and we have, mostly, other gods. Yesterday, I got stuck into several of mine. I began a 2000-piece jigsaw of ‘Hunters in the Snow’ ; wrote a poem about a ruffled swan on a flooded pond near Stanton-under-Bardon ; listened to the audiobook of ‘The Hobbit’ ; made scones (and ate them) ;  and read some more chapters of ‘Anna Karenina’ (who has time for that in their healthy days ?). Today the sun is out, and I am going to really really concentrate under the plastic tiki on the wall with some mud-water, and have a vision of Beowulf, who will tell me about some brilliantly exciting and murderous adventures (which I will write down ; pen and paper are well ready) and come back tomorrow, shaggy ears and all, and tell more. Like Julian’s ‘Revelations of Divine Love’, I’m hoping there will be a Short Text, followed by a Long Text, followed by general fame and a literary Sainthood.

Cheer up, folks : we have nothing to lose but our ordinariness !


John Gallas. NZ poet published by Carcanet. 20 collections including The Song Atlas, Star City, The Little Sublime Comedy and 52 Euros. The Extasie (60 love poems) and Rhapsodies 1831 (translation of French poet Petrus Borel) to be published January and March 2021. Presently living in Leicestershire. Librettist, St Magnus Festival Orkney poet, Saxon Ship Project poet, Fellow of the English Association, tramper, biker and merry ruralist. Presently working on two sets of poem-prints (’18 Paper Resurrections’ and ‘Wasted by Whitemen’). ‘Unscythed’ written in Sefton, near Rangiora : home of bro.












1 thought on “Poetry Shelf meditation: John Gallas ‘Self-Isolation : the Hermit-Poet copes’

  1. sophiakatherinewilson

    Thank you, John. Times replete with potential indeed. It would definitely be nicer to come out the other end transformed, creative and saintly rather than dead. I’m going to pull out some turnips and start gnawing.

    Liked by 1 person


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