Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Last Song: Part 1

The last of his kind, Death's messenger of rhyme,
took 8 clay slabs and made them divine.
A rule forced on young and envied by old,
Through his life truly lived - treasure mind, not gold.
Shared his key to such peace, tried to pass it along,
But that nugget's still hidden between verse, within The Last Song.

Theodore Ronald McNugent (no relation)
There are tales about the tale and songs about the song, but the song itself has been lost. Well, technically, we know where it is, but no one can read it, let alone sing it. It’s not rare for a writer to be mentioned in other people’s writings, as a result we know a bit more of this last scholar than of the language he used or the song itself. Lacking a known name the song is often referred to as The Last Song, likewise, the scholar's name has been lost to time, consequentially he is often referred to as The Poet of the Last Song or simply The Poet. This blog post is intended to be the first in a series where I will attempt to uncover the truth behind The Last Song through a careful analysis of the many songs and tales that have mentioned it, no matter how brief or seemingly insignificant. When you can't go to the source, seek clues among your fellow seekers.

Let's start our journey as far back as we can with Sir Wendle Dendle, a slightly mad poet who is believed to have actually lived at the same time as The Poet. Whether that's true is debatable but he certainly is responsible for one of the first references to The Last Song. In The Lariat during a reflective moment, just before all hell breaks loose, these two verses stick out:
Like the dead language song,
All love is a mystery.
With the crack of a gong,
A king’s word become history.

The Poet of Death rears his gray mottled head,
To look at the sky that’s turned gold into lead.
He praises the past and forsakes the future,
For all that has been, is lost to the teacher.
No one has ever found evidence that the rest of the song has anything to do with The Poet of our interest, so I'll spare you from the rest of his drivel. Aside from this small part it was written with the intent to woo an unattainable princess, she remained unattainable. In fact the inclusion of these two verses, and the fact that they didn't really fit with the rest of it, are what have allowed this strange ode to survive through the ages. This is worth noting because, as you will see, many of the references we have found seem to be thrown into other pieces of work almost offhandedly. Is it a strange conspiracy, a lazy writers attempt at appearing more talented by association, or does it go deeper?

Could it be that while in the midst of writers block we channel the same feelings that went into making The Last Song? After all, what better weapon to kill a language than some sort of mass writer's block? I have often looked to The Last Song and the tenacity I imagine went into making it when I've experienced writer's block myself. Just moments ago, I found myself thinking, “If this man could write something so beautiful with the knowledge that it might never be enjoyed surely I can finish this stupid blog!” and somehow found that elusive spark of creativity renewed almost as if I had been doused with a bucket of ice from a slumber.

While I would love to brag that I came up with that theory myself, many of you are probably thinking of the Tale of the Broken Clock in which we all learned that a piece of time is measured by a time piece and not ruled by it, unless we forfeit our lives to it. The main character of this tale is a boy named Lester whose father serves the town as clock maker and has been training him in the art. Though his father is an extremely talented artisan he has lost the his love of it. His father's negative attitude results in Lester developing a severe hatred toward the town and its dependence on the numbers of the clock to tell them when to do their daily duties. Although most of the story is quite dark, there is a brief reprieve late in the tale where Lester's father laments his failure to interest his son in clock making and suggests that poets are already working on first drafts of The Last Hour on the Clock. He even goes so far as to mockingly sing a few lines:
Oh woe is me,
the clock strikes three.
We must mow our lawns and sing The Last Song.
Yet it seems so soon since it struck three
The time since last just sixty… minutes… long
This brief mention of The Last Song could easily be dismissed if you forget that the person singing it is in almost the same position as The Poet. He is faced with the knowledge that he will probably be the last one to know the art of time keeping. The comparison only grows stronger at the end when this fear drives him mad and he spends his final years obsessed with making the most wonderful clock tower possible in the hopes that his son will be inspired to keep it working, at the very least as a tribute to him, if not his art. It is immediately recognized as the town's greatest achievement but shortly after his death, no doubt as he intended, it stops working. The people of the town, not knowing how to fix it, merely keep it clean in the hopes that his son Lester will one day change his mind and take his fathers place as master timekeeper.

Was there a Lester for our Poet? That is, as yet, unknown. But it could be argued that he made such a beautiful song with the hope that it would inspire others to recognize the beauty of the language and save his art. Today, we wish we could help him accomplish this goal, and maybe tomorrow we will.

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