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Kamarck, Edward (ed.) / Arts in society: confrontation between art and technology

Allen, Dick
[Editorial comment: the poet looks at space--inner and outer],   pp. [184]-193 PDF (10.1 MB)

Page 190

all the hunted and lonely of earth;
another called "She" and a third
titled "The Bride of Frankenstein." The
last makes the modern exploitation of
childsex hideously apparent.
Writing in a completely different style,
Richard Wilbur has produced two
s-f classics. The first of these, "Advice to
a Prophet", deals with the familiar
theme of the wiseman who will tell us
of mankind's imminent self-destruction:
When you come, as you soon must, to
the streets of our city,
Mad-eyed from stating the obvious,
Not proclaiming our fall but begging us
In God's name to have self-pity,
Spare us all word of the weapons,
their force and range,
The long numbers that rocket the mind;
Our slow, unreckoning hearts will be
left behind,
Unable to fear what is too strange.
As Eberhart, Wilbur asks us to remember
the beauty of ourselves, the possibilities we
have too often ignored. We could
believe the danger if the prophet told us
190     "that the white-tailed deer will slip/
Into perfect shade, grown perfectly shy,/
The lark avoids the reaches of our eye,/ The
jack-pine loses its knuckled grip."
Wilbur's other is called simply "Shame"
and personifies the word as "a
cramped little state with no foreign
policy" where "The grammar of the
language/ Has never been fathomed,
owing to the national habit/ Of allowing
each sentence to trail off in confusion."
The people's "negligence is reserved,"
the poem says,
For the hoped-for invasion, at which
time the happy people
(Sniggering, ruddily naked, and
shamelessly drunk)
Will stun the foe by their
overwhelming submission,
Corrupt the generals, infiltrate the staff,
Usurp the throne, proclaim themselves
to be sun-gods,
And bring about the collapse of the
whole empire.
Three other poems -out of hundreds to
chose from - can be mentioned here.
The first is Edwin Muir's "Horses,"
a beautiful work which deals with
the destruction of one civilization and the
beginnings of another. The poem
starts, "Barely a twelvemonth after/
The seven days war that put the world to
sleep,/ Late in the evening the
strange horses came." They appear
following the failures of radios which
the survivors would not care to hear again,
in the days when "Sometimes we
think of the nations lying asleep,/
Curled blindly in impenetrable sorrow,/
And then the thought confounds
us with its strangeness."
John Ciardi's poem, "An Island Galaxy"
draws a comparison between a tire
rut full of pollywogs and our own
universe/ What created both?
"Universes happen. Happen and are
come upon./ I stood in the happening of
an imagination." Ten days after first
encountering the tire rut, the poet returns.
The "universe" is gone. "The rut
lay baked/Twenty upthrust shoreline
yards of time/ Slept in the
noon of a finished imagination."
Maxine W. Kumin poses a familiar
possibility to us in "To An Astronaut
Dying Young." The satellite has failed, the
astronaut remains orbiting in his
coffin of space:
But there you go again, locked up in your
perfect manhood,
coasting beyond the reach of
the last seraph in the void.
Not one levitating saint can rise from the
golden pavement
high enough over the ridgepole
to yank you back into His tent.
This was a comfortable kingdom,
the dome of it tastefully pearled
Till you cut loose. Your kind of death is
out of God's world.
Poetry related to space which seems to be
written in acceptance of the s-f label
is generally mediocre, pretentious
mock-Beowulf stuff or light verse.
Dorothy Jones' "The Elf in the Starship
Enterprise," appearing in the
September, 1968 If, provides a sample:
Mr. Spock has discovered "emotions -
and does not know what to do with them":
Bewildered creature made of steel and lead,
You wander through the empty

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