Definition

One must make a distinction however: when dragged into prominence by half poets, the result is not poetry, nor till the autocrats among us can be “literalists of the imagination”—above insolence and triviality and can present for inspection, imaginary gardens with real toads in them, shall we have it.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Penultimatums: Voyages' End (Almost)



Eyvind Earle, A Touch of Magic, late 20th century (fair use)


Here we are, almost within sight of the end of our month-long journey in verse. What a strange road it has been! Along the way we've seen boats, sprouts, physics, children, signs, sketches, Twitterings, villains, rain, passageways, paintings, crows, bogeymen, outsiders and shoes:  If months could sing journeys, April in the Garden has been operatic.

Today we are presented with this penultimate daily challenge.

Myths tell us that the next-to-last station of a journey is often its richest, pregnant with meanings which often don't reveal themselves until we have turned some corner—given up on a quest, let go a loved one, endured through, made it home.

The penultimate is as far as we can get to perfection on this earth.  As Joseph Campbell writes in The Power of Myth, "It has been well said that mythology is the penultimate truth--penultimate because the ultimate cannot be put into words. It is beyond words. Beyond images, beyond that bounding rim of the Buddhist Wheel of Becoming. Mythology pitches the mind beyond that rim, to what can be known but not told.”

In the 12th century Dutch version of the Voyage of Saint Brendan—the survival of a tale stretching back centuries to Ireland—St. Brendan burns a book of wonders of the world, saying such things could never be true. Immediately an angel appears and tells Brendan he must pay for his offence against God. For penance he is bid to set sail for seven years to see all the things he had denied, thus to prove the veracity of the ancient manuscript.

Brendan gathers his monks and sails off into the unknown, and his discoveries are legion. There is a heathen giant; a dragon; a fish the size of an island; a magnetic sea; a hermit who has lived in the middle of the sea for centuries; Hell; a siren; Judas; burning soul-birds; a magnificent citadel atop a high mountain; and strange creatures with the head of a pig, legs of a dog and neck like a crane, dressed in silk and who say they witnessed God in heaven before Lucifer’s fall. On each isle a wonder either heavenly or monstrous, hallowed or harrowing.

But Brendan doesn’t know that the point of the tale is that he must return home and write it down—in essence, fill once again the book of wonders he had burned as untrue. In the penultimate chapter of the tale, Brendan encounters a tiny man sailing by on a leaf whose errand it is to measure the sea with a drop-sized spoon. He's been at it for a long, long time, and Brendan wonders if his errand, too, might be endless.

The saint’s ship is then becalmed in a vast misty sea, the boat’s anchor gripped by invisible people singing below. As no Christians can find Paradise on this earth, so too this is as close as mortals get to finding the Otherworld. The penultimate reveals the foolhardiness of the quest, and yet by doing so magnifies the endeavor. It whispers in one ear, you're done now, while at the same time exclaiming in the other: But what a journey it was ...

Brendan has seen enough; it's time to write that book. He is boat is set free and sails back to Ireland, setting up shop at a copyist's desk. When the book is finished Brendan dies, finding passage at last to Paradise.

If our month of poetry has been a journey, what do we find in this penultimate challenge? What is it that allows us to turn our boats finally toward home?

Write a poem that describes the penultimate in some fashion. Describe the door (or island) which opened to (or shored) a final realization. Stay with the turning of things before your vision cleared, the dream before you woke. Do you remember the next to the last kiss? What was in the foreground of that climatic event or turning point which shaped the way you see things now? And looking back, has that moment grown more fraught with meaning somehow? (OK, of course it has, you’re writing a poem.)

With home barely out of sight on the horizon ahead, help us discover what journeys as this are really all about.



16 comments:

Magaly Guerrero said...

Fantastic prompt, Brendan. I always appreciate a bit (or a lot) of Campbell in my head (and poetry).

Margaret said...

Thank you. An example of a poem that never would have been written if not for a prompt.

Jim said...

Thank you, Brenden, for giving us t g e tale of Brenden. Saying a thing isn't true doesn't make it untrue except in the speakers mind. But it does label the speaker a fool. I'll sleep on "penultimate" and maybe have revelations in the morning. I do remember a second to last kiss but will never tell about it, I'm thing, while I'm sane. (That moment has happened too often, there may be one I can tell.)
..

Sanaa Rizvi said...

Loved the prompt, Brendan ❤️ it sparked a poem which otherwise would not have been written. Day 29! Wooooooooo hoooooooo ❤️

Kerry O'Connor said...

A wonderful way to bring us to the conclusion of this month-long challenge.
As yet I have no idea where this idea may take me.. I'm cogitating.

paulscribbles said...

What a prompt.Looking forward to reading today's poems.

Kerry O'Connor said...

PS. Thank you for sharing this artist's work with us. I love the use of colour.

Rosemary Nissen-Wade said...

A great prompt, but I think my energy's flagging; I'm not thrilled with what I've written for it. Bedtime now; maybe I'll come up with a second one tomorrow.

Rosemary Nissen-Wade said...

Ah well, I realised I had written something I didn't really believe in, so have gone back and changed the ending. It's still not a great poem, but I feel a lot better about it now. :)

brudberg said...

I went very brief with this one, but played on a metaphor that I hope works for you.

Marian said...

Thank you, Brendan. Love this.

Rosemary Nissen-Wade said...

So much for going to bed. Wrote my second one now, instead.

Susie Clevenger said...

Thanks Brendan...this has been an incredible month of poetry for me. I am so blessed to be able to read and be inspired by great poets here in the garden.

blueoran said...

Such rich responses to the challenge! What a pleasure to vigil here at this part of the Garden just before the final turn for home. Thanks to all of you.

Outlawyer said...

Thanks so much for the wonderful challenge, Brendan. It is terrific. I have had a long day with a lot of travel and mixed-up schedules, so glad to get something up. Thanks for the inspiration. k.

De said...

Late to the party! And in case I don't get over here at all tomorrow, wanted to say THANK YOU for all the awesome prompts this month, gang. You rock. Happy writing, and congratulations to all who wrote a poem each day in April! :)