There is a tiny island in the great eternal sea.
A pinnacle where men once stood, where heaven used to be.
But they pulled the sun down from the sky and set the oceans free.
Now rising waters never rest around this solitary crest
And soon the sea will claim this place, the culmination of a race.
A tragic monument indeed – a planet drowned by human greed.
by Ian A. Hutchinson 31 October 1996.
The Monument was inspired in general by the biblical fable of Noah, but I wrote it soon after seeing the much under-rated film Water-world in 1996. Perhaps it also has vague echoes of the poem Ozymandias by Shelley 1817 which is probably my all-time favourite poem – and which I still know by heart.
Like the film Water-world starring Kevin Kostner this poem depicts a post-apocalyptic scenario of the aftermath of a massive global thermonuclear war [they pulled the sun down from the sky – this line is rather obscure – it refers to the fact that nuclear bombs work on the same principle as nuclear fission in the sun].
The film and my poem both imagine that the consequent melting of the polar ice caps and all the glaciers on earth has raised global sea-level by a terrifying 8,840 metres [and set the oceans free] although in reality this is scientifically impossible – there is nothing like that amount of extra liquid water currently locked up in all the solid ice on earth.
Even so at the time of the poem there is now only one “tiny island” left in the “great eternal sea” which now covers the entire earth surface except for the highest bit of land in the world – which is of course the crest of Mount Everest. In a broader view there is also perhaps a subliminal echo of the “tiny island” of Earth set in the “great eternal sea” of Space.
Mount Everest was of course “a pinnacle where men once stood” when it was conquered by Hillary and Tenzing in 1953 and by many others since then – but at the time those people climbed it the peak was not at sea level as it is now it was over 8,000 metres high up in the sky [where heaven used to be] This rather abstruse line is also intended to imply that previously earth had been a heavenly place. And this “pinnacle where men once stood” also has undertones of the pinnacle of man’s achievements some of which helped to make the earth a heavenly place before they finally destroyed it.
In the second verse global sea-level is still rising and this new world-wide ocean is quite turbulent – “Now rising waters never rest” and this line also offer a subliminal auditory clue as to the location of the poem – Everest – which is now a “solitary crest” – the one and only bit of land left in this “great eternal sea”.
And soon this last bit of land will also go under the waves [soon the sea will claim this place] and that will be the final end of the nuclear arms race and also the end of the human race and civilisation as we know it [the culmination of a race].
The final line and the title of the both both ironically refer to this completely flooded “water-world” as a “monument” reminiscent of the broken statue in the poem Ozymandias and the final words “a planet drowned by human greed” are supposed to reveal that the monument of the title is not this “solitary crest” of the peak of Mount Everest as the reader might have at first supposed – the monument is the entire planet. Clearly the actual motivation for war is far more complex than just “human greed” but I think that greed is a major factor in many human conflicts.
The biblical story of Noah’s Ark can be found in many religions and ancient cultures and it perhaps reflects a very deep fundamental human fear of the sea which is probably the foundation and underlying inspiration for my poem. I certainly always experience a very deep emotion whenever I go to the seaside – as I often do in my car – and I gaze out over the sea – especially in really stormy weather.