Life in 170 Words

Another creative writing experiment!

Around or so a year ago I wrote a short story humbly entitled ‘Life’.  It was based on the germ of an idea which I expanded into an 800 word flash fiction piece for a writing contest.  I came across the story last week in my OneNote archives and found with time and distance I wasn’t happy with it after all.  (I’m not sure if that’s part of the process of perspective or if it’s a symptom of my inner critic.)  I still found myself drawn to the theme and so I wasn’t content to simply leave it in its newly recognized, inglorious form and wanted to resurrect it (pun intended).  However, rather than simply rewriting it, I decided to reincarnate it (yes, another pun) in a different form – a poem.

I’ve blogged before about how writing formal poetry helps me when I get stuck when fussing over words while writing fiction.  In retrospect, I seem to be building up with quite a collection of such poems, more of which I’ll post here I’m sure.  (I’ll have to explore in a future post why all my poetry seems center around the themes of questioning and meaning.)  For those who like to experience poetry on your own, I suggest skipping down to the end of the post and reading the poem first, before reading the following description of what it’s *about*.  You may get more out of it on your own without the intrusion of my thoughts and intentions getting in the way.  Well-crafted poetry after all should say much more to the reader than the words alone put down by the poet.  We’ll see how this one measures up.

In the original flash fiction form of ‘Life’, a man named Peter awakens, not from a dream but from within himself, and inexplicably finds himself standing in a crowd before a colossal *thing* that he can neither understand nor comprehend.  No one in the crowd knows what it is either.  Nevertheless, everyone seems to have their own ideas about how to build it.

Peter encounters and talks to a man (with ideas of his own) who’s keenly observed, year after year, countless people trying in vain to make the thing work.  Bewildered by it size and its confused construction Peter turns to examining the people doing the work.  Eventually, despite the other man’s insights, suggesting the futility of trying, Peter eventually succumbs to his own desire to try and make it work his way.  Shouting above the din, he presses into the crowd towards the structure only to disappear among the throng.

The reincarnated form is not an attempt to retell the original story as a poem.  Rather, it’s simply another expression of the theme.  Per my previous post, I have a particular fondness for the English Romantics and for poetic structures with fixed rhythm and meter.  I intentionally wrote this poem in an alternating 8-6-8-6 meter with each stanza, or 4-3-4-3 depending how your inner ear likes to keep time.

It stood too massive to behold –

Assault upon the eye.
Stretched out across the stark landscape,
It blotted out the sky.

True sense rebels; this construct with
A form so skewed and vast,
Ere mortared brick, which was its frame,
Could equal to the task.

And yet it stood for all to see
Though none knew what it was.
Rare few betook to plumb its depths
While others grew its walls.

The builders, insect-like, did trace
rough paths beneath the sky.
From birth to death, their life-force spent,
Yet never could it die.

No organizing principle
Directed common work,
As each, with varied skill and sight,
Blessed, each, their self-same worth.

And at its feet a crushing throng
Where king and king’d alike,
Brick-laden, press to try their hand
At unifying might.

An endless strained processional,
Emboldened by vain pride,
Each seeking to unite the rest,
Yet lost amid the tide.

Forever beyond human pow’r
To shape it to its own;
Eternal generations rise
To fall upon its throne.

~ by John Hedrick


I’d love to hear how the poem strikes you.  What ideas or feelings does it invoke?  What parts do you like or not like and why?  Leave a passing comment and tell me what you think!

If there’s enough interest in the poem, I may post the short story, such as it is, as well.

Here is some more of my poetry you may enjoy…

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