Mary Shelley’s 224th Jubilee Poem
August 30, 2021, for ScienceVR’s Celebration of Mary Shelley’s Birthday
Welcome, on this day, year 224, honoring my jubilee, the anniversary of my birth.
I am a poet.
I am a writer.
I, woman, daughter, mother, mistress, wife, friend, traveler, witness, human.
I am many qualities, many personas.
Words, labels, biographies cannot contain me.
I work beyond the limits of my life.
Translator of dreams and distinctions, I create life from ether.
I claim myself and my identity, even as I seek to lose it, to lose myself, as every creator must do, in our work.
Who am I? Who are you?
Attached, detached, we wander lonely as a cloud, as Wordsworth says.
I ask questions from the depths so that we may consider this exciting time
of so much power. Possibility. So much at stake.
Does man control life itself? Can we?
Dreams lead me, phantasmagoria; nightmarish wonders.
Possessing my soul, they seek to claim me. I confront my free mind, body and soul, just as you might now.
So, if what I write is conjuring and channeling imagination, don’t hold me accountable.
If the book is to be my Creature, my creation is one of great beauty and horror all at once. I will be just as quick as you to disown it
should I need to
of these times, isn’t it?
I was never a conformist myself, you see… and yet, we must get by.
And, yet, there are these pulls, these draws,
my draw to Percy for my love, my earthly love,
and to Byron, Lord Byron, for the dark and the beyond.
Pose intimate questions and you do insult my intellect, for it is the romancing of my mind that is the highest art.
Here are you invited, here shall we play, exquisitely, with this exquisite corpse. After all, I am whetting your palate with my discourse.
One last thing, on the curdling of blood, the goosebumps and the heightening of senses.
This is awe and wonder, if there ever were.
We attribute these transformative qualities to our encounters with the beauty of sunsets, with moonlit lakes, expansive skies and mountain vistas– yet, who among us has not also marveled at the immense power of science, the beautiful dark gothic romances of the encounters with death itself, and the mysteries of life creation, which my story addresses in its most exquisite, nuanced and detailed forms? This is encountering the sublime.
Grappling with these themes, we fall into reverie through language, and if you find your skin reaching that state of horripilation, piloerection– in other words, goosebumps– this is because we are touching the beyond, approaching a void, striking it rich behind the linear black.*
Let’s go there, you and I, along with our poetry, tales and stories, truths of longing for belonging. Byron invited us here; he willed it to happen. I am no one’s muse. The muse talks to me and through me. Can you hear her now, in the silence and the shadows? Let’s invite a poetic meditation, on my birthday, a brief pause here, to feel the emptiness. My good friend Keats calls it negative capability. Let’s invite it now. See what drops in to our minds, with some seconds of silence, 18 to mark my age when I first authored the tale of Frankenstein.
Did it seem lengthy, this keen pause? What spoke to you in the negative space?
What words could we pen together, and then lift, to give voice?
– Caitlin Krause, August 30, 2021
*the line “strike it rich behind the linear back” is anachronistic, as it’s taken from Seamus Heaney’s Clearances, published in 1987.
poetic exquisite collective corpse (from the audience 8/30/21):
A line in the shadows, exquisite corpse awaits
The world external is but fleeting form…
In night, in thunder, in good company, in light
The muse wanders, bringing life to the unknown