Thursday, March 30, 2023

Psalms Composed in Utter Darkness by Dennis Daly.


Psalms Composed in Utter Darkness by Dennis Daly. Dos Madres Press, Ohio, 50 pages. $19.

Review by Ed Meek

We deceive ourselves, and there’s no truth in us. Why then belike we must sin. And so consequently die. Ay, we must die an everlasting death. –Marlowe

New England poet Dennis Daly, like John Milton in Paradise Lost, uses the elevated language of poetry to write about the human condition. Where Milton chronicles the fall of mankind from Eden, Daly writes from the point of view of Dr. Faustus who sold his soul to the devil for personal gain. Satan in Milton’s epic poem thinks it is “better to reign in hell than to serve in heaven.” In our Anthropocene era, we are the masters of our planet and our fate. Yet, has our hubris led us on the wrong path? We are on our way to finding that out and Dennis Daly gives us much to think about in this regard in his excellent new book of 50 psalms.

In Psalm eight Daly says, “Outwardly fools believe in Something/ Inwardly fools believe in Nothing.” That certainly seems to capture the shallowness of many public figures today. Daly goes on to delve into the issues raised by Dr. Faustus who at first might seem an unlikely candidate for an American everyman and yet, the “doctor turned necromancer who makes a pact with the devil in order to obtain knowledge and power” sounds like he’d be right at home in our current period. Unfortunately, the deal is a little too good to be true and eventually the good doctor pays the price of eternal damnation. Word to the wise, friends.

Faustus goes on to ask, “Must we sacrifice our inventions, / Our hard-won constructions of justice, / Our free will?” We have accomplished a few things, haven’t we? Do we really need to return to the past when we were in God’s good graces?

Daly’s Faustus has compassion for those of us in the same boat as he. “Blessed be the lost creatures, / the God-forsaken ones...”

Daly’s book raises questions like: What do we actually believe in today? Many of us would identify with Daly’s narrator: “I thirst, Lord, thirst for knowledge.” Will we find it in our “ink-slathered forsaken world”? Or will we end up like Dr. Faustus in the nether regions?

Faustus hopes the Lord will change his fate and give him (and us) a reprieve.

Judge me, a bloody, guileful man,

Who regrets all anger and impious cuts

That once governed my every step,

Who died in shreds, torn by demons

Called upon by contracted dread.

Yet each agreement expires

Over time as dissolution reverses

And entities revive upward,

As certainty and doubt determine

Your godly will, or a game of thrown dice.

Here Daly is echoing the famous statement by Einstein: “God does not play dice with the universe.” But Einstein later explained that “God tirelessly plays dice under laws which he himself prescribed.”

In Psalms Composed in Utter Darkness, Daly, like a monk in a monastery, pleads for the many of us who are lost souls in contemplative, memorable psalms that are, like those from the Bible, worthy of repeated readings. Add Dennis Daly’s new book to your library and consult it often.

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