The Bradford Oracle.
Mr. Beattie composed this poem while living on Lake Bradford, a famous lake in his region. The place of composition and the poem itself reminds one of that great tradition in Anglo-American literature, namely the contemplative lakeside writing in British literature (Coleridge, Southey, the Wordsworth et al.) and the writings of the American author, Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862). In the following excerpts from >>Walden<< one can see similarities with "The Bradford Oracle." Thoreau's account moves towards a synthesis of natural topography with his knowledge of Oriental and Classical mythology, while Mr. Beattie's poetry "bridges", (the bridge is an important metaphor derived from Hart Crane's poem), the two cultures of the West and the East.
I was seated by the shore of a small pond, about a mile and a half south of the village of Concord and somewhat higher than it, in the midst of the extensive wood between that town and Lincoln, and about two miles south of that our only field known to fame, Concord Battle Ground; but I was so low in the woods that the opposite shore, half a mile off, like the rest, covered with wood, was my most distant horizon. For the first week, whenever I looked out on the pond it impressed me like a tarn high up on the side of a mountain, its bottom far above the suraface of the other lakes, and, as the sun arose, I saw it throwing off its nightly clothing of mist, and here and there, by degrees, its soft ripples or its smooth reflecting surface was revealed, while the mists, like ghosts, were stealthily withdrawing in every direction into the woods, as at the breaking up of some nocturnal conventicle.
Every morning was a cheerful invitation to make my life of equal simplicity, and I may say innocence, with Nature herself. I have been as sincere a worshipper of Aurora as the Greeks. I got up early and bathed in the pond; that was a religious exercise, and one of the best things which I did. They say that characters were engraven on the bathing tub of king Tching-thang to this effect: "Renew thyself completely each day; do it again, and again, and forever again." Taken from >>Walden<<
In the words of the poet "The Bradford Oracle" is a "complicated poem", i.e. one which rewards those who open themselves to the various levels of meaning. Oracles were in the ancient world consulted in order to discover the divine purpose and thus the future events. The most famous was the Delphic oracle. There had been a shrine at Delphi in Greece in pre-Hellenic times connected with the cult of Pythonism. The Hellenes supplanted this oracle with their own: the God of prophesy, Apollo, slew the Python on Mt. Parnassus. His own priestess, Pythia, sat in Apollo's temple. Through a small aperture in the floor of the temple vapours from a stream, Cassotis, rose up and intoxicated the priestess who sat on a tripod above the cleft. She would go into a frenzy and utter the Apollonian oracle which was noted down by an attendant priest who turn handed it to the poet. It was the job of the poet to transform the oracle into regular hexameter verse. If we look at Mr. Beattie's poem we will see parallels and allusions to the Delphic Oracle. For example the Bradford Oracle priestess has a tripod "on her stool" and the nimbus represents the centre, an equivalent to the Omphalos or naval stone of the Earth. There are comic allusions too, because Mr. Beattie has adopted a rather playful approach to the myths. The oracle is seen as emanating from a body orifice "arsehole/muddy sphincter."
The priestess can be interpreted as a Jungian anima:
The anima carries spiritual values, and so her image is projected not only on to pagan goddesses, but on to the Virgin herself, but she is also near to nature and charged with emotion. She is "chaotic life urge", she is a seductress, she is "My Lady Soul", and she is also the beckoning fair one luring men on to love and thoroughly inconsistent as the woman in whose form she is always personified, and in describing her Jung usually chooses a dramatic and mythological approach as conveying "the living processes of the soul" far more accurately than any abstract scientific formula. from Frieda Fordham. >>An Introduction to Jung's Pyschology<< (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1953). pp.54-55.
The lake in "the Bradford Oracle" can be read as a Jungian symbol of creativity and consciousness. The poet is naturally drawn to its exact centre, the source of creativity and being. One can again see the influence of Hart Crane's poetry and life: the powerful and primordial tug of the water, and that urge to lose one's ego in its depths. The creative suicide is a form of renewal, through death the poet becomes one with the Universe. One can also view the lake as a metaphor of the poet's being, and the paddling to the centre as a "spiritual or meditative trip" to the innermost self.