Poetism Commentary: "Ignorance"

The poem in question: Ignorance

One of the problems with doing these commentaries is that I once I start writing one, I have a really hard time getting away from re-reading these old poems and doing something else, like going to bed.

This poem is one of the, if not the, first I wrote that I can look back on and enjoy everything about it: the writing style, the wording, the presentation, the theme, etc. This is a rare thing–or maybe it seems that way because I see it as if not a diamond, then at least a cubic zirconium, in the rough of my other earlier poetical efforts.

Ignorance is the first in a “trilogy” of sorts, continued five months later with Power and concluded with Abdication nearly five years after that. In this way, the writing timeframe resembles that of an Orson Scott Card series. (Ha!)

As a bit of background information on my collection of poems, there are two “orders” to them. One is the order they are in on this site–chronologically by date. The other is the order they are in in the other locations I keep them–a printed copy, a written copy in a notebook, and in both a combined file and separate files on my hard drive–which is mostly chronological with some strays thrown in after the fact. For example, the non-web order starts with What Lies In Wait, with Aftermath not entering the picture until after Aye Chi Monkey, which itself is placed after Pretense. I believe that it is entirely the earlier works which are out of order, the reason being that my idea to collect all my poetry in one place started with What Lies In Wait, and I didn’t think of including the poems from my freshman English class until later. There are also some revisionistic practices which place others out of chronological order, but now I’m just getting nitpicky.

The reason this background applies to the poem at hand is that in my non-web order, it is situated between Can’t Run and All The World’s Attention, which carry dates of March 4 and March 12, 1996, respectively, yet Ignorance carries a date of May 13. This fits in with my memory of writing the poem in March 1996, but tweaking it and not having a “finalized” version until May.

With that rather large introduction out of the way, let us proceed to the poem itself. It is about a man who is facing judgment for his life. He has not necessarily been a terrible person; rather, he has been largely apathetic and unwilling to go out of his way to do the right things. The term “ignorance” does not refer to the common definition of “lack of knowledge, education, or awareness;” rather it is a more literal interpretation of the word: this man knew what he should do, but he ignored doing it.

In the first part of the poem he is still trying to figure out if he’s actually at judgment, or if he’s just dreaming. The second stanza continues his ponderance, with him beginning to realize that maybe it is real, but he’s there by accident.

By the third stanza, he is rationalizing: he sees a host of other people waiting with him, and tells himself that his conduct wasn’t that bad; his thought process is mirrored in 2 Nephi 28:7-8:

…if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved….

It is also interesting to see that he assumes everyone else has been just as “ignorant” as he.

By the fourth stanza, he realizes that he cannot justify himself, and that he has no excuse for wasting his life away, and ignoring the higher laws.

This is a theme I still think about often. Being of religious persuasion, I believe that there are requirements God has of us to adhere to on Earth, and that far too often we are are distracted, willfully disobedient, or just plain lazy. This poem is as personal to me now as it was ten years ago.

Of course, the four stanzas are interspersed with the words forming the line

Ignorance can be damning.

Visually breaking the theme of the poem up like this just seemed right; I don’t really know why. It does beg the question of how the poem is to be read aloud: the answer is however the reader wishes. The breaking up of the theme is also done in the “sequels.”

Three other notes. Each relates to my hand-written notebook version as compared to all my electronic copies. They are minor, but I thought I should point them out in the interest of being thorough. The written copy uses double quote marks to contain the man’s thoughts, while all other copies use single quote marks.

The second difference is also minor, but stranger: in the electronic copies the last lines of the second stanza are written

Did I just up and climb
The wrong hill?’

while the written copy is

Did I just up and
Climb the wrong hill?”

I prefer the non-written version, simply because putting the verb on the end of the line is stylistically the same as the third and fourth stanzas. The first stanza is another issue altogether, and I have no way to explain it.

The third note is the most puzzling, to me at least. The written version has the word “ignorance” between the first and second stanzas lowercase, while the electronic copies capitalize the word. I have no idea why.

Last, but far from least, contracting the word “betwixt” instead of “between” makes me feel warm and fuzzy.

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