The Curtal – ‘False Idol’

The Adoration of the Golden Calf by Nicolas Poussin
Nicolas Poussin, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Working with data, akin to a science –
I’m at odds with my natural leaning
To the Arts.  A relentless march for proof:
to reveal; to rend the veil; a reliance
on progress I find odd, overweening,
with no room for mystery (fashionably uncouth).
If we lose the capacity to wonder, for awe,
If acts of nature are saddled with measured meaning;
If the majesty of our being is to an algorithm reduced
And our dreams are poor shadows… To a bleak future we draw
closer, in truth.

I wrote this poem as part of an assignment a couple of years back.  I had 10 lines of poetry to write to meet the required volume for submission, and I wanted to try a form that would challenge me and that I could learn from.  I found something called a ‘curtal’, essentially a condensed sonnet comprised of a sestet and a quatrain with a final ‘tail’ or half-line.  I chose ABCABC DBCD(C) as the rhyming scheme, although other valid schemes exist – some of the rhyming is tenuous, but at the very least is assonant.

The curtal was devised in 1877 by Gerald Manley Hopkins, and never really became popular as a form.  I like it for its strange tail, brevity and small structure.

The poem tries to depict my disassociation from my work, which is the management and analysis of data.  I work in a culture where the data alone is expected to give the answers to future success, with any awareness and expectations of human culpability (for poor performance), and human choice, diminished.  I am not religious, but I am anti-science in as much as it is seems to be seen as the only path of human progress (moreso in our current times of Covid panic, climate panic, and blind faith in ‘science’), and I find it difficult to accept the thinking that science can, and should, explain everything.

© Peine_Forte_et_Dure 2021

The Goodnight Vienna Audio file