The story so far... In Part 1 we met a group of poets in the early 20th century. Language is their love, their mistress, their all consuming passion. One day, a new poet named John Davies is introduced to the group. He seems naive and unlikely to be a crafter of words. He reads them a poem and...
Paper trembling in his hand, John Davies read us a poem. It wasn’t so many lines, it didn’t rhyme, in truth I don’t remember what it was about, but it was the best we’d ever heard. The room was silent.
Finally Seigfried cleared his throat, his customary aplomb gone. “Oh. Oh my. Could you read us another?”
John Davies read another and another and another until he’d read all he had brought. We clustered around him, slapped him on the back and assured him that yes, he was a fine a poet, then before not too long we all rushed to our rooms to write. To see if we could compare with the fire, the fury, the light of his words. We couldn’t. But we kept trying, each writing long into the night, long after the coal in the scuttle had burned to ash.
We all fell in love with him then. We all hated him then. Great poetry makes you want to be greater yourself and when the source of that inspiration stands before you and grins like a school boy twisting his cap, you don’t know whether to fall to your knees in awe or to plunge a knife into his heart and bury him, before anyone knows such a thing ever existed.
The thing about John was that he was never mean about it. Of course he knew he was good, how could he not with our praise soaking into his skin, but he thought we were good, too. He never pushed us down, always brought us up. The gift he brought to us, the gift of sharing his poems, made us want to write and made us be better writers. We all wanted to hate him, his talent made ours look tiny, but we couldn’t. He was too good a man.
In our own ways we each fell in love with him not only because he had words like that but because he made us better writers. Better people.
John Davies quickly became one of us. He talked and he listened. He taught us how to listen. In truth, we hadn’t been good listeners before. Now, when someone brought a fresh poem instead of thinking only about how we would tear it down, we listened to it as the tender new thing it was. Of course, the insults were still elegant and we all competed to be second to John, but we were perhaps a bit kinder to one another. Not that we would ever have admitted it. We still argued about nature of poetry, of history, of man, god and nature itself. Above all else we argued about and revered words. Words poured out of our hearts, down our arms, into pens, across paper in smears of black ink. I remember the scratchy sound of nib on paper, I remember feeling so eager to write the nib split and spilled, I remember the smell of ink, I still remember John’s handwriting. Cramped, small and unschooled. Beautiful in content if not in form.
I don’t know how long it had been, but by then John was a friend. I valued him as much as any of the others. One evening he seemed troubled and quiet. He had never been as boisterous as the rest of us, but not like this, staring into his beer as if it might contain answers or maybe more questions. The others were drinking, smoking, arguing - verdant isn't right word for spring it’s trite and over used, try something else. Someone noticed John didn’t look right. Pale, pulled in. Rocking back and forth as if he were trying to comfort himself.
"What’s wrong?" we asked him and pushed another drink into his hand.
He pushed it away. “No, I don’t want another drink. This one’s gone warm anyway.” We crowded around him.
"What's wrong?" we insisted. "Are you ill? Has someone died?"
“No, I’ve had some news.” The room was silent. Waiting. Finally, "What news?"
“What would you do if you were told the thing you most wanted to hear and you were told it from a source of utter purity? What if you learned the thing you most longed for and feared were true?”
“I’d get drunk, what else?” someone laughed in reply.
“No I don’t believe you would.” John Davies clutched at his drink.
“What were you told.?”
“I can’t tell you. You’d laugh, think I’m mad. Hell, I think I’m mad.” His hands were shaking and he was pale, sweaty.
Seigfried stepped forward and crouched so he was at eye level with Davies. “We are your friends. You can tell us anything.” Sig could be very persuasive. He waited.
Someone handed John Davies a glass of water. He drank, his chin wet. He looked at each one of us, a steady gaze as if he was affirming who we were. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath and began to speak.
“Last night as usual I went home to my rooms. I was sitting at my desk writing, words pouring out, you know how it is. I don't know how long I'd been writing when I felt heat on back and I wondered if the landlady put coal on fire. Not bloody likely, she’s a stingy soul. I turned around.
“Gentleman, I don’t know how to tell you what I saw.”
The room grew quieter still, I think no one breathed. John Davies was out of words? Unable to describe a piece of the world?
“It was as though it was made of light. As though it was heat and poetry personified. I didn’t believe it, especially not the wings, but it looked at me and said
John Davies I have come with a message from God.
Now I don’t know what you would have done, but I found I was on my knees, there was no doubting when I heard that voice, when I was in that presence. This was something divine.”
He fell silent again, seeing something we could not.
Someone asked what we all were wondering. “What did it say?”
“It said to me: You are voice of your generation. You shall write the greatest poetry of 20th century. But you have been given a gift for purpose.
“Poetry is how God seeks to speak with Man. Poets speak with the voice of God and, since time began, poets have spoken God's dreams through Man’s throat and fingers. Poets are celestial translators, speaking words for Man that God can no longer speak directly. They are words from God that Man hears. Man can no longer bear the voice of God without a filter. Poets translate between Man and God. And you are the greatest poet of your generation.
“I think I wet myself then. You would have too.”
None of us disagreed.
John Davies went on. “It said: We have come to you with a message. God is coming, you are God's herald. God thanks you deeply and truly for your service to Man and your service as God’s voice. God needs you to spread word of God’s return. With that my heart was full of the most glorious poetry.
“ I ran to desk and began to write regardless of the winged thing standing behind me. I think I would have hurt anything that tried to stop me from writing. I found myself writing songs of God's return. The thing stepped forward and touched my shoulder. Now, John Davies, you will go forth and spread the word.
“When I stopped writing the room was cold, the creature was gone, my hands were cramped and the sun was cresting the trees. I have all of this.” He held out a great sheaf of paper full of his cramped handwriting.
“John,” said William, “surely you just drank too much absinthe.”
“I was NOT DRUNK,” John Davies roared, “and I have the words to prove it.”
He read us a poem then. I don't remember it. I do know it was beyond anything I had ever heard and I am glad I can't recall the words, it was too pure. I do know it was full of cadence and language overflowing with love and longing and hope. As soon as they entered my ears and flowed through my body my heart too knew this language. This was the language of the world before the Tower of Babel fell. All I could do in response was to grab paper and begin to write poems of God. All praise songs about God coming to earth and the joy we would lie in once God arrived.
I wasn’t alone. We were all compelled to write throughout night, right where we were. We didn’t go home, we didn’t stop to wash the ink from our clothing or our hands.
Continued in Part 3.
(c)2011 Laura S. Packer