Challenge 442 Response
with Thomas F. Wylie
In David Barber’s “Paradise Mislaid”:
- Is “paradise” mentioned anywhere in the poem? Is its existence implied, assumed, or dismissed?
- The poem seems to depict Hell on earth as a nightmare of bureaucratic routine. What seems to be its cause? What is meant by “Who knows / what foolishness angels have fallen for”?
- Is the poem a complaint, a lamentation, or a jeremiad?
I am never quite sure what the review editors are seeking, and I defer to your editorial judgment. If you choose not to use this in “critic’s corner” that is fine. However, I am most interested in your thoughts about my thoughts.
“Paradise Mislaid” by David Barber is a poem that stirs my iconoclastic pondering in a most positive way. The choice of words and images tap deeply into the ambiguities of our belief systems about a presumed sense of good and evil and, importantly, what might await each of us in the “great beyond.” Is there a paradise? Yes, implied but not stated as in
angels, arrayed in white, gently minister with soothing hands the broken
which sounds very nice indeed! There may be a “paradise” from ideologies we carry still from thousands of years of belief systems which have proven “useful” over human time; benefits to both good and evil as evidenced by “the rumble of angelic dissidents.”
What is meant by “Who knows / what foolishness angels have fallen for”?
Barber’s words and images offer the possibility of redemptive counterpoint to the suggestion that there is no salvation, no way out of the misery of our collective religious beliefs or lack of them as to the “purpose” of life and what, if anything, awaits us all. Why then do some still wonder; how many dispensations may I purchase with my stock options?
What I enjoy most is the galactic sweep from “Paradise Mislaid”: a viewpoint that suggests the totality of our conscious awareness of the possibility of life; our limitation to our collective knowledge and experience base, which may be completely misguided.
And yes, the poem is a complaint, a lamentation, and a jeremiad — wonderfully phrased and rendered — shaking us to the possibility of a calamitous unknown future for which our belief systems may have poorly prepared us. The devil is just one more character in this great play, and perhaps not a very important one at that.
Thank you, Tom, for the thoughtful and very readable Response!
As for what the Review Editors are seeking, well, we like pleasant surprises. If it’s for The Critics’ Corner, I think the answer is in one of our best-kept open secrets, the article “What is a Bewildering Stories Challenge?” Speaking for myself, I already know what I think; I want to know what I haven’t thought of yet. And that’s why we invite responses.
As for the poem, I’d say it’s partly a jeremiad, namely a list of woes, some of which seem to be chosen for shock value. But it’s more than that: it seems to say that Hell is relatively easy to imagine and even to create; the opposite — paradise, if you will — is more difficult.
But the word “mislaid” in the title seems to indicate that paradise is not “lost,” exactly. It just gets overlooked when “angels” fall for “foolishness.” And that’s where the poem seems to me to go a little out of balance. We need a better vision of paradise than it gives us, because it’s that vision that allows Hell to be seen for what it is.
Copyright © 2011 by Thomas F. Wylie
and Bewildering Stories