Sunday, October 26, 2008


The dilemma of justice vs. mercy is a classic instance of the two-truth paradox found so prominently in Shakespeare’s plays and poems. While it is true that the enforcement of just laws maintains orderly rule and decorum in a civil society, it is also true that rigorous strictures and harsh constraints unfeelingly applied ignore our natural human fallibility, which pleads guilty yet begs pardon and forgiveness.

Mercy, then, seeks not to supplant justice but to qualify, leaven, or season stringent enforcement of the law. Such equilibrium, however, is difficult to maintain, for while justice overdone is rigor, so mercy overdone is permissiveness: severity and lenity represent the dark sides of each virtue to be avoided. The human capacity to avoid either extreme would define “wisdom.”

Just such wisdom appears be the quest of both Duke Vincentio in Measure for Measure and Portia in The Merchant of Venice, both of whom prevail in their respective plays by demonstrating the principle of generous clemency; yet neither character avoids criticism, the one for pardoning Vienna’s malefactors too prodigally, and the other for executing an overly ‘severe mercy’ on Shylock.


Friday, October 24, 2008


In college you are urged to learn a larger language than Teenspeak. There you are introduced to the idiom of the intellect and the discourse of scholarship. While your language in college remains English, the collegiate dialect is a richer, subtler, and more complex contrivance of diction, syntax and rhetoric. Collegiate discourse speaks more from the head than the heart, and hardly at all from the gut; whereas Teenspeak is the reverse: gut, heart, and then, like, I mean, you know, head.

To a teen, the collegiate idiom may at first seem baffling, stodgy, and off-putting; yet it needs to be acquired to succeed, as much as learning French would be needed to earn a degree from the Sorbonne. Since to write Collegiate is easier than to speak it, writing should come first as the more deliberate, cautious and correctible way to proceed. Then, after you’ve grown more accustomed to the grander vocabulary and more complex linguistic configurations, you’ll find those locutions slipping into your speech, at least in the classroom, if not in the cafeteria or down by the pool.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Why is it that the music’s gone from verse,
As if that gives it some new liberty?
I think it, rather, a dismaying curse
Dispelling magic from our poetry.

In former days a verse was to be sung,
Not vocalized in boring monotone,
But tripped off lightly from a trilling tongue
And then reverberated to the bone.

Yet more than mere sonority is lost
When poems leave their meters and their rhymes:
Intention and invention pay the cost
If sound with sudden sense no longer chimes.

Such freedom is instead imprisonment,
While liberating form is heaven sent.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Sipping my tea, I sit and contemplate,
Alone with time, then slipping out of time
Beyond contemporality to a state
Where reason’s schemes capitulate to rhyme.