“That this is my North-West discoverie:

Per fretum febrae, by these straights to die”


“Oh, my America, my new found land”


–         John Donne


Intricate fantastical

Palace is built

From fragile weave

Of dreamt formulae

On the mathematician’s

Flowerdecked grave

With a walk like the waft

Of a branch in the breeze

Comes a woman whose eyes

Are pools in a cave

That a diver might brave

With no light to return

In the day to farm and fashion

In the dark to watch and wonder

At the dawn to remember

Where the sea and the sky blur together

There are havens and reefs for the sailor

What land lies over

Those silent hills?

Wastelands where black bats gibber

Or cradling a silent river,

Valleys of song?

Officials make inventory

Of all the goods the travellers pack

And plans for drought or for attack

Are hammered out while song and story

Buy off the devils along the track

Trapped in the hills and hunted down

By hidden bog and avalanche

By haunting wind and wolf, survivors

Stumble beside a clattering stream

Down to the valley of their dream

Where cupping hands bring out bright gold

Trees offer fruit of no known tang

And vivid song as no bird sang

Wakens the travellers from the cold

They name the valley, import the skills

To mine the gold and lay the roads

Till someone heads for other hills.

When no dark ridge is left, the wise

Explore the forests of the mind

And stare in one another’s eyes

Now out of mist on broken lands

What new and treacherous hills will rise?

Well, this is one of those poems where my attempts to explain sound like a friend of the dead poet suggesting what his words might mean. Certainly physical exploration and conquest come into it. People may explore from wanderlust or for all sorts of reasons, but their discoveries have consequences. At the same time, the excitement of finding something totally new is intense. So where do we explore when there is no more terra incognita?

The opening, I think, sets the scene of the atmosphere before the explorers set out – but I can’t really explain the mathematician’s flowerdecked grave: it just seems right!