Irish Papist

Irish Papist
Statute of the Blessed Virgin in Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Church, UCD Belfield

Monday, August 3, 2015

Jigsaw


This is a poem I wrote years ago, when I was an agnostic (if not an atheist). I obviously wouldn't stand over all the sentiments now, especially the assertions of cosmic meaningless. I don't think I'd really agree that "the people who order a shape to their lives, have ice where their eyes should be, use words like knives" etc. (Then again, it wasn't me saying it. It was the honey-haired teacher. That is the good thing about writing poetry from the point of view of a character; you can always distance yourself from its content. Frankly, I can't remember if I would have agreed to all this back then or not).

I think this is one of my better poems from back in the day. Maybe because it has ideas in it. I like ideas to be dealt with directly in a work of art-- explicity. If you are going to have a novel with a religious theme, for instance, let's have actual discussions about religion in it, rather than the religious themes being approached solely through metaphor, symbolism and dramatisation. Perhaps it is more artistic to be oblique, but it's also tiresome.

The themes of this poem have been much on my mind lately. I still rejoice in the wildness of life, even if I no longer believe that "the cosmos is chaos".

Jigsaw

A little boy piecing a picture together
Confined to the class-room in wintry weather.
The honey-haired teacher looks on him, and dreams
Of boys that grow up, and their infinite schemes:

Stop trying to make a mosaic of it;
A thousand pieces, and none of them fit.
Thousands of days, and a handful remembered,
The picture you started with scrambled, dismembered.

The people who order a shape to their lives
Have ice where their eyes should be, use words like knives,
Are spooked by their own dreams, enraged at delay,
And know no third option to growth and decay.
Their soul is a timetable, hopes are a plan,
And they end up exactly the way they began;
A purpose incarnate, not woman, not man.

The cosmos is chaos; the stars do not dance
To any grand tune but the music of chance.
But chance is not everything. Some kind of choice
Is ours, and all things are not spinning of dice.
Words have many meanings, and still they must fail
To capture the essence of life’s much-told tale
For essence there is none; no ultimate why,
Just a madness of stars in a meaningless sky.

But finish your jigsaw; a world of its own.
Outside is the world of the vast and unknown
A little bit vaster and less known for you
But only a little. Do what we all do—
Built delicate webs in the infinite space,
A moment of time and a corner of place,
And fill them with voices and faces you know.

But always remember your mirror will show
A face back to you that will always seem strange;
The soul is a kingdom we cannot arrange.
And when sleep arrives, you must leave what you’ve made
And enter that wilderness, rapt and afraid,
All order forgotten, all purpose betrayed.

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