“A God once lived here,” / said my father on the edge of a field / as one whose belief had been buried / furrow deep by time’s ploughmen. / The sky tipped. Clouds turned green / The trees shook with summer’s rage. / Until then I had no idea that adults / could feel abandoned too, / that the purpose of the Gods / was to play hide and seek in the ruins / of whatever they leave behind. / I returned years later to find a wedding / in full swing with hats and laughter, / framed in the Inigo Jones colonnade, / invited by the Gods for a snapshot.
published by PLACES OF POETRY.ORG.UK
FRAME OF REFERENCE There is a greatness to religion but also great danger. The corruption of the best is the worst (corruptio optimi pessima). Alas it is the human condition that the best is always liable to corruption or never free from temptation. Why? Because even our best is never God.
WILLIAM DESMOND, The Intimate Universal, 59.
So it’s only three AM and the temperature is beginning to drop and we don’t know how many guests of the President caught the COVID yesterday but, as he likes to say, “we will see, we will see.”
With all my recent foraging in Wittgenstein and Zhuangzi lately— two notorious “skeptics” and “relativists” — the discourse I want to dive back into is Denys Turner, THE DARKNESS OF GOD (Cambridge 1995). A 3 AM text for sure. But I’d read Mark Fiddes’s new poem online and it felt like good news, and this blog LYRIC.CO is supposed to be about good news.
Fiddes is a deeply considerate poet; he plays all the angles with finesse. “Stoke Pavilions” is not coy about its love of the lyric tradition — its impeccable build (I almost said “couture”) and especially its respect for the equivocities of the sounds words make across the between of their sounding— they leave me a little breathless. The diction is quiet, the narrative lucid, so we do hear the concert in the park. All in the shadow of Inigo Jones’s superb almost see-through neoclassicism.
The narrative brings us to a breathless moment, wherein we hear about the purpose of the Gods no less. The scene of Romantic ruins had paved the way, as it were, to this final realization, a Little Gidding moment perhaps, without Eliot’s rancid smile. The blandness of the diction is pitch perfect, Sung rather than T’ang. “WhatEVER they leave behind” encompasses the festive grounds of Stoke Pavilions, such as they are, and the luminous memory of the lyric muse, which always has at least one foot in Heraclitus’s stream.
The return is beautifully handled, the muse of Inigo Jones being no stranger to the Deus Ex Machina of weddings. A wedding “in full swing” holds our attention. We readers pose within the wide angle of this lyric moment, invited to the party by the Gods.
I say Fiddes may be onto a new lyric register. So the poem may speak the poet pulls back and lets the poem emerge as a form in the landscape. The movement of the poem between the confession of his father and the repurposed pavilions is unencumbered by gaucherie of the kind we expect in our nihilist age. So there’s that, the poem recapitulates its various energies in light of the emerging form.
AND. Since we speak of the Gods, I can return to my sense that there’s power in the tradition Denys Turner explicates, that of the DARKNESS of God. Mark Fiddes is a poet to watch, as they say in our totally corrupt literary culture. But he is, he is. His new poem has the balance of public and private that Horace … but no need to get into that.