Sunday, 14 October 2007

Absalom! Absalom! by William Faulkner

Today I want to discuss some issues relevant to my American Fiction university module and to the magnificent, epic novel Absalom, Absalom! (Vintage, 1936) by William Faulkner. To start I want to reproduce a passage from p127-8 of the novel, to give you an idea of the scope of the work, and its great interest in the relation of one human life to history and eternity. I hope you enjoy it:

Context of the passage: Judith, of little emotion, gives a letter she has received from her betrothed to a stranger from the town.

She says “Read it or dont read it if you like. [She does it apparently for the following reason:] Because you make so little impression, you see. You get born and you try this and you don’t know why only you keep on trying it and you are born at the same time with a lot of other people, all mixed up with them, like trying to, having to, move your arms and legs with strings only the same strings are hitched to all the other arms and legs and the others all trying and they dont know why either except that the strings are all in one another’s way like five or six people all trying to make a rug on the same loom only each one wants to weave his own pattern into the rug; and it cant matter, you know that, or the Ones that set up the loom would have arranged things a little better, and yet it must matter because you keep on trying or having to keep on trying and then all of a sudden it’s all over and all you have left is a block of stone with scratches on it provided there was someone to remember to have the marble scratched and set up or had time to, and it rains on it and the sun shines on it and after a while they don’t even remember the name and what the scratches were trying to tell, and it doesn’t matter. And so maybe if you could go to someone, the stranger the better, and give them something-a scrap of paper- something, anything, it not to mean anything in itself and them not even to read it or keep it, not even bother to throw it away or destroy it, at least it would be something just because it would have happened, be remembered even if only in passing from one hand to another, one mind to another, and it would be at least a scratch, something, something that might make a mark on something that was once for the reason that it can die someday, while the block of stone cant be is because it never can become was because it cant ever die or perish …”

Things to think about:

How does the image that we all tied up together, affecting each other, make you feel?
Why do we often view freedom as simply getting away from other people?? Would this make us “free”?
What do you think we are all trying to achieve in life? What are your aims for life? How would they affect other people?

Who do you think are the “Ones” who set up the loom for people to make a rug with? (Maybe think about how we learn how to gain a reputation in the eyes of society.)

Even though Faulkner says the “loom” seems to be set up in an awkward way, do you hope that there is a larger pattern working behind the things we try to do in our day-to-day lives? Is there a big purpose to life?

What often happens when we each try to “weave our own pattern” in life, trying to bring everything in line with our own desires? Is it possible to do this?
Why do we need each other?
Why do we cause each other to suffer?
Are people good at sharing their resources? What is the reason for this?

What is Judith’s attitude to dying in this passage? Why is she afraid her gravestone will be forgotten – and will it matter?
What is Judith trying to do in giving this “scrap of paper” to someone in the world she has otherwise had little contact with?
Why do people hope for something of them to last after death?
Where does that inner desire come from?

To me this quote is great at summing up the frustrations of living life, with all its uncertainties and impossible situations, living with people and living with yourself. How can we live without purpose, or hope that something will last? This small gesture is beautiful because in it the fierce young woman Judith is reaching out to someone, to find meaning – but I think it is ultimately fruitless too. Her hope for this gesture to last is futile, and without a hope of an afterlife, a wonderful eternity with God, it seems she is doomed to be dead and forgotten. That is why this quotation is also so devastatingly tragic – Without God, our lives will achieve nothing that will last.

About the novel

John Pilkington can write that Absalom, Absalom! is generally agreed to be a book which is a “study of the process of arriving at historical truth and, perhaps, the meaning of history itself. Faulkner realised that if life is to have any profound meaning for the individual, that meaning is reached through history.” (The heart of Yoknapatawpha, University Press of Mississippi, 1981, p.169). But this history, that provides meaning, is transformed in the novel by each different character involved, in such a way that it is clear that each character must be working on the basis of different assumptions about what is meaningful, some for instance placing greater emphasis on sexual or deep emotional or psychological urges, while others appear to be convinced about the immutability of a person’s character or assume a common materialistic greed in all men. Each narrator emphasises different events in the course of the family history they trace as being the most important, as they see it in their perspective.

Furthermore, the points at which different narrative viewpoints seem to reach consensus about history are, as the novel continues, undermined by the students Shreve and Quentin’s re-writing of history, as if the past is somehow malleable, and indeed the characters’ own widely different moral viewpoints lead them to interpret the present differently: Old Rosa Coldfield, who still feels strongly connected to the past, is gleeful at the destruction of Supten’s Hundred and glories in it, while young Quentin seeks release from the cycle of death and age-old, inevitable tragedy that surrounds the figures Charles Bon, Henry and Judith in the historical narrative. The meaning reached through history is overwhelming to Quentin, who, instead of surviving in grim expectation of the downfall of the Sutpen family like Rosa Coldfield, finally destroys himself (in the connected novel The Sound and the Fury). He seeks escape from his present situation, which to him must end in destruction as surely as Charles Bon was murdered by Henry in history, because he considers his own confused feelings for his sister to be as forbidden as the (suggested) incestuous love of Bon for Judith. So the effect of history is a burden to Quentin and even helps to destroy him, whereas others understand it differently (I think Shreve sees it as pure entertainment). In these ways the novel highlights the problems with understanding the past and determining its meaning for us today.

William Faulkner has meticulously designed a book in which there are, as one student at Virginia University put it in a question to the author, “thirteen ways of looking at a blackbird with none of them right”. Faulkner replied, “I think no one individual can look at truth. It blinds you. You look at it and you see one phase of it. Someone else looks at it and sees a slightly awry phase of it. But taken all together, the truth is in what they saw though nobody saw the truth intact.” (Pilkington, p.168) From this we can see that actually true statements seem to be ruined for Faulkner. They are surrounded by a veil of inaccessibility, and one can only make partially-right statements. The main mystery character in the novel, Thomas Sutpen, “was himself a little too big for people no greater than Quentin and Miss Rosa and Mr Compson [characters whose perspectives are included in the novel] to see all at once.” We sense from these words that there never can be, in Faulkner’s worldview, a person “wiser or more tolerant or more sensitive or more thoughtful” who is able to see the full Sutpen – in other words a perfect and omniscient person. Instead Faulkner makes a leap in which he describes the reader’s forced creation of their own Sutpen as the new “truth” when it is in fact still conjecture: “The truth, I would like to think, comes out, that when the reader has read all these thirteen different ways of looking at the blackbird, the reader has his own fourteenth image of that blackbird, which I would like to think is the truth.” In saying this Faulkner has renounced all authority over the matter – as John Pilkington puts it, “the burden of understanding and interpretation is placed squarely upon the reader” (p.169). The new “truth” is the only truth we are likely to get from the book – and so the critics debate and debate, ad infinitum.

In fact, describing a complex but central passage in the novel (p.261-2), Pilkington says “What Faulkner seems to be saying is that the present flows out of the ripples of the past” but the passage goes even further than this. There is an “old ineradicable rhythm” to the past and present, which mingle indefinitely: “Maybe it took Father and me both to make Shreve or Shreve and me both to make Father”. Time becomes a soup which mixes consequences with events in a permanently accumulating process. So “the individual who perceives the event likewise enters into it [is shaped by its effect on them] as he orders it in his own consciousness and it becomes a part of his experience.” (Pilkington, p.170). While there is truth in the value of experience shaping us in many ways, there are bizarre consequences of this assumption that we are merely a product of our circumstances. And the (now-common) distrust of the unknowable accuracy of the “consciousness” itself, combined with the assumed improbability of shared subjective experiences, mean that the postmodern sees history as unknowable in any solid sense – it will be too differently reported through too many people to be understood. More than that, according to this view of our connection with the past, history is necessarily only understood when reworked. Our experience is all that can teach us. We live in a closed system, without much possibility of correct communication.

I would like to challenge the above assumptions about history and say that, despite difficulties, there is much we can know, and question, and discover, about people who lived in the past. I see the main difficulty of “Absalom, Absalom!”, which is that we can not get at another man’s thoughts or motivations – these remain inaccessible to us. But even here we can make progress and attempt to work together to answer the question “What would he be likely to mean/intend by doing or writing that?”, by reading what they have written, and finding out what they have said and by careful study of their behaviour as recorded in a variety of ways. We can not call our findings absolute truth, but can discover something which is true – and then those reading our findings, if we are careful, should not be looking at a completely different blackbird, but one which matches in many ways with the first one: There is no new blackbird which, out of despair for the impossibility of knowing the old one, is called truth.

Further thoughts from other modern American fiction:

In “Things out of words: Towards a Poetics of Short Fiction” the author, Clare Hanson, has a basic thesis, as set out in brief here: The difference in short fiction is a greater sense of mystery – “there is no space for cross reference or repetition of the kind we are familiar with in the novel” (p.23). But this is close to the very reason for writing, Hanson suggests. She says this insecurity about final meaning is highly desirable – “it is why we write, as I see it, that we may arrive at this moment and yet- it is stepping into the air to yield it – to a kind of anguish and rapture” (Hanson quoting Katherine Mansfield, p.22). Indeed “we start from scratch and words don’t; which is the thing that matters – matters over and over again, for though we grow up in the language, when we begin using words to make a piece of fiction, that is of course as different from using the same words to say hello on the telephone as putting paint on canvas is. This very leap in the dark is what writers write fiction in order to try” (quotation from Eudora Welty, p.24.) Fiction, according to this group of thinkers, is intended as a leap to find power and meaning, an escape from the restriction of normal meaning.

Is this what we do when we write? Do we try to create an insecurity about words, to make the description primarily only suggestive, and not actual? Why would we aspire to do this? Don’t we seek to communicate, to share ideas about character, theme, the world, society and the individual, our own consciousness and experiences and those of others? What is the agenda or worldview behind the criticism and fiction which decides to be suggestive in sometimes contradictory directions? Why is modern fiction like it is?

My idea is that it is to do with Francis Shaeffer’s theory of the modern author/artist’s despair about knowing rationally about significant things. The emphasis has been shifted to one’s own subjective reception of words and how they are constructed to be sentimental or powerful in the receiving mind. I agree that this process has to happen – we have to interpret the information/words given and formulate it in a way it makes best sense to us – but I don’t want to lose the emphasis some authors place on desiring to communicate through words. And I want to say that the possibility that our reformulated ideas about a text can overlap with what the author intended to communicate is not remote. The difficulties do not render our understanding about a text static, in the area of discovering author’s intentions.

Modern writers seem to revel in ambiguity. Take this quotation from Stephen Matterson (The Great Gatsby: An introduction to the variety of criticism, Macmillan Education Limited, 1990, p.17-18):

"In part, the point is that the kind of symbols in The Great Gatsby are suggestive rather than definite, and that their power accordingly lies in their suggestiveness.
The eyes of Dr T.J. Eckleburg – a general critical consensus seems to be that they suggest the modern world’s loss of God, or a spiritual dimension. … no definite, absolute meaning can be ascribed to them, keeping their possible meanings alive for the reader. With such a technique, Fitzgerald had fulfilled the prescription of Conrad that he so admired; that the writer should aim for 'the light of magic suggestiveness … brought to play for an evanescent instant over the commonplace surface of words.'"

The power of the imagery in The Great Gatsby is to my mind in what they suggest rather than the idea of their infinite mystery. The unreachable lights; the mutlicoloured symphony of people; the stark watching eyes of the doctor on the advertisement billboard, which to the deperate and bereaved Wilson as he searches for justice, appear as the eyes of the all-seeing god of justice - these ideas, this content behind the images, are their power, and it is their meaning that is worth discussing, not their meaninglessness, which just implies that we do not care why they are there, or think the author did not put them there for a purpose. Indeed carefully balanced meaning brings writing, and history, truly alive - whereas accepting that we can't know what images mean and tentatively accepting all the suggestions that could work, doesn't advance the understanding of the novel, and doesn't master critisicm well at all. There needs to be distinction between good suggestions and bad ones, so we can work towards probable meanings.

I don't want to end here with a traditional conclusion, but I want to challenge those involved in criticism to approach the task of understanding the author behind the work with more confidence. The wealth of work that has been done on this in the past, the great discoveries of great critical minds, can help us here - let's not reject all this in our arrogant assumption that the is no progress to be made, embracing a new subjective "blackbird" experience of a text, rather than doing the hard work of research! Let's instead reject bad research and find accurate work, which works hard at the text, to understand its constructions and structure, and to match the words of the text with language at the time and the author's public and private concerns. And let us write to be clear and to be understood well, leading the way in communicating important and creative ideas. In other words, let's be absolutely clear that absolute truth matters in all areas, including in how we approach reading, writing and all our communication. It is God's image we are bearing, and despite difficulties, he created us so we could be understood.

© 2007 Richard Townrow.

Saturday, 13 October 2007

Living without certainty

There was a place
where the people were free,
now that it is lost
it is only memory,
and a curse;

a hope, distant,
yet for some too close for comfort.
You say too close for words!
A dream, submerged,
when it surfaces for air we all breathe.

Gasp it in the quiet.
Drink it in, sink in it,
get lost and get hopeful again.
You can't achieve a goal
so far-flung,
you can't reach the scolding star.

Your air dries up, valves close like doors
or windows shuttered.
There are drips in the gutter,
sounds in the night;
wakeful sounds, distorted by broken time.

Try to quench a burning flame,
hope it works,
avoid all you can
to see through the running time of your life,
turn all around until it changes into something you like.

One day the sound will be clear,
the way laid out,
but you have not crossed the first hurdle,
the laying out, the calling in,
- the reeling back in.

You are still recoiling from the first pain,
the first sound,
so offensive to your ear.
You struggle to loosen your bonds,
to escape the waking sounds,
so close to you.

You are losing.

© 2004-7 Richard Townrow

The Pressure of the Critic

This poem, hesitantly titled, is about many different subjects that I was thinking about in my last term at university. I guess it partly explains why I want to keep trying out different writing and publishing it to find out what others think. Also I thought it was quite a fun idea - enjoy the mixture of my own views on writing and my parodies of the limitations of form and expression. Perhaps it is a little cluttered and confused for one poem though, so maybe I'll owrk on it some more at some stage.


My brother-self writes poems,
But although he lets me look,
He won’t let me see what they mean.
Perhaps they are too important to be seen.

Always on the edge of producing
Something that is worth proclaiming,
Composition of glory, eternal peace;
Quietly keeping them is a disgrace.


I have a friend who is a poet
Or so he tells me.

He said, “This one has a whimsical tone” -
Regretfully he would not leave it alone.
I never saw it, but I know it indulged in the crime
Of plagiarising a nursery rhyme
But all the kings horses and all the kings men
Couldn’t pull his hopeless sense of rhyme together.

The idea behind his sonnet series, was, to eloquently express
Beauty’s frailty in him but strength in his chosen goddess,
But the words faltered, and she received half his heart
and a third of his mind.
(He only left that much behind.)

His epic grew longer and encyclopaedic,
Its lost city reaming with meticulous flora
And fauna, ridiculous goddesses
And feasts Mediterranean, Asian, even Caribbean,
Zephyr and gale billowing without limit –
Alas, I could not read it.

When I asked about his elegy,
Mournfully he replied
“I lost all heart for it, so it died,
And I buried it in the garden”,
R.I.P. Elegy, lie in the grave,
Undisturbed by me.

He must refuse to air any error,
But it would be better to see a hideous verse
Than hear excuses – I’ve written worse.
Of course his simile is hideously out of proportion,
Like a sleek brown rat growing longer and fatter,
It is ugly in a poem – but it doesn’t really matter.

There is indeed no man-made perfection
But only progress that needs correction.
What’s so pressing? Can’t I
Enjoy the language, ignoring the way
Sentences run on or syllables clutter a line?
Not questioning the reason for “eight” or for “nine”?

His work is assuredly too demanding for me,
As if they really matter in eternity!
Once he said, “This one has a serious moral
And I want the world to hear it” –
I hoped I wouldn’t have to listen, because
Feeling is as good as knowing, isn’t it?


The critic has that difficult responsibility
To approve, encourage, provoke further thought
But also to let you know when the piece falls short.

His condemnatory words leave scars sometimes
But often it is too little he speaks or shouts –
Maybe work dictates his life, or his heart gives out.

Maybe he thinks that words have nothing to say,
Or he is unaware of the need of the world for him
To think rightly and work and do what he may.

He is no longer sure he has the right
To give and assess and suggest and write
But instead follows whatever people say
– trying to blow his cares away.

© 2007 Richard Townrow

Mountains around us

Mountains spread around us
More in harmony than I could imagine.

High mountains range around grandly,
And tops peer over at one another.

They shade every gulf.

As we stare the capsules in which we put our hearts
Begin to soften:

Impossibly the sun is willing to shine on us
As we return back the way we came.

© 2007 Richard Townrow

Friday, 13 July 2007

Sunshine-inspired thoughts

Starting today I'm hoping to put on some other things I have been writing about different literature I'm reading, music I'm listening to that is important to me, and other things about our culture. Hence my (lengthy!) post on "Watchmen" below. Thoughts on Francis Shaeffer's brilliant book "The God Who Is There" will come soon.

But for now here's a couple of brief poems I wrote one day when the university campus was fun and full of sun - it was a good day.


After its preparatory stillness
A flurry of wing sets off the bird
White tips joining at the top where they met

Green blossoming out at me;
Branches waving generously;
I expected none to understand
I felt like summer.

Summer buoyed-up inside
I drank it in on a long tap,
Hoarded sun, its energy
Sustaining from its wide reserves.

Release towards others,
Would be a crucial expression
Of the joy-infused earth.
I, contemplating it,
then sit up, and give.

Rediscovering a friendship

Speaking I expected to be
Edging and then stepping
On ice.

But we had a conversation that day
I drinking in smiles, and pauses
Which were not quite easy, but not awkward.
I, encouraged by words, seeing what was meant,
She, meaning, giving, responsively

© 2007 Richard Townrow

My thoughts on reading "Watchmen" (1986-7)

An incredible piece of writing, the themes and ideas in “Watchmen” (1987) by Alan Moore (with art by Dave Gibbons) linger long after its pages are closed. It is about the despair of an alternative world’s America, where terrifying and corrupt right-wing politics, headed up by President Nixon, are fuelling an escalating Cold War, and a few, now outlawed, “costumes” have changed the world and made it more defensive and suspicious. People on the streets are full of hate and fear, and every man is at seemingly at fault – and the well-meaning heroes of former years have recognised the pointlessness of their past work; indeed, they have even escalated the approaching international crisis through their involvement in the brutal war in Vietnam (in this world the US won) and during riots in the 1970s. Within this environment the alienated crime-fighters, in hiding, now have to come to terms with the problems in society, and the book follows their very human stories, as they struggle to find an appropriate response to widespread social problems and the approaching threat of Armageddon. This world is seedy, violent, corrupted at every level – and I warn you, it does not make light reading – a total change of pace from mainstream American superhero comics which have an unrealistic emphasis on idyllic relationships and present a world where heroism usually wins and people always have hope*.

With a big-budget movie adaptation in the works, and its enduring praise from critics, it is tempting to focus on the many aspects that make “Watchmen” so good and involving, without analysing the messages behind each of the multilayered twelve chapters, which is what I would like to do in the rest of this article. Whether the characters speak of the lack of love in the world and the need for change, or whether they turn their fears into evil aggression against the vulnerable, whether they, like Janey, long for exclusive love and warmth in their relationships, or whether they remain detached from society, treating people “like shadows in the fog” (Jon) or like disgusting “human cockroaches” (Rorschach), their stories are interwoven to create a picture of humanity’s heights and depths, and people make widely different judgements about these acts within the book, without a unified answer to these questions of morality. Indeed, as I will show, the novel suggests that there is no unified answer at all.

One fascinating character is Jon, or “Dr Manhattan”, a striking blue man, who comes to symbolise the nearest thing to a god in “Watchmen”. He is indestructible, seemingly eternal, able to create anything out of thin air, and the security of America in its time of crisis. He is able to do all that he wills, without any limitation. But he was formed like this, as a god, by accident, and seems to have no greatly beneficial purpose on Earth, even being manipulated by governments as he has become uninterested in the outcome. He observes humans distantly, even his long-time partner, Laurie, seeing no reason to invest in them or care for them. As the intelligent businessman Veidt explains, Jon has no political bias as it would be as if he were choosing between black ants and red ants.

What a terrible sort of god this is, who only eventually sides with human beings because of his perception that they are intellectually so fascinating and improbable, so fragile yet determined to survive; he humours mankind because they are, in the godless world of “Watchmen”, an interesting phenomenon to arise out of nothing. Here the worldview of writer Moore shines through a little clearer – Jon spiritualises the phenomenon of human life by calling each person a “miracle”, creating an uplifting sense of hope at the end of Chapter IX, but he merely uses the word as he sees that people are randomly made and deeply unpredictable, rather than because they are capable of great good or evil, the crowning piece of Creation made by the Christian God.

This lack of appreciation of humanity’s moral value according to a system of absolute values is also evident in the stories of other characters. Rorschach, who lives by his own moral code while condemning others, is an interesting example. Frequent excerpts from his journal establish this key character’s narrative voice, whose serious cynicism about the world does not prevent him from determining to expose the truth (“Down there…somebody knows” – Chapter I) or from killing to maintain his own idea of justice.

Clad in a classic Marlowe detective hat and raincoat, Rorschach also wears a mask which he considers his true “face”. A character whose state of mind is scrutinised in the book, psychology is even highlighted by his mask, which is white with black marks which resemble Rorschach inkblot tests. He likes it because the two colours change shape but never mix to become grey, reflecting his ruthless sense of order which does not allow for shades of grey. His worldview is suggested in the opening panels of the book: “This city is afraid of me. I have seen its true face.” In the tradition of the American private eye who, often through violence, plays the part of the shining knight in the midst of a corrupt and ruined society, Rorschach despises the world: “The streets are extended gutters and the gutters are full of blood and when the drains finally scab over, all the vermin will drown […] all the whores and politicians will look up and shout ‘save us!’… and I’ll look down and whisper ‘no’.” (Chapter I.)

This kind of disgust for perpetrators of evil of all kinds is palpable throughout his journal, and when, in Chapter VI, we get a greater insight into his psychological state, we realise there he has a better grasp of the true problem with society than others in “Watchmen”: the problem is the men and women who live in it. Dr Malcolm Long, who visits Rorschach in prison, tries to convince him that “life isn’t like that. The world isn’t like that” – but he himself is so affected by Rorschach’s life story, that he is left at the end of the chapter, transfixed by the idea that there is no meaning in life or any great hope outside of ourselves: “We are alone. There is nothing else.” In the last few panels, as Dr Long stares at another inkblot, he refers to the same “empty meaningless blackness” behind that picture that Rorschach sees behind all of existence: “The cold, suffocating dark goes on forever. And we are alone. … Born from oblivion; bear children, hell-bound as ourselves; go into oblivion. … It is not God who kills the children. Not fate that butchers them or destiny that feeds them to the dogs. It’s us. Only us.”** Such a bleak outlook is strong in “Watchmen”, and is it telling that a highly successful humanist positive psychologist converts to Rorschach’s position, in the long run – recognising that man’s own effort is all they have in that universe to save them. Rorschach, keeping busy by fighting crime and imposing his own strict sense of order, recognises that there is no real good or evil in such a world, saying it is “morally blank”, and there is “no meaning save what we choose to impose” – and so his own position is on the verge of real despair***.

Finally I want to briefly note that the important experiences which transform key characters are left for the readers to make their own judgements, and I find them to be questionable in their realism and their morality. Dan Dreiberg is given hope through the company and sexual attentions of Laurie, which help him to realise he no longer has to be impotent and can work for the better of society (sex [very graphic] becomes a source of new life for the characters, and a focus of feelings of worth). Rorschach has a semi-spiritual transformation from his old identity to the crime-fighter, by coming to the understanding of an evil act before him and taking revenge, while Veidt is inspired on a pilgrimage by a drug-induced vision that he could better the wisdom of past world leaders. Jon, as we have seen, is helped to see that life is unique, and finally determines to go and create life himself. The things these have in common is the confidence that each character comes to have in him or herself – taking action for the better of society can help and fulfils their longings, whereas passivity in such a world of hardship is just a sign that they have “gone soft”, as Rorschach would put it. Tackling situations in the world will not bring permanent solutions but can bring some happiness in the midst of a dark world – as hinted at with the quotation on the final page: “It would be a stronger world, a stronger loving world, to die in.” (John Cole.)

*Such ideology in the real world collapses without real basis for hope, which is only found in Christ: men and women are really more like those that populate “Watchmen” – they are selfish, hate, mug, rape, conceal things and plot all kinds of evil, they search for meaning and purpose in new relationships and initiatives or withdrawal from society. The ambiguous end to the novel does not provide the real salvation for humanity that is needed, that only those who know Jesus can really have when He deals with the evil in our hearts.

**Moore acknowledges the Neitzsche influence here, including the quotation at the end of the chapter: “Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes into you.”

***As a side note, when Rorschach himself is obliterated at the end, it is by his own half-betrayal of his constructed morality. It is ambiguous, but in urging his own destruction to prevent his act of exposing the truth about the conspiracy, and in his evident distress, which cause him to remove his hat and “face”, we perhaps finally see him lose confidence in his own sense of order. He is destroyed by being unable to follow his own constructed path with a clear conscience.

Friday, 1 June 2007

Prayer Life

Just to be clear, this poem is not a prayer that I have prayed, although I can sympathise with what's being said, and I have indeed asked God for help in prayer when things have seemed just too hard. This poem however is trying to describe the problem that humans have understanding that God actually cares, when things are tough. There is a lot of self-obsession in there, and the closing words finish the poem by pointing to how we need God to act towards us. I hope you like it.

Father God,
I can not be – like this – any more
Thoughts are strained out
Paling-away thoughts
Sapping significance even from my closest ties

Lord, what can I do?
The heartache blocks my view,
Yet I never saw it coming.

It affects me in all places
Devastation claims me –
Claim me back.

Feel the stream of muscles in me
Reach limits unknown before
Pursue suffering through and through
Burst their bridges.

Tides budge a dam on its side,
Barrel ahead of my other thoughts.
Why did my mind allow –
If you are you – how could I be so weak –

My inside is turned away,
My breathing dilates, grows closer to the outpoured words
Running free from unchained lips

O God, hear my pleas,
And do not still say
Obligation – and yourself – and others.

Aspects of love

Today's poem is personal, but not because I wrote it - rather because of its content... How do you respond to "love"? How do you offer it? Are you hesitant and fragile, has it lost you or you lost it? Where do you go to find a strong positive love, one that outlasts others?

Enjoy my thoughts, let me know what your response is.

Equally, if you feel I am being too cryptic, let me know about that too!

My love is a dead flower.
It is precious, picked for you,
Cut mercilessly.

Cut off, distant from its source,
Pain excruciating, love everlasting,
Placed into your hand.

Only accept it.

My love's life has passed.
Quiet, still as death-
The very sepals cold and numb,
Embers which have drawn from
The tumultuous fire of life,
Now dull and done.

Each petal separate, yet bound
In a ring around the centre,
Still open and facing you.

My love is like a dead flower-head.
Always dying,
Always offering you love,

Love still going, out-growing,
Even poured out
Amid thorns and cruel shoots.

Words are choked, cut up.

My love which has died
Is better than them,
Has more life than they to give.
They bring blight in each new guise,
Tied attractively, bowed affectionately;
Yet my love remains.

No thorn shall hamper its growth,
No possible thing can hamper
Love's offer

Except you.

Thursday, 31 May 2007


Underneath my skin are more
Layers of skin, piled all around
My wrapped-up network of veins,
Arteries and muscles.

Only some parts project outward,
Blink in the air, like eyes, sunder
In three my exposed face-disc –
Or wounds, puncturing blubber:

Antibodies pour to the point of entry,
Grieve over the intrusion,
Pick up the pieces of my flesh,
Make flush the gap of death.

Underneath my skin nothing
Is allowed in.

Shrink-wrapped, shelled up,
My organs suck and push
My bones shine full
My joints wrench sideways

- exhilarating effort I do not see
Beneath the outward projected image
Of my skinny self -
What untold discipline!

Down under my closed skin
I do not feel what happens;
My heart is only in one place,
My nerves merely react.

I wonder who it is
Taking care of me.

© 2007 Richard Townrow

quirky poem

There isn’t much that doesn’t say something about you

We held a dirge for the cat, over dinner,

While baked beans went ping in the microwave.

The two actions went strangely together.

Our pet beetle ran wild one day

But we forgot to pray,

And instead went to play mini-golf.

Hand-me-downs were rejected by us

But it was expensive to buy

Pixar films again and again.

Moses might have had a shining face

But we had shiny shoes

Most days we went to school.

Chances are you will forget:

What you will do in the next minute,

What is significant.

© 2007 Richard Townrow

The sound of the noise

The sound of the noise

cannot be picked up;

but the noise is there,


Its roundness is too polished,

slippered, not grasped,

hitched up around your view,

but there.

Shifting into a higher gear

it rises, drilling you

downward into concrete


Gathered paving below

oppresses, heightened by

the smoke-laden glow:


Amidst this grinding cruelty

you suffer and grope,

flee your corner,

always told what to do.

If there was a tower

that broke away from hard grey,

you would ride it

to the top.

2007 Richard Townrow

Purpose of this blog

A few words on the purpose of this blog:

There is much that I need from others. I depend on them to help me in good times and bad, and direct me into good paths and not into others. The world is very needy, a place of difficulty and sadness, war and want. How do we cope?

Each of us contribute, bringing our own unique sound into a world of noise. My (inevitably flawed) contribution to writing is here. The things I can do, I must do. The things that are "me" things, the things that I can enjoy and thank God for, no matter how random (as long as they are good), I can go and do. So I will.

My writing is early and experimental, but I want it to work. I will be putting up my thoughts on different books and thinkers, as well as some poems and other creative things that I do which help me to think things through, or which I hope others will enjoy and/or benefit from. Please reflect on this stuff and then send me your comments here, so I can change and learn too.

I want to make you think. More than that – I want to persuade you, surprise you, challenge and confront you, intrigue you and enliven you, encourage you and grip you. I don't want you to sit still after reading, I want you to be a different person. This, I think, is why anyone writes.

The rest is up to you.

A few words on the purpose of this blog:

There is much that I need from others. I depend on them to help me in good times and bad, and direct me into good paths and not into others. The world is very needy, a place of difficulty and sadness, war and want. How do we cope?

Each of us contribute, bringing our own unique sound into a world of noise. My (inevitably flawed) contribution to writing is here. The things I can do, I must do. The things that are "me" things, the things that I can enjoy and thank God for, no matter how random (as long as they are good), I can go and do. So I will.

My writing is early and experimental, but I want it to work. I will be putting up my thoughts on different books and thinkers, as well as some poems and other creative things that I do which help me to think things through, or which I hope others will anjoy and/or benefit from. Please reflect on this stuff and then send me your comments here, so I can change and learn too.

I want to make you think. More than that – I want to persuade you, surprise you,
challenge and confront you, intrigue you and enliven you, encourage you and grip you. I don't want you to sit still after reading, I want you to be a different person. This, I think, is why anyone writes.

The rest is up to you.