Poem by John Grey
Before My Time
BEFORE MY TIME it was a different time. No metaphors. No symbols. A raptor swooped down. A massive lizard fought to the death with another of its kind. It was before words and high-rises and love-poems to forgotten women. It wasn’t about us. The world was not bewildered by our absence. It spun and giant creatures went along for the ride from soggy swamps to pre-human skies. No one made coffee. Nobody puffed on cigarettes. Nothing gave a damn for history. And monsters roamed. They weren’t just trapped in stone. There was no good and evil. So missionaries were unnecessary. Philosophers likewise. It just doesn’t bear interpreting. No astrology. No kings. No working stiffs. No drunken oafs. The world was as raw as ice-wind, as fiery as a sunspot. Life was short but frequent, as instinctive as breath. Nobody dug in the mud, for a bone, for the shape of a leaf. What is a fossil now was everything then.
John Grey is an Australian poet and US resident. He has been recently published in the Homestead Review, Harpur Palate and Columbia Review, with work upcoming in the Roanoke Review, the Hawaii Review and North Dakota Quarterly.
Think through the above poem with us, and, if moved, share your thoughts with us and other readers in the comments below.
I find myself drawn in this poem to so many lines. No metaphors, it begins, No symbols. The world was not bewildered by our absence. The poem asks us to imagine a world with no humans (An exercise, which, paradoxically, becomes impossible if completed. If we imagine a world without humans, there are no humans to imagine it, nor symbols, words or metaphor with which to discuss such imaginings). There was no good and evil. So missionaries were unnecessary. Philosophers likewise. Are humans the only life forms with ethical sensibilities? Are we the only beings that struggle for moral dominance as well as physical? Why is that? Is a moral system itself good? Is having one better than not having one? If we can take a leap one step further and inquire about the morality of morality, what answer do we get?
What thoughts do these questions lead to? How does the poem address those questions, and what, if any clues can we find to its answer?