Sunday, May 23, 2010

Poetry Break: "Skimming the Surface"

Water Well
(From the Universe)

A little over 25 years ago, I took part in a reading group devoted to reading Hans Blumenberg's Legitimacy of the Modern Age, and also about that time started writing poetry. I haven't produced so much, either academically or poetically but I occasionally stumble over an old poem.

Well, I tripped over one today while my eyes were on the starry heavens above me and nearly tumbled into a well, a poem from around 1984 titled "Skimming the Surface," not one of my favorites, but worth putting online for sake of comparison with other poems of mine from the same time (if you rummage around a bit):
Skimming the Surface
It's hinted truth lies in this basin rimmed
With rock, passively resting on the ground
Or half-buried in the soft sediment,
Hidden in the murk, waiting to be found.

It shall not reveal itself, nor bubble
To the surface as though it were decayed
Organic matter; there is more trouble
To uncovering hard truth than is made

Out by those who only skim the surface
Of this well. And if this traditional
Supposition's true, then I'll propose less
Waiting at the brim, unclothe myself, fall

Headlong in, and penetrate its coldest
Depths, where stone-blind, numb, grasping for rough rocks
To keep at bay my buoyancy, I'll clasp
That curious object for which I've sought.

But, if that supposition's false, and I
Suppose it might well be, then better yet
Remain above, and not now disclose my
Frail, mortal frame unto this element.

Instead, I'll sun myself upon these rocks,
Enjoy the gentle breeze, sip water from
This pool, and send the bucket down to strike
The base and gouge around within the loam.
Look before you leap, I always say . . . but on the other hand, the findings might be worth the risk, for according to Lactantius:
"truth lies sunk in a well" ("in puteo . . . veritatem iacere demersam") Lactantius, Institutiones Divinae 3.28
Lactantius, however, didn't dive in to find out for himself but, apparently, borrowed the truth from Democritus:
"we know nothing certainly, for truth lies in the deep" ("ἐṯɛῇ δε οὐδεν ἴσμɛν, ἐν βυθῷ γάρ ἑ ἀλήθɛία")
Democritus himself sounds uncertain, but while we reflect on this obscure point, we might also consider these words from Lee Gwang-su:
"From the well's dark depths flickered a light no bigger than her palm, wavering like the sheen on a pool of mercury." (Part 3, Chapter 28, The Soil)
That's well enough . . .



At 2:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"truth lies sunk in a well"

Ah, so that's what he meant! You know, Shakespeare is a little difficult for me. But thanks to you, I now understand what the philosophical prince meant in act 3, scene 1, around line 92~5 of "Hamlet"...

"I humbly thank you; well, well, well."



At 3:59 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Never underestimate the depths of Shakespeare's wellsprings . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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