I think this is one of only a handful of poems I have written since moving to Exeter, to study. Somewhat influenced by Camus, his persuasive Absurdism, which to me has always been a methodology to encourage an acceptance of life as ultimately meaningless; this isn’t something to despair over. It is only meaningless in regards to a sense of teleological purpose. In other words, with the death of God, the spoiler alert is that the cosmos is in free fall of a sort, but that means it falls of its own accord, there is no umbrella parliament of destiny, or influence from omnipotence. There isn’t even a point to being here. So that the old defeating gesture of “what’s the point” really doesn’t have any point to it. Sort of. Meaning exists, but it is found through the peristaltic action-process of absurdism. Put simply, we must digest the absurd, because a meaningless cosmos is absurd. ,

Cosmos comes from the Greek kosmos meaning to ‘arrange’, or ‘order’, but it also has affinities with ‘cosmetic’, which means to ‘beautify’ & even ‘contemplate’. Therefore, the hostile cosmos, is actually something we are a part of & influence, even in a self-reflective mode of choosing to find meaning in meaninglessness. You can’t not be here if you are here & even when you leave life you remain as long as someone remembers you. After that, well you have nothing of a sort, but so what. Unless you squandered your life worrying about meaninglessness (& even if you did) you can’t escape the meaning of having just being here. We take existence for granted, as if it something easily produced, in cosmic abundance. It really isn’t. Stop for a second & think to yourselves how likely a chair is. Think about everything it took for nature, the cosmos to produce a being that could design & produce a chair. That is meaning. Camus connects purpose to acceptance of uncertainty, which provides us with a certainty: that we can cope with life, & enjoy it for the sheer unlikeliness of it, love it for its uncertainty.

Out in the sticks, you can hear leaf-drop,
the stink of cells, the footsteps of neurons.
Below the window,
                                New Bridge Street,
the noise of snarling traffic, light aircraft,
the sinewy peal of sirens, pell-mell
of concentric, criss-cross-snippets of people-talk,
church bell tintinnabulation
—all welcome in my ears; telling world
in its negotiation with itself. 
The ugly beauty of us,
I shamelessly love
: reading a thermometer
is not like dithering.
Stars dim, most nights the close light lamping the street
curtains the stars entirely—still, their locomotion
—stranded in the dark periphery, elasticated
—still, they locomote here, for nobody to see.
When the feet that we put wrong culminate
they’ll batter down the dark,
to anoint our bleached skulls with elder shine.
Ourselves, for what we commit to
: a python swallowing sheep.

17 Replies to “Meaninglessness”

    1. O I don’t know about that John, if the sheep hides inside the python then that may say a great deal about the identity of a sheep that has overwhelmed a python & wears it as a trophy, to ostensibly install fear in those that threaten his kind.
      The python survives on the meat, but sheeps are herbivores, the meat is disgarded

  1. One of the great gifts of Soto Zen Buddhism, or a general sense of Buddhist psychology is that “Life is meaningless” i.e. does not arrive packaged with a “Meaning of Life” built into it. It is not a book you must learn to read, but a blank journal in which you write you own meaning. That has always been one of the great liberating thoughts I have seen in my travels through the Cosmos: the search for Meaning is unnecessary because I can create Meaning(s) for myself. My time in Japan/South Korea staying at Zen monasteries and doing research opened me up to this joyous Buddhist “meaninglessness”… and I feel I have reaped great rewards having had the harvest sow me.

    the hardest thing to do is nothing…

    1. I subscribed to this & I suppose I still do. I was very taken with this Buddhist precept of meaninglessness. It’s a very rewarding perception to curate in oneself the purpose from which meaning comes, out of its ostensible double.
      Camus urges us to consider Sisyphus as happy. I can imagine Buddha nodding in agreement, “yes yes of course, but don’t forget he needs to be sad as well, & the other host of human feeling.”

      1. Indeed, the myth describes futility, but doesn’t address Sisyphus’ potential state(s) of mind. Rolling a rock up a hill for eternity sure beats a lot of other eternal punishments, if you go with the classic example. Adding a Fury to whip him or a demon to attack him would certainly dampen the opportunities for reflection as was the case in later depictions.

        He could always rest between rollings and sit around philosophizing… as there is no mention of the necessity of constant movement.

      2. So, I’ve been perseverating, as I am wont to do, on your brief mention of the “death of God” in your introductory comments. As far as I understand it, nihilist and absurdist philosophies (though I’m only cursorily familiar with Campus) evolve from Nietzsche’s critique of Enlightenment-era (meaning-constraining/spiritually diminishing) metaphysics embodied in his parable of the village idiot (Der tolle Mensch), who runs frantically around the village square, carrying a lantern, and exclaiming, “I’m seeking God!” and eventually concludes that humanity has murdered God.
        Anyhoo, it just so happens that the line in your poem I find most compelling — “Stars dim, most nights the close light lamping the street /
        curtains the stars entirely…” (for its sonic qualities; for the star-stopping agency of “lamping” afforded to ‘light’ as an entity seemingly discrete from human influence; and its implications for meaning/-lessness in the cosmic (as opposed to human) sense) — dovetails with the imagery associated with the “God is dead” modes of thought which observe and revel in, rather than naively presume human conquest over, cosmic chaos.
        It’s rare these days to encounter poets who know better than to locate themselves at the center of the universe. I appreciate what you do and how you do it, and judging by some of the astute comments here, it would seem I’m not alone. 🙂

      3. I think you understanding of Nietzsche is acute. I always find it startling that the madman interrogates the sense of gravity that we in killing God must become It, as an act of response-ability, to continue a cosmos, in the way the etymology guides us. It think Camus’ thought has affinities with this response-ability, although I don’t have a copy currently & would be speculating the specifics, though I know he gives ample space to Nietzsche in The Myth of Sisyphus.

        I am pleased with the sonic impressions of your favoured lines. I hunger for them & I am fortunate enough to receive them & make use of them.
        As to removing me from the center, I am an object oriented ontologist & I am beginning more & more to take this role seriously. One of the products of this thinking is the invariably value objects. Everything is essential because it simply is, here, encounterable, needed.
        As always your praise is warmly received. I am quite taken with the reception of my work by readers, I have received some very kind feedback. I want readers, so I must be writing something worth reading, that is a good feeling. Simply good. Thank you. You encourage me.

  2. Mr. Daniel, I don’t know much of poetry, not in the sense of noise and space, or image and chaos, or mutability. My grandma once said that “there’s our impression in everything we see, and that’s what things are”. I don’t comment often on works, because there is no commentary apt, not in a veritable sense. It is, to me, absurd to speak upon a poem without doing so in verse, because if the vehicles of communication do not match, their textures will fail to align along the interstices, and there will be no commisure, just a sensation launched fourth which, irregardless of its purity, will always be an echo, a translation, the pallor of a sentiment.

    I very much like your poems. You wrote tintinnabulation, which I realise has its origins in Poe, but it rather reminds me of Pärt, and so do you. There’s a sentiment of a peaceful vulcanisation, a backgrounding force that, in near-still movements, creates. Of course, as with Pärt, the mensuration of silence is of utmost expression, because therein exist the myths of the idle tongue, the absurdities.

    Forgive the maunder, I have naught to offer you. I just wanted to say that I like reading you very much, in a strenuous, long-winded way.

    1. My reply to your very interesting message, was not very good, so here is a slightly better one (now that I am not trying to compose the message on my phone.)
      I find it interesting that you think a response to an art should be conducted through the medium of the art you are responding to, so that poetry should be the methodological approach to poetry. I think this untenable, as the quanta of any written art form is the letter, which forms the word, which form the sentence. It is also the case that theories, philosophies, & what not, are all communicated with these quanta but in prose. The fundamental quanta are the same, so it simply feels cumbersome to write critical theory in iambic pentameter. However, think your main problem is the novelty of doing so. If you were to write epic poems out of critical analysis, then you would be returning to the poetry of Alexander Pope, or even further back Lucretius. These aren’t critiques of poetry, but are philosophical texts, the nearest thing I can think of to poetic form being the scaffolding for philosophy, or analysis.

      I have used ‘tintinnabulation’ a lot in my poems over the years, if only because the alarm is a repetitive motif in my poems, & the hard straightness of the bell & for me the word tintinnabulation, fulfill that for me. Not sure about Poe as its origin, as I believe it comes from Latin. But Poe may have reintroduced its usage, it wouldn’t surprise me.
      Your likening me to Pärt (am I right in thinking you mean the composer?) is a very interesting choice, which I would never have made & now I must go & listen to his music, which I haven’t done for a while. I could probably do with being silent more, but I am an inveterate talker, I love having conversations with people far too much, so I’d have to agree there is an absurdity in silence, but the angle I approach from is an absurdity informed by a belief in there being too much to say to be quiet. But then, I am a student of English & I spend solid hours, alone, working, thinking, reading, parsing & what not. So I suppose there is no need for speech here, but the mind speaks, often in forked tongues, but then pellucid moments are attained & the whole process makes sense.
      I think this comment slightly better. Thanks again for the stimulating comment. It is much appreciated.

      1. Daniel, thank you for the time, although I was perfectly happy with the initial response.
        I didn’t mean what I said beyond myself, or even in terms of critical theory at all. Interpretations or evaluations of a poem can be found in myriad ways, and founded in a multitude of architectures. Jóhann Jóhannsson’s musical interpretation of the Orphic section of Metamorphoses is one such example that I absolutely.
        I meant, rather, that I cannot “reply” to a poem without doing so in poetry; it mustn’t be in verse, but it certainly has to be in some form of poetry. I find that this is so because it always feels vacuous or even perfunctory to riposte an object of expression with a “I liked your poem!”, or “I loved reading this!”, as pure and sincere as those sentences oft are, as I have no doubts of their intentions. But, and I speak merely in a personal sense, I cannot use them. It would feel like an imperfect exchange.

        The origin of tintinnabulation is certainly Latin, but I do not believe there is any account of its usage before Poe’s “The Bells”; I might be wrong, but the word, in the English language, cannot be older than the 19th century. And yes, I absolutely meant Arvo Pärt, but not any Arvo Pärt (what an odd phrase), but his tintinnabuli cycle, a diatonic compositional style he created. I’d actually liken the process you described just now in your reply to Schoenberg and not Pärt, but, reading the poems themselves, (and I’ve been reading yours for quite a while), they still summon that lithe tail of an aura that Pärt does. There’s anguish, but that’s not all there is, and with poetry (or any other medium), pain often is the sole material, underneath the cosmetic masks and hollow sensualisms.

        I’m sorry you felt obliged to reply to extensively, Daniel. I’m truly not a thinker of any kind; I can hardly cogitate about what to defrost for dinner. I just like you; I like your potential, your style, your impressive signature. You’ll always have a reader in me. (sometimes you also remind me of that first versed W. G. Shepherd book, and I adored that one).

      2. I always promised myself that I’d respond as much in degree as the comment does, when I first started blogging, back when no one ever commented on my posts. I sat last night & realized I hadn’t fulfilled that promise, so I ameliorated it.
        You say you aren’t a thinker, but you are clearly very sensitive & considered in your thinking, which may not be what you term a ‘thinker’ but there are sizable benefits to such characteristics, as you display in your comments.
        & thank you very very much for everything you say in your final paragraph. What you say is something everyone who writes wants to hear, that you are worth reading, that there is something in what you do. So thanks for that, it is very encouraging & it means an awful lot.
        Finally, W.G. Shepherd is exceptional, Sun, Oak, Almond, I, is a pillar of brilliance.

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