BEINGTo think that evolution randomlyOccurred is literally absurd because,Despite billions of years, complexityLike ours is more than “accidental” does.No rational calculation of the oddsCould ever lead to life and consciousness,And yet to say the cause of this is God’sDesign personifies what’s just a guess.A better supposition is to sayThe cause of all remains a MysteryNot likely to be solved by any wayWe know, and we were best to let it be. Yet still we cannot help but wonder how We came to be, and how to be here now.
The body is the instrument of soul,Which animates its members and directsIts purposes toward soul’s intended goal,The first and final cause of its effects.But who am I, who hovers in between,Not body and not soul, but something other,A consciousness quite real but unseen,Whom time reveals and sad events discover?I am the Ego, who usurps the ruleEntrusted to the guidance of the soul;It's I who turn a Wizard to a Fool,Making the body play another role. Unless my soul reclaim its rightful state, Damnation is my destiny and fate.
TWO POETAGOGICAL VERSES
THE SONNET’S WAYSit down to write a sonnet and you won’tHave any notion how your verse will end;The many variables forthcoming don’tAllow you knowledge where your lines may wend.So, blindly you set out through trackless woods—Some hunch or hint of where you hope to goCompelling you ahead, the only shouldsBeing rhyme-and-meter, more your friend than foe.For without them you’d bumble in the gloom,No glint to guide you how you might go right,No beat to lead you from your certain doom,No hope to save you from a hapless plight. Thank goodness then for liberating bonds, As potent in their ways as magic wands.
~ ~ ~ THE SONNET’S GAMEDon’t think that writing sonnets ’s not a game,Cold-blooded calculation, line by line,To calibrate the measures to one aim:To fit what its parameters define.The form comes first; emotion follows after,Though it should seem the other way around:A clever turn of phrase provoking laughter,A perfect rhyme to make good sense more sound.That such complex machinery can serve To move our passions and enthuse our heartsShould seem no stranger than that blood and nerveCan do the same, with other body parts. Yet poems and bodies may incorporate A subtle spirit they don’t regulate.
A CHARMNow may this charm on you befallThat nothing might your eyes appall,That all you see be beauteousAnd all you hear euphonious,That what you wish be granted youNor ever give you cause to rue.
WHYYes, we are animals and born to die,And though we understand the reason whyBy biologic logic, still we wonderWhy our precious fabric’s torn asunder.A hundred years, at best, of consciousnessIs what we hope for, calling it successIf by that time our conscience is more brightThan tarnished, and our weary heart still light.But then at death’s door we may ask againWhy all our travails must be borne and whenIf ever we may know with certaintyIf there’s some reason we should ever be. Why are we born, why do we live and die? Let’s hope we’ll know by revelation why.
ON REREADING THE GREATSThere’s something about the ordinary processes of schooling (and colleging) that leads students to believe that the purpose of it all is to “get through” and be done with one course after another—signed, sealed and delivered to the transcript—and then forgotten.Good teachers, however, believe otherwise. Since I teach literature and language skills, I’ll speak from my perspective, though I think teachers in other fields will make comparable cases in terms of their own disciplines.When I introduce students to Chaucer or Shakespeare or Milton, for instance, I mean for them to begin a lifelong friendship with these authors, not a nodding acquaintance soon to be dismissed. Any such writer, established as a “classic,” has earned that status by delighting auditors and readers over centuries, even while challenging them to appreciate their complex and subtle artistry in language more fully with longer acquaintance.“Been there, done that,” a checklist attitude, does not apply to great writing any more than it does to great friends, both of whom reveal more of their qualities and virtues through long and intimate association.It’s true, though, that Chaucer, Shakespeare and Milton, along with other “Greats,” present off-putting challenges to newcomers, though not so formidable as learning a foreign language. Chaucer’s Middle English, it’s true, does take mental labor to adopt, though it sounds more foreign than it reads. Two hundred years later, the Early Modern English of Shakespeare and Milton presents lexical novelty (lots of bygone words) but uses grammar and syntax we comprehend without much trouble. And all three of them are poets and thus wield language lyrically, language that sings with echoing resonance and meter, a physical delight to hear intoned.Amazingly, great literature grows as you grow, and thus deserves revisiting throughout your lifetime. A poem or play you first met in school or college, if it’s great, will not seem quite the same once you’ve accrued more tender feelings and hard knocks with age, or just seen more of life’s variety through both direct experience and wider reading.Hang in there is my point. After meeting any of these luminaries, add them to your library, befriend them on your mental Greatsbook, and check in on them from time to time throughout your life.
I never know when some unconscious urgeWill press a nascent notion to emergeInto the forefront of my consciousness,A hint of something later to express;So always close at hand I keep a penAnd little pad for those occasions whenThat unpremeditated impulse knocksOr stymied stream of consciousness unblocks.On summer breaks or long sabbaticals,I’ll rummage through my stacks of vaticles,The little three-by-fives on which I writeThose glints and inspirations of insightProvided by my Vates or my Muse,Unpacking what’s suggested in their clues.
Topsy-turvy, inside out, The oxymoron playsAss-backwards and preposterous In tragicomic ways:Dove-feathered raven, ravening lamb, Wise fool of rhetoric,The Bard’s best tool, besides iamb, To make his verses stick.
THE PILGRIM CHAUCER
Among us on our pilgrimage was oneWho, long before our traveling was done,Had come to know us each as if he wereOur dearest friend, so busy would he stir
Among our company, observing us,Engaging us in talk, intent to sussOur secrets out and know our very hearts,
Though we be knaves or nobles, nuns or tarts.And yet himself we hardly came to know,
So curious he was for us to showOur crotchets and peculiarities
That he laid low with no apologies
Or shame and seemed intent to memorizeWhat he observed—a poet in disguise.
RHYME AND METER
Verse now may wander infinitely free,Released from measure’s strictures and thus beUnbound from expectations both in soundAnd form, more able then to be profound;Or so the theory goes, but I demur,And all my fellow formalists concur,We who maintain the venerable skillsOf antique musicality that thrillsThe senses and compels the mind to seekA perfect phrasing, fitting and unique.For meter is the pump that makes lines flow,
And rhyme’s what tells a line just where to go.
MAKE IT SO
“Wisdom is the highest aim of life and of higher education.”—Copthorne Macdonald
“Wisdom is the realization of what is of highest value to oneself and others.”—Nicholas Maxwell
* * *If wisdom is the highest aim of life,and wisdom is realizing what is of highest value,then we shall be wise to the extent that we determine what is of highest value and bring it into being, making it so.Wisdom is as wisdom does.What, then, is of highest value to yourself and others?
BEYOND BELIEF (2)
Beyond the creeds and dogmas of our faithsProclaimed by saints inspired by holy wraiths,Then followed blindly in idolatry,Is there some Truth—beyond credulity?Is there some Truth that shows us how to liveRevealing simply how to love and giveWhile leading us to marvel at our livesAnd work to see the natural world survives?Such Truth must now appear self-evident,Sufficient to entice us to relentFrom ancient enmity and grinding griefBy offering consolation and relief. We need more than a sanctified restriction; We need instead intuitive conviction.
Belief is key, for just as we believe,We shall behave, and what we give, receive.Choose well, then, those beliefs that shape your life:Some lead to happiness; most end in strife.Contending ideologies bring war,Defending deities they each adore.Why not instead simply believe in love—Behave not like the tiger, but the dove?
TOWARD PROGRESSTwenty-five or fifty years from now, what do you think we’re likely to look back upon with as much dismay as we now look back on racial segregation or the absence of Medicare or the lack of recycling? That is, what now-prevalent attitudes, institutions or practices will people then have come to regard as backward or benighted?To try to envision and identify such societal evolutions is a way to define for ourselves what “progress” means, not scientifically or technologically, but humanely. How will more of the world’s people grow more enlightened, behaving in ways that contribute to the general welfare of the planet, whether to their neighborhoods or to the ecosystem at large, and cause less harm?Succinctly said, how will a society that is more benevolent and less malevolent manifest itself in the next generation or two? What will be some distinctive indications and features of such progress?
Is there a knowing that’s beyond belief,That needs no creeds or ideologiesAnd to wild speculations brings reliefThat’s comparable to science’ certainties?I mean, in matters spiritual and deep,In questions we regard as ultimate,Is there no other way to know than leapWith faith and wager all on Pascal’s bet?Surely there is another mode of knowing—Immediate, direct, and absolute—That leaves one’s mind clear and one’s spirit glowingWhile rendering all equivocations moot. For such indubitable enlightenment We seek and speculate it’s Heaven sent.
With every hopeful strand of thought I cast,
Whether a recollection from the past
Or probe into the future’s cloudy vast,My aim’s to reel in something that will last.
THE AMATEUR POET
I write this sonnet not for gain or fame,To make a reputation or get rich,But simply as a hobby and a gameThat satisfies a keen aesthetic itch.The urge that prompts my idle pen to moveAnd leap from syllable to syllableIambically, and fit into its grooveEach ringing rhyme, until each quatrain’s full,That urge is eager curiosityAnd wonder at this form’s intrinsic artTo see how its complex machineryReveals it has not only brain but heart. I love to ride its rhythms and its rhymes Then rein it in, just as the last beat chimes.