oil, by Brenda Ferguson
Reading George Herbert’s 17th century poem called “Prayer” the other day, I came across this phrase -- “plummet sounding heaven and earth” – and started wondering what would happen if I used an imaginary plummet (or plumb bob, as it’s now known) to measure my reading. What would happen if I “sounded the depths” of a few of my favorite works of literature? How far down would the plumb bob have to drop to touch the very bottom of the meanings and reverberations of a Shakespeare play? And where is the bed, the final truth, the bottom substructure of an Emerson essay? And would my plumb bob just keep descending into the depths of a Dickens novel forever, falling past one interpretation after another, one opinion after another, one scholarly treatise after another? Can there, in fact, be a final, last-word foundation for any work of literature, or is serious reading always a process of sailing on a fathomless sea? Herbert’s plumb would be useless when I’m navigating through Wordsworth or George Eliot, so I may as well leave it on shore and just take pleasure in the immeasurability and mystery of the expedition.