How does the poem "Nothing in Heaven Functions As It Ought" compare to the story "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas," and how does this poem differ from the story? For instance, what are they...

How does the poem "Nothing in Heaven Functions As It Ought" compare to the story "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas," and how does this poem differ from the story? For instance, what are they saying about perfection?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Nothing in Heaven functions as it ought
Peter's bifocals blindly sat on, crack
His gates lurch wide with the cackle of a cock.
Not turn with a hush of gold as Milton had thought;....
The nimbus off the Venerable Bede
Like that of an old dandelion gone to seed....

These lines from X.J.Kennedy's poem suggest that there is no perfection even in Heaven. Evidently, it is only man's imagination that creates the appearance of perfection as, perhaps, Rafael paints the conception of holiness and Milton merely imagines the poetic movement of the gates of Heaven. Likewise, the perfection of the idyllic scene of Omelas as children seem innocent and people have been happy so long that "[A] smiles have become archaic" is fashioned, although it is done so solely by the imperfection and degradation of the human. Similarly, heaven as perfection in both Kennedy's poem and LeGuin's story is unattainable without flaws and decadence. The appearance of perfection is fashioned, ironically, by man, that most imperfect of God's creations.

Kennedy's poem continues,

But Hell hath no freewheeling part
None takes his own sweet time, none quickens pace...

Similarly, in "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" no one can live without concern for the rules, either, and be "freewheeling." For, all are made to know that their happiness, "the health of their children, the wisdom of their scholars...and the kindly weather of their skies" depend upon the child's despicable misery. The "wretched one, sniveling in the dark," who suffers much like the inmates of hell, is the source of the contentment of their lives. In contrast, however, those in heaven in the poem do not compromise themselves and experience the need for a scapegoat for their happiness. It is merely some of the functions of heaven that have not attained perfection.

Nevertheless, in both the poem and the short story, there can be no heaven without a hell. For, one must know misery before he can know happiness and perfection. In the poem, the "poor hearts" will bear a tear "[I]mprinted with an abstract of his case" in order that heaven can exist; each resident of Omelas must admit the misery of the child as a scapegoat in order to ensure contentment. 

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