Sunday, April 27, 2014

Milton's God - Nate Klug

Where I-95 meets the Pike,
a ponderous thunderhead flowered;

stewed a minute, then flipped
like a flash card, tattered
edges crinkling in, linings so dark
with excessive bright

that, standing, waiting, at the overpass edge,
the onlooker couldn't decide

until the end, or even then,
what was revealed and what had been hidden.

This poem caught my eye for two main reasons: the title and the first line.  I've long found Milton and his writing on religion interesting, particularly his brilliant attempt to "justify the ways of God to man" (Paradise Lost, Book 1).  The second reason is that I know exactly where Klug is referencing.  I'm a CT native who spent four years of education in Worcester MA, and have traveled along I-91, I-95, and I-90 (more colloquially known, as Klug knows, as the Mass Pike) countless times.

After that, the magnificent cloudburst held my attention.  My favorite phrase in the poem is the wonderfully descriptive "linings so dark with excessive bright."  I imagine a dark, heavy thundercloud, illuminated magnificently from behind with all the light of the sun.  The language used to describe this cloud is all very active, making it seem like a living thing, almost like a massive animal in the sky.  It "stewed", it "flipped."  It's easy to imagine the wisps of a cloud roiling and shifting, but that bit about its linings, "dark with excessive bright" is what really brings the image to life in my mind.

We, the reader, are one frame of reference removed from the event.  We are relayed this image largely by the "onlooker" in the poem, who even after witnessing the entire event, "couldn't decide...what was revealed and what had been hidden."  My natural inclination is that the things hidden and revealed are the gloriously bright dark nature of the cloud, and the sun's light, here taking on a revelatory connotation as a symbol of God's might.  It might seem easy to say that the cloud hides the sun which then reasserts its glory and power, but I think that may be too simple.  Like the observer in the poem, it seems to me that the sun also reveals the complex beauty of the cloud.

Given the title of the poem, it seems that indecision at the wonder of Creation and God's power lie at the core of the image.  It's perhaps too much to ask that a poet "justify the ways of God to man" but still, attempt is all we can ever really do.  Nature, for all that we can catalog and understand it, is still fundamentally mystifying to us, occupying a special pull and power over our hearts.  This is understood by many as religious and spiritual experience, and while I am unsure what I believe, I find this poem to be a lucid and empowering image of great beauty.

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