Dickens Considered In Media Res

It’s a rickety, rollicking ride I’m on
Reading Uncle’s “Our Mutual Friend”
On the tide of the Thames as it rolls
Along, dragging me in its mysterious wake
With Veneerings and Rimtys and inspectors
That lurk behind the John Harmons
Who could be the Srivatis and Vikrams
And Chandras hawking rumors by the Ganges
In the myriad scenario of humanity’s flow
Under the pen of a master storyteller caught
In the blood-spun net of familiar lives
Spent on the banks of labyrinthian rivers
That wend to shores around the world
And stay to balance on my fingertips.

Continue reading “Dickens Considered In Media Res”

On Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!

Her voice dragged me in, this old crone
who sat in her chair rigid like a schoolgirl.
It beat against the wisteria tendrilled heat
and the cloistered darkness where we sat,
my aunt and I, me home from school to the barren
bower of her past, where jilted desires hung unspoken,
an endlessly fingered bridal dress of twisted longing.

Continue reading “On Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!”

Surface Tension

Open-Book

I love the feel of old books
their translucent skin fingered thin
beneath the labor of unseen eyes,
their penciled veins and sketched symbols
underlined to reveal vagaries of use
or ill-use, the dog-eared tracks
like a story weathered often.

I love the feel of young books
their spines supple and unbent
over newly ploughed words, scented
raw with ink, inviting rude exercise of fresh
untrammelled progress over a virgin realm
unriddled with sign-posts of past travellers
and winters yet to be borne.

But in the feel, the loss, the find of disconnect
-ed glassy surfaces that reflect my anonymity
I find no warmth, save lifeless heat
in what neatly lies in my palm
promising in digital feat
an unencumbered progress
to less and less
affect.


From William Blake’s Press: “The Clod and the Pebble”

311px-Songs_of_Innocence_and_of_Experience_copy_L_object_40_The_CLOD_&_the_PEBBLE

The Clod and the Pebble   (William Blake, 1794)

“Love seeketh not itself to please,
Nor for itself hath any care,
But for another gives its ease,
And builds a Heaven in Hell’s despair.”
So sung a little Clod of Clay
Trodden with the cattle’s feet,
But a Pebble of the brook
Warbled out these metres meet:
“Love seeketh only self to please,
To bind another to its delight,
Joys in another’s loss of ease,
And builds a Hell in Heaven’s despite.”

William Blake, writing in the eighteenth century, was an unusual fellow (take a close gander at  his drawing above), a printer by trade and a great poet by vocation. He quite unaffectedly combined in his person and poetry a certain childlikeness that can catch you off guard with its pointedness, like a child’s penetrating stare, a sharp goad to the smug and self-righteous. The above poem is an instance of this.

 For starters, “The Clod and the Pebble” makes you wonder at the order of the stanzas, whether they weren’t inverted accidentally in the printer’s press. Why, after all, let the Pebble have the last word? Why not the inglorious Clod? But that wouldn’t be Blakean at all! Imagine a child fed at Sunday School the sweet word of God by one in the robe of authority who sees that same one later in the week intemperately cursing the day an incorrigible brother was born. Which impression is the lasting one? Which would it be to you? It was hardly random that Blake chose to include this poem in his Songs of Innocence and Experience collection under Songs of Experience.

The deceptively simple verse leaves you with a bad taste in your mouth, like the world usually does, like worldliness in ourselves when we catch ourselves at it.

It makes me wonder too, as I walk the road of sanctification as we all must as Christians, how far down the road have I come? Am I still more of the Pebble than the Clod?

And one last thought. Doesn’t the last word of the poem resonate with a particularly fine invocation of Satan’s response to God’s creation of Eden?