"Archaeologists and archivists are now showing us ... that nothing is ever forgotten or destroyed, that the meanest circumstances of our lives, the details most remote from us, have carved themselves into the huge catacombs of the past where humankind records its life-story, hour by hour ... Whether near or far, in our recent past or back in prehistory, there is not a single detail, not a single circumstance, however futile or fragile it may appear, that has perished." -- Proust
"For 'tis not verse and 'tis not prose
But earthenware alone
It is that ultimately shows
What man has thought and done"
-- squib quoted by Stuart Piggott
Both of the above quoted by Anthony Thwaite in his lovely little (literally, to fit into a shirt pocket!) anthology, The Ruins of Time.
Lyric poets pay lots of lip service, so to speak, to those sentiments of Proust's - but I wonder, Emily Dickinson et al. notwithstanding, how true it can possibly be. Everything perishes instant by instant; little, so little, left behind: maybe nothing. That's what the world feels like, when you know what's going on in it moment by moment as we now do. I suppose a century and more ago it felt a little different, who knows? Who can know?? The older I get the more faith I lose - and the more moralizing I become, though there is certainly a moral dimension beyond the fetishism of Proust's closeted inner space. (That space expanded and continues to expand out into the world; it's not hermetic - but it retains its narrowness on the grounds that it's somehow emblematic.) (I can see now why Geoffrey Hill is so enamoured of emblem books and frontispeices.) (I digress.) Things fall apart, without the signs of a second coming. This is tragic, but not hopeless, and there is no despair at all in my blather. It means that the work of living and writing is harder, the stakes higher, the returns more infinitesimal, than one suspected when verse put a kink in us.
Off I go to work.
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The Ruins of Time: Antiquarian and Archaeological Poems (Poetry of Place S.)
By Anthony Thwaite