Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 523
“End of the Seers’ Convention” is a narrative poem in blank verse which is essentially a conversation or series of statements delivered by various delegates at an imaginary conference of mystics and other representatives of the occult. After the narrator, or central consciousness of the poem, sets the scene, one of the practitioners of parapsychological phenomena offers prophetic observations on the future of humankind to which the others respond with derision or dismissal.
The incredible is casually established when the narrator remarks that he and his fellow seers were “walking and talking on the roof of the world.” The focus of the meeting is described as a potential unification of all the realms that rule and influence life in the universe. The body of the poem consists of prophetic utterances from members of specific disciplines, followed by qualifications, challenges, or rebuttals by members of different ones.
The first stanza contains a prediction by an astrologer of a world which is much like the mid-twentieth century, when the poem was written, but is set in a distant era. A Gypsy, who represents the humane aspects of life in opposition to the scientifically analytic or mechanical, denigrates the technical marvels as less significant than the question of who will control the forces created by technology. The astrologer appears uninterested in this question and returns to his initial vision of great global trends, remarking indifferently that a cycle of war and “victory” will follow, perhaps endlessly.
The debate among the participants seems to develop into a dichotomy between massive historical movements and their effects on individual human lives. When a crystal gazer calls the astrologer’s predictions “trite” and asserts that a more crucial question is “how to seize power” from an indifferent, self-preserving government, the astrologer expands the terms of the discussion by forecasting a time when people will pursue frivolous goals (“live on top of flag-poles”) in an era akin to the 1920’s. His interest in the whimsical and the mechanical is met with derision by a numerologist and an illusionist, who are less concerned with human welfare than with their own specialities. The astrologer, however, remains as unaffected by personal concerns as he was by social ones.
In the longest stanza of the poem, the astrologer finally becomes involved in his visions. He shouts, and his proclamations seem to displace the cosmos itself. His final prediction is a confluence of the power of the state and the instinctual basis of human desire, a vision of a society unlike any previous one on earth, which is a reversal of the lessons of most human experience. This fantastic revelation has little effect on the other delegates, who remain trapped in their own narrow styles of seeing. The positions that they propose are an implicit refutation of the astrologer’s dreams.
The final stanza is a mordant comment on the conditions that have called the seers to the convention. In spite of their (unproven) abilities, they have accomplished nothing in concert. As the poem concludes, they hold umbrellas to protect themselves from what may be as innocent as rain or as ominous as “dragon’s blood.”
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 557
In the 1930’s, Kenneth Fearing examined ordinary situations, using powerful language, rhetorical techniques, and unusual rhythms. As Kenneth Rexroth pointed out, Fearing’s voice developed from an immersion “in the lingo of the mass culture.” By the mid-1940’s, however, he began to work in a vein which might be called visionary. In dealing with the extraordinary, the metaphysical, and the fantastic, Fearing realized that understatement was crucial and that a very careful control of tone was necessary to maintain the spell of the poem. Therefore, “End of the Seers’ Convention” begins in an extremely low-key fashion, the narrator remarking as if in recollection of a thoroughly ordinary event. The supernatural is abruptly, but almost offhandedly, introduced when the location is revealed and the narrator observes that the subject of the discussion is the key to life itself.
In an extended figure designed to emphasize the importance of the theme, Fearing repeats the word “seven” (with all its mystical associations) three times, using it to modify Great, True, and Ultimate, and heightens the setting by referring to “leagues” and “spheres.” After this declaration of magnitude, Fearing returns to his initial tone, humanizing the participants with descriptive touches: The astrologer is from Idaho, the Gypsy is a self-described “simple reader of tea-leaves,” the crystal gazer is from Miami, and the illusionist is from Bombay. Furthermore, Fearing mixes prophetic commentary with the mundane, as the “bored numerologist” reaches for his hat during a disagreement and a “puzzled mesmerist” is seen “groping for the door.” The effect is to undercut the mystery but not to destroy it completely.
The poem is written in a straightforward narrative voice, with occasional flourishes to generate emotion or emphasis. There is no use of metaphor, no rhyme, and little dependence on sound. When a memorable section is reached, however, Fearing shapes an image to guide the thought and, when he wants the reader to consider a serious statement, it is presented with enough force to separate it from the whining quibbles of the less important observations. The Gypsy’s terse challenge to the first forecast is direct and unavoidable: “How does this combat the widespread and growing evil of the police?” The crystal gazer’s question is reinforced by the repetition “damn fooldamn time.” The astrologer’s rambling flight into fancy in the sixth stanza is couched in the humor of the ludicrous, and his full-scale forecast of an absurd but appealing future is carried by three of the longest lines of the poem, each beginning with an assertive “I” and each containing a surrealistic image which defies ironic objectivity.
Fearing reserves traditional figurative language for three occasions in the poem. The astrologer’s primary legitimate power is suggested when he shrugs and a meteor falls from his robes “and smolder[s] on the floor,” a manifestation of the physical amid much verbiage. When he is in a frenzy of prophecy in the crucial eighth stanza, the astrologer has “comets and halfmoons dropping from his pockets and his agitated sleeves.” In the chilling concluding stanza, the cosmic rain descending on the delegates is compared to “dragon’s blood” and then to “cinders.” The final image is of tiny, insignificant figures amid the vast powers of the cosmos, their “small, black umbrellas” a symbol of their helplessness before the great, mysterious forces of the universe.
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