Upon this age, that never speaks its mind,
This furtive age, this age endowed with power
To wake the moon with footsteps, fit an oar
Into the rowlocks of the wind, and find
What swims before his prow, what swirls behind —
Upon this gifted age, in its dark hour,
Rains from the sky a meteoric shower
Of facts . . . they lie unquestioned, uncombined.
Wisdom enough to leech us of our ill
Is daily spun; but there exists no loom
To weave it into fabric; undefiled
Proceeds pure Science, and has her say; but still
Upon this world from the collective womb
Is spewed all day the red triumphant child.
Millay, Edna St. Vincent, Hunter, What Quarry? Harper & Bros., New York, 1939.
This poem, written at around the time of my birth and published when I was three, has illuminated reality for me in various and different ways ever since I stumbled across it at the Overland Park library in Kansas (one of those splendid libraries I always praise). The event took place sometime in the 1970s. There are these moments. You don’t forget them. I still see the scene, the shelves to my left. I was looking inward, into the stacks. The yellow book (how come we remember such things?) was open in my hand. I was reading this poem. The words produced electrical shudders in my body. The odd power of this poem lies in its ability to say different things at different times; like a magical mirror it reflects back that which appears before its face. At that time my inner state reflected back the surface meaning—namely the absence of a loom. With time I came to realize consciously what it was that had made me shiver then—namely that this poem itself, proclaiming its absence, is actually the very loom that produces a fabric of meaning. For starters…