A bright star led seekers
and wise men.
A bright light gave comfort
to the night
and travellers crossing.
A bright beam from the shore
struck ships from death-knell rocks.
Today's nights, made bright with bulbs and glare,
blind the guiding lights
we still seek everywhere.
I like that these lines read like a carol for the searching, modern spirit. I could half hear it set for voice when I read it through while searching for the title. (This could also have been the influence of Spotify in the background. It isn’t an angry playlist today. Instead it is Hot Hits UK, and right now the Jonas Blue, Dakota remix of Chapman’s ‘Fast Car’.)
I have been thinking quite a bit about our modern lives and how they diffuse the deep resonances of motifs and symbols from the past. Consider the darknesses in the poem: the very depths of night, an unknown travel route and a dark ocean. Our screens and lights illuminate so much of our lives making them visible and navigable. That a bright star or light on a far horizon could provide guidance and encouragement during a journey is something of folklore. It is as quaint and almost as downright silly as talking foxes or birds delivering messages from the faerie realms.
From this, I suspect that the part of us that resonates with fictional motifs recognises these old stirrings, while our modern selves blink it as far as the retina, only to move on with a swipe or tap. Yet for all the bulbs, lights, fluorescent tubes and bright screens, we still use a language of celestial signs and wonders when talking about hoped for beacons. We still seek our lodestars, our North Stars, our guiding stars, our supernovas.
See, gentlemen, poetry isn’t such an effort to read. And there’s so much more left of your day to do other things such as check your ‘phone, drink coffee, smoke and check some skin.
(The impressions for this piece came while I was sitting at a coffee shop watching the men come in, buy their espressos, sit outside with their cigarettes and then pour over their ‘phones. An ambulance, with the words ‘High Dependency Unit’ painted on its side, drove past.)