What’s Wrong with This Picture?

Charles Hood’s photo essay on how places, when we travel, are “supposed” to look (as opposed to how they actually do look) put me in mind of the following Christina Rossetti poem meditating upon the inharmonies of existence. It appears to be addressed to a dead infant and is titled “Dirge”:

Why were you born when the snow was falling?

You should have come to the cuckoo’s calling.

Or when grapes are green in the cluster,

Or, at least, when lithe swallows muster

           For their far off flying

           From summer dying.


Why did you die when the lambs were cropping?

You should have died at the apple’s dropping,

When the grasshopper comes to trouble,

And the wheat-fields are sodden stubble,

          And all winds go sighing

          For sweet things dying.

When Charles Hood took this photograph in Poland of an Old World-looking accordion player, does the Toyota Camry behind him pollute the scene?

Narrative and scenic pollution are also interesting in terms of politics and religion. For example, in the recent shooting of a congresswoman by Jared Loughner, liberals have been looking for a smooth narrative linking Sarah Palin’s gun rhetoric to Loughner’s gun behavior, but reality is almost always more complicated than our first easy or superficial linkages. Likewise, when conservatives try to link up President Obama with socialism, reality intrudes and makes the President more ideologically complicated than that.

And with regard to religion, contemporary theists who posit God as supremely good and all powerful have to pass through the untidy fact that, if God exists, (S)he let the Holocaust occur.

We’re all looking for clean narratives, aren’t we? And everywhere the world presents us with things that don’t fit. Then what do we do?

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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2 Responses to What’s Wrong with This Picture?

  1. sendaner says:

    With respect to the question of God:

    No one can deny that men have free will, to do as they please, as we ever have. Although I consider myself a ‘Christian’ in following the things Jesus is reported to have said while alive, I couldn’t very well say that I know a thing about God. The idea of God for me merely is a cordial nod to the unknown, which is a way, in a sense, to let go of the scientific hubris that only men with beards and glasses could have given us.

    Even with all that we can determine through science and logic, the unknown is still an infinitely expansive territory for humankind. We don’t know for certain every force that moves in the universe. In that same vein, we cannot say for certain what the unknown would bring forth to us, or that it would break all the temporal laws of nature and logic simply to avert a great global tragedy.

    The Holocaust was nothing more than mankind’s failure to love. Our best possible reaction could only be to learn from it, know that unfounded hatred and inhumanity of modern government brought it about, and be as fraternal, paternal, maternal to fellow creatures from here on as we can be, especially to the ones who offend us.

  2. Christ's Angel says:

    Apparently, Santi, you’ve never enjoyed a gig long enough to appreciate getting there.

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