Saturday, June 17, 2006

Serpent Uncoils

"Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night," by fave Dylan Thomas, was rolling around in my mind this morning as I walked the dog around the neighborhood. Like the last poem I put up, "Mad Girl's Love Song," by Sylvia Plath, it is a villanelle. Though these two poems are modern examples of an ancient form, their popularity likely outstrips that of any earlier examples of the format.

"Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on that sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light."

You may have already guessed what I am about to tell you, the secret of a new interpretation of this classic: it's about peak oil.


So that is how I read the poem over in my pointy little head today, as I strolled the local streets with one of my trusty black lab pooches. How will this corner of civilization survive after the era of cheap petroleum ends? How will we each react to this change, so intense it can be compared to a kind of death?

It's mostly irrigated, this neighborhood, because in the immediate past it was primarily orchard land. Citrus, pomegranites, olives, date palms, pecans, avocados, and peaches. With a little effort every available inch of the open properties here could be harnessed into production of merchandisable local produce.

Your roof is a solar collector. Ours here could be put to use with PV cells to produce electricity during the day, allowing the use of power tools and electronics on a modest scale.

The canal which runs along the northern edge of the neighborhood provides a defensible border as well as reliable a source of water one can expect in a desert city.

There are small schools within walkable distances, local retail spaces, and no big-box stores.

A highway borders the neighborhood on its eastern edge, also providing a defensible boundry and perhaps allowing some remnant of mass transportation in the future.

Enough of the apocalyptic fantasizing and back to the poem: I suppose the stanza that now applies best to my thinking is the fourth one, pertaining to "wild men:"

"Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night."

I am fortunate enough to have lived in times which were amongst the luckiest of any earthly generations, with ample cheap energy and all the luxury that came of it. And now I'm shouting from the rooftops that this era is closing, and the grieving process comes to fore.

But there's hope. Civilization has a good chance of re-creating a post-industrial sort of society somewhat along the lines of the pre-industrial communities that produced Haydn and Mozart, the Pont du Gard, brutally simple and elegantly accurate lunar calendars, and even good-old American lawn-art.


gail said...

"Rage, rage against the dying of the light."

Is that what the US is doing? That would mean awareness wouldn't it?

Maybe the US is aware but running like crazy from making intelligent decisions about how to meet the future.

What you write in this post reminds me of my mothers crazy and hectic 'run' from alzheimers. Maybe that's where the US is -- incipient alzheimers.

At 64 I assume the events will not move fast enough for me to see where we will end up though I can see, more clearly than I would like, the path we seem to be choosing.

Imagine me up on a cloud watching the world go by. Seriously though, I would like to know how this 'uncoils.'

Eli Blake said...

No, America has a chance to re-create a quaint, 18th century type of civilization.

Most of the rest of the industrialized world has been busily investing in mass transit, high-efficiency vehicles, renewable sources of energy and taking other actions to prepare for the energy 'winter.'

America is just the proverbial grasshopper, fiddling through August and into September while guffawing at the work that the rest of the world is doing to prepare. We just better hope that they still like us enough to be charitable to us one day, but right now it looks like our leader is doing everything he can to ensure that that won't be the case, either.