I Am Then A Poet, Am I Not?

Epiciteus
Epictetus – Stoic Philosopher 50 AD to 135 AD

 

And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.

  • Gospel of Luke 6:34 – 35, Sermon on the Mount

Professor’s Song

by John Berryman

(…rabid or dog-dull.) Let me tell you how
The Eighteenth Century couplet ended. Now
Tell me. Troll me the sources of that Song––
Assigned last week––by Blake. Come, come along.
Gentlemen. (Fidget and huddle: do. Squint soon.)
I want to end these fellows all by noon.
‘That deep romantic chasm’––an early use;
The word is from the French, by your abuse
Fished out a bit. (Red all your eyes. O when?)
‘A poet is a man speaking to men’:
But I am then a poet, am I not?––
Ha ha. The radiator, please. Well, what?
Alive now––no––Blake would have written prose,
But movement following movement crisply flows,
So much the better, better the much so,
As burbleth Mozart. Twelve. The class can go.
Until I meet you then, in Upper Hell
Convulsed, foaming immortal blood: farewell.


I am confident incoming freshman had no idea that they were bound for Berryman’s unique ring of hell when signing up for his English Lit 101 in the 1970’s.  Just kidding JB, I would have loved to sit in your sweat lodge and let you pontificate on Blake.

I could spend weeks and months on Berryman, so deep is the well-spring of his sonnets and so conspicuous his intelligence, nay scholarship, contained within his poetry. But I suspect, dear reader, that you are much like me, and need a little lighter fare to munch on after these past few posts.

Berryman invokes the specter of Epictetus in his poem, Of Suicide, below.  Epictetus was a stoic philosopher, born a slave, whose philosophy preached the spirit of self-determination. Epictetus stated that the foundation of all philosophy is self-knowledge and that the degree of our conviction to our ignorance and gullibility should be the first subject of internal inquiry. Given the state of preposterous political discourse in this country I think all voters should give some thought to the degree of their gullibility, regardless of which way they lean on the political spectrum.

Then again, I have to remind myself, that one of the greatest lies of our current democracy is that it remains within the power of our will. Gerrymandering, unlimited dark money and unbridled ambition to say and do anything to get elected have disfigured our democracy into something that appears for now, to be beyond the electorates control.  Instead, Epictetus would encourage us to focus on more realistic matters.  Fellow citizens, as Berryman says, we must labor and dream!

Only the educated are free.

No man is free who is not the master of himself.

Know, first, who you are, and then adorn yourself accordingly.

There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of your will.

Epictetus

Of Suicide

by John Berryman

Reflexions on suicide, & on my father, possess me.
I drink too much. My wife threatens separation.
She won’t ‘nurse’ me. She feels ‘inadequate.’
We don’t mix together.

It’s an hour later in the East.
I could call up Mother in Washington, D.C.
But could she help me?
And all this postal adulation & reproach?

A basis rock-like of love & friendship
for all this world-wide madness seems to be needed.
Epicetus is in some ways my favourite philosopher.
Happy men have died earlier.

I still plan to go to Mexico this summer.
The Olmec images! Chichèn Itzài!
D. H. Lawrence has a wild dream of it.
Malcolm Lowry’s book when it came out I taught to my precept at Princeton.

I don’t entirely resign. I may teach the Third Gospel
this afternoon. I haven’t made up my mind.
It seems to me sometimes that others have easier jobs
& do them worse.

Well, we must labour & dream. Gogol was impotent,
somebody in Pittsburgh told me.
I said: At what age? They couldn’t answer.
That is a damned serious matter.

Rembrandt was sober. There we differ. Sober.
Terrors came on him. To us too they come.
Of suicide I continually think.
Apparently he didn’t. I’ll teach Luke.

 

 

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A Sonnet Obsession

I am a life-long Minnesotan who resides in Minneapolis. I hope you enjoy my curated selection of sonnets, short poems and nerdy ruminations.

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