Pascal’s Walk

Even now how easy to believe
The earth the whole of nature, to see
Creation’s handiwork within the tidy
Summation of an acre – imagining
The sun and planets strung like ornaments
From a great cathedral’s vaulted ceiling
Where angels gaze as longingly at us
As we at them as if through some half-understood
	But there is nothing
As we imagined it. No cogged invention
Tugs the earth or wheels the day toward night.
In place of machination
The world’s motion is expressible
By nothing more than floats the leaf to earth.
After creation’s calamity
The stars still fall from the shaken tree—
We with the sun (our slate of worlds with us)
And the sun itself—a billion years
Falling through the Milky Way, itself
A billion suns among the infinite billions
Of galaxies.
	Yet pick a stone to look at,
The seed and blade of grass. Suppose
An atom were to you an earth. You’d see
Another world as seemingly divisible—
As if there were a stone inside the stone,
As if within the leaf another leaf
Subsided, slipping to an Earth too small 
To be perceived—an infinite library
Of worlds containing worlds within them—as if
However intricate our contemplation,
Whatever grandeur we imagine, wonder
Begets wonder as though there were no boundary
To breadth or diminution.
	Yet suppose
Someday we tally every particle
Of dust? Suppose the ending and beginning
Is knowable?
	There still will be the plumb,
The sweeter being yours and mine; there still
Will be your eyes, as blue as plumbs and green
As oceans. Give to me an afternoon
To walk with you through cinquefoil fields;
A summer’s night to count the fireflies
Beneath the acrobatic moon; a day to pocket
The sparrow’s song; to bring the skipping winds
Of April by. If all that’s granted us
Is here and there a little acre, let’s gather,
While we can, the brome grass and the lavender,
And bind them to a kitchen rafter. There
Their paint can dry and there their leaves and petals
Can fall, of those that do, to stipple shadows
By the door; what if there’s an acre
Inside the petal?—a kitchen like our own?—
Or just like ours, a dooryard’s locusts black 
With rain, their shoots and branches pitched across
The road and sidewalk? Let none belittle
Out little rooms, our worlds within the world,
Or that we keep in them our finite wares,
Like children loving what they love because
It’s theirs. But if, in the immensity
Of all we know, we only truly know
Each other, let the cogged invention turn,
The springs unwind that daily vault the sun
And moon into the sky, no telescope 
Will ever put to chart your heart or mine, 
Where blood and love combine. There’s no equation
Suffices to explain desire. What drives
The leaf to clutch the air, its roots to anchor
In the mire and crumbling bones of broken days
May be too much to ask—the blossom
Its only answer. Let there be the angels;
The oceanic blossoming of stars
To nightly answer the world’s shambolic beauty;
Let’s kiss before the kitchen’s petal wilts 
	And falls. 

   Pascal’s Walk
~ by me, Patrick Gillespie Jan 25th 2023

This poem was begun about ten years ago, and was written through to the third stanza. Like Pascal, I never knew what to write after “no boundary to breadth or diminution“. After my second novel was done, I decided to finish it. The final stanza beginning “There still will be the plumb” offers, to me, some of the most beautiful blank verse I’ve written, not just in the sense of language and imagery, but the balance it strikes between sentence and blank verse structure. I didn’t just want the lines to keep the meter but the line breaks themselves to make sense. There’s also internal rhyme, which I’ve been increasingly enjoying. The opening stanzas take some liberties with blank verse, and that’s deliberate.  There are more short lines, anapests, epic caesuras, headless and broken-backed lines. For years I did what most poets do when writing structured verse. I wanted to prove that I could follow the rules. Now I’m experimenting with it and putting my own stamp on it. The poem is inspired by a passage from Thoughts, by Blaise Pascal. The translation comes from the book of the cosmos: Imagining the Universe from Heraclitus to Hawking; and in this book the passage is entitled “The Eternal Silence of These Infinite Spaces”. The opening stanzas follow, somewhat closely, Pascal’s own observations and rhetoric. The final stanza isn’t meant to offer a solution to Pascal’s existential despair (that might be too strong a word) but does answer him to a degree.

11 responses

  1. Beautiful poem! I really like how you construct the poem from the broadly universal to emotional, physical, and personal seamlessly–as the model you find in Pascal tries and fails. A kiss seems a better way to contemplate one’s state, though probably less common, than remaining fearful and dreadful of one’s place in the universe. Your view is very reminiscent of Arnold’s observation in “Dover Beach.” “Ah, love let us be true/To one another! etc…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Well done! Strikes me as a more relational version of Ammons’ “In Memoriam Mae Noblitt” or perhaps “Gravelly Run” but with a Brian Hyland touch (i.e., “Sealed With a Kiss”). Something of a hermit, I get the same resolution by adding a plaque to my space heater.

    The horror speculations
    This entropy of mind
    Whipped and broke to focus
    By place, this life, this now
    Ice and ice and ice
    A cord to cut to live
    And soon the stove that kisses me
    Warmly into bed.


    • I had never read “In Memoriam Mae Noblitt” or “Gravelly Run”. The first poem is too much cracker-barrel philosophizing for my taste. Sort of just want to kick him in the seat of his pants and send him on his way. I actually like the second poem. Lots of good imagery in that one; and better yet, one could read it as in indictment of the first poem –> “stranger,/hoist your burdens, get on down the road”. Call it a character flaw, but I’ve always preferred poetry over philosophy. Ammon’s reference to Hegel means nothing to me, which is too bad. It’s probably an allusion that Ammons was greatly depending on, given that he saves it for the closing line (like a lawyer’s final argument). I don’t know what to think of these sorts of allusions (it’s a thing with modern poetry) but my instinct is to say that Ammons was doing great (out walking the back road) why ruin it all with a reference to his bookshelf? Sorry, can’t help myself…


  3. I agree. Gravelly Run is a solid poem until the last stanza. And his mention of “Hegel” is pretentious and distracting.

    no use to make any philosophies here:
    I see no
    god in the holly, hear no song from
    the snowbroken weeds: Hegel is not the winter
    yellow in the pines: the sunlight has never
    heard of trees: surrendered self among
    unwelcoming forms: stranger,
    hoist your burdens, get on down the road.

    My fix:

    I am alone here: I see no
    god in the holly, hear no song from
    the snowbroken weeds: companionship is not the winter
    yellow in the pines: the sunlight has never
    heard of trees: splintered self among
    unwelcoming forms: stranger,
    hoist your burdens, try again in spring.


    • Interesting. What you’ve done is a sort of neat exercise. Ammons’s “no use to make any philosophies here”, ties in with “hoist your burdens, get on down the road.” One could interpret those “burdens” as the useless “philosophies”. On the other hand “I am alone here” doesn’t really tie in with “try again in spring”, so I would stick with Ammons in that regard. I see how “companionship” ties in with “I am alone here” but your emphasis on solitude doesn’t jibe with the rest of the poem and feels somewhat like a non sequitur. All that said, for the vast majority of readers, the poem wouldn’t suffer in the least by removing Hegel. Possibly improved. Reminds me of an article I just read at Poetry. The poet has written a parody of one of Pound’s Cantos. He calls the parody poetry as criticism. That right there is going to limit the poem’s readership to the forty-six people who have actually read the Cantos and to the three and a half who actually understand them.


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