Doug’s Raft

25 Jun

A counterpoint to the recent FridayFictioneers picture of the blue damselfly perched on a rock, mellon, or, more forebodingly, a skull as envisioned in Kathy McClure’s story, Sobibor.

This image is of a fossilized dragonfly that is around 350 million years  old.

That’s a lot of water under the bridge, but only a couple of days in eternity. We are here for a short while and in a blink of an eye we are gone; smoke through a keyhole.

Lord Dunsany captured the futility of writing in the following work and his words are ever on my mind as I struggle in the rising water.


All we who write put me in mind of sailors hastily making rafts upon doomed ships.

When we break up under the heavy years and go down into eternity with all that is ours our thoughts like small lost rafts float on awhile upon Oblivion’s sea. They will not carry much over those tides, our names and a phrase or two and little else.

They that write as a trade to please the whim of the day, they are like sailors that work at the rafts only to warm their hands and to distract their thoughts from their certain doom; their rafts go all to pieces before the ship breaks up.

See now Oblivion shimmering all around us, its very tranquility deadlier than tempest. How little all our keels have troubled it. Time in its deeps swims like a monstrous whale; and, like a whale, feeds on the littlest things—small tunes and little unskilled songs of the olden, golden evenings—and anon turneth whale-like to overthrow whole ships.

See now the wreckage of Babylon floating idly, and something there that once was Nineveh; already their kings and queens are in the deeps among the weedy masses of old centuries that hide the sodden bulk of sunken Tyre and make a darkness round Persepolis.

For the rest I dimly see the forms of foundered ships on the sea-floor strewn with crowns.

Our ships were all unseaworthy from the first.

There goes the raft that Homer made for Helen.

Percy Bysshe Shelly expressed much the same sentiment in his famous sonnet.


I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away”.

 (The picture above is Shelley’s original first draft of Ozymandias.)

Knowing that I will “break up under the heavy years and go down into eternity…” is a daunting prospect. It makes me want to focus, to see better and more clearly, to experience fully, and to write what I can for those who follow. It also makes me want to just stop writing and start walking; to begin the journey of a thousand miles and let the world and everyone on it chart their own course absent my input.

I don’t know who’s going to win that contest, but in the meantime I try to build the very best rafts that I can.

Oblivion can wait for a bit. It’s got time.

19 Responses to “Doug’s Raft”

  1. TheOthers1 June 25, 2012 at 4:46 pm #

    Deep thoughts for a Monday. I always think about legacy leaving. What my words impart may be minimal, but it impacted someone who will then impact someone else. Finite we may be, but we still have purpose. Hm, thanks for giving me something to think about.

  2. ron pruitt June 25, 2012 at 4:49 pm #

    At least writers build rafts. They may not last, and break up relatively quickly. Most people go into that dark sea without so much as a lifejacket. To introduce another metaphor, we really are dust in the wind. Humbling, but then most of us need that.

    • dmmacilroy June 26, 2012 at 1:40 pm #

      Dear Ron,

      Thanks so much for dropping by and commenting. You are right. We are building rafts and that is a comfort to me.



  3. Carol Deminski June 25, 2012 at 5:32 pm #

    Doug, I like how your mind works. I like how you are making interconnections between different writers and yourself, and how all of that serves as your inspiration. C

    • dmmacilroy June 26, 2012 at 1:39 pm #

      Dear Carol,

      Thanks for saying something here. It’s nice to know you’re out there.



  4. rgayer55 June 26, 2012 at 6:20 pm #

    I think I’ll just go with an inner tube, Doug. It’s old, worn out, and be covered in patches, but maybe it will float a little while (kind of like my prophylactic story).

    This is a really good post, and I see from the comments that simply the fact we are working on rafts says a lot about writers. It’s just what we do.

    • dmmacilroy June 28, 2012 at 6:28 am #

      Dear Russell,

      Your inner-tubes will always be filled with hot air and guffaws. Archeologists will think they’ve run across the ghost of a lunatic. I hope they die laughing.

      Thanks for telling me the post was a good one. Means a lot.



  5. keliwright June 27, 2012 at 10:37 pm #

    Leave oblivion to the future and keep building those rafts. I’m enjoying them! We are not here for nothing–even the wreckage that was once Ozymandias inspired the beauty of Shelley’s creation which, in turn, has affected multiple generations since.

    • dmmacilroy June 28, 2012 at 6:15 am #

      Dear Keli,

      Thank you for the encouragement. I’ll be building rafts as often as possible (some sink right away!) and Oblivion can sit tight for now. I agree with you that we are not here for nothing. The ripples of what we do move outward on the sea and though we’ll never know what effect they will have on others, they do touch as they slide on by, imparting something of what we felt at the time we were writing.

      I’m glad to know you and Ozymandias are intimates. Shelley gave him a solid raft, don’t you think?



  6. thedevelopmentactivist July 14, 2012 at 10:36 am #

    Love this. Helps me to focus too on what matters to me and what I want to do for the rest of my life.

    • dmmacilroy July 14, 2012 at 10:51 am #

      Glad you found some worth in the words. Makes me focus, too.



  7. newpillowbook July 14, 2012 at 5:13 pm #

    “Our ships were all unseaworthy from the first.” What a wonderful sentence.

    And I’ve always liked Ozymandias, nineteenth-century moralizing or no. It has such a nice sting in the tail.

  8. newpillowbook July 14, 2012 at 5:15 pm #

    Though sometimes a raft gets relaunched – in Shelley’s day, no one remembered Gilgamesh.

  9. annisik51 October 13, 2013 at 12:11 am #

    Exquisite writing and sentiments. Oblivion is the next adventure!

  10. Frank w Garske April 8, 2018 at 6:24 am #

    Who bears it next, and where it goes,
    we cannot hope to say.
    It must be enough for us to know,
    We carried it today.

    (Excerpt from the flame)

    • dmmacilroy July 18, 2018 at 1:33 pm #

      Dear Frank,

      Thank you for these words. They have found me long after you wrote them and their import is felt all the more.

      Are you out there?



  11. Jan Morrill April 7, 2020 at 12:38 pm #

    Doug, thank you for pointing me in the direction of this post. I hope you will continue to build rafts. Whether or not they eventually break up and drift into Oblivion, to me, is not the focus. It is now, and the fact that your raft–our rafts that we build–give others a place to contemplate and, like here, to share a conversation with friends and strangers. Now. That is the focus. So, thank you for letting me drift along with you on the raft that you built.


  1. May’s Guest Storyteller, Douglas MacIlroy | Sarah Potter Writes - May 2, 2015

    […] perspective on time and writing, he has published a fascinating post about it on his blog at # You can find the links to previous guest storyteller posts at […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: