Reflections on the Pursuit of Knowledge: A Poem

Ive not managed to post anything this week, caught up in the pressure of the penultimate week of the semester, and the penultimate essay, a study on the form, language and style of modernist poem, The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot. I’m a bit disappointed, because I have managed, until now, to keep the blog going without missing a week. However, I have to accept that whilst I’m at uni, my priorities have to change. My sincere apologies to followers of this blog for the interruption, I hope to keep it to a minimum.

This morning I awoke to a few fresh flakes of snow, although not the avalanche we had been threatened with, a sore throat, and a poem in my head. I did not dream it, I just awoke and there it was, fully formed. It’s an incredible gift when that happens, so here it is, and as you will see, it’s a kind of response to my search for knowledge, and Eliot’s poem.


Reflections on the Pursuit of Knowledge: A Poem


reflections on the pursuit of knowledge

Its message is delivered in fragments,
Sharp edges burnished bright but veiled in obscurity,
requiring the glue of diligence.

The distance I must travel is not linear,
arching back eons
to lost literatures, ancient wisdoms, and
jumping ahead to future futility.

Understanding is elusive,
comes in brief flashes
revealed in hazy desert mirages, or
like morsels unpicked from between golden teeth, or
like glints from the surface of the slow slide of water.

I gather in the light, hoard it,
shoring up my inner darkness.
Devouring, shoveling in the light in spades.
But the cavern gapes ever empty.
I am aware only of the void.

I am surrounded by the Filled.
Daily, I see shards of light
scattered from eyes and lips.
It bounces off the ignorant, lying
shattered beneath marching feet.

I rescue some, but it doesn’t flow for me.
No epiphany.
It is too late
I am too lazy
and too far-gone…

49 Comments on “Reflections on the Pursuit of Knowledge: A Poem

      • I like to think Hinduism, esp its notion of Brahman, is the best unifying religion. What do you think? You said Christianity is out. And true, it contains too many mythological details to be IT. Indeed, Eliot loved the Upanishads before plunging into the… path of least resistance, maybe?

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        • Well to be honest, I don’t know very much about it. I find it hard to get my head around. But to me it seems most true to its ancient origins, which in turn seem to lie at the heart of most culture’s origins, which makes sense when you think as far back as our Indo-European heritage. It seems to me though that religion has always divided people rather than unifying them, so I’m not sure religion is the way to go. Seems to me that Buddhism is perhaps the most peaceful religion.

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          • Agreed that Buddhism is certainly better-known already. Thanks for bothering to reply. Have you ever read any Ralph Waldo Emerson (USA)? He was very Hindu, as was Walt Whitman, tho both were probably agnostics at heart. I have a next-door neighbor who argues that agnosticism per se is not a defensible position: one either believes in God (theism) or not (atheism). But, all “agnosticism” denotes is “not knowing” as opposed to “gnosticism” or “knowing.” Hey, nobody at all knows. Emily Dickinson wrote 1,789 lyric poems in the endeavor, which in the end was unfinished. She used inspired poetry for her epistemological method and referred to her calling as “sailing the Bay.” Dickinson wrote the bulk of her poems in 1862. Publication was posthumous. I don’t know off the top of my head when Stephane Mallarme’s first collection was published — 1880s or ’90s — but his corpus begins with a blank sheet of paper and pen in the opening poem — symbolically, the paper being uncharted body of water and a literal piece of paper in the same image… Would you care to email with me? It is robraden@outlook.com. Thank you so much. Take care and keep learning! ๐Ÿ˜€

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            • I was about to say, its new to me so I probably wont have much of interest to say, lol, although I’d be happy to learn what you have to say. My email is aliisaac at aliisaacstoryteller dot com. Had to write it like that, as my last email address got crushed under a massive weight of spam! Ugh!

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  1. Risking being off the wall: In Norse mythology, Odin leaves over the Rainbow Bridge into the world in search of perfect wisdom. He wanders until he comes to Mimir’s Well. The old man informs him that a draft from the well will give Odin all the knowledge in the world. But, he must first sacrifice his right eyeball. Odin agrees, and drops his eye into the well. Then he takes the drinking horn and scoops some of the water and drinks it. Contrary to the joy he’d hoped for, having perfect wisdom makes him sad, and this burden he is stuck with forever… I like your poem, of course. And good luck with Eliot. He put a great deal of hard work into every poem, hence his small output. Do you like Gerard Manley Hopkins? Of all the difficult poets, he was the hardest for me to make sense of. Happy Holidays.

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    • Hi Rob. I actually hadn’t heard of him till I read your comment. Seems he was something of a tortured soul. I’ve glanced through some fragments of his poems, and I think I would like his work. Thanks for the tip, and for stopping by and commenting. As for the moral of your story, I can certainly appreciate that. But there is this big gaping pit which needs filling and can’t be ignored! ๐Ÿ˜‚ I have to keep going for now, anyway. ๐Ÿ˜Š Happy Christmas to you!

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      • The old Faust legend is good, too, IMO. Goethe’s _Faust, Part One_ was popular when I attended college from 1985-94. My personal faves for classics are Oxford University Press World’s Classics. They are beautifully designed and scrupulously annotated. This will be true of both their edition of Goethe and Hopkins’s _Selected Poems_. That’s a good insight re: Hopkins, i.e. a tortured soul. He was very sentimental, and could make himself cry just by repeating, “Far, far away.” Yet, I find that the content or teaching of his poetry is less important than the form, the sound, the aesthetic beauty of it. Either way, the OUP edition is a good solid one. Thanks for taking time to listen to me! Many people don’t. I don’t pretend to be right. I am following you, if you don’t mind. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you as well! What’s the Celtic winter holiday? All cultures have one.

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        • Lol! Why wouldn’t I listen to you? ๐Ÿ˜€ Midwinter is coming up on Thursday, the shortest day. I love it because even though you can’t actually notice any difference, it means the days are starting to get longer, and that makes me feel happy and positive. Then its only a short skip till Imbolc on the 1st of February, which is the Celtic first day of Spring. Btw that was the thing which struck me as I had a quick look at his poems, the sound of them, and unusual line structure. I’d say he was probably an early Modernist poet. He’s in my Norton Anthology, actually. ๐Ÿ˜Š

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          • He’s a Victorian, actually, along with the likes of Tennyson and the Brownings. But yes, Hopkins did influence even your T.S. Eliot. Hopkins was published mostly posthumously (after his death). He was a Catholic and Jesuit, tho whether he practiced what he preached I doubt. Honestly, he was probably gay — which women like you would be quicker to pick up on, ha-ha… I like the sound of the solstice holiday because it’s coming up soon and also because it is free of dogmatic Xian rules that’ve plagued redneck families like mine for generations out of mind… Thanks so much for your response. It’s a pleasure to hear from someone young and intelligent. And yeah, use the textual resources you’ve got. Paper books are ungodly expensive. I wasn’t thinking.

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            • I’m just reading ‘As Kingfishers Catch Fire, Dragonflies Draw Flame’… what a wonderful line that is, both in its imagery and its alliteration! I think his poetry must be at its best when spoken aloud. I’m looking at the form, the shape of his stanzas and his irregular rhyming scheme and his use of punctuation and I definitely think he was a fore-runner of the modernist poets! Norton is a horrible book to use but is so useful as it is a vast collection of poets. Thanks for the ‘young and intelligent’ compliment, but if I had done everything the right way round in my life, we would have been at uni more or less the same time! ๐Ÿ˜„ If you like the ideaof the midwinter solstice you can tune into the livestream at Newgrange on Youtube where you can witness the the advance of the first rays of the dawn sunlight creeping down the passage and lighting up the inner chamber, on 20th and 21st December, which was a special event for our ancient ancestors.

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            • Want another perspective on _The Waste Land_? Eliot, I was taught, was concerned with fragmentation of society after the discoveries by Darwin, etc. A look at “A Game of Chess” suggests the difficulty in communication. The players are not hearing each other’s speech. If you research enough, you’ll find an essay by Eliot titled _Christianity and Culture_ (I think). His idea was that society needed to be united by the Christian faith. He started out interested in world religions in general, then settled on something protestant and converted to it… Is there a “right” way to becoming educated or enlightened the first time?

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            • Hi Rob! Absolutely, you are right. I agree with you about the lack of communication in a Game of Chess, and his concerns over our fragmented society. This was the general theme which repeated itself throughout the poem. I think it’s interesting that after his flirtation with various world religions he came back to Christianity, but don’t you think its’bizarre that an intelligent, rational man could believe that mass conversion to one religion was the solution? Btw, I apologise for not replying sooner, but strangely your comment has only just been revealed to me… weird!

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  2. It’s amazing when poetry appears fully formed. And rare! This is mesmerizing, Ali. I love the scrabbling for knowledge and the realization that for the sparks of illumination, there will be vast swaths of a dark void. The wise are the ones who know that for all their knowledge, they know almost nothing.

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  3. Wow, Ali. I donโ€™t know what to say. Your poem seems to reflect some dark inner thoughts: โ€œjumping ahead to future futility.โ€ โ€œI gather in the light, hoard it, shoring up my inner darkness. Devouring, shoveling in the light in spades. But the cavern gapes ever empty. I am aware only of the voidโ€ฆโ€ I hope youโ€™re okay.

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    • I am perfectly fine, Rachele, don’t worry! ๐Ÿ˜€ This is a response to a poem called The Waste Land by TS Eliot, a notoriously dark and difficult poem. I must admit, I did get a bit frustrated at times reading it. I just wanted to enjoy the imagery, but we have to provide analysis, which means a lot of stop-starts, which I have no patience for. ๐Ÿคฃ

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  4. Pingback: Reflections on the Pursuit of Knowledge: A Poem – lampmagician

  5. Hi! I haven’t seen any posts from you for ages! WP hiding things from me again? I so admire you going back to uni and managing to do everything else as well, even writing poetry. Good luck with the Waste Land and all the rest of it ๐Ÿ™‚

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    • Hi Jane! I’ve had my head down for the last three months, although I’ve managed to keep the blog ticking over, but I had to give up on doing the rounds, it was just too much. Next week is the ladt week of the semester and then I’m off till 29th Jan, so time to recover, well, except for… gulp… exams! So what’s happening with you?

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      • Dreaded exams. I still have nightmares about exams so I’d say you’re defo going to be having them for the rest of your life! I’m trying to get agent, publisher, anybody interested in mss without any luck whatsoever. Finch Books said they’d like the follow on series to the Green Woman on condition that I let them have the Green Woman series too. The contract was going to be issued when I’d taken them down from amazon. I did that, started on edits, got the author info sheet sent off, then Bonnier decided they weren’t going to send out any more contracts for Finch Books. So, there’s no Green Woman available any more and I haven’t got the heart to republish it. I feel like packing the whole thing in.

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        • Oh Jane! I’m so sorry to hear that. You HAVE to republish. But its infuriating that they can get away with that. You need the contract in your hand first. Did Finch Books really get behind selling your books for you? Why aren’t they taking on any more contracts? This damn writing business is so hard! Don’t give up though. Your time will come. I needn’t talk. I’ve practically given up myself. I never published Swanskin and yet its probably the best thing I’ve written so far. ๐Ÿ˜

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          • Bonnier have steamrollered the whole business. But where theyโ€™ve cut back on the parent company, theyโ€™ve totally scuppered Finch. It was going so well too. The people at Finch thought Bonnier had decided to make a go of it. I know how you feel about Swanskin. When youโ€™ve written something you know is good and the only way to get it published is to do it yourself, it can be a huge disappointment. Unless youโ€™re going to pull out all the stops and throw money at promotion like thereโ€™s no tomorrow, itโ€™ll sink without trace. I canโ€™t bear for that to happen.

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