Living with the Truth Stranger than Fiction This Is Not About What You Think Milligan and Murphy Making Sense

Thursday, 29 December 2016


The Lights of Zebulun

"On you go. Go on!
Show us something poetic.
Do one of them poem-things.
What do they call it? A sonnet.
Yeah, do us a sonnet."

So I opened the eyes
of the blind men there
and unstopped their ears.

But they didn't want
what I had to offer:
"Too bright! Too bright!"
they cried, "We can't see!"

So I brought down the curtain
and left them in the dark.

29 August 1989

Zebulun was the sixth and last son of Jacob and Leah and the founder of the Israelite Tribe of Zebulun. The name in the poem, however, refers to the land of Zebulun, part of Israel's northern coastal plain. This is where, according to Matthew 4:13-16, Jesus moved first when he began his ministry to, according to Matthew at least, fulfil a prophecy spoken through the prophet Isaiah: "Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned." I had two other scriptures in mind when I wrote this poem: Matthew 12:38: "Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to him, 'Teacher, we want to see a sign from you'" and Matthew 13:57: "But Jesus said to them, 'A prophet is not without honour except in his own town and in his own home.'"
I'm no prophet but I am oddly enough a truth-teller although, as we've seen evidenced this year, truth has never been less popular. "Tell us what we want to hear," the people cry and so the candidates do. Although being deemed worthy of the accolade 'Word of the Year 2016' I have to say the term post-truth was a new one on me but there’s another relatively new word that didn’t get as much attention: truthiness, defined by Oxford Dictionaries as "the quality of seeming or being felt to be true, even if not necessarily true." We do indeed live in strange and troubling times.
I don't know about you but many times over the years when people've learned I'm a poet I've been asked to recite one off the cuff. And they're always disappointed because they were expecting something light, something that rhymed, more Pam Ayres than... well, most people would struggle to come up with another poet; Robert Burns would probably still get a mention here in Scotland. Entertainment has its place—I'm not against entertainment—but I say again, it has its place. It's worrying when the charismatic charm the public and end up in positions of power.
"Whoever has ears, let them hear." (Matthew 11:15) You will know the truthiness and it will set you free.


vito pasquale said...

There is something indestructible about the truth no matter how crafty the lies, don't you think? Voting for a lie doesn't of course make it the truth. Even if the vote is unanimous. The nakedness of the lie-telling is disappointing. Truth has its day. One may deny the facts of climate change but not the new ocean-front property that was a mile inland. Those in the dark in your poem are happy to stay that way. Truth, light, fairness may be a long time in coming. Is it right to bring down the curtain or continue to shine that bright light that blinds? I love that line, "Yeah, do us a sonnet."

Jim Murdoch said...

I’ve no issues with the indestructibleness of truth, Vito. What I have a problem with is its inaccessibility. It’s as Joe says in The More Things Change, always “out there.” “Out there” can, of course, mean more than a reference to location (and, by implication, distance) but also to the more hippyish “out there, man.” I can just imagine one of our naïve, peace-loving, pot-smoking friend being told about the goings on that’ve been going on of late and his response being a thoughtful, “Far out.”

It’s comforting to imagine that the truth will out and sometimes it does but by the time it does or what’s left of it does we’re never 100% sure what went down. And people die off so very quickly. I remember watching a news programme where they were talking about some archaeological dig—and those were the words the announcer used. What do you think they were digging up? A site dating back to World War I. There are people still alive who remember some of that, who lived through it, but not for much longer and then all we’ll have will be the records, one extra step removed from the illusive truth.

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