Friday, June 7, 2013

TC: The Black Spot (Scott After the Pole)



Robert Falcon Scott (1868-1912), writing in his journal in the Cape Evans hut: photo by Herbert G. Ponting, 1911 (National Archives UK)

Had I but strength to stand, I'd walk out
Upon the ice and show you the strange sights
That glow within the black lights of the Pole.
Natural science cannot explain these lights.
Where nothing living breathes the personal
Must also hold its breath. The stirrings of the men
In restless sleep, their labored breathing.
I must write Wilson's mother a note, deceive
Her if I'm able as to the horror  
Of his end. I'll tell her of his courage,
His selflessness, his loyalty to the men.
She'll have no need for the truth, no more
Than did we to be undeceived. Not till  
Our bones are found will they find my letter.
"29th March. My dear Mrs. Wilson.
If this reaches you, Bill and I will have gone
Out together. We are very near it now  
And I should like you to know how splendid
He was at the end. Everlastingly 
Cheerful and ready to sacrifice  
Himself for others, never a word of blame
To me for leading him into this mess.  
He suffers only mild discomforts.
His eyes have a colorful blue look of hope
And his mind is peaceful with his faith. 
My whole heart goes out to you in pity."
Can't see my marks yet still can grip this stub
And make it move across the page. Black spots
In the dark, marking what cannot be shown.
Black spots blur on white paper: what can  
Be shown cannot be said. The hour grows late
For these meandering trains of thought  
Represented by blurred spots on white paper.
Connect the dots and the limits of my world
Will grow apparent to you. Where in it am I?
This riddle does not exist as problem
In your life, where the light of the personal
Shines. The solution of the problem  
Of life is the vanishing of the problem.  
I am the microcosm, thought Scott 
At the last, in the dark, as night closed in
Over permafrost. A black spot now his world
Growing to fill the whole vast snowbound landscape.

TC: The Black Spot (Scott After the Pole), from Feeling for the Ground, 2010


Robert Falcon Scott's South Pole party on his ill-fated expedition, from left to right at the Pole: Lawrence Oates (standing), Henry Bowers (sitting), Scott (standing in front of Union Jack flag on pole), Edward Wilson (sitting), Edgar Evans (standing). Henry Bowers (1883-1912) took this photograph on the day of the party's arrival at the Pole, 17 January 1912, using a piece of string to operate the camera shutter: photo from Leonard Huxley (ed.), The Return from the Pole, in Scott's Last Expedition (volume 1), New York, 1913 (National Archives UK)

File:Herbert Ponting icebergs Scott Expadition.jpg

Icebergs in McMurdo Sound, as seen from McMurdo Station during Scott's last expedition: photo by Herbert Ponting, 1910; image by Wayne Ray, 31 March 2008 (private collection of Bruce Parker, London, Ontario)

"The worst has happened... All the day dreams must go... Great God! This is an awful place": Robert Falcon Scott, diary entry, 17 January 1912, upon reaching the Pole, only to learn that Amundsen had preceded him by six weeks.


Marie W said...

Oh, so nice to see this post here, Tom. Wonderful poem, wonderful photos. Look at those burnt faces. Even the gloves hanging there in Scotts room didn't help a thing. On the left, a box of assorted provisions... such a great photo.
Connecting the dots to draw the outline of my universe. So good, so good.

TC said...


In case you haven't already guessed, this was posted in your honour, by your icebound friend


Marie W said...

So nice of Gaston. Now I like this post even more, if that is possible.

VANITAS said...

This post is fantastic! Thank you, Tom.