Steve Whitaker, Literary Editor

Poem Of The Week: 'Everest' By David Wilson


Once it was Chomolungma,
Mother Goddess of the Earth,
a face whose veil rarely lifted,
its whiteness the White Whale’s.

Now it’s like Elvis near the end,
a giant in a soiled jumpsuit,
blank, useful for percentages,
a sheet from which the music’s fled.

Everest, from Gokyo Ri
Everest, from Gokyo Ri
In ‘Everest’, his award-winning poem of overcooked ambition and ecological despoliation, David Wilson’s two compact quatrains burst with meanings which contradict the grace and respectfulness of the climber’s traditional mandate.

For globalisation and easy travel have brought that great, essentially unknowable, mountain-mystique within touching distance of too many ad hoc, half-trained aspirants, a long line of whom were found in clotted, hypoxic formation on a ridge near the summit in 2019. Wilson calls forth the remote majesty of ‘Chomolungma’ – Everest’s hallowed Tibetan name - in metaphors of purity, of inviolate, maidenly whiteness, a reassuring presence in an ocean of scudding clouds.

…before returning the beautiful ‘White Whale’ to terra firma in the absurd persona of a rotund, declining Elvis, in a language whose change of key, from reverential to studiedly makeshift, best mirrors the Mother Goddess’ newly besmirched façade. The ‘King’s’ soiled jumpsuit – a depressing figure for the detritus which now litters Everest’s base camps and slopes – is parodic, a symptom of decline as sure as an attenuated Las Vegas residency.

The financial accrual, the ‘percentage’, is an oblique reflection of the climber’s new addiction to stats and grades, to calculation and cool purpose, and to the stretching of ambition to the limit of all sense and proportion.

In the end, the inherent ‘music’ of mountaineering, of the existential pull of the sublime, is diminished as ignominiously as Elvis’ final movement, in a basement toilet at Graceland.

‘Everest’ is taken from The Equilibrium Line, and is published by smith|doorstop.

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