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Special Collection IV:
The Poetry of Simple Words

David F Williams, PhD, DSc, FREng, FLSW
Author, Scientist & Consultant

Special Collection IV: The Poetry of Simple Words | Hiraeth & Ubuntu by David F Williams

Special Collection IV:
The Poetry of Simple Words


Adrian Rice, a poet from Belfast, Northern Ireland, now living in North Carolina, USA, wrote, in “Hickory Station” the following poem, entitled ‘Word, word’:

“I’m sure that some of them
think to themselves, as they
pass by his porch of an evening

on their ritual doggy travels –
as they peek up at the man sat
with his face in a book or gazing

into the dropping darkness –
that little amuses the innocent.
And little do they know how

much he’d hope that that was true.
And I’m sure that they often wonder
Why he stays put there, even after

the fireflies have virtually disappeared.
But it’s then, it’s then, that words
will flare-flame within his waking head –

here a word, there a word,
a word, word

showing themselves to one another,
and lightening the hidden lines that
somehow, strangely, needs be said”.

Words to Sword

Words and actions, together
The essence of our existence

Conjoined, they progress life
Antagonistic, they retrograde

Words, from the onomatopoetic hiss
To the etymologically defined sibilation,
Explain, instruct, argue, opine on
Our feelings, emotions, and knowledge

But to deny or obfuscate meanings of words
Deletes part of humanity
Rearranging ‘words’ to ‘sword’
Shows how catastrophic this can be
When the end becomes the beginning
And truth turns into death.


John Lennon, wrote these lyrics in 1971:

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us, only sky
Imagine all the people
Livin’ for today

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion, too
Imagine all the people
Livin’ life in peace”

Albert Einstein said, in a 1929 interview:

“I believe in intuitions and inspirations. I sometimes feel that I am right. I do not know that I am… [but] I would have been surprised if I had been wrong. I am enough of the artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world”.

The Bangladesh-born poet, Sri Chinmoy wrote the following lines:

Imagination does not
Care for reason.
Reason does not
Care for imagination.
The poet in me cries
For imagination-wings.
The philosopher in me cries
For reason-sword”.

Aristotle placed emphasis on the role that imagination plays in perception, emotion, motivation, memory and thinking. Imagination (phantasia) produces the mental images (phantasma) that are essential to these phenomena. Aristotle wrote,

“…imagination is that in virtue of which an image arises for us…” . 

He considered that there were two kinds of imagination, sensitive imagination and deliberative imagination: “Sensitive imagination… is found in all animals, deliberative imagination only in those that are calculative…”

The Nineteenth Century Scottish playwright John Davidson, wrote on Imagination:

“There is a dish to hold the sea
A brazier to contain the sun
A compass for the galaxy
A voice to wake the dead and done!

That minister of ministers,
Imagination, gathers up
The undiscovered Universe,
Like jewels in a jasper cup

Imagination, new and strange
In every age, can turn the year
Can shift the poles and lightly change
The mood of men, the world’s career”.

Anticipation in Extremis

Imagination, anticipation in extremis
Neglectful of certainties
Encapsulating horizons of vision
Then leaps a few steps beyond

Imagining is not dreaming
Since that is arbitrary and useless
Instead, directed conscious thinking
Creative foundations, new perceptions

Imagine a two-dimensional artefact
Astronomical, molecular, or metaphysical
Then add a third dimension
Transform atmosphere to universe
Fish to shoals, trees to forest
The genesis of true imagination


Ayi Kwei Armah wrote, in “The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born”, of the life of a railway clerk during a coup in Ghana,

‘The man at his left did not have to say anything.
Nothing much had happened.
He sat down facing the huge chart, with all the lines and the millipede names of slow stations alongside them.
Nothing much had happened.
Nothing much would happen’.
‘What would be the point”

Viet Thanh Nguyen wrote about the torture of a double-agent after the end of the Vietnam War, in “The Sympathizer”,

“What is more precious than independence and freedom?” demands the commissar,
“I don’t know, I don’t know, I wish I were dead!”
“What is more precious than independence and freedom?”
‘Someone was screaming and I knew who it was.
It was me, screaming the one word that had dangled before me since the question was first asked.
Nothing” is the answer that I could neither see nor hear until now.
Nothing is the answer”,
I screamed again, and again, and again –
nothing, because I was at last enlightened’.
especially since these days outside the area of the gleam which made the young ones suffer in their impatience,
there was nothing worth pursuing,
nothing at all worth spending life’s minutes on”.

In Virginia Woolf’s “To The Lighthouse”, set in Scotland, the young artist, Lily Briscoe sought a complex, almost parental, relationship with her older host, Mrs. Ramsay, but did not succeed;

“What device for becoming, like waters poured into one jar, inextricably the same, one with the object one adored?”
Could loving, as people called it, make her and Mrs. Ramsay one?
For it was not knowledge but unity that she desired, not inscriptions on tablets,
nothing that could be written in any language known to men, but intimacy itself,
which is knowledge she had thought, leaning her head on Mrs. Ramsay’s knee.
Nothing happened.
Nothing ! Nothing ! as she leant her head against Mrs. Ramsay’s knee’.

Rien de Rien

Non, rien de rien
Non, je ne regrette rien
Piaf’s nothings and everything

Every nothing is qualified by something
Nothingness is nothing but perception

The absence of expectations or remembrance
Emptiness, but not a void
Like Sartre’s empty image of himself
Or the abstract thoughts of a nihilist

On a cloudless sky at dusk
There is nothing to see
Heavenly stars obliterated
By the dying rays of today’s sun
But other suns are out there
Innumerable, antithetic to nothingness
Nothing may be the nadir of the universe
When another God sees it differently

A nobody is somebody that
Cannot be recognized that way
Nowhere is somewhere you don’t want to go
A nomad is not here but everywhere
Nothing cannot be something that does not exist
Nor is it opposite of something or anything

Nothing is the homeopathic ending
The power of destruction increases as size decreases
Megatons replaced by plutonium’s smallness
Sweet nothings become bitter aphrodisiacs

If you don’t understand nothing
You don’t understand anything


Bobby Sands, member of the IRA, wrote a collection of poems while in Long Kesh prison, where he died on hunger strike in 1981:

“One by one they came slithering forth
And one by one to lie
Those writhing snakes and dirty fakes
Called ‘witnesses’ and why?
Because they witness what they wish
From closed or open eyes”.

Upton Sinclair wrote about the conditions of European immigrant workers in the stockyards of Chicago, in “The Jungle”,

“The storekeepers plastered up their windows with all sorts of lies to entice you;
the very fences by the wayside, the lamp-posts and telegraph-poles,
were pasted over with lies.
The great corporation which employed you lied to you,
and lied to the whole country –
from top to bottom it was nothing but one gigantic lie”.

Bhartrhari, a poet of the first millennium AD, writing in Sanskrit, is attributed with the following stanza;

“You cheat yourself and others with your lies
Philosopher, so foolish-wise
In that you state
A celibate
Has greater grace to win the prize
Are there not heavenly nymphs beyond the skies”

Shysters, All of Them

In formal settings
Deliberate lies, when revealed used to be career ending
Now a badge of honor
When untruths are wound around the facts
Twisting susceptible minds
By deceit, confusion, exhortation

Lies, unlike mistakes, are not unintentional
Whether long-term strategy
Or momentary need for denial
Formulated in the creative conscious mind
Travelling to the mouth
No deviation, maybe enhancement

Without exception to favor their position
Or of those they seek to protect
A scientist tells lies about data
To enhance fame and credibility
A speculator lies about economy
To enhance gain
Politicians, the worse cases,
With acolytes and supporters
Lie to deny culpability, implicating opponents
Deceiving electors

Shysters all of them
A pathological state that has no cure
After prevention was ignored
Lying, compulsive, addictive
Never alone, accompanied by one or more of
Greed, hubris, supremacy, maybe drugs and sex


Alfred Lord Tennyson, Victorian poet and Poet Laureate, wrote a very long poem, “In Memoriam A.H.H.”, a dedication to his friend Arthur Henry Hallam, which includes this Canta, which finished with the most quoted lines of British poetry:

“I envy not in any moods 
The captive void of noble rage, 
The linnet born within the cage, 
That never knew the summer woods:

I envy not the beast that takes 
His license in the field of time, 
Unfetter’d by the sense of crime, 
To whom a conscience never wakes; 

Nor, what may count itself as blest, 
The heart that never plighted troth 
But stagnates in the weeds of sloth; 
Nor any want-begotten rest. 

I hold it true, whate’er befall; 
I feel it, when I sorrow most; 
‘Tis better to have loved and lost 
Than never to have loved at all”.

Mary Lamb, eighteenth century British poet and anthologist wrote of Envy

“This rose-tree is not made to bear
The violet blue, nor lily fair 
Nor the sweet mignionet: 
And if this tree were discontent, 
Or wished to change its natural bent, 
It all in vain would fret. 

And should it fret, you would suppose 
It ne’er had seen its own red rose, 
Nor after gentle shower 
Had ever smelled its rose’s scent, 
Or it could ne’er be discontent 
With its own pretty flower. 

Like such a blind and senseless tree 
As I’ve imagined this to be, 
All envious persons are: 
With care and culture all may find 
Some pretty flower in their own mind, 
Some talent that is rare”.

Envy and Privilege

This doesn’t have to be about black versus white
Although, of course, it is right now
Color may be your prison
So can your religion, gender, ethnicity
Language, intelligence, nationality
Physique, disability and age

Genes have much to answer for
Without them, Orwellian neutrality pervades
With them, we grow personality
But genes are persuaded to mutate
Innate reason and toleration
Pushed to one side by older bigotry

If intolerance was born of ignorance
It could be persuaded to change through
Understanding and exemplars
But bigots are usually smarter
Wishing to use anarchy to confuse
And drive down those considered inferior

Many are privileged through the tombola of birth
Progressing through life, silver spoon in place
They do not envy lower life
Treating others with oblivion, maybe disdain


The Preamble of the Constitution of the United States starts:

We the People of the United States,
in Order to form a more perfect Union,
establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense,
promote the general Welfare,
and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,
do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.’

Amanda Gorman, recited in her Inaugural Poem for President Joe Bidden:

We lay down our arms,
So that we can reach our arms out to one another.
We seek harm to none, and harmony for all”.

Leonard Cohen, Canadian song-writer and poet, wrote in We Cry Out’ in the compilation ‘Stranger Music’;

We cry out for what we have lost, and we remember you again.
We look for each other, we cannot find us, and we remember you.
From the ground of no purpose our children accuse us, and we remember, we recall a purpose.
Could it be? we wonder.
And here is death. Could it possibly be?
And here is old age.
And we never knew; we never stood up, and the good land was taken from us”.

Dylan Thomas, twentieth-century Welsh poet, wrote, in We who are Young are Old”;

We who are young are old. It is the oldest cry.
Age sours before youth’s tasted in the mouth
And any sweetness that it has
Is sucked away.

We who are still young are old. It is a dead cry,
The squeal of the damned out of the old pit.
We have grown weak before we could grow strong,
For us there is no shooting and no riding,
Until the whisper of the last trump louden
We who are young sit holding yellow hands.

We who are young are old, and unbelieving,
Sit at our hearths from morning until evening,
Warming dry hands and listening to the wind.
We have no faith to set between our teeth.
Believe, believe and be saved, we cry, who have no faith”.

Gao Xingjian, Chinese émigré novelist, playwright and translator, Nobel Laureate in Literature, wrote, in ‘Soul Mountain’:

“When I speak of me and you, and she, him, feminine they and masculine they,
I never speak of we or us.
I believe that this is much more concrete than the sham we which is totally meaningless. Even if you and she and he
and masculine they and feminine they are images of the imagination,
for me they are all more substantial than what we know as we.
As soon as I refer to we I am immediately uncertain, how many of me are in fact implicated?
Or how many of you who are the image of me, or he who is the back of you and me,
or the illusion of she who was borne of you and me,
or the composite image they of she or he?
There is nothing more false than we”.

The Falseness of We

One, I, or many, we,
Individuals or collectives

Small creatures must flow together
To shape their own future
Higher up the chain
Freedom to be yourself
Brings loss of comity
As the aye’s have it over the we’s

Spiked viruses hunt by the billions
To evade shades of immunity
Ants haphazardly scurry
With no knowledge of the big picture
Schools of pelagic fish
Swarm in unison to confuse predators

The we of these communities
Are essential for survival

But at higher levels in the brainstem
Domination of the I complex
Moves to the frontal lobe
Trending to diminish the we thoughts
Then transcending all pronouns but itself

True, there are exceptions
As flocks of sheep will testify
But as soon as herbivores give way
There is no herding the carnivorous cat

Collections of this world
From democratic to communist parties
Pretending to be for we the people
And faiths, or cults, or churches
That have hierarchies

None with an abstract deity at the pinnacle
But its personification as a human I
President to Chairman
Laureate to Dictator
Archbishop to Premier
Monarch to Emperor
The falseness of we is so clear

The omnivorous people of the earth
Do not, and cannot, pretend
That in everything they do, or say, or judge
It is for the better good of us
Rather than for the betterment of I


Dr Martin Luther King, addressed a massive audience in Washington DC in August 1963, and included the following extracts:

“And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. 

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”

Wistawa Szymborska, Polish poet and Nobel Laureate, wrote “In Praise of Dreams”:

“In my dreams
I paint like Vermeer van Delft
I speak fluent Greek
And not with just the living
I hear voices as clearly as any venerable saint
My brilliance as a pianist would stun you
I’ve got no problem breathing underwater
I can’t complain, I’ve been able to locate Atlantis
It’s gratifying that I can always
Wake up before dying”.

The Irish poet William Butler Yeats wrote of “Broken Dreams”:

The last stroke of midnight dies
All day in that one chair
From dream to dream and rhyme to rhyme I have ranged
In rambling talk, an image of air
Vague memories, nothing but memories”

Maya Angelou, American poet and Civil Rights activist wrote why the caged bird sings:

“The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn bright lawn
and he names the sky his own

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams   
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream   
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied   
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings   
with a fearful trill   
of things unknown   
but longed for still   
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill   
for the caged bird 
sings of freedom”.

Li Po, or Li T’ai-Po, one of the greatest of Chinese poets, wrote, in around AD 750, the short poem “Quiet Night Thoughts”, probably the best-known of all Chinese poems, reflecting on how Chinese people overseas yearned for their homeland:

“Before my bed
there is bright moonlight
so that it seems
like frost on the ground:

Lifting my head
I watch the bright moon,
lowering my head
I dream that I am home”

Chimerical Utopia of Dreams

I once heard ‘dare to dream
The speaker proud of his alliteration
Repeated ad nauseum in the streams
Of thoughtless souls lacking imagination

Dreams are uncontrolled
Anyone can dream, no qualifications or choice
To dare to dream cannot unfold
Reality, truth, nor seasoned voice

Utopia abounds in dreams of men
But it exists as chimeras in brains
Pipe dreams in the opium den
Disappearing when the drug wanes

In the dare to dream fantasy world
Illusions that seemed so bright
Are dimmed forced out to the cold
Paradise lost, after its false height


Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe wrote ‘On Commitment’ in this eighteenth century poem;

“Until one is committed, there is always hesitancy,
the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness.
Concerning all acts of initiative and creation,
there is one elementary truth,
the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans:
that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too.

All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred.
A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising to one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no one could have dreamed would come her way.

Whatever you can do or dream you can begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”

The Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’ Of The Holy Father Francis “On Care For Our Common Home”, delivered from The Vatican in 2015, included the following:

“The rich heritage of Christian spirituality,
the fruit of twenty centuries of personal and communal experience,
has a precious contribution to make to the renewal of humanity.
More than in ideas or concepts as such,
how such a spirituality can motivate us to a more passionate concern for the protection of our world.
A commitment this lofty cannot be sustained by doctrine alone,
without a spirituality capable of inspiring us,
without an “interior impulse which encourages, motivates, nourishes
and gives meaning to our individual and communal activity”.

Motivation of Commitment

How can a commitment avoid being a lie
Anything other than a dream
Does it need a contract, written into law
Explicit agreements and promises

Or can you commit yourself
Without telling anyone
Ultimate belief in your strength
You become the only judge

Commitment and credibility coincide
Once others are involved
Honoring commitments yields stability
Predictability and reliability

When easily broken, as an insect’s wing
Fractured interpersonal commitments
Lead to chaos in social order
Paradigms of anarchic behavior

Motivation provides the reason for dedication
Commitment reflects the sincerity of that reason
Once committed, it is not conditional
Nothing can get in its way.


Dylan Thomas, twentieth-century Welsh poet, wrote, in “The Air you Breathe”,

“The air you breathe, encroaches
The throat is mine, I know the neck
Wind is my enemy, your hair shan’t stir
Under his strong impulsive kiss”.

Maya Angelou, American poet and Civil Rights activist wrote:

“When you see me walking, stumbling, 
Don’t study and get it wrong. 
‘Cause tired don’t mean lazy 
And every goodbye ain’t gone. 
I’m the same person I was back then, 
A little less hair, a little less chin, 
A lot less lungs and much less wind. 
But ain’t I lucky I can still breathe in”.

I Cannot Breathe

The spoken sound and written word
Have been pirated to suppress real meaning
Phrases now dominate the mind space
So we focus on them rather than their truth

Remember ‘no collusion’ and ‘quid-pro-quo’
Simply, they were either there or not
Depending on which side you were on
Not their meaning, just their existence

Now we have ‘flatten-the-curve’
Mindlessly used to predict death or the economy
We do need headlines and hash tags
Though not at the expense of clarity and honesty

But one phrase cannot be ignored or glossed
Today on the lips of so many around the world
No misunderstanding here, no confusion
I cannot breathe

Imagine Nothing but Lies and Envy,
while We Dream of Commitment and Breath

That your blue pencil scribes red
That your mean neighbor turns nice
And today’s forecast is of sunshine, not tornadoes

Frivolous, yes, meaningful, no
We can all imagine that which is, is not
No reality, no understanding
Of right and wrong, of truth and lies

But, now imagine
That your pencil paints many shades of blue
From Oxford to Cambridge and many hues between
Spectral images that you can now perceive
Whatever you wish, not just red

Your neighbor realizes that
There is more to life than antagonism
You can survive and relish
Any weather or adversity

Imagination is nothing
Unless it is informed by vision
And vision is nothing
Unless it is transformed into creativity
And creativity is nothing new
Unless it transcends existing ideas
Moving them to a higher level
Which did not exist until you arrived at the first

This has nothing to do with dreaming
Either of day or night form
If you dream the day away
Nothing is gained, dreams are not verified
Just random musings, often born
Of envy or greener grass

If you dream the night away
There is no control, no beginning that
Could be remembered
No endings apart from rude awakenings

What a waste
A dream has either no lies, or is all lies
The choice is yours

Like dreams, there are two forms of lie
Malevolent lies, for underserved gain
Defensive lies to avoid admission of
Wrongdoing, or failure, or worse
But in the end, a lie is a lie is a lie
From mild exaggeration to intentional dishonesty
None should be excusable

Though he that is without guilt
Should be the one to cast the first stone

But to dream to dare is another matter
Since daring is so much more than dreaming
Imaginative daring, risky but exciting
May need a day-dream nucleus
Then vision, creation and commitment take over

Commitment itself cannot thrive on lies and envy
Of all emotions enacted here, commitment
Is different since it is profoundly temporal
Not transient like a dream or most lies

Commitment cannot be nothing, it is everything
Whether that is love, friendship, faith, or fiduciary
Requiring both brain and heart
It is forever, for if it is not, it is not commitment

Life needs the commitment of breath
Without breath there is no air
Without the critical elements of life
Cells and everything else become effete
And die
There is nothing so fundamental
Starvation of breath is starvation of life
Lies, envy, dreams, imagination, commitment
Are then all irrelevant
They are nothing

Franschhoek, South Africa and Winston-Salem, North Carolina, USA, 2021 and 2022

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