Saturday, June 26, 2010

Let's All Write An Allegory!

And you may find yourself in the same confusion I am experiencing over this poetic exercise.  This is not a specific form of poetry, nor am I about to write a poem, and yet this is an exercise I am drawing from The Handbook of Poetic Forms.  The conclusion I think I am going to go with is "chops."  We're working on our poetic chops and this gets our head into the game, even if it doesn't guide us into a specific form.  Allegory is a means by which we can think poetically about existence.

Not surprisingly, Padgett spends a good deal of this entry talking about John Bunyan.  Bunyan and Plato probably wrote the two most famous allegories. "Allegories are written to explain ideas about good and evil, or about moral or religious principles." Other features include possibly identifying individuals as actual ideas, becoming the anthropomorphism of their defining characteristic. Not even so subtly as Dickens (a dirty man named something like Mr. Filchwater) but with a Bunyan-esque heavy hand (a dirty man named Mr. Dirty.)

To put it even more simply, I grew up reading allegories unawares.  One of my favorite children's book series was the Mister Men and Little Miss books by Roger Hargreaves.  These were short (maybe 30 pages or so), illustrated, moralistic tales about characters who were embodiments of aspects of human character.  For example:

Although they weren't all sanctimonious, finger-wagging stories. There were positive examples as well:

 And some that were morally neutral:

I have a little figurine of Mr. Greedy on my bookshelf to my left.  He is holding a cake and licking his lips in anticipation of eating it all by himself as a motivational tool to keep me from hoarding candy in my office (Laurie can tell you how effective of a tool it is by the candy wrappers she finds in the cubby holes of my desk.)

I also notice that my recent story of the wild boar comes close to this exercise. I'm not even going to attempt form poetry in this case, falling back into the poetic form mindset like a trust exercise.  So, now here is my allegory.

Allegory of the Worm of Regret
by Paul Mathers

The much abused specter of Charles Darwin has borne so much that I doubt a hint of blame from me will make much of a difference. A chance (if you believe in such things) acquisition from a local thrift store of The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms was providing me with several days worth of fascinating bedtime reading. As was usual, stuffed with enough asthma medication to hopefully see me through to another day and the mind fuzz of my daily allowance of a single glass of merlot, I soon found myself on the other side of the dream curtain.

Passing through the gates of a city, I was stopped by the gatekeeper who asked me what I knew of worms.  I told him that the Earth may support upwards of 250,000 earthworms per acre, producing humus that might enrich the loam for the purpose of greater organic growth.  He handed me a pair of steel rimmed spectacles and took my own black plastic framed ones which are customary to my appearance.

As I walked the streets of the city, I was at first aghast and disgusted by the citizens who had worms writhing under every inch of their skin. But I soon recognized that when they passed into the periphery outside the sight-line of the lenses of my new glasses, they appeared as normal as any human you would meet on any given day. Upon more careful observation, I saw the worms appearing just outside of the person and burrowing into them: a few here when they spoke hard to their spouse, a few more there when a man hit his faithful dog with his cane when the dog stepped in front of him while they walked.  A boy clearly from impoverished circumstances who was driving a cart full of produce took a corner of a street too tightly. The cart tipped and most of the produce fell to the ground and split open on the cobblestone street. Immediately, hundreds of worms appeared around him and worked their way into his skin.

I drew close to observe the destructive processes.  In direct light and close up, I could see the workings of the worms of regret through his (to me) pellucid skin.  The worms were making a great feast of that bright matter within the young man which I knew to be hope and producing, from their tapered end, a dark material which, if not the matter of death itself, was certainly entirely toxic.

I was seized with a panic and dashed into the town square.  I stood on the edge of the great fountain and implored the populus to listen to me.  I told them that regret was eating them all alive.  I told them that these foul, fourth-dimensional creatures, invisible to their eyes, had fixed points in space-time where they could manifest and feed on them.  I told them that they must eschew regret.  A lady yelled back, "Pah!  You ask us not to feel!  You would have us cut off all emotion and caring!"

Her breath was cold as a tomb and people began to shove me from my elevated position out of the town square with hands like clay six feet beneath the Earth. I was conveyed to the border of the town by a crowd of corpses, the walking dead.

Dismayed, I sat with my back against the town's wall and wept. Through the gates next to me came a sad faced and broken young man in rags who searched the faces of the townsfolk around him desperately. His eyes fell on an old man who was sitting on the stoop of a modest storefront directly across from me. He called out "Father!" and gave a hearty wave to the old man. The old man stood with astonishing dexterity and hastened toward the young man. They embraced and the young man said "Father, I am so sorry..."

But the old man cut him off and with teary voice said, "Let's forget all of that now! You're back now and all is forgiven."

I was at first horrified as thousands of worms began working their way out of the skin of the two men.  I was sure this must surely be the precursor to their immediate death, but the worms, as they came out, fell to the ground motionless and vanished. The two men stood bright, healthy, with life pulsing completely through them, full of hope for their future. I was suddenly aware of the antidote and looked down to see another thousand worms working their way out of my own flesh.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! Certainly not a Mr. Book but what a strong story. The writer is still there and the worms will leave every time he writes.