Skip to main content

The Pillars of Hercules


Welcome to January – the month of beginnings and ends.

 Where do things start and finish?

And, while we're at it, when?

 Everything gets a bit mixed up when I try to focus on finity (no such word, but perhaps there ought to be), let alone infinity.

To be sure – or even certainly – the more I think about it, the more I lose certainty.

Here's a dialogue between a child and an adult about the nothing – or is it everything? –  that lies beyond the edge of the known world, as it then was.


Non Plus Ultra


And what is it that lies beyond

beyond the Pillars of Hercules?


The waters, child, that endless ocean

as far as the eye can see.


So beyond, what lies beyond

past what my eye can see?


Never ever ending ocean

like time, which never ends.


But if I travel long enough

might an end come into sight?


I do not know.  I cannot tell

what it is the future holds.


Does the ocean hold the future

as the past sets with the sun?


The sun sinks in the endless ocean

between the Pillars, in the west.


If I could fly across the ocean

would time slow down, perhaps even stop?


The ocean's infinite.  There will be time

more than enough for all your questions.



Non plus ultra (nothing further beyond) was said to be inscribed on the Pillars of Hercules, where the Mediterranean and Atlantic meet – the end of the known world in Antiquity, possibly the entrance to Hades and the beginning of, well, nothingness. 

Perhaps the child here can see more clearly – or at least ask sensible questions that might lead to a better understanding of nothing (or its opposite) being beyond – than the present adult to whom it turns.  The authoritative responses are not always right.

But then all of this was in classical times when we know only too well scientific knowledge was very limited. Of course, we now know so much more about what lies beyond. So the certainty with which we might answer childish questions like these can be justified.


But as they say, the more we know, the more we know we don't know.  And even the (sometimes) wise grown-up in the middle of his/her answers in my poem responds with a confession of ignorance.

I don't know either.

Especially as I stand here this January before another pair of Pillars of Hercules, looking out at the New Year into the future. I find myself wondering, like that child, what lies beyond.

For now though, I've decided not to worry about how long and far it will go on and what finity/infinity may mean. No more questions, no more (clearly and inevitably not always true) answers.

What is certain is that some things are finished and others beginning.

So, a(nother) New Year with all its unknowns, starts and ends, to step into.

May it hold happiness and fulfilment for us all.










Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

The Three Hares

  The Three Hares We continue on our way running, running, running around held together tip to tip so I can hear what she can hear as well as her. And the other follows me in front of her – we are joined up by our ears so we follow, lead and follow running, running, running around we continue on our way. Running, running, running around – no cause for worry – what's to come has already been. The future's past – watch us here – we're going nowhere – the last is first and first is last. Our present moment sees us still although we seem to race – running, running, running around we continue. On our way running, running, running around hearing your persistent questions – why do you keep on asking? We cannot tell you any more. May you share your senses and find soft silence at your centre which is so close, while you go on running, running, running around. The turning of the year, with the various thoughts about the past and the future that c


I love the word Aftermath, with its apparent Anglo-Saxon simplicity. I read that it means after the mowing, perhaps a second or later mowing; more specifically, it can refer to the crop of grass which springs up after the mowing earlier in the summer. Even if the quality of the grass be criticised as not having the fragrance or sweetness of the first crop, or worse, dismissed as 'the bloomless aftermath', it is after all new growth – a reminder of what has been, and of what is yet to come. Aftermath Yes, the grass will grow again. There will be another season here upon these same old fields where sheep shall safely graze again as if it were the first occasion.   Fresh growth of flimsy blades will spring to feed a new-born generation here once more, in time, expected along with others, all those others drawn forth to prosper in the sun.   And some who left will come again remembering this place. A pair of swallows from the past will score the sky above the

Happy Christmas!

Christmas – or if you prefer, Solstice, Hanukkah, or just This Special Time… Stop now.  For a moment, wait. And look.  From here you can see far. In this direction, where we’ve been – the climb, the ups and downs. Now turn around. There before you lies the future.  At the summit of the year there’s time to rest, and be refreshed – let’s gather here, so we may share each other’s company, look forward to the new arrivals, lives to come travelling into this misty landscape, and in our brightness bring to mind those no longer in our group. So drop your rucksack, get your breath back the old year lies behind – for now let’s all enjoy the present gift-wrapped here before us. I’m quite sure this little poem has no great literary, let alone poetic merit, but hey we don’t always have to be polished, clever, neat or profound. Or original. Or elegant. Especially not when you’ve just got to the top of a mountain. But there is a def