Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Elizabeth Jennings: "The Diamond Cutter"

Here's another one by Elizabeth Jennings (1926-2001) , a recent discovery, for me anyway.  She was born in Boston, Lincolnshire, and moved to Oxford at age six and lived there for the rest of her life. 

The Diamond Cutter

Not what the light will do but how he shapes it
What particular colours it will bear.

And something of the climber's concentration
Seeing the white peak, setting the right foot there.

Not how the sun was plausible at morning
Not how it was distributed at noon,

And not how much the single stone could show
But rather how much brilliance it would shun;

Simply a paring down, a cleaving to
One object, as the star-gazer who sees

One single comet polished by its fall
Rather than countless, untouched galaxies.

-- Elizabeth Jennings --

I think the point is that one must not be distracted by external glories or brilliance to get to its heart.  But, isn't something lost when one does that?   Or, is she suggesting that there are some things that are too grand, too glorious, too magnificent for us to truly appreciate, that we need to focus on a more limited scale to gain at least some idea of just what it really is.

Your thoughts?  


  1. Yes! Going beyond the over-arching metaphor suggested by the title, with the implications of the supreme Creator, deserving a separate discussion, I would say this is my off-the-cuff reader-response explication and understanding: The cosmos in which we live -- and the infinite ineffable here and beyond -- cannot ever be apprehended and appreciated unless we first focus on the single gems accessible and observable. So, mixing my metaphors, I guess we must "stop and smell the rose(s)" rather than attempt viewing and breathing in the entire garden? Thanks, Fred, for sharing the poem. I wish I could remember to live life with the kind of discipline suggested in the poem.

    1. R.T.,


      Or, as the Taoists say, a journey of a thousand li begins with a single step.

      There are many distractions along the way.

  2. i have a funny feeling about this poem. it's one of those in which the feeling outweighs the sense, imo... as if, when meditating, one grasps an unworldly essence completely unexplicable in ordinary terms... it's a bit oriental in that way... very nice, i like it... tx

    1. Mudpuddle,

      Something like keeping the focus on the present. Do the next step and don't worry about the goal.

      "And something of the climber's concentration
      Seeing the white peak, setting the right foot there."

  3. I like to verse. I think that your analyses is right on the money.

    Focusing on the small can yield such rewarding results in the long run. Sometimes if we through all attention on the galaxies we end up not going anywhere at all.

    1. Brian Joseph,

      Yes, looking at the universe can be daunting. Small steps though are possible and more effective in the long run.

      I remember viewing a series of lectures on DVD titled the life and Death of Stars. The lecturer mentioned an astronomer who spend decades studying only one of thousands? millions? of nebula, the one in Orion I think. His lifelong study though produced information that can be generalized to many other nebulae throughout the universe.