This will be a short prompt compared to others I’ve posted. Please accept my apologies.
This was not meant to be posted on the day after Ray Bradbury’s death. I planned to post the prompt for sometime, but Ray’s legacy as a craft master of alien worlds plays well into the prompt. Dedicating our poetic efforts to his memory will serve as a tiny memorial to his work.
Okay, you might have guessed what I’m going to suggest as a prompt today. I’d like you to write poetry that evokes an alien world, as close as our human abilities allow. I say this because I do not think that language and its link to our sensory-psychological make-up truly allows us to create a “real” alien world. Unfortunately, even the best creations of what might be an alien world always seem to resemble the one we are familiar with.
But a little history and some examples might give some perspective on what a depiction of an alien world could include. Envisioning other worlds is quite prevalent in human history. From the time when humans began to write, we find tales of otherworldly travel. The Epic of Gilgamesh, Homer’s Odyssey, Vergil’s Aeneid, the ancient Persian texts on paradise, the Pseudepigripha, the Jewish Bible. There’s the Roman writer Lucian’s story of traveling to the moon. The idea of other planets and other worlds even made its way to Christian theology in the works of Origen. And then, of course, there’s Dante’s Divine Comedy. The list can go on.
The depiction of the world beyond what we call reality which is found in Gilgamesh might serve as an example. Consider whether the evocation of what might truly be “alien” has been achieved?
The mountain is called Mashu.
Then he reached Mount Mashu,
which daily guards the rising and setting of the Sun,
above which only the dome of the heavens reaches,
and whose flank reaches as far as the Netherworld below,
there were Scorpion-beings watching over its gate.
Trembling terror they inspire, the sight of them is death,
their frightening aura sweeps over the mountains.
At the rising and setting they watch over the Sun.
When Gilgamesh saw them, trembling terror blanketed his face,
but he pulled himself together and drew near to them.
The scorpion-being called out to his female:
“He who comes to us, his body is the flesh of gods!”
The scorpion-being, his female, answered him:
“(Only) two-thirds of him is a god, one-third is human.”
The male scorpion-being called out,
saying to the offspring of the gods:
“Why have you traveled so distant a journey?
Why have you come here to me,
over rivers whose crossing is treacherous!
I want to learn your …
I want to learn …”
trns. by M. G. Kovacs
These lines from the Epic of Gilgamesh are pretty intensely visual, and in this translation evoke that sense of terror that one must feel in the presence of such evil and alien beings. The description of the nether realms are as equally strange, weird, and “alien.” But is it the strangeness of the mythology and belief system behind them that makes the words seem alien? Isn’t that what might constitute the essence of anything that we might call a decent semblance of alien worlds?
I’ve been asking whether we can actually create works of art that depict the truly alien. For me the closest thing to an alien world that I am familiar with is the world of the Mayans and Aztecs. As their language opens up their world view to us, I realize that this is a way of life that I find truly alien. Immersed in a world where blood-letting was used to induce visions and other-wordly journeys to see the dead, where sacrifice of others was routine, that is something I find difficult to imagine.
Getting back to literary examples of alien worlds, in my experience Coleridge’s poem, Kubla Khan, evokes a world that is certainly fantastic and wonderful. It’s considereda classic, though left unfinished.
The shadow of the Dome of Pleasure
Floated midway on the waves,
Where was heard the mingled measure
From the fountain and the caves.
It was a miracle of rare device:
A sunny Pleasure-Dome with caves of ice!
The poem evokes a time and place supremely unreal, ethereal in its beauty and charm. It leaves us desiring to hear more, but unfortunately the poet’s dream was disrupted and we are left with just a fragment of what promised to be a journey in a land beyond dreams. Some speculate that Coleridge wrote the poem under the influence of laudanum, an opium derivative. Whatever the truth of the matter, we must regret that he did not finish it. On the other hand, perhaps Jorge Luis Borges is right, that these lands exist somewhere, we have just lost the map to find or see them.
For another example, see the fine poem, The Fishmonger, by Joy Ann Jones.
And then there’s always the Captain:
In this week’s prompt, write a poem that creates or evokes another world. To accomplish this, you might
- write a science-fiction type poem
- describe a journey to a world unlike our own
- think of our world in alien terms
Cool? Then let’s get it on. Here’s how it works:
- Post a poem based on tonight’s theme to your blog.
- Link in the poem you’d like to share by clicking on the Mr.Linky button just below.
- This opens a new screen where you’ll enter your information, and where you also choose links to read. Once you have pasted your poem’s blog url and entered your name, simply click Submit.
- Don’t forget to let your readers know where you’re linking up and encourage them to participate by including a link to dVerse in your blog post.
- Visit as many other poems as you like, commenting as you see fit. Chances are if you comment on others they will comment on you. Funny how that works.
- Remember, we’re here for each other. Engage your fellow poets, talk, chat, comment, let them know their work is being read, and enjoy the input you also will receive. Feel free to tweet and share on the social media of your choice.
NOTE: All images via Wikipedia Commons.