Nail Chiodo

Loud in War

Canto XII

All who have seen the Gorgon know
The value of simple pleasures—are
Pledged to protect the Spirit’s cause
From ideological peroration; to
Uphold the primacy of the individual
Over and—when need be—against the social:
For the pain of whoever sees the Gorgon
Is greater than that of the whole world.
In the wake of his thought auto-lobotomy
Experiment—which had not been an experiment
At all, of course, but, at bottom,
A grammatical investigation1
Had a rather quixotic notion of when
To keep silent and when, instead, to speak up
For the greater peace of mind of us all.
I myself cannot recall a single precedent
In the entire Corpus Rerum Hominum2
The little volume my angel colleagues and I
Have been compiling over the ages—of the type
Of row he had with Jan, at the climax
Of their brief but intense relation.
Never before had so abstruse a quip
Undone the idyll between two lovers,
And yet all concurs to suggest that it
Was quite literally written in the stars!
She did the prompting, provided the cue
Which set his objections in motion—
To which she retorted such steadfast “Adieu”
It was plain they had caused a commotion.
In the room, Prufrock’s women come and go
And it is that they talk of Michelangelo3

Which is significant, not what they say about him;
In the case of Jan, instead, what irked Lud
Were, not just the manner, but also the tone
With which she brought up Quantum Theory
In the parlour: light and cheerful as was her wont,
They made him, of a sudden, ever so weary—
As if the microscopic structure of the Universe
Had become a frill of the status quo.
A word of explanation might here be in order.
The physicists had almost pinpointed it in the laboratory
And a few even put their finger on it on paper:
There was no point in trying to find out the whole score
About the Universe, when it was in part oneself
Was writing it—unless, of course, one wished
To know the whole score on oneself as well.
One’s servants might have someday done
The living for one4
, but, until then, quantum
Discontinuity begged acquiescence to the centrality
Of Man—who, as von Weizsäcker5 once said,
Came after Nature, but before Natural Science.
Now, when one talks of quanta one speaks
Of things which—though of great pitch and moment—
Are, in size, as small as can be: the rapport
Between the limits they pose to Knowledge
And the common Homo sapiens’ life on Earth
Appears, to all effects, exiguous.
But one nevertheless exists! The same common sense
That formed the basis of the first physics
And will last down to the last description
Tells one so. So it was not without being
A party to the case that our Cato the Censor6
Advised against such assumptions
As Jan—apple of his eye!—was making.
In his view, she had touched upon a point
That concerned all human beings equally
In a style which seemed rather more informed
By her own sex’s centrality within the species.
What neither could actually perceive until
All hell had once again been coralled
Into separate pastures, was that Jan
Was already with child in the imagination,
Whereas for Lud the game of life had ceased—
Ceteris paribus7—to be worth the candle.
She soon conceived, in fact, a delightful offspring
With the most eligible drone around,
While Lud calmly resigned himself to being
Less likely to procreate than a priest.

  1. cf. Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Remarks, I, 3.

  2. Lat. “Collected Human Events”.

  3. cf.T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.

  4. cf. Philippe-Auguste Mathias, count of Villiers de l’Isle-Adam, Axel (1890) as quoted in Edmund Wilson’s Axel’s Castle (1931) (“Live? our servants will do that for us.”).

  5. Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker, quoted by Werner Heisenberg in Physics and Philosophy(1958).

  6. Marcus Portius Cato, also known as “the Censor”, ancient Roman statesman.

  7. Lat. “other things being equal”.

Canto XIII