Monday, May 14, 2018

Something Thoughtful

Nicholas Reid reflects in essay form on general matters and ideas related to literature, history, popular culture and the arts, or just life in general. You are free to agree or disagree with him.


            Very well, patient reader, I know that putting one of my own poems in this “Something Thoughtful” slot is rather egotistical, but I’m carried on by my last posting in which I accused Steven Pinker, in his polemic Enlightenment Now, of ignoring the “law of mundanity”. By this I mean our tendency to accept our everyday reality as boringly normal while (often) assuming that other times and places were not only exotic and pcturesque, but far more entertaining and stimulating for the people who lived there. In this poem I suggest that the real people in such apparently exotic places would simply see them as boring normality, just as we consider our own time and place. I don’t wish to over-explain the poem, which I hope says many other things about history, but here it is (from my first collection The Little Enemy, published in 2012)

                 Law of Mundanity


Law of mundanity. The quinquireme

powered by Nubian slaves is just one more

patrolling ship. Re-paint it battle grey.

The busy port is commerce and raw deals.

Wide view, a backdrop; up close, men at work;

the rattling abacus a p.c’s. clack.

Toga or sari, burnous, roquelaure,

clothes for the rich – their suits and matching sets.

Loincloths and rags are jeans and last year’s shirts.

The tourist thinks the scene’s exotic. Those

who live from hour to hour on the same street

flick flies, scratch itches, hear a barking dog.


“Of humble birth he rose from cabin boy

to admiral and sailed the seven seas,

mapping and conqu’ring for his country’s good.”

(He waited on the ward room, was abused

by officers of rank and watched his chance.

He studied long between decks, gritting teeth.)

“He never lost his curiosity

about the nat’ral world. He was as fresh

and lively at eighty as at eighteen.”

(And the forced smile to quality. The hours

on watch alone, relieving rich middies,

upset of storm and boredom of the breeze).

“A pattern to all yeomen and town boys,

proof that true quality will rise and win

a place when equity’s the commonwealth.”

(In lace and epaulettes now, why complain?

All crews are politics and jockeying.

Pattern? But what he won was won by graft.)


The cheap Voltaire shot, then - no man hero

to his own valet, and sweat and pimples,

in hard close-up, trump nobility?

Law of mundanity. Work outwards from

the everyday, try constancy and see

spring water in the mud, quotidian good.

The flicked fly is a goad, the abacus

a measure of the real – that estate where

life falls and rises, easy as a breath.

The surface survey of an ancient street

pans its humanity and puts in place

an unreal antiquary theatre scene.

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