“There must be some way out of here,” said the joker to the thief
“There’s too much confusion, I can’t get no relief
Businessmen, they drink my wine, ploughmen dig my earth
None of them along the line know what any of it is worth”
“No reason to get excited,” the thief, he kindly spoke
“There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke
But you and I, we’ve been through that, and this is not our fate
So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late”
All along the watchtower, princes kept the view
While all the women came and went, barefoot servants, too
Outside in the distance a wildcat did growl
Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl
All Along the Watchtower is a mise en abyme: an image within an image within an image of self-reflection. I find this lyric haunting. I cannot tell whether we are looking backwards or forwards but either way there is catastrophic disaster pending.
Written in 1968 the year of the assassination of Martin Luther King and during the appalling Rolling Thunder campaign in Vietnam, which was watched in every American living room on their television, this was a time when the poet songwriter seemed to be the only watchman.
Yet I must also glance back to 740 BC when Isaiah wrote his prophecy of the fall of Babylon, the largest most important city in the world. Isaiah predicted it would be overthrown, like Sodom and Gomorrah, and never be settled again. Some two hundred years later, Herodotus wrote about Persia and Medea diverting the Euphrates River that had previously filled the moat around Babylon city thus protecting it from enemies. The Babylonian Empire, built up by King Nebuchadnezzar, boasted the most beautiful palace, temples, city streets and double walls.
This was later razed to the ground by the enemy. Rather than watching for their approach, the Babylonians had been celebrating and feasting their invincibility.
Extract from The Alchemy of Poetry
Elizabeth’s first book, The Alchemy of Poetry, is available now! It would make the perfect gift for someone who is interested in the world of art and poetry and history and politics and love and death and war and the sublime – because the 160 poems selected in The Alchemy of Poetry succinctly and pitch perfectly offer all this and so much more!
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The Alchemy of Poetry by Elizabeth Guy
Published by Dreaming Big Publications
Paperback; 470 pages; ISBN-13 : 978-1947381414
Genre: Ancient, Classical and Contemporary Poetry; Education and Teaching; Non fiction