Friday, April 13, 2018

`And to Be Alone with Our Rage'

In the Winter 2013 issue of Arion: A Journal of Humanities and the Classics at Boston University, the late Brett Foster published three poems, all of them good, one of them good enough to be memorable. Here is “Inscription on the Ruined Temple”:

“What did this age produce?
Diverting fancies that were useless,
new interfaces that abused
our hours (which Dr. Johnson mused
were priceless) and soured us.
Explanations were the most confusing.

“What did the age encourage?
Brightly accented sadness, wages
not of single but multiple hemorrhaging.
It made us build a Faraday cage,
mainly, to keep out the sewage.
And to be alone with our rage.”

Grim, but not because Foster had the cancer that would kill him on Nov. 9, 2015. That diagnosis came later, in 2014. No, “diverting fancies” rule the lives of so many, including ourselves on occasion. Video games come first to mind, perhaps suggested by “interfaces,” a word I hate outside its original digital context. People are not hardware. The Johnson allusion isn’t specified, but it recalls one of his consistent themes, as in the concluding lines of “Winter; an Ode”:

“Catch then, O! catch the transient hour,
Improve each moment as it flies;
Life’s a short Summer — man a flower,
He dies — alas! how soon he dies!”

Foster’s second stanza recounts the sadness, futility and rage of our enlightened moment.  The choice of “Faraday cage” – a shield to block electromagnetic fields -- is inspired. Though we fancy we are protected, we’re merely alone and angry. The title of Foster’s poem suggests a message from our present left for those in the future who are still able to read.

[Go here and here to read more poems by Foster, and here for an interview.]

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