One of the few moments of actual education in my 13 years in Scottish schools.
Edwin Muir is one of Scotland’s canonised primitives. He moved from Orkney to a miserable Glasgow tenement and, almost immediately, his whole family died. In a characteristic lapse of the imagination, he concluded that nothing better than Victorian immiseration and filth was possible along the modern road, and fled. Being anti-industry is simply good taste among poets and other attempted intellectuals; English class is largely reserved for anti-modern sentiment.
The class was reading aloud his “Horses”, a nuclear war dirge.
The radios dumb;
And still they stand in corners of our kitchens,
And stand, perhaps, turned on, in a million rooms
All over the world. But now if they should speak,
If on a sudden they should speak again,
If on the stroke of noon a voice should speak,
We would not listen, we would not let it bring
That old bad world that swallowed its children quick
At one great gulp.
“Ah, that’s Cronos!” I say. (I’d picked up the myth reading one of my bad fantasy novels.)
“No, it’s a metaphor about the Roman god Saturn, who literally ate his own children”, teacher.
Thinking himself brave: “I read a story about ‘Cronos’. Maybe he’s the Greek version? The Romans just nicked all their gods off the Greeks.”
“That’s right!” said the Greek kid.
“Well, maybe”, teacher.
An unremarkable scene… but I remember it quite clearly 15 years later: my school life was thin enough to make it stand out. This is one of the few moments in a decade where the weak cage of authority and rote answers parted, where I formed and voiced a poxy hypothesis of my own and I was (ambiguously) victorious.
This was the best I could do, not being strong enough yet to just push open the door marked ‘Pull’ and leave.
Tags: art, becoming, meaning, poem, literature