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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.










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