John Horder: A Sense Of Being

I discovered a gem of a short poetry book while roaming through Syracuse University’s Bird Library in search of a Nick Hornby novel (which I was unable to find).

The book, A Sense of Being by John Horder, was published in 1968 as part of the Phoenix Living Poet Series. The book runs 40 pages and I was able to read the entire work during my lunch hour.

A Sense of Being by John Horder.

A Sense of Being by John Horder.

I couldn’t find any biographical information about Horder online, but I consider his spare, philosophical poems very moving. They made me stop and reflect on my own life and ponder the points Horder raised in his text. And that to me seems like the purpose of good poetry—to remind the reader that time is passing and our existence is fleeting.

Here are a few of my favorite selections from the book.

A Sense of Being

There is nothing in me to assure me of my being.
That is why I so often think
About my heart beating.
Nothing to do with the fear of it stopping.
It’s just it’s so hard to imagine it – beating –
Just as it’s so hard to imagine that I derive from something
That actually works. Something that lives and breathes.
Something that has a sense of its own being.
Oh, it’s so very hard to imagine these things,
And I’ve always been told I was imaginative by nature.

Imagine: a tree has roots: it knows where it springs from.
We have parents. But the orphan and the murderer have one
thing in common.
Something vital in each of them has been wiped out.
It’s hard to explain exactly what. It’s something
A word or a glance from a parent may have set in motion
Or not. It’s not that this gives a child a sense of itself
Just like that. Nothing as simple as that.
But it can be the basis. Something to start from, something
that grows
And will eventually determine who and what he’s to be
Or not to be, as the case may be. Whether he is, or is not.


In A Time When I Was Nothing

In a time when I was nothing
I was strangely surprised to see
My name in The Times Literary Supplement.

In a time when I was nothing
There was an emptiness both inside and outside of me
And I felt no thing substantially.

In a time when I was nothing
It was most difficult to separate past from present
And the present moment held no sway.

In a time when I was nothing
There seemed no end to this state of non-being
The bottom had been kicked away from everything.

After a long time being nothing
There came at long last a dim realization
That one day I might eventually become something.

In the time when I was no one
There was simply nothing left to give anyone
And I found myself cut off from everyone.

In the time when I was no one
I knew no man, no woman
And that was when my sense of self began.


Everyman’s Vietnam

Our whole lives are designed as a means of escape
From the psychic forces that are deep down within.
We do anything rather than reckon with them.

Rather naively, we make call after call
Upon the telephone, in order to try exorcise them.
These forces which if submerged, first malinger, spit out
then wear our selves thin.

We cram our lives full to the brim with work.
We come home late, too tired even to speak to our wives.
We get drunk, which only makes our ulcers more peptic,

And still these forces won’t leave us alone.
Still they will never allow us a moment of rest.
Still we give them no real means of expression.

We don’t reckon with these forces.
They are demons.
They will run us to the grave

Unless we turn them to the good.
We underestimate their power.
Most of the time, we don’t even acknowledge that
they’re there.

More fool us.


Not Far Of

Eternity is not far off:
On a clear day
I feel it to be
Just out of sight.

The folly of men
Is there purposefully ignoring
What is so painfully obvious
On a clear day.

Horder, John. A Sense of Being. Phoenix Living Poet Series. London: Chatto & Windus/The Hogarth Press, 1968. Print.