Nathan Hassall’s ‘The Flesh and Mortar Prophecy’

A review by Ananya Guha

flesh and mortar prophecyNathan Hassall’s ( poems explore the motif of darkness in literature.  The poems in his book do not offer any solution to the problem of good and evil.  Rather they explore the human condition in terms of deprivation, violence, poverty – all manifestations of a soulless (but not necessarily a godless) universe. Light and Darkness interface in his powerful poems, in the manner of a William Golding novel featuring the conundrum of ‘opening’ the ‘ lit centre’ of the human heart or, the universe shadowed in darkness. Beyond the metaphor of the heart lies the metaphor of the Universe, a one cosmos, a one cosmology; contained and craftily manipulated by unseen, unknown powers.

Throughout the poems there is an animated voice expressing an undercurrent of violence:

”stars reticent behind the storm”

The passive and the violent actively co- exist in these passionate poems.  The poem ” They Dwell in Factories” evokes compassion for the poor of the world, a deprived section of humanity. This is one of his more direct and sparse poems, with a clear message, which underlines the travesty in the poem ” In Heavens we Lock”:

”they helplessly cry into their holy books.”

“They” refers perhaps to the more fortunate classes of the society.

The dialogue of the flesh and, by implication the spirit, pervade the poems recurrently, as shown by the title poem: ” The Flesh and Mortar Prophecy” or the haunting, poem  ‘Experiments in Flesh’. In the poem ” Vultures” there is a cryptic but powerful image of suffering and death:

” God …bleeds the stars to death”.

Metaphors of vultures, flesh, predators and ubiquitous darkness bring out evocatively the tenor of Nathan Hassall’s poetry, an all pervasiveness of the diseased condition of mankind, a sickness which resists therapy, the ‘ beast ‘ as in William Golding’s novels. Hassall depicts a  narrative of a post- modern world in verse which is tight, its language sharply focused, and seasoned with internal rhyme at a time when the use of metrical rhyme is unfashionable..


The illustrations by Rachael Tester beautifully highlight the thematic concerns of the poetry and reinforce words with darkly coloured images. This is an excellent collection of poems which are thought provoking, contemporary and intense, a very welcome change from the kind of burdened poems that are prescriptively written today, with editors monopolising them, poems that are replete with detached monotones and garnished with ostentatious language.

Hassall takes the bull by its horns, plunges deep into human consciousness or condition and the kind of universal reality which he explores effectively.  His poetry takes a deep look at the state of crisis in a diseased world. The crisis is social, political and moral. The ethical stance in his poetry cannot be overlooked.

Ananya GuhaAnanya Sankar Guha is a Bengali who lives and works in Shillong. He is an academic administrator at the Indira Gandhi National Open University. He has been been writing and publishing poetry for over thirty years. He says that he writes poetry instinctively.