Fancy a short and snappy poem about the frailty of the human condition and our ultimate loneliness? Me neither. So why this poem? I’m a big one for poetry purity. Don’t get me wrong, I love the complexities of imagery and language and all combinations of the two, but there’s something about a simple statement sans adornment that just goes straight to the heartstrings. And when it gets there, it doesn’t so much pluck at them but tear them out one by one while jumping up and down on what’s left of your heart. Bit like a literary version of the Titanic film, and without Leonardo to provide some light relief. But fun at the same time (maybe). I’m not selling this very well.
Nothing will fill the salt caves our youth wore:
Happiness later nor a house with corn
Ripe to its walls and open door.
We filtered through to sky and flowed into
A pit full of stars; so we are each alone.
Even in this being alone I meet with you.
(the whole thing; I told you it was short…)
The Big (or slightly reduced depending on how eager you are) Scoop
The beauty of this poem far exceeds the number of lines it takes up, and maintains such an almost-cheerful tone that I refuse to tag it as “depressing” (makes a change, feel free to all breathe a sigh of relief). Edith Joy Scovell was not a name which was familiar to me just a few days ago, but her haunting verse —embrace, dear reader, the first of many overused by UNDENIABLY TRUE clichés that will be imprinted onto your consciousness after reading this blog post— stuck in my mind to such an extent that I had to stalkishly google and then write about her. THIS POEM IS A MASTERPIECE. Simple? Tick. Powerful? Tick. References to mortality/fertility/loneliness/love? My imaginary clipboard can no longer be clearly seen through the plethora of frantic ticks.
Scovell begins with the inability of ideals and imaginings to “fill” the gap left by actual life, or “youth”, describing these gaps as “salt caves”. Not only is there here conveyed the completely natural nature (not the best word choice, but I’m tired, okay?) of these holes —this is potentially the only occasion when holes in souls/other body parts might be okay. Any other holes than those created by youth should probably be examined by a doctor, sharpish. Just my professional opinion— but also the concept that, though natural, they are ultimately not the most nourishing thing in the world.* Look for something else to “fill” the gaps then? Easier said than done, for even the normal mental and physical nutrients of life cannot help either; “happiness” and “corn//Ripe” are useless when faced with the ravages of the human body and soul without love.
So, nothing exceptionally exciting so far, and certainly nothing cheery. All we’ve got from these first three lines is that all human beings have a section of themselves which is missing, and which nothing can fill. Distinctly un-cheery, actually. HOWEVER, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. It is in defeating our own mortality, in becoming one with the “sky” and “stars”, that we can become whole. Well, fine, but that doesn’t seem to be an activity in which one can indulge of a Sunday afternoon or indeed entirely feasible ever. “So we are each alone”, and it seems like this alone-ness is destined to go on for all eternity. Great.
Here, E. J. springs the pièce de résistance, the ultimate victory of literature and life over the miserable and flawed concepts of mathematics and science. Sorry science. And that’s not just my personal bias talking. For, despite the odds, even though there are a thousand probabilities and statistics which overwhelmingly state otherwise, the pairing of true minds does exist, and, what is even more amazing, it happens! What are the chances of meeting your soul mate? Like one in twenty thousand gazillion.** BUT IT STILL HAPPENS. In spite of the helplessly self-absorbed and damaged reality of our humanity, there is a natural, even a biological (might be stretching it a bit far, but I’ve come too far to give up now), instinct on our part to “meet” and join ourselves to someone no less damaged and full of holes, in direct contradiction to the principles of survival of the fittest. Far from being intangible, like the “house” or “happiness” we dream of when we are young, this pairing of souls is not only universally sanctioned but even brought about by nature itself! You can’t get better than that.
And what a glorious final line to sum this up far better than I could:
Even in this being alone I meet with you.
*Cue new hypothesis: salt is NOT HEALTHY. You heard it here first.
**For the more mathematically-minded of you, feel free to wince and insert suitably-large-but-also-mathematically-correct number of your choice here.