There's something stately about the Jeffers poem which I associate with a particular sort of US poet - a wistful sententiousness, without any hint of camp. Possibly comes from Whitman, although if someone wants to persuade me that Whitman is camper than he looks I'm willing to hear it.
It's part of a sequence, and the poem two places before it in the sequence (also in this thread) ends:
The dead forget where they have left their secrets.
I find that I am losing track of mine,
confusing them with others’, or what everyone
has always known since book-keeping began.
At Revelation all accounts unlock,
decloak, unspool into the heat-dead void like
I mean that the occluded shall be known,
or that I believe so as a needful
counterweight to leadenness of forgetting
and being forgotten, slowly or by fiat
of curtailment. Somewhere that eschaton
is self-preparing, seeking out kairotic
So "eschatology" and "kairotic" have already come up, attached to a particular idea about the end of time as a moment of disclosure and reconciliation in which people are no longer opaque to or estranged from each other. The right moment (kairos) will come along, and trigger the endgame (eschaton) in which the jig is up, all secrets known, all forgotten things remembered, roll credits, didn't they do well?
Earlier today the wordplay between "eschatology" and "scatology" came into my head - it's not terribly original, and others have used it, but I thought "fuck it, I'm kicking off with that", and in exactly that spirit started the poem with "Let's do this" - committing to the bit, as they say. It also meshed nicely with the idea of a "trigger" that starts everything off, a kickstart. Eschatology is the branch of theology that deals with the eschaton, with last things, and one idea is that at the base, material things of this world - "scatology" - will at the last judgement be elevated into a spiritual plane, hence "eschatology uplifts / scatology". Similarly, kairos, the right moment, can be connected very contingently with eros - a state of arousal, readiness for things to happen. Those two phrases are both about the relationships between similar-sounding words (you could tweak "eros" into "kairos" by changing a vowel and prefixing a consonant), and about possible relationships between the things those words refer to.
So there's already a sense of things in flux, words turning into other words, things turning into other things, and I'm imagining all the matter in the universe, material and semantic, colliding and merging in a sort of whoosh as it approaches the Last Judgement; that's the next line, "Things wildly merge, commit in rush to judgement", which is also hiding a wordplay based on things you do when reconciling different versions of a text or a program in a version control system like git ("merge" and "commit" are both git commands).
The rest of the first stanza is an instruction to take some sort of psychedelic substance - "Stick this under your tongue and wait for razzle- / dazzle" - which links the sort of dissolution of reality induced by that substance to the preceding imagery, via a reference to the Hopkins poem "That Nature Is A Heraclitean Fire, And Of The Comfort Of The Resurrection". As the drug takes effect, solid things reveal themselves to be in process, as per Heraclitus's notion that fire was the substance of the universe. The fire isn't burning everything up, because it is everything: "not all-consuming, as it is the all, and / everlasting".
Now, under the influence of this substance, we have three visions of the Day of Judgement, which are explored in the next three stanzas. The first pictures a courtroom endlessly entangled in procedure, trying to sort out the rights and wrongs of every petty human altercation - "each tort a fractal of recrimination" (that's tort as in legal wrong, not torte as in pudding). It moves incredibly slowly, and the output is this finally purified justice which I imagine as a clear spirit, distilled from history, which might actually be "lethal moonshine", fatal to humans. We can't take anything that pure, it would dissolve us.
The second pictures the nuclear flash at the start of Terminator 2 - Judgement Day! - except that it destroys only the bad parts of people and leaves the good parts ("what tends to rightfulness") intact. The bad bits of you are cast aside, turned into inert matter - scoria, or the slag from a smelting process - such as "that lump of pumice there" which is what remains of "your hardened and habitual / fragility" (e.g. "male fragility", "white fragility" etc). There's no lengthy reading through the record of rights and wrongs, just an instant separation, in which everything unworthy is "blown to ashes".
The third pictures judgement and redemption working in secret in the present moment, as a disruption in the patterns of nature - the ambling of cows around a field, the movements of minnows in a stream - which suggests that "creation" (a theological way of referring to the world) is "recovering its senses". In the back of my mind here was all those images of wild animals roaming the streets of major cities during lockdown, the idea that "nature is returning". "Judgement steals into things" refers to this sort of subtle invasion of the world, almost at the cellular level, as if the carrier of judgement were a 5g signal or something like that. The background religious reference is to that line in the Bible about how the Kingdom of God will arrive "like a thief in the night". Rather than breaking into us from outside ("safes are for breaking"), the idea is that judgement will tunnel its way out of us ("...from within"), because of a recognition ("anagnorisis", the moment of recognition in a Greek tragedy on which everything turns) which is already working within us and which we cannot refuse.
So a reasonable question is, does the poem “work” without the explanation? It may not make as much immediate sense, because a lot of the connections between things are oblique or implicit; some of them could probably be teased out by a reader who liked puzzles of that sort, others it would be unreasonable to expect anyone to decode without assistance. The background knowledge and references are a bit recondite. But what I want - my criterion of success really - is for that not to matter particularly. The thing should stir some feeling, spark some curiosity, give the reader something to chew on.
Even where I was sure I couldn't be right, the drug, which I thought I must be imagining. So I would say yes, the main thrust of the thing comes across even in an unfocused reading without bringing to fine instruments to bear.
It’s a very apt name for that type of effect. You probably do need a fairly formal structure to hang gargoyles off. A poetry made entirely of gargoyles would be something else again. Gargoyles running free!
Oh, yes, it doesn’t have to be verse form. In my stuff although there are distinct verses, some metric regularity, and so on, the formal backbone is really syntactic, the way phrases are strung together. Some poetry is like fireworks, a series of things going off, illuminating the sky around them, but mine tends to be more like a Meccano-set construction, or a computer program for that matter.