Empson in the British Museum

Hungover and a bit drunk still, with the worst of it yet to come, he squats to examine the bronze; all the horror and beauty of Benin, and the rapacity of the intellect of Empire to thank. He will, in a petulant, insolent clause; the last polish of sturdy prose in the household chores of the mind.

Russell Square blazes in the cold sun nearby; the buses reverberate; here, in the warm and quiet, but for a few touristic yelps, the brain tangles an enigma, patiently waiting for dissolution into a light calmer than itself.

The gods are always trying to converse with heroes; the heroes are helplessly set apart from fellow man (woman too). What do they say? Codes are everywhere, and his breath obscures each glass case as he rattles through the old impossibilities: whether simplicity sustains complexity, or complexity yields simplicity. In either direction, the question is the same: could the world resolve to a shape he suits, fitting ancient curves to tired thoughts?

A child, twelve, points at his owl-eyed spectacles, and through the grizzled octopus beard he mugs, tongue out; but the child does not know what to make of audacity’s old age, any more than age knew what to make of audacity’s youth. Once his tongue had more brazenly offered itself up; to savor and be savored by, and there had been, in the heady days of years thrown headlong towards war, world enough elsewhere for savoring.

But in those years, he had missed being here, where a stride could shadow centuries, and where the passions still eddied out their inquisitive courses, collecting along the way; collected into self-possession for some.

 

 

 

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