This is the concluding passage from 'Floods'. This poem is a discourse on water by an unknown Roman stoic philosopher, living in Egypt during the first century of the common era. He has just quoted from Ovid's Metamorphoses a description of the destruction of the world in the flood.

from ‘Floods’

It’s well described. But if I’ve understood Thales,
Empedocles, Zeno and the rest,
and if reason has informed my hand
in this the ninth year of Nero, six years
since childbirth carried off calm Lavinia,
leaving behind my son and daughter,
if my efforts have brought me to safe conclusions,
no such drawn-out spectacle occurs.
And the reason is this: that time,
in its large-scale motion, follows
neither the relentless line of Heraclitus
nor the Pythagoreans’ circle turning on itself,
but the rule of the pendulum which,
as it nears one extreme, slows down
– like I’ve said, we’ve no sensible
experience of time, but just as we can say
a house-fly, resting on the weight,
is unwary of movement, so we’ve no notion
of our swift descent or slowing climb
except in this: as time loses momentum,
the steady metamorphic pressure fails;
the seasons hardly change, the harvests rot;
the countryside becomes deserted;
then, as people congregate, they turn
to sports and mindless travel; the brain
veers from exhilaration to depression;
and as the female voice deepens,
we drift towards androgyny;
and since women shirk motherhood,
the populace grows old; the urban fox
and then the wolf appear in this age
of opportunity, when people thrive
on others’ needs – but predation soon
gives way to lethargy, as time braces itself
and when it comes to a stop, this, we may suppose,
is the moment of flood, when the waters
shake off restraint and capsize the world;
or rather, like those wine-skins the punters
at the racetrack fling to refresh the horses
which, on impact, disintegrate and splash,
nature loses its solid manifestation.
And the world pauses, inert and featureless,
suspended it its true watery state;
until the pendulum starts in reverse,
then water resumes its temporal effect
to remake our world, or one like it; with lives like ours,
swinging rapidly between extremes.

from Floods (Faber, 2000) © Maurice Riordan 2000, used by permission of the author and the publisher.

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