Monday, June 22, 2015

In Praise of Solemnity

Monarch of the Glen by Edwin Landseer 
Call it pomposity, bombast, what you will;
Call it vulgarity, but I crave it still;
The cinema called the Odeon or the Lux;
The epigraph of Everyman's Library books;
Everyman, I will go with thee, and be thy guide--
The monument that is not too proud for pride
Splendid in bronze or marble; the public house sign
That blazons "licensed to sell beers and wine"
In gold italics; The Monarch of the Glen;
The silhouette of ladies and top-hatted gentlemen.

I have seen so much of death, this past two years;
The awful shock when a whole life disappears;
The empty words at the funeral home, the walk to the grave;
Name after name some adoring mother and father gave
Etched onto stone. It won't let me forget
The rarity of every heartbeat, every breath.

They cannot convince me that life is a trivial thing;
A pretty toy that a man should be ready to fling
Away with a laugh; (were mine to be sacrificed
I would leave it with tears and agony, just like Christ);
The world may rebuke me with taking life seriously;
But I cannot get my tongue round the verb to be 
As easy as that. Existence itself should shame
The whimsicalists who teach us the world is a game.

But let there be games, and laughter, and nonsense, and sport,
And idleness, and whimsy of every sort.
Let life be complete, let life be filled to the brim
And overflowing. But-- should all life be a whim?
What lustre has laughter, when laughter goes on all the time,
When mirth may not even make way to let in the sublime
For a half hour, or less? As love is to aimless lust
True mirth is to this. I don't want to laugh if I must.

But laughter itself has its dignity stolen away
And the man who walked into a bar is considered passé--
For a joke is a rite, and a joker a ritualist,
And a punch-line's too formal a thing to allow to exist
In a era when randomness stands for all humour, all art,
All beauty, all meaning; a world with a whirligig heart.

But on a clear night, when I go out and look at the stars
How painfully, painfully, all our frivolity jars
With so lofty a sight; those pinpricks of iciest flame
In the ocean of night put our freaks and our follies to shame;
Under the clear silver gaze of the stars and the moon
How can a man not feel degraded to play the buffoon?

But still we have gameshow on gameshow, and hip-hop, and memes,
And bachelor parties with weird and un-wonderful themes,
And twelve magazines about cars on the newsagent shelves
And eighty-eight photos on Facebook we took of ourselves
All exactly the same. We have advertising campaigns
About doughnuts and dogfood and toothpaste and hard-to-shift stains
And the news gives us Hollywood gossip and fighting in court
And Saturday morning to Sunday evening of sport,
And playwrights write plays about nothing, and artists splash mud
On a canvas, and newspaper critics declare it is good,
And in the museum there are interactive displays
Where once there were exhibits. Nobel laureates praise
The lyrics of rappers, and nobody thinks this is odd;
Oh man! Man! The heir of the ages! The image of God!

Enough! We belong to eternity. We have a soul.
All around us, unthinkable clusters of galaxies roll;
Behind us lie millions of years, and before us our doom;
Imagination and wonder find limitless room
In the ocean of being. Around us, our brethren, mankind;
Each one with a measureless soul and a fathomless mind;
And calling us onwards, the joy that is higher than mirth,
The joy of the unsmiling stars and the serious earth,
The dim light of dusk and the pale light of dawn, and the ghost
Of the myriad dead;  all the joy that moves us the most;
The joy of the straight-faced urchin consumed in his game
Or the worshipper's eyes lit up by the candle's soft flame
Before his saint's shrine, or the lover lost in his love, 
Or the girl alone in a field, agape at the glories above.


  1. You've managed, simultaneously, to get an essay into verse-form, and also to write one of your best poems yet (says I). The ending couplets exemplifying "all the joy that moves us the most" are particularly moving.

    1. Thanks Molly. Your kind words come on a day that is especially hard for me and are all the more appreciated for that. Please pray for me.

  2. Just as Molly said! 'The joy of the straight-faced urchin consumed in his game' is exactly how it is. The last stanza is really very deeply moving. Every line seems to have two halves, which gives it a wonderful balance and rhythm and movement. I think it ought to be read aloud and heard by as many people as possible, and turned over in the mind again and again. Thank you for putting it up. You are very good to give your verse away freely like this!

    1. Well, you could hardly ask for better feedback, could you? I'm glad you also liked the last stanza because I was frightened I had over-egged the pudding and (so to speak) put on my toga.

      This was something I really wanted to say and my first inclination was to write it in the form of an essay. But I came to think it had to be in the form of a poem. There seems no obvious connection between giving cinemas classical names, public monuments, mortality, the night sky, jokes, crass advertising, rubbishy art, and everything else I threw into the mix. But there is to me, and I'm glad it made sense to anyone else.

      As for being 'very good' to give my verse away freely, the joy to me is that anyone likes it and comments on it, so thank you!