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If Society Were Child’s Play

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William Paley (see entry on “My Current Obsession”) and William Blake were contemporaries who never met.  They represent opposite views of society, religion and much else.  Picture them as two six inch pieces of wood, a square pillar (Paley, Anglican clergyman) and a round column (Blake, nonconformist and visionary).  I see them lying on a green wall to wall carpet near a wooden box with holes.  The child who plays there has wandered off.

The pillar has been in and out of the box several times.  The column is too wide to fit.

“Square up, man,” the pillar says to the column.  “Then you can join the party.”

The column protests, “I cannot be four-faced, confined to opposites.”

“But see, the holes are square.  This is our proper shape.”

“If all are square, society is too boxed in for me.”

“You’ll end up all alone.”

“I can live with that.  My dreams are different, my desire’s to roll.”

“Don’t be stubborn,” the pillar pleads.  “You’ll find it’s not so bad.”

“The same as not so good,” the column counters.  “I’ve wider visions.”

“It’s just a slice or two . .”

“Or four, I gather.”

“You’re fat!”

“I’m a well-proportioned cylinder, you fence post!  Why blame me if I don’t fit in?  I say the holes are wrong.”

“Your core remains.  You’ll be the same inside.”

“I’d lose my voice, my round cadences.  Better to sing out here than narrow to a sigh.”

“It’s what we’re made for.  You’ll be a part . . .”

“With a splintered heart!  For wholeness, I must keep apart.”

 

 

Introducing My Current Obsession

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“Obsession,” one of my poems in Ascent (see Books page) begins:

I’m fixed on this book
like a three-year-old on trucks,
a five-year-old on dinosaurs.  You could
make it my motif, were I young
enough for birthday parties.

The book I refer to is William Paley’s <i>Natural Theology</i>, published in 1802.  This book from a long past era presents nature, particularly the human body, as evidence not merely that there is a God but that this God is wise and good.   The eye, the ear, the joints: each is a sufficient example, in design and practicality, of the skill of the Maker.  While I soon recognized that Paley’s world view was one of fixed order, incompatible with my awareness of evolution and change, his delight in all levels of creation was contagious.

The watch with which Paley begins his discussion is a controlling metaphor: as a watch must have had a maker, so the forms of nature must have been designed.  Paley is drawn to and impressed by all manner of mechanics, of which the watch is just one example.  He equally admires mills, telescopes, the new iron bridge he sees over the Wear River, and other human inventions, especially those in which he finds a parallel to some natural form.

Having spent two years in this man’s company (the man is actually hidden behind the book, but I have come to talk as if this is as a personal acquaintance) I am now in the process of sorting and sifting the pieces that came out of this “time together” to create a book―my book in response to his book.

I have decided that obsession is a good thing for a writer.  Perhaps it is even a necessary thing in the development of one’s art.

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