Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair

My eye was caught by the story of a message in a bottle, washing up on a Croatian beach after spending 28 years crossing the Atlantic. What could be more romantic than this unlooked for redemption of a human voice, a human appeal, from the unregarding years, the oblivious depths? Unfortunately, the message was a deep disappointment for anyone of a romantic turn of mind. Here's what it said:


You are a really great person.
I hope we can keep in correspondence.
I said I would write.
Your friend always,


Nova Scotia ’85

Against this inconsequential blather, so miraculously preserved, the soul cries out: How utterly banal! How bland! How jejune! And, the soul might add, how '80s. I'm sure it was not Jonathan's intention to offend; quite the reverse. His subtext is patently "Hey, let's just be friends. But I'm too chicken to tell you that in person so I'll just throw this into the sea." There is an insult to Mary in that, but there's also an insult to language and its innate poetic possibility. There's an insult to mystery and the mind's imaginings; an insult flung out against the great romance of the turning world. It's as if we translated the Rosetta Stone and it revealed itself as mere doggerel or drivel. Or as if we saw from afar some writing on the moon, and when we looked more closely it said "Buzz woz here '69".

Humans, it seems, have more capacity for inconsequence, as well as for consequence, than any other creature. If the '80s bore witness to this, how much more our present moment, when texts you wouldn't cross the street to read, let alone an ocean, are preserved still more carefully and irrevocably than by the crude method of an ocean-going vase? Seeing our words and works are likely to last, perhaps unto immortality, we should take care that they should be worth the lasting.