Title: Endymion; or, The State of Entropy: A Lyrical Drama
Publisher/Author: Kurt R. Ward O.P.R.
Illustrator: Rebecca Yanovskaya
Designer: Harry Huybers
As night descends, a poet lies down to sleep upon a tomb. And he dreams. His dreams take him from the heights of Olympus to the depths of the Underworld where he meets Gods and Goddesses, questions the nature of human existence, and wonders (as has every poet and philosopher since humans began to think on such things):
I stand upon a solitary Shore
Thirsting with insatiable drought,
For one sign of Redemption
To quiet this obstinate doubt,
To know that Birth and Life are more
Than the sum of our conceited Arts,
To reconcile the Impermanence of all things
Against our everlasting Desire. (III: 70-76)
Ward’s Endymion is many things simultaneously; how many of these things you see or even attempt to understand will depend on how often you read the work and the depth of your reading. It is, first, an ode to the works of Keats and Shelley, a celebration of two masters of Romanticism who were lost far too young. (As such, at least a passing knowledge of their bibliographies is helpful, especially Keats’ own Endymion.) Secondly, it is a sensual evocation; that is to say, the poem conjures feelings of disquiet, curiosity, uncertainty, melancholy, and a profound craving to know. Third, it is a philosophical exploration of human nature and our reason for being, with allusions to Greek mythology, NeoPlatonism, astrology, alchemy, and other esoteric fields.
Ward’s poet travels between the spheres, seeking and wondering and asking why? He is guided in his quest — even deliberately sought out — by two notable Deities: Hermes and Diana. While Jupiter and Zephyrus also make appearances, it is Hermes and Diana who play the most important roles in the poem, and their selection by Ward is loaded with meaning. Hermes is a God associated with language, the mind, and the Underworld, and travel between the realms. Diana (who appears here as Diana, Diana-Hekate, and Diana-Selene) is a Goddess of the Heavens, Earth, and Underworld, as well as (re)birth. And it is these Deities who ask the questions and lay out the challenge at the heart of the poem; such as Diana here, in the second act:
Where is the promise that awakens
From the union of Day and Night?
The Fruits of Despair
Rot on the shores of the Unwept,
Let us name the un-nameable,
Fear named is destroyed,
There is power in Forgiveness,
Harmony in a Trembling Voice. (II: 93-100)
Additionally, in the third act, Hermes raises the question:
How thin the veil
Between Thought and Dream,
How narrow the chasm of Day and Night,
Where do they meet,
Where do they converge? (III: 10-14)
Like the God himself, Ward’s Endymion (the poem and the poet) exists in a state of liminality, of suspension, of potentiality precariously balanced. Something is coming, something is about to happen. Rather like a storm just beyond the horizon or the thump of something unseen against the bottom of a boat. It is an unnerving, but also enthralling sensation.
Ward’s long poem is accompanied by fascinating grey-scale illustrations by Yanovskaya. The opening illustration (Endymion asleep in front of the pyramidal tomb, Diana overhead riding a white deer across the full moon) perfectly sets the mood. But I was particularly struck by a later drawing of Hermes: wings sprouting from his head, a staff with a jester’s head in one hand, his foot resting on a human skull.
I hope that Yanovskaya will offer some of these drawings as prints. They would make wonderful devotional additions to home shrines and altars.
Finally, a note on the design. Huybers lays out the poem in such a way that stanzas flow across the page, the conversation rising and falling. The speakers are easily distinguished with italics, the line numbers are noted in red, and — while I don’t know the name of the chosen font — it calls to mind the very Romantic poems of the early nineteenth century that inspired Endymion.
Ward’s Endymion is a fantastic poem. It is also challenging, and calls to mind the works of not only Keats and Shelley, but also Blake and Yeats. Highly recommended.
[Reviewed by Rebecca Buchanan.]