Saturday, 22 July 2017

Whale Nation - Heathcote Williams


When Heathcote Williams passed away recently I was slightly perturbed at the scant recognition it received in the media. How could the death of one of England's greatest modern-day visionaries pass without some kind of national response? Should not all the clocks have been stopped? Dogs given bones to stop them barking? Pianos silenced? Should not planes have circled overhead, scribbling on the sky the message 'He is dead'?
Maybe it's just me, I thought? Maybe I'm just not in the loop or that I'm just not moving in the right circles? Maybe there was wide-spread mourning and an avalanche of accolades on TV, radio and social media and I just missed it all?

Heathcote's passing caused me to look back again at some of his works and it led to a confirmation that he was indeed a very great man. His was a true vision of Albion and the spirit of Englishness. Not the spirit of conservative politics or of myopia but of freedom, empathy, passion and - importantly - anarchy and Utopia.
It's not often I urge anyone to read a certain book or to listen to some specific music. I might proffer an opinion as in whether I think something is brilliant, mediocre or rubbish but I never (hardly) say something must be read or heard. For Heathcote Williams, however, I make an exception.
I would urge anyone to seek out his works and devour them because I guarantee that if approached without preconception or prejudice there will be a reward at the end. You will come away with something positive, life-affirming and precious.

Take Whale Nation, as an example. Published in 1988 it is an epic poem, a paean, a brilliantly rendered hymn to the glory of the whale countered by the miserable and pathetic attitude of man toward this most beautiful and astonishing of creatures.
'From space,' it begins 'the planet is blue. From space, the planet is the territory not of humans but of the whale. Blue seas cover seven tenths of the Earth's surface and are the domain of the largest brain ever created, with a fifteen million year-old smile.'

There are no words to convey how brilliant the whole piece is. I certainly don't have the words so won't even try. All that can be done is to read (or hear) it yourself. All I would say is that if it fails to move you then there is no more conversation to be had. If after reading it you show only indifference then so be it - but there is no further hope for you. If it fails to move you then - I'm sorry but - you're already dead.

As for Heathcote Williams, he may now have passed away but his spirit lives on. Bathing us all in its light like a heavenly star in the firmament, or rather, like one of Van Gogh's glowing and swirling stars, Heathcote's spirit shines on. 
Heathcote may now have passed away but his spirit and yes, his vision, remains undimmed and in all the works and all the art that he has left us, shines on as bright, as proud, as beautiful and as defiant as ever.

Thank you, Heathcote. RIP.

John Serpico


  1. In one of those sweetly serendipitous moments, I have been to visit an elderly friend this afternoon, and out of the blue he mentioned this book and has lent me his treasured copy of it, a gift from his son. I've just come here to have a look through your recent posts and here it is. It has already added something to be able read your words before I read the book itself - thanks.

    1. Hello C, and Wow! What a weird coincidence? You won't regret reading it. It's like the final statement that could be said about the whale and it's relationship to the world; and subsequently, man's relationship to the whale and to the world. There's nothing more that could possibly be said. It could possibly make you cry though, C. Nice to hear from you, by the way. I'm still dropping by your place every week or so, so don't think just because I'm not commenting very often that I've moved on. I guess by now I could be classed as one of your loyal readers?

    2. Thanks John - you are so right, it has already made me cry, and it has made me feel like I want everyone in the world to read it, and to understand, but sadly I know the truth is that it will be mainly those who feel this way already (about life, about nature, about how abysmal mankind can be and about how wrong we've got things... I could go on but I don't think I need to with you!) who are the most likely to do so... Still, it is a privilege to read it and I'm looking forward to discussing it with the man who lent it to me too.
      Thanks for dropping by my place - I try to keep it going for my own sake as much as anything, even if I don't post so frequently these days!