It is an unoriginal title, to be sure. It lacks verve, promising to overpromise and underdeliver. For how does one write about so vast and voluminous a topic as everything? Short of God, to encompass everything is to be nothing. And even He has limitations.

No, that should be a subject for another time.

But isn’t this the longing of the human heart? To have it all. To understand it all. To be it all. The warrior who seeks out glory claims victory in the upcoming battle will be all he needs to be happy, until he achieves it only to learn the famous reputation of a warrior on the opposing side. Every Saul has his David. The romantic (or the womanizer) searching for the one believes happiness is found solely in the beloved, until the gnawing ache of time lethargizes his limbs and turns his eyes toward other prizes. Every Henry has his Anne—and Catherine—and Jane—and Catherine.

So when we long for the one thing that will make us happy, what we actually want—Plato reminds us—is to be happy with that one thing forever. It is the loss of Eden and the longing for heaven beating in every chest.

For the pessimist, this becomes the end of the story, the triumph of despair. For to seek everything and find nothing is to lose it all. As Chesterton says, it is the logician most like to fall to insanity more so than the imaginative poet. The poet attempts “to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits” (Orthodoxy, 1908). For the optimist, this is a new voyage of discovery, to recognize one’s limitations and to find everything in one thing for as long as possible. And so this poem is one of hope, of revealing new possibilities in old things, of looking at things all the way to the bottom but refusing to plumb the bottom, knowing that such a thing is impossible.

Everything is all we want:

to read the map of all truth

and to know all knowing

so that every piece locks

and threads together like a Gobelin tapestry.

But no ocean may be, somebody says,

swallowed in one relentless gulp,

so you narrow and shrink

and aim, choose one anything,

something you can break open and pour out

and drink deeply until it swells

your belly and scorches your lungs,

changes the depth of your eyes

and the color of your soul,

so that nothing seems same anymore—

and that anything you chose to know

becomes some eternal sea,

one thing you can only wade in

and splash upon the shore.

And later, maybe years, you lean

into your evening chair with a thick book

and ponder how you drank the cup

and beheld the ocean, how the one thing

fits together with


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