Poem by Ben Okri about change.
Ben Okri | April 2007 issue
“Change is good, but no change
It rang through the great hall
As it has resounded silently
Through the ages.
It rang past the faces
Of stern masters and poets
And lords of learning,
Asleep in their hidden academies.
Change is good;
Newton unveiled the unchanging laws
And freed us into new sight.
This inheritance has become one
Under eras of division and strife.
Havens and deep places
Have to be protected from the raging
Winds and the glowing deserts.
The corridors have widened:
Fields have given way to new trees
And new cries of ecstasy;
Dreaming spires no longer dream
The same things;
Monoliths hold books now, and philosophies
Sprung from harsh evolutions
Freedom has given birth to unfreedom
Reason has triumphed
Over the unbounded creative spirit.
The air is dryer where no change
Old ways kept old, protected from
The devils of the gate,
Turn the bones white, and stiffen
The mind’s luminous dance
Into new ages, and happier flight.
Change is a god that Heraclitus
Saw in the ancient river.
And as we keep things the same
The river works beneath us
The god works his gentle and sad ironies
On our eyes hidden from encroaching
Devils at the gate.
The river runs; the fields sprout
Strange new mushrooms,
Libraries yield new books
In the charged margins of the old.
And reason, trapped in philosophies
Held in iron, turns on itself
Like a caged tiger, and prowls
The diminished boundaries
Of a shrinking world,
Shrinking because of the horror
Of the devils at the gates.
Song is sweet; music prays to change;
Poets pray to the goddess of surprise;
And mathematicians would be unmoored
In those realms where no change
Is a wild river of factors.
Love is seduced by change;
Time, serene, remains indifferent
To our iron will, our willed philosophies.
The world grows or shrinks
Of its own necessity, its own vision;
The river makes all things dance
To a music they never understood
At the time.
And the giants who built walls
Meant to be proof against Time
And the desert ravages
Found in their sleep
That the walls had become change
Had moved, had dissolved, had sprouted
The feared things;
Or worse, that the feared things
Had seeped in underfoot,
Or through the air,
Had changed the frontiers
Of their rigid dialogue.
Walls invite invasion.
Walls end up trapping within
The demons meant to be kept out;
For the demons merely turn into
The giants, grow in them, like a silent cancer.
Oases attract the eyes of the hungry.
Protected places, luminated by fame,
Attract the rage of the unlucky,
The unfortunate, the dispossessed,
And all those who are shut out
In the outer darknesses of our age.
All around, leonids, planets, stars
The cosmos shrinks and grows,
Dreams and flows
Under the immutable spell of change;
All around, lives collapse, empires
Quietly fall and cave in
From natural exhaustion,
Dynasties give up the ghost of ambition,
Towers rage with the unmeasured cadences
Of festering hunger,
Continents drift apart,
Peoples no longer recognise one another
And wars eat up fathers and frail sisters,
And houses fall on one another,
And roads break into unhallowed speech.
It is natural to want calm places
Where stillness dwells
Where cool waters flow
Where concerts radiate music and grace
Where the mind contemplates crystals,
Pure forms, glowing legends, complex melodies
And books that keep their hidden thoughts
In the silence of their musty pages.
It is natural to want serenity
And flowering gardens of lovely symmetry
And Virgil’s spreading beeches
And the lost happy times of the wise ones
Who were wise in the knowledge
That the mind cannot comprehend all,
But at least can smile at infinity.
But the river flows, and so must we.
Change is the happy god that Heraclitus
Saw in the golden river.
Spread illumination through this darkening world;
Spread illumination through this darkening world.
No change is good, but dancing
Gracefully with change is better.
Ben Okri is a Nigerian poet and novelist who contributes frequently to Ode.
Copyright: Ben Okri, 2007. All rights reserved.