"Eternity waits:" On Adam Zagajewski's "Gulls" (from "En Route")

"Eternity doesn't travel, / eternity waits." Zagajewski proposes a mystic truth. Before we can debate it, we have to believe it in some sense.

"Eternity waits:" On Adam Zagajewski's "Gulls" (from "En Route")

"Money Movement Mindset"

There's so much "hustle bro" content that, for some, it isn't clear this is parody. There are lots of videos saying "anyone can own a Lambo" and that saving a few pennies here and there can make you a billionaire.

Still, this short video is great. It currently plays on an endless loop in my brain.

The big joke toward the end is worth thinking about further. People are treating success in life like it is a game of Monopoly. I'm not sure what to say about that. On the one hand, the better you get at something, the more you operate like you're playing a game, even if there are enormous consequences involved. You have a Plan A, B, and C. You have ideas about when things are working or aren't. You're aware when to cut your losses or make a sacrifice.

On the other hand, if you say "life is a game" in the wrong way, bad things happen. The "hustle bro" culture is a clear indication of that. You've got a bunch of people selling the idea that they've figured everything out. Life is a game, a game where you work hard at dropshipping and buying crypto. This is what we're flooding young people with.

We need to find a way to talk about what is worthwhile. I'm beginning to think that might be impossible if we indulge get-rich-quick schemes. Or, on the flip side of the coin, pressure others into panicking about success and survival.

Adam Zagajewski, "Gulls" (from "En Route")

Eternity doesn't travel, / eternity waits. Zagajewski proposes a mystic truth. Before we can debate it, we have to believe it in some sense. We have to be able to approach it, not just dismiss the words as utter nonsense.

"Gulls" (from "En Route")
Adam Zagajewski (tr. Clare Cavanagh)

Eternity doesn't travel,
eternity waits.
In a fishing port
only the gulls are chatty.

Therein lies the trap. To be sure, there is a tradition of these sorts of pronouncements in poetry. Consider Keats' last line from "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer." Silent, upon a peak in Darien. Explorers reach the New World, hike to the summit of a mountain, and then see a whole other ocean, not the one they just crossed. The realization of enormity—how small our minds are! How small our achievements!—feels like a revelation to us. It is credible because an internal sense of awe commands us to silence. We may have thought for a brief moment that we knew something about the world. We prove ourselves swiftly and decisively wrong.

How does Eternity doesn't travel, / eternity waits work? I cannot help but think about a science fiction themed video game I played decades ago, Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri. For you Civilization nerds, it was built after Civ II. The specific quote ringing in my head: Eternity lies ahead of us, and behind. Have you drunk your fill? Maybe "eternity" is too loaded, too direct a word, refusing space for reflection.

If you like what you're reading, please subscribe. And please spread the word about the newsletter! Your tweets & shares on Facebook help a bunch.

Here's the thing: Alpha Centauri is a very well-written game. Its premise is that Earth has become uninhabitable and a spaceship has been sent to colonize another planet. The spaceship reaches the planet, and the colonists' various leaders break apart and start fighting each other. They try to found civilizations in line with each of their visions while eliminating their rivals. But it turns out the planet is sentient. The endgame is merging your specific faction with the planet's sentience so your values are understood by the Planet. You could say that what is truly alien to humankind is the inability to exert dominion. The game is a smart and sneaky critique of the limits of Biblical morality. Eternity lies ahead of us, and behind. Have you drunk your fill? is said by the living Planet.

Even when I am tempted to  dismiss "eternity" as cornball, I cannot. Zagajewski's lines work, especially as he depicts himself as a traveler who is watching and waiting. His mortality is in the foreground, but he also shares in eternity. What, then, is happening with the chatty gulls?


Zagajewski only sets the scene indirectly. It is up to us to flesh out the poetic vision.

We begin with fishermen getting their boats ready, unloading fish, bustling about. They’re constantly in motion and have no time to speak.

In the background, an infinite sea of blue. All these manmade constructs, all these activities natural and unnatural. And then, just a glance away, a sea, an ocean. A world with unknowable depth, extending god-knows-where.

Eternity waits. The poem could end here. But we're told about birds: In a fishing port / only the gulls are chatty. Maybe the gulls reside within eternity. Maybe they know the workings of which everyone else must remain silent. Eternity waits and our human motion breezes past it. The gulls are immersed in what might seem a natural or supernatural order. It would be nice to understand what they are saying, but perhaps that they're speaking at all underlies what is necessary.