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An Infinite Number of Monkeys -- Ronald Koertge

       
(Poem #1483) An Infinite Number of Monkeys
 After all the Shakespeare, the book
 of poems they type is the saddest
 in history.

 But before they can finish it,
 they have to wait for that Someone
 who is always

 looking to look away. Only then
 can they strike the million
 keys that spell

 humiliation and grief, which are
 the great subjects of Monkey
 Literature

 and not, as some people still
 believe, the banana
 and the tire.
-- Ronald Koertge
           1997

A wonderfully quirky little poem, with a dash of pathos thrown in. For those
of you unfamiliar with the infinite monkeys meme, it runs thus: "If an
infinite number of monkeys randomly hit the keys of an infinite number of
typewriters, would they eventually produce the complete works of
Shakespeare?" The idea that the monkeys are just waiting for the "Someone
who is always looking" to turn away for an instant, so that they can produce
their masterpiece, harmonises nicely with the theme, harking back to
childhood fantasies of toys that came to life the minute everyone was
asleep.

In fact, the poem is very reminiscent of Billy Collins, with its reflections
on art, poetry and the interaction between the creator and the audience, and
it's wonderful "what if" suspension of disbelief, a sort of magic unrealism
that draws the reader in and invites him to participate in the process. And
who knows - maybe humiliation and grief really *are* the great subjects
of Monkey Literature.

martin

57 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

NKSH said...

I see the subject of this poem rather differently. Doesn't the "Someone who
is always watching" refer to human beings, watching the monkeys to see how
they are like us, and keeping them in subjugation towards us? And it seems to me
Koertge is saying that humiliation and grief are the real subjects of monkey
literature because humiliation and grief are what monkeys experience at the
hands of their human cousins. Since, after all, one writes what one knows, and
a thousand monkeys captive before a thousand typewriters would have a more
intimate knowledge of those two emotions than of bananas and tires.

carlynn

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