Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Perfect Symbol - Louis Johnson

The Perfect Symbol
- Louis Johnson

I remember reading as a boy, Giotto,
Asked for a picture fit for a Pope's wall,
Picked up a brush, painted the perfect circle,
And offered this as prize to the puzzled pontiff
Whose shocked reaction was a dark reproof.
'No, sir,' the painter answered, 'Nothing less
Than this would be apt gift for your great grace.
This line is endless and beings nowhere.
It contains all the truth a man might know
And is a barrier excluding dross.
Or, it's a world, and outside it, the heavens
And every aspiration worthy of him.
I made it with one stroke: you cannot tell
Where I began it, only that, through grace,
Patience, the pain of all my craft,
I made what Nature does not make - the circle;
The thing enclosed, entire, perfection's symbol.'

Humbled, his master gave it pride of place
Upon the palace wall, and no doubt gave
Much thought as well to what might burn within
A peasant breast that beat beyond itself
In realm of contemplation learning strove for
Without, always, the same degrees of insight.
Then let Giotto's circle stand for those
Who see beyond the lines and shapes of things,
The orders, and the ordering of men's lives,
And all the passing show, to what might be
Ultimate truths contained in a simple act,
The maker's hand unveiling what is hidden
From understanding by what's understood,
And what is real surprisingly revealed,
Hard, simple, whole, something to stand forever.

O'Sullivan, V. (Ed.). (1979). An anthology of twentieth century New Zealand poetry. Wellington: Oxford University Press.

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