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Poster poems: Change


An unvarying theme in everyone’s lives, it has preoccupied poets – in varying ways – from Heraclitus to Gregory Corso. And now you

Panta rhei, wrote Heraclitus: “everything flows”. Thus giving expression, in these two words, to the paradoxical truth that the only constant in the universe is change. Two-and-a-half millennia later, we have yet to come up with a more succinct summation of the nature of nature. Everything changes, and what stops changing dies. Inevitably, it’s a truth that has found its way into poetry, in many and various ways.

Charles Olson’s poem The Kingfishers opens with the line: “What does not change / is the will to change.” It goes on to explore the entirely transformed landscape of postwar western culture and the possibility of making art after Hiroshima and the Holocaust, on the eve of the cold war. Olson’s answer is to abandon the fixed verities of the European tradition in favour of a pre-Conquest, Native American vision of the world. Formally, the poem doesn’t just reference Heraclitian flux, it enacts it through the deployment of juxtaposition of themes and images – and by constantly spiralling back upon itself.

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