Thursday 7 March 2013

The Obverse

All things in Heaven – for what it’s worth –
Have their counterparts on Earth.
Each sky-borne thing – don’t let me start –
Has its earthly counterpart.

For every cloud, a lump of coal,
For every star, a tiny hole,
For every bird that flies around,
A worm that travels in the ground.

Even a poet, a clod like I,
Has his version in the sky:
And that one’s poetry – no surprise –
Is witty, bright and wonderfully wise.

Algernon Swift recalls meeting Miles Prothero, the originator of these lines:  

I enquired after the mystical meaning of the second verse but Prothero quickly digressed onto his peculiar theory about birds and worms, saying:

“If one considers the physical law of equal and opposite forces, it quickly becomes apparent that whenever a bird pulls a worm from the earth, at the same time the worm pulls the bird under the ground.” 

I diligently brought the conversation back to the meaning of the poem as a whole.  I said I took it to be concerned with Platonic Ideas.  

Prothero replied: 

“All Art is an attempt to bring into the world something as near to perfection as possible.  

“But what I suppose I was trying to say was, if perfect versions of everything already exist - as they do according to Plato - one doesn’t really need to bother!  A better version of whatever one’s trying to make is out there already so a bodge job is as good as anything.  

“I find that an incredibly reassuring thought!”   

Whereupon he gave me a cheery wave and departed on his bicycle, which I had noticed was in a calamitous state of disrepair.

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