The False Poet and the True


Anyone who reads here knows I’ve been around. Not that much, but a bit. While ago I was in Maitland where, down a back way off High Street, I found, side by side, a Masonic Temple and a Dominican School. I investigated; and a strange tale came to hand. A parable I guess. Twins were born in the diocese; to improvident parents. One was a true poet, the other, false; both were given to charity. There was a mix-up: the true poet was laid on the wrong doorstep, as was the false; but which was which – right/wrong, true/false – nobody knew. Well they grew up in the peculiar way of poets everywhere; not only was their provenance, their ancestry and their authenticity uncertain; but their ultimate status! In eternity, I mean. The false poet was like the cricket in the fable, s/he sawed and sang, fiddled all summer long; didn’t care where the tunes came from, the lyrics either. The true poet was the ant, s/he tested the nutritional value of each word, each metre, every rhyme; storing away the storied hoard for the winter that would surely come. It’s uncertain when or how conflict rose up between them: was it the true poet’s fury at the thefts of the false? Or the falsifier’s chagrin at the integrity of the true? Whichever it was, the consequences are clear. The true poet set out to crucify the false; the false, to traduce, in some ultimate sense, the true. They were like Cain and Abel, Lorde and Madonna, Godde and Mammon: neither could abide the other. Nor, it turned out, survive them. War in heaven. Lesser mortals looked on in astonishment as true poet throttled false, as false, in the death agony, took down the true. Both lay mangled on the steps of those strangely coeval temples; the time I saw them anyway: stains on the pavement, that should not have been there in the first place, that could not be washed easily away. Who knew which was which? I didn’t. But as I walked away I heard the ghost of a tune in the air, a sort of song . . . it didn’t belong to the Inquisition, nor was it a plaint for Freemasonry, whatever that is. It was neither true nor false, right or wrong; nor was it, I have to say, poetry. I guess it was just a song. I followed it back to High Street and then to the station where, surrounded by echoes, we departed – for parts unknown. 

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