I am no more than a secretary of the invisible thing
That is dictated to me and a few others.
Secretaries, mutually unknown, we walk the earth
Without much comprehension. Beginning a phrase in the middle
Or ending it with a comma. And how it all looks when completed
Is not up to us to inquire, we won’t read it anyway.
– Czeslaw Milosz, Berkeley, 1975
This fragment from Milosz is not really about writing, but there are connection points with the experience. I can’t tell you how many times I was stuck, or needed another resource, or knew I needed to make a connection that was not obvious, and then the right article or reference would come along. Sometimes a title or phrase would pop to mind and I followed the trail of breadcrumbs to the paragraph I needed.
Looking back on 62,000 words and 460 citations, the work feels like an ending and a beginning. Having completed book 1, there is another book I should write, more territory to explore. The sensation is having climbed a few steps on a ladder. Now the perspective changes. I can see more widely. I discover new questions about the land I survey. Research and writing are a journey of discovery, and the more widely one explores, the greater the sense of wonder and anticipation.
I wrote this poor sonnet based on my experience in re-writing. The image in mind was polishing stones, three of them. That quickly became an image of stones tumbling in a river. For those of us who love to wander along wild rivers, we know the image of myriads of stones, large and small, all smooth from years of tumbling in turbid water, ground and polished by sand and time.
The metaphor changes to pilgrimage in the second half, because every real experience of learning is a journey of discovery.
three stones to polish
Three stones to polish, words turn in the river,
Round goes rock, mind scouring stone;
Tumbling stangely, acknowledging gift, and puzzling giver,
Til texture clears, exposing depth, each thought its own.
Line on line reveals knowledge, light plays on symmetry won,
Building to crescendo, rippling music, and splash of strings;
In that bright stream, dappled rays shine from every sun,
Refracting lucent logos as we sing.
Through every Jordan, journeying hard,
We pile our stones in our crossing bold;
Retell the story, remembering word,
Til anchored to rooted rock we hold.
Three stones to polish, while water runs in meaning bright,
And shafts of knowing penetrate the night.