‘Shards of Glass’ expresses the fragmented post-modern experience of both the sacred and the mundane, seeing if it it is possible to go beyond the mere expression of this experience and to find some kind of unity, at least on a personal level. It explores how our ‘personal’ myths and stories may interact with ‘established’ myth, and how objective reality may function as a gateway to the sacred.
I was drawn to write this poem for several reasons. It had been a little while since I had written in a long form. I had been working on shorter pieces for sometime and I wanted to ‘stretch my legs’ a little. There were some themes I had been exploring in shorter forms which I had started to feel would benefit from a larger canvas. In addition I wanted to test myself with writing a longer piece in a more formal and structured mode than I had attempted previously. Finally I had been hoping to integrate some of the subject areas we have covered on the course into my writing in a more fluid way than I had achieved previously, and this seemed like a good chance to try and achieve that. It’s inevitable in a long poem that many different themes will be drawn together, and this is certainly the case here. However the core intent of the poem is to attempt to express the spiritual and practical fragmentation of experience that is part and parcel of living in the post-modern world, while also hoping to find a way to weave the fragments back together into some kind of whole. I am interested in how, as modern or post-modern people, we may experience different spiritual realities and insights (inspired by competing traditions or our individualised interpretations of these), juxtaposed and intermingling with conflicting versions of the mundane in what is perhaps a much more jarring and unsettling way than was the case in the past. This is something that I have personally struggled to come to terms with over the years, and much of my writing is an attempt to confront these contradictions, and to seek to forge some new sense of wholeness out of the chaos, without denying or cutting off parts of it I don’t like or find uncomfortable. George Trevelyan (1996, p. 1) writes that:
“True imagination can blend with the being within form, and rediscover the miraculous oneness of all life. The poet is one who can crystallize into words this profound experience of identity. Thus, if we can take those words and work our imagination livingly into them, we may ourselves experience the ‘vision of wholeness’ in our souls.”
Bearing that in mind, my intention was to write a poem that somehow ‘livingly’ brings the many different ways of experiencing the world that are open to us in the post-modern condition into some kind of unity.
Two excerpts from ‘Shards of Glass’
. . . faiths and empires gleam
Like wrecks of a dissolving dream.
Say a word is a knife with the world laid
shivering and raw on the blade;
but hold the knife and call it a bird
and she’ll grasp the world with delicate feet
and sing of the people and dusty streets
and the places their love was interred.
How would we seem through the eyes
of the dead? What say we don a tricorn
hat and look to windward wondering
on what’s been lost and what found?
What of prophets in industrial towns,
or baggage handlers, or men pondering
rhymes on storm-bound submarines
in wartime?—dog-eared reams
of metrical verse for the ship’s rag
on the Hohenhorn. What of disregarded
gods? Or the half-true words imparted
by some Mediterranean oracle?
The Ruins of Time
The mansion falls among the ruins of time, shuttered up,
though the yard still sees a few blooms turn their heads
among the shards and dereliction and a single window
open to the wind, through which I scramble, wandering
round the peeling rooms among the cans and butt ends of a few kids who come in sometimes—and not only to take photographs. And as I write, old Grandpa three doors up comes shambling home; the lights are on and the kids are grown but their kids still welcome stragglers, misanthropes and any pedlars passing in the road. Fear fire and water! Guard the house you made, for there’s still a thing inside turns over when breath touches the dawn.
So do not bow to my visions of despair, or the illusions of
crowds, or the genius in his attic room with his raging eyes and moon:
so long as the diaphragm
so long as the heart
so long as the conflated thought and splayed fingers
so long as the balanced repose of the head
and the vertebrate spine
and the tongue on the roof of the mouth
and the breath,
for though the water and lands are all displaced
and all familiar form is washed away
we’ll take our love into the grave.