Perhaps we know ourselves, and better know,
That light, elusive, locus which is self
Than any point to which that locus tends,
Expending in a meteor’s tail the health,
From which the personality depends,
That we at length may sow
Patterns on a thankless universe,
Which as blankly and as little understands
The ardent labour of these shaping hands
As those who have a child or write in verse.
Our actions and experiences constitute the mind
With such a tangled, dark, obsessive weaving
In and throughout of threads of cause,
As if we were built self-deceiving,
Skilful in the handling of our oars
And, though coxless, passionate for speed
We thrash the water round us into foam;
Yet most single-skullers make it home
To some quiet Ithaca and plant their seed.
Are there such multitudes of fertile bays?
Or does Brahma moderate the sea
That knocks us softly, roughly, into places
We would not know to choose if we were free
And these inviting isles with all their graces
Lay at the joints of infinite ways?
No. Space is wide and cool, landfalls far and few;
What spirit could excuse the harm
And clumsiness of an all-cradling palm?
We see not how we navigate, and yet we do.
This blind, talented, unselfconscious fumbling
Fills the lives of millions, and my own;
It distends the middle ground of common sense
With a pregnancy of meaning proudly shown
To strangers, or boasted of across a fence,
And when born as action’s tumbling,
Becomes just facts, for which time’s surveyors
Black-cap their virtue with a page of ink,
Or which they shudder from and choose to wink
At, lest a harshness silence brilliant players.
For some the virgin-birth-pangs of a day’s quick thought
A year it might be, or a young man’s life, the tender,
And steady growth of a trembling act
Are what the body lives for, the things that render
Unto poets the feelings which a poet’s tact
Alone can pacify and rear as other’s ought.
These unacknowledged Caesars, home from the wars
But bootyless, each have a striking tale to tell
Of how, with Julian modesty, they conquered Hell,
And, true rakes, made all the devils whores.
Or, proud of their defeats, hand pictures round,
“Me in a Posture of Abject Fear and Trembling,
My Humiliation at a Difficult Pass,
How I Lost a Year through Life’s Dissembling,
Tears of Laughter at a Romantic Farce,
What Poets Find Just Underground,
Buried in their Gardens, Wrapped in Sacks,
And this is Me in Ironised Distress
And Me Again in a Different Dress,
Shocked at the Knowledge of All the World Lacks.”
We shift upon our chairs and think of heaven.
A friendly critic starts to expound the rhyme,
“‘Urinary depots’ is terribly witty,
A shower of humour from Joyce’s emerald clime,
But smooth though it is, the politics are gritty,
And politics are undoubtedly the leaven
Of all the Irish work.” “The ludic interplay”,
Another starts, “is surely crucial here, it shows...”
It shows, it shows, it shows…
…that our period’s quintessential poetry grows
In potholes unenlightened by the Humean day.