Poem for Friday: Les Murray on NT Scholarship


Mother and type of evolution,
The New Testament of the scholars
may be likened to a library catalogue
of the old type, a card index console
of wooden drawers, each a verse.
And you never know which ones are out,
stacked up, split, or currently back
in, with some words deleted
then restored. And it never ends.

Reputations slide them out,
convictions push them in.
Speculations look backwards once
and stiffen to salt-crystal proofs.
Dates grown on palms in the wilderness
and ferment in human minds –
and criticism's prison for all poems
was modelled on this traffic.

Most battered of all are the drawers
labelled Resurrection, The.
Bashed, switched, themselves resurrected
continually. Because it is impossible,
as the galaxies were, as life was,
as flight and language were. The impossible,
evolution's prey, shot with Time's arrow.
But this one is the bow of time.

Shadowy at a little distance tower
other banks of card-index drawers,
other myriad shelves, jammed with human names.
Some labelled in German are most actively
worked over, grieved, and reinserted.
More stretch away in Easter scripts,
scarcely visited. Dust softens their headwords.
yet the only moral reason to leave any
in silence fragments and reassembles
in the swarmed over, nagged, fantasised
word-atoms of the critics' testament.

From Les Murray, Collected Poems (Manchester: Carcanet, 1997), 436.