Monday November 1, 2004

So, here we are. November. There was a smear of sunshine across the sky at one point. Didn’t last long before dissolving quite away, leaving behind a murky day where there seemed to be no division between the thin fog on the ground and the featureless sky above. A day which reveals one advantage of changing clocks. You can draw the curtains an hour earlier and shut a dismal day out.

It’s just as well that dismality is a valid word, even if I do need my 2-volume Oxford English Dictionary to check its usage. It’s a word to be used sparingly but it fits my visit to the doctors’ surgery today rather well. The place was heaving with a dismality of people. The light was a whole spectral dismality of dim. Even the air was a dismality to anyone who enjoys breathing.

‘An apple a day’, we used to say. If only it were true.

And that’s about it, really. A dismality of a day, front-ending what I most sincerely hope will not be a dismality of a month. If I were a grumpy old man, I’d be especially grumpy today. If I were a moaning old man, I’d be moaning with a vengeance. Indeed, if I were old, I’d be a really old man after a day like today. ‘None of the above’ applies, thankfully, so I’ve done my best to ignore the dismalities of the day, directing my attention to poetry of the more absorbing kind.

Hidden away in an anthology I came across a poem by Thom Gunn I’ve not read before:


Considering the Snail
The snail pushes though a green
night, for the grass is heavy
with water and meets over
the bright path he makes, where rain
has darkened the earth’s dark. He
moves in a wood of desire,
pale antlers barely stirring
as he hunts. I cannot tell
what power is at work, drenched there
with purpose, knowing nothing.
What is a snail’s fury? All
I think is that if later
I parted the blades above
the tunnel and saw the thin
trail of broken white across
litter, I would never have
imagined the slow passion
to that deliberate progress.
Thom Gunn


There’s a snag with ‘dip and taste’ poetry reading, of course. You can so easily miss gems like this. On the other hand, when you do find them, they shine all the brighter.

I really enjoyed this poem. It’s both like and unlike the mass of Gunn’s work, and that gives me as reader a dynamic I find stimulating.

The phrase drenched there with purpose, knowing nothing fits me well today. And the slow passion to that deliberate progress raises jagged harmonics up and down my spine, as does a wood of desire.

Over and above that the idea of making a bright path where rain has darkened the earth’s dark is a thought well worth considering on what could all too easily have been a total dismality of a day.



2 responses to “Dismality

  1. Hey, i just wanted to let you know that i think you’re pretty cool. i was actually just writing some poems for my english class, and was wondering if i could use dismality as a word in a poem since microsoft word didn’t recognize it and got to this site through google. I’m only a senior in highschool (almost out) but if you’d like to read my poems here they are:


    Sun rays are shining
    On my face through the window.
    I awake in peace.

    Breathing in fresh air
    Fills me with new energy
    As I take a step.

    Smelling the cut grass
    Brings me to reality.
    I can sense all life.

    The air blows loudly;
    I feel it uplifting me,
    and I drift away

    Prayer of an Angel

    Soaring through the sky
    Like a knife cutting through water
    Having no home and no worries,
    I know ultimate freedom

    Looking down, I see a prison
    People, no different than I,
    Constantly being pushed down against their will
    Why can’t they soar like me?

    Up above, there is no danger
    I feel no pain or fear
    The world is my oyster
    And I am its offspring

    But down below, a living hell
    With its constant blood, sweat, and tears
    The lives these people have to live…
    I wonder:
    Why can’t I share with them my gift?
    Why can’t they soar like me?

    Losing it

    As the trees swing from the force of the whistling wind
    I walk alone in the damp grass without turning back
    Stopping for a moment, I look at the endless sky
    I embrace the dark, for it is now a part of me

    As the howl of a wolf is sounded in the distance
    I feel the cold slowly creep into my burning skin
    There are no shadows but I can still see my outline
    As if seeing myself from a stranger’s perspective

    Taking a slow, controlled breath, I continue my trek
    My dismality, displayed through the hole in my chest,
    a feeling of feeling like there’s nothing left to feel
    Engulfs my mind like a deadly, malignant cancer

    As the lake approaches, I think back on what once was
    I remember my home, now a pile of ashes,
    and faces of loved ones, longing to be seen again
    coming to the conclusion that everything is gone,
    I walk deep into the water, and let myself drown.


    There’s a funny thing about beauty
    Sometimes it only lasts a second
    But that second is all that you need
    That second will last for a lifetime
    That second is what true beauty is.

  2. I don’t really ‘do’ poetry at the moment but I’ve read your pieces with enough interest to see me through to the last one, which I enjoyed most. ‘Dismality’ is cool; as a poet you can invent and construct words just as you please. I’d not recommend the approach for prose or academic work though. Good luck, and keep on writing on.

    Incidentally, drop the ‘oyster’.


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