Monday, December 25, 2006

Poem of the Week 12/25/2006: Sir David Brewster's Toy

Sir David Brewster's Toy

In this tube you see
At the far end a batch of
Colored-glass debris--

Which, however, grows
Upon reflection to an
Intricate pied rose,

Flushed with sun, that might,
Set in some cathedral's wall,
Paraphrase the light.

Now, at the least shake,
The many colors jumble
And abruptly make

The rose rearrange,
Adding to form and splendor
The release of change.

Rattle it afresh
And see its coruscating
Flinders quickly mesh,

Fashioning once more
A fine sixfold gaudiness
Never seen before.

Many prophets claim
That Heaven's joys, though endless,
Are not twice the same;

This kaleidoscope
Can, in that connection, give
Exercise in hope.

Richard Wilbur 2004

Wilbur offers us a sweet and simple poem about the joys of a kaleidescope--a fragmentary, collection of broken glass and shards of light. He starts the poem simply enough, with the humble description "tube" and "a batch of/ colored glass debris." However, when one turns it to the light, it reforms into a rose. The choice of "upon reflection" refers not only to the glass, but to the watcher--really looking at the light helps one find the beauty. Using "intricate pied rose" to describe the shape uses language to convey the delicacy of the kalidescope. The phrase's consonants dance along the tongue, reminding us of the beauty of the rose.

The rose is not only an apt image, but a reference to Christ, and to divine beauty. Wilbur heightens this connection by comparing it to a cathedral rose--the enormous stained glass mosaics in cathedrals (cf. Notre Dame, famously). Paraphrasing the light, these windows capture the glory of the world--paraphrase it. Beauty like this selects a piece of the holy world and presents it in a small way.

But, as one of my friends said (to whom in particular this poem is dedicated)--"This is just an idea. It’s transient. But I hope you can relate." The kalidescope demonstrates this, tentatively.... This world... is just an endlessly tumbling tube of beauty, if only we can see it, if only we can point it at the light. Infinitely varied, infinitely changing, each image shatters and reforms into something different, something else beautiful.

This is something that I think we forget as we get older, or that we struggle with. It's so easy to forget how beautiful the world is, to get caught up on the last image or excited for the next one, not willing to let the changes happen around us... But, when pointed to the light, what could be more beautiful than our revolving tube of the things of this world?

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