Saturday, 13 October 2012

Day 113: At the Heart of the Ridiculous, The Sublime


Heroic gestures are almost always quiet and unsung. Heroes pass us in ordinary everyday life, their sacrifices and actions almost unnoticed, 'at the heart of the ridiculous, the sublime.'

This poem - 'Antarctica' - came into my head today. It is based on the infamous ill-fated Scott expedition to Antarctica in the early 20th century, specifically the fate of Captain Oates - who sacrificed himself for the sake of the rest of the team. 

Scott recorded in his diary how he simply left the camp with the final words, 'I'm just going outside and may be some time', which Mahon uses here to highlight how in the midst of something ordinary, the heroic can occur.

And just like the gesture in question, this poem is quiet and unassuming, yet moving.

Antarctica - Derek Mahon

‘I am just going outside and may be some time.’
The others nod, pretending not to know.

At the heart of the ridiculous, the sublime.


He leaves them reading and begins to climb,

goading his ghost into the howling snow;

He is just going outside and may be some time.


The tent recedes beneath its crust of rime

And frostbite is replaced by vertigo:

At the heart of the ridiculous, the sublime.


Need we consider it some sort of crime,

This numb self-sacrifice of the weakest? No,

He is just going outside and may be some time –


In fact, for ever. Solitary enzyme,

Though the night yield no glimmer there will glow,

At the heart of the ridiculous, the sublime.


He takes leave of the earthly pantomime

Quietly, knowing it is time to go:

‘I am just going outside and may be some time.’

At the heart of the ridiculous, the sublime.

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