Recollecting the future.

Here lies One Whose Name was writ in Water – i.e., John Keats. Snapped in 2019, shortly before an aborted flight home in which an engine of the Norwegian Air 787 exploded, raining fiery metal down through houses and cars in Isola Sacra before we got out to sea, dumped our remaining fuel, turned back inland, and hit the ground at Fiumicino hard enough to blow out the front wheels. For my part, I can now say with certainty what I would do if my plane had to make an emergency landing: as the Italians around me performed their fear, I read Goethe.

Anyway, when I shared the photo with my friend Matt Johnson, he replied with a line from Shelley’s A Defence of Poetry: “The mirrors of the gigantic shadows which futurity casts upon the present.”

What a strange, magnificent idea! Even just working out the physics of it is challenging. Is poetry a mirror that reflects shadows cast from the future back onto their source?

I love the thought that the subject of a poem is backlit not just in space, by the sun, but in time — by a solar deity like Apollo, perhaps, from whom all poetry and prophesy radiates. The god inhabits a future tense and communicates back to the present indirectly, via shadows cast by intervening events, to his oracles and poets (“the hierophants of an unapprehended inspiration”), whose task it becomes – in some sense, as though Plato’s cave were turned inside out – to remember clearly what has not yet taken place.

e.g., from 25 years ago…

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