A Pearl of Great Price

Prose explains itself. Poetry bemuses,
Manifest in its pentameters yet
Veiled in its significance, like a pearl
Hidden in an oyster, mystic, divine.
I read an article this afternoon*
About the death of inspiration, how
Poets no longer look to heaven but
Only within, their wounded souls the source
Of all their musings. Once upon a time
They prayed to God, opening their minds, shell-like,
To the stars, as oysters awaiting the dew.
Now, however, we no longer believe
In dew-dropped pearls, wedding heaven and earth
At their confection. Pearls, we say, are like
Scabs, the oyster's self-protection against
Invasion, excretions of nacreous
Goo, hardly the stuff of poetry. Alas,
Cold hard facts win. The spiritual sense
Dies like shrimp in the oyster's briny maw,
Enveloped by the hard coating of science,
And poetry with it. Sing, Muse, of heaven's
Kingdom--but the pearl-strewn path is gone, swept
Away not so much by knowledge as by
Poetry's dependence on the oyster's truth.

*Friedrich Ohly, "Dew and Pearl: A Lecture," in Sensus Spiritualis: Studies in Medieval Significs and the Philology of Culture, ed. with an Epilogue by Samuel P. Jaffe, trans. Kenneth J. Northcott (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2005), pp. 234-50. On pearls as made by oysters from dew, see Pliny the Elder, Natural History, bk. 9, chap. 35.


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