Chapter 1 [Part 1]

Chapter 1: Of Atoms & Void

The poet was thinking about women again. It is after all what poets are supposed to do. Women he had known, women he had loved from afar, women he had loved far too closely. It seemed to him that he was constantly surrounded by women – his wife, daughters, sisters, servants. And everywhere he looked there were the statues: still moments of feminine beauty caught and carved into suggestive poses, flowing drapery exposing marble flesh, arms, legs, breasts. In the atrium, in the dining room, in every corner, niche, beside every frescoed wall, even here in the garden where along every gravel pathway frisky frozen nymphs gambolled silently to the unheard tune of Pan’s pipes. He remembered that life-size statue of Venus in his father’s house: the lingering erotic gaze of its scintillating topaz eyes had enthralled him as a boy, enthralled him still. He admired a woman who knew her own mind. Venus the lover, Venus the blessed mother of all things, Venus the creatrix. The archetype of the feminine. Beauty in the particular, in the abstract. The transcendence of beauty. The transcendent surely an impossibility in a world of atoms and void. This beautiful woman a merely fortuitous fusion; that beautiful statue an artful arrangement of elemental particles. The very idea of Beauty itself a construct, surely, mere similarities in a concrete series of instances.

  But the brute fact of Beauty was undeniable at this very moment, in this very spot. Beauty in the modest, old-fashioned architecture of his little seaside villa – rustic Doric, red brick and terracotta tiles, wooden-framed windows almost hidden by clambering wild rose and ivy – beauty in nature, in the cloud-gathering mountains to the rear, in the broken, dilapidated cliffs that defended his gardens from the daily assaults of the waves; in the waters of the bay itself, glistening, undulating, ever-changing, indescribably wild and magnificent – a very feminine kind of beauty that. Here he was in the midst of undiluted Beauty. His senses still thrilled every time he arrived, having left the tendentious dust and quarrelsome heat of the city far in his wake, the querulous scent of the mob dissipating on the sea breezes, the disputatious musk of crowded streets evaporating in the steam from his little seaside bathhouse.

  Absently he placed his filigree-decorated wine glass on the edge of the gleaming marble table top and wiped his lips with the pure-white napkin from his lap. As he did so breadcrumbs scattered across the veranda, atomic motion writ large, some even tumbling into the pond beside which an optimistic sparrow skipped expectantly. She (or so he always regarded her, it was hard to tell with sparrows) was a regular visitor to the garden, almost tame enough now to take morsels from his hand. Gentle creature, lovable even. But never forgetting what it was she had come for: another beauty who knew her own mind. Just his type. Hadn’t that excitable northern poet written some witty thing about a sparrow recently, something with a sly double meaning, actually all about sex? Modern poetry – cleverness for its own sake, neither edifying nor productive of tranquillity.

   He reached again for the wine glass – and paused momentarily to admire fractures of refracted sunlight strewn across the tabula rasa surface of the table. Scattered hues everywhere, purples, blues, greens, yellows, oranges, reds. Were there really that many shades of colour in the tracery pattern beneath his fingers? The sparrow, satisfied, flitted away to nearby bushes where unseen insects thrummed a modal tune as zephyrs sighed harmonious accompaniment through leafy boughs above. Lifting the glass he made a toast to his little departed friend. Ave atque vale. The prismatic display vanished, and with it the astonishingly productive concept he had almost-but-not-quite formed. That particular confluence of atoms, so frustratingly close to instantiation in our poet’s brain, dispersed itself back into the void; nor would it easily be reassembled. A discovery for the ages lost in the single beat of a sparrow’s wing. Not that our poet noticed of course. Everything was just as it should be in his garden. He reflected with some complacency: as near-perfect an assemblage of macro-atomic structures as anyone could wish.

*        *        *

[Go to Chapter 1, Part 2]

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