These Fragments I Have Shored Against My Ruins
In the event the disks were child's play --
The voiced whirr of a CD tracking back
To Start, the sip of an indrawn breath, and all
Of that discarnate archive, shimmering
Like hosts of medieval angels balanced
Under a pin, in some vertiginous
And slant dimension folded out of sight,
All that numeric memory was mum.
More cumbersome the clearing of the shelves,
The many-storeyed or the miles on miles
Of subterranean stack, the hangars high
As nineteenth-century railway stations, celled
With loaded racks like giant honeycomb.
Who saw that distant efflorescence when --
As after rains the long-red loosened earth
Is paisleyed with wildflowers -- the desert bloomed
With millions of wind-riffled volumes, cliffs
Poured forth their fluttering, paginated falls,
The swell a Japanese brook papered with petals?
A different silence filled the reding rooms.
Denied, the glass roofs were delivered up
To the illiterate savage purity
Of wind and sky, the blind meridian,
Midnight's bristling star. No fiercer passion
Than that for emptiness and abolished time.
At length a booth no bigger than a nook
Was sanctioned, soon a shrine, in which two small
Clay tablets, dredged from the immortal sands,
Were set, plain unpretentious blocks, on each
Of which an elementary sign -- a few
Thin pictographic scratches -- was incised.
Day in, day out, a steady stream of scholars,
Students, browsers, children, came to repeat
In turn, at once, the prescriptive syllables,
Among whom an at first unnoticed few,
Materializing with the timeliness
Native to myth and drama, from who knows where,
Seeded the heresy. Like Chinese whispers,
Their mischievous interpolations soon
Expunged the precept, in its sterile place
Recalling out of these brief characters
Their multitudinous volumes: "Call me Ishmael";
"And if ST or SK is supposed
To represent the accelerated force";
"His glassy essence, like an angry ape";
"Rome comprehended the fairest part of the earth,
And the most civilized"; "the shadow of
The waxwing slain"; "let down your golden hair".
Sweet waters in the desert flowed again
In age-dry riverbeds, flocks of bright birds
Brought leafage to the lightning-blasted oak.
Voices were restored to the throats of those
Long dust in rooms rebuilt to overlook
The harbour, warehoused goods were being laded.
A ship set sail.
STEPHEN EDGAR has been described by Clive James as standing out “among recent Australian poets for the perfection of his craft, a limitless wealth of cultural reference and an unmatched ability to make science a living subject for lyrical verse”.
He was born in 1951 in Sydney, where he grew up and went to school. In the early seventies he lived in London; on coming back to Australia in 1974 he moved to Hobart where he lived until late 2005. He has since returned to Sydney. He studied Classics and later librarianship at the University of Tasmania. He has published eleven collections of poetry (as of 2017). He has received a number of poetry prizes and awards.
What is most immediately distinctive about him, certainly among poets of his generation, is his commitment to formal verse “and for showing considerable panache in handling [it]” (Kevin Hart, Oxford Companion to Twentieth-Century Poetry). This has drawn comparisons, in Australia, with poets such as A D Hope and Gwen Harwood, but also with the likes of Anthony Hecht and Richard Wilbur. Poetry (Chicago) says of him that “he achieves, overall, a supple classicism that earns him a place next to the best twentieth-century American formalists.”