Slowly The Poison The Whole Bloodstream Fills: William Empson

MSH80_eruption_mount_st_helens_05-18-80-dramatic-edit

Slowly the poison the whole blood stream fills.
It is not the effort nor the failure tires.
The waste remains, the waste remains and kills.

It is not your system or clear sight that mills
Down small to the consequence a life requires;
Slowly the poison the whole blood stream fills.

They bled an old dog dry yet the exchange rills
Of young dog blood gave but a month’s desires;
The waste remains, the waste remains and kills.

It is the Chinese tombs and the slag hills
Usurp the soil, and not the soil retires.
Slowly the poison the whole blood stream fills.

Not to have fire is to be a skin that shrills.
The complete fire is death. From partial fires
The waste remains, the waste remains and kills.

It is the poems you have lost, the ills
From missing dates, at which the heart expires.
Slowly the poison the whole blood stream fills.
The waste remains, the waste remains and kills.

William Empson (1906-1984)

Missing Dates (1937)

The Poetry Archive bio says:

…best remembered as one of the most important and idiosyncratic literary critics of the 20th Century but he was also an influential poet whose output, though small, was held in high esteem by such figures as W. H. Auden and Robert Lowell.

This poem means different things to different people, and was almost certainly written with this intention as is hinted on the linked page. It is very often interpreted almost literally these days, when we are all concerned about pollution. But it was written in 1937, when pollution was not a general topic of concern.

To me (and my perspective will not be shared by many others, I realise) this is a poem about the Church of England in particular and the failure of Christian churches worldwide to spread a message of love rather than nitpicking and backbiting. The waste, the waste!

But you will almost certainly have your own area of concern in which you can see the relevance of ‘slowly the poison the whole bloodstream fills; the waste remains, the waste remains and kills’.

The illustration is via Wikimedia: On May 18, 1980, at 8:32 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time, a magnitude 5.1 earthquake shook Mount St. Helens. The bulge and surrounding area slid away in a gigantic rockslide and debris avalanche, releasing pressure, and triggering a major pumice and ash eruption of the volcano. Thirteen-hundred feet (400 meters) of the peak collapsed or blew outwards. As a result, 24 square miles (62 square kilometers) of valley was filled by a debris avalanche, 250 square miles (650 square kilometers) of recreation, timber, and private lands were damaged by a lateral blast, and an estimated 200 million cubic yards (150 million cubic meters) of material was deposited directly by lahars (volcanic mudflows) into the river channels. Fifty-seven people were killed or are still missing. USGS Photograph taken on May 18, 1980, by Austin Post.
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About layanglicana

Author of books on Calcutta, Delhi and Dar es Salaam, I am now blogging as a lay person about the Church of England and the Anglican Communion. I am also blogging about the effects of World War One on the village of St Mary Bourne, Hampshire.
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