Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Life Explained, Part Twenty: "The Solvers"

I have previously posted Elizabeth Jennings's poem "Answers," which begins:

I kept my answers small and kept them near;
Big questions bruised my mind but still I let
Small answers be a bulwark to my fear.

The following poem by James Reeves considers the role of questions and answers in Life.  To wit:  what if one sets out to be a solver of puzzles and then discovers that there are no solutions, or, perhaps, that there is nothing to be solved?

                          The Solvers

Invalids and other hotel residents
Unpuzzle themselves with patience-cards and jigsaws.
Crosswords engage saloon passengers at sea.
Philosophers invent puzzles with answers.
Each knows that what he is trying can be done.
Not all enjoy such comfort of assurance.
I, watching the backs of houses and of books,
Work away at my mind, fitting the pieces,
Pairing the cards, rejecting words.
So sitting, I become suddenly conscious
Of playing patience with crooked pieces,
While solving an incomplete jigsaw with words
In the precise non-language of a dream.
Some of the pieces fit, some of the cards match,
Only some of the pieces and the cards are lost.
I have tried to play it according to the rules,
Only the rules they sent are in Chinese.
Is it too late, I ask, to start again?
Or will extinction, when it comes, surprise me
Sorting the pieces, working out the clues?

James Reeves, The Questioning Tiger (1964).

                            Franklin Carmichael, "Cranberry Lake" (1931)

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