© 2002 by Judith Searle
Is it, after all, simply the impulse
to set down one's life secrets in code,
hovering between the need to tell and fear to,
inviting and thwarting with a single stroke?
This poem is entitled “On Writing Poetry,” and I wrote it long before I knew anything about the Enneagram. Looking at it now through the lens of the Enneagram, I’m struck by how clearly it reveals my One personality style.
Almost as if the poem had been written by someone else, I observe the author’s fear of exposing her imperfections. But I see that she is also driven by a need to express her deepest self, and she resolves her dilemma by using poetic devices to obscure her message. The literary cognoscenti, she implies, will be astute enough to pick up her meaning. Hmmm. Could that be a One’s Four stress point raising its elitist head?
After finishing The Literary Enneagram, I promised myself the “reward” of putting together a collection of my poems written over a 25-year period, most of them before I became aware of the Enneagram. Culling through my files, I was continually amazed by how often the poems expressed not only my One home type but also my connecting lines to Four and Seven.
Many of the poems, not surprisingly, reflect a certain judgmental tendency common in Ones. Here, for example, is a poem that describes the colorful cliffs at the western end of the island of Martha’s Vineyard, where I have spent many summers: “Gay Head Cliffs: National Landmark.”
Gashes of gray and red and charred blue
streak the sand; the red clay cliffs
are bleeding into the sea:
It is chalky red far out today
after a week of storms.
This graveyard of glaciers looks
like the scene of some epic battle,
the dying place of giants.
But there are no giants in the earth
in these days, and the rainbow cliffs
are about their own dyings
as they give themselves up
by inches to the sea
while the lookout above burgeons
with shops and snack bars:
more and more to look at less and less.
The Indians sell beaded moccasins
made in New Jersey
and leather drums stamped
“Souvenir of Gay Head, Mass.”
On the beach some wit has built
a ramshackle lean-to out of driftwood
and tacked on it a neatly lettered sign:
The Four-ish sense of loss expressed in the first stanza is followed by an ironic One-ish comment about the commercial implications of the diminishing land mass.
Another poem I included in my collection is one about the death of my father. William Butler Yeats entitled one of his poems “A Prayer for My Daughter,” and, in homage to him, I called this one “A Prayer for My Father”:
A few months before the end you asked me,
did I think you'd see Mother again afterward.
I wondered privately at your putting the question to me
of all people. You whose uncompromising Catholicism had been
a subject of contention between us since I was thirteen.
I said I thought it was possible.
Two weeks before the end they asked in the hospital
whether you wanted the last sacraments.
You said no.
Afterward we found in your files copies of the reports you'd sent
every six months about your investments, plus detailed
handwritten notes about your insurance, your safe deposit box,
your bank accounts (with your two daughters' signatures on file,
valid jointly in case of your incapacity). Your trust agreement
was impeccably worked out to avoid probate and taxes. Your will
specifically excluded the woman you had married five years
after Mother's death and divorced fourteen years later.
Your estate was to be divided into two equal parts (after
deduction of the money you'd lent me, plus compound interest
at five and a half percent).
There was a file marked "What My Family Should Know" containing
duplicates of the instructions you'd already sent us as to which
funeral home was to arrange your cremation and send the ashes
to Illinois. The Mass to be said with only your daughters
and the woman who was your special friend in attendance.
We followed your instructions to the letter.
When you called to tell me you'd been in the hospital, and
admitted you'd left against your doctor's advice, I called your friend.
Yes, she said, I'd better come. She'd wanted to call me herself
but hadn't dared for fear you'd consider it a betrayal.
You'd called her that morning, distraught because you couldn't
find your glasses. Blind and living some distance away, she'd
called the office of your retirement home to get someone
to help you.
I slept the next nights on your couch, listening to you get up
a dozen times for the bathroom, getting up myself each time
to help you back to bed.
Too many rooms, you couldn't remember which was yours.
Once you looked at me intently, your white hair sticking out
at crazy angles, your mouth sunken without your teeth:
"Do men and women speak the same language?"
It was a request for information.
"So far as I know, they do," I said.
A small brass urn sat on the table next to your picture
during the funeral Mass said by a priest none of us knew,
who lived next door to the funeral home. Later your ashes
were buried in Illinois next to Mother—your "only real wife,"
you insisted in your instructions.
I hope you got to see her.
I hope there was a wing-ding of welcoming spirits.
I hope you spoke the same language.
This father, a One dying of congestive heart failure, is determined to be as considerate as possible of his family, and this is obviously a mark of his love. But the emotional reserve of both father and daughter suggests that little affection has passed between them during his lifetime. The prayer of the daughter in the poem’s final stanza expresses the longing of many Ones to finally receive the love they hope to have merited in life through their goodness (but rarely succeed in collecting).
Seeing my work in light of the Enneagram has given me insights not only into my pervasive personality patterns but also into my psychological and spiritual journey over time. Writing poetry tends to be a Four-ish occupation, and many great poets (including Shakespeare) have been Fours. During an unhappy period in my life some years ago, I used my poems to express intense feelings of loss and longing that are characteristic of my Four stress point. “The Time Disease” is one of these:
Obsessed with fantasy, obsessed with memory,
I move between the lines of my life
as through some insidious subtext.
Held by my strong elastic past,
wrenching me back always
to its perverse keeping,
to endings marked beginning,
I meet my dark wood at the middle,
ringed round by ocean, calm
beyond its near fierceness, these
breakers which beach and re-beach me.
The elastic snaps there and
backward: I have lost only the here.
Time implodes in me: I am a core
of fragments in a fragile, ordinary shell.
I have fallen down a rabbit hole, tripped
into a self at once too tiny and too huge
to match the image the world sees.
(I will be relieved to be relieved of beauty.)
I have milked these memories dry, sucked
them like sea stones savorless:
still they will not leave me.
Sometimes I cannot bear to walk among trees,
so loud I hear their shrieking;
did I in another incarnation
have roots and branches, end
with a girdling which cut off
aspiration from digestion?
The poet’s uncertainty about her identity, her melancholy, and her preoccupation with the past are all common qualities of Four. But the obsessive-compulsive rehearsing of painful memories is also a notable tendency of Ones.
In more recent poems I see some of these same themes, but often with an element of Seven exuberance. This combination of Four-ish and Seven-ish attitudes shows up in “In the Teeth of Time”:
Music heard so deeply
That it is not heard at all, but you are the music
While the music lasts.
—T.S. Eliot, "The Dry Salvages"
The violinist is dying, the pianist is dying, all of us
in this high-ceilinged room on our chairs are dying.
The roses in the sunlight streaming through the windows
are dying, though their scent is strong.
Outside a dog howls as the violin pours forth
its intricate filigree, its amazing leaps and moans.
Poor howling dog, howling for all of us sitting here
on this Sunday afternoon in the teeth of time.
We are forever brothers and sisters,
held together in this womb, birthed
through the throes of the music into the sunlight.
We howl with pain and joy.
This musk of mortality mixes with the fragrance of the roses.
The moans and sobs of the violin are indistinguishable
from the blood leaping in our veins on this
Sunday afternoon in the kingdom of forever.
The cutting edge of time is essential to the ecstasy.
The performers are our high priests, flinging themselves
into the silence to bring back treasures for the tribe,
which we devour in this ritual communion.
We ride their backs as if on dolphins,
soaring into the sunlight scattering diamonds,
plunging through the depths, lungs bursting,
our exuberance edged with panic.
In this moment of alchemy, discipline is inseparable from freedom,
fierceness from tenderness, focus from abandonment.
The music is a lover with a hundred hands, and we are reeling
with the sudden touch of sound after a moment of silence.
Worth it to be mortal on a day like this,
with the sunlight, the roses,
the music rising to heaven, swooping back
to earth, our vehicle to eternity.
Rereading this poem now, I’m aware of how the Seven “ascent of spirit” is linked with the Four “descent of soul.” This tug of war is basic to the One’s emotional compass.
Another poem that expresses my Seven security point and its contribution to my appreciation of life is “At One”:
there are no boundaries.
In a fraction of a second I am illuminated, transformed:
I know air and light and earth as the tree knows them,
experience water and sound as the dolphin does,
understand wind currents through riding them on wings,
have the bee's intimate connection with the sweet throats of flowers,
taste fresh blood with the innocence of the lioness,
know the convolutions of crevices with the length of my serpentine body,
and, being rock, sense water adjusting its flow to my contours,
move as the seed in darkness toward opposite attractions: light and water,
know what the enchrysalised caterpillar knows,
consume myself with fire as the heart of the sun,
implode like a black hole, sucking the universe down to the bottom of my being,
dance like a pion in and out of existence, emitting progeny like sparks,
experience the sexual culmination of both man and woman,
feel the relief of the cow being milked,
know the pull of the moon as the sea knows it,
sense the deep cataclysms of earth as does the volcano,
have, as mitochondrium, my universe bounded by a single cell,
know the exuberance of lightning leaping from peak to peak,
can hibernate in winter,
feel the magnificence of antlers springing from my brow,
nourish my fungal flesh on decaying stumps of trees,
know the plenitude of the thundercloud,
am both otter cracking a mussel on my belly and bivalved creature
in the roaring hearth, I am both log and flame.
In this moment charged with light
I am the nows of all tomorrows, I am yesterday:
animate and inanimate fragments of consciousness
dancing in oneness beyond space and time.
Quite a distance here from “The Time Disease,” in which I see myself stuck in Four-ish preoccupation with the past.
Yet the Four connection remains visible in my later poems, many of which still grapple with the universal poetic themes of time and mortality. For example, in “A Rose Garden”:
In a rose garden, circular,
moving from bush to bush
I feast my senses
on opening blossoms, buds
and blowsy spent beauties.
Each color has its own aroma—
yellow exuding lemon verbena,
true rose blaring at perfect pitch,
black-red voluptuous and musky.
In the center, a fountain—
water exploding upward, reaching
the limit of its exuberance, falling,
tinkling into the basin that overflows
into a larger pool with a deeper sound,
flute against cello.
As I watch the water droplets at their peak
sparkle for an instant in the sunlight,
then arc downward to conjoin
with fellows in the depths of the pool,
I imagine our souls in dying
nestling this way among our ancestors,
moving from painful and exuberant isolation
to seamless connection with our essence.
I say this prayer for myself
and those I love:
May our life be a journey through a rose garden,
our death like water falling into water.
This poem seems, finally, to resolve the apparent conflict between the world views of Four and Seven—one of the central life tasks for a One. The Seven relishing of life’s pleasures is evident in the distinctive scents of the various roses and in the upward movement of the water. The Four “descent of soul” is the natural downward arc that follows this, providing the longed-for connection at last. “
A Rose Garden” also seems to balance the tension between the Nine and Two wings, each of which has, at different times, been dominant in my life. I see the Nine aspect in the global vision of life and death that the poem reaches for, the Two attitude in the desire to share the comfort of this vision with loved ones as we struggle together toward our essence.
Coming to see how my own life patterns are reflected in my poetry has been an unexpected benefit of exploring literary characters through an Enneagram perspective.. This has also led me to value the Enneagram as a source of fresh insights into the creative process of our great poets, whose work—even more than that of novelists and playwrights—expresses a deeply personal life journey.