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The Poets

August 03, 2009

A Stoic Found

The swing that breaks the dang’ling bag
Sends candy bouncing all around:
They rush and rush and push and fuss,
And knock each other to the ground.
No thoughts of others, only self
Where skewed desires all abound-
It rushes, pushes, and it kicks,
For candy does it punch and pound.

The seeking of it hardly stops
When all the revelry and sound
Diminish by the quiet yard
Where some young kid is candy crown’d;
What festers is a bitter taste-
A blight from loss, a wound profound,
‘Til vengeance from ambition breeds
A stronger greed that knows no bound.

But see how there that candy lay
Beside my foot, that fell inbound,
How that I have but little care,
Just peace that would the gods astound.
‘What is to thee indifferent shun’
These Stoic principles expound.
And so I’m freed from all their greed,
A slave to no one’s candy mound.

-jwm


Of the Poem:

Yeats' poem, the Song of Wandering Aengus, inspired the general structure behind this poem above. In his poem Yeats uses three stanzas, each containing eight lines (called an octet). Each line is done in a tetrameter (that is, eight syllables), and his rhyme scheme is x.a.x.a.x.b.x.b. for each stanza.

The stanza type in this poem is the same, and I hoped to achieve the same meter; but rather than Yeats' x.a.x.a.x.b.x.b rhyme scheme, I wanted to have an x.a.x.a.x.a.x.a. all the way through (this is what made doing this particular poem enjoyable).

The hardest part was achieving a single idea in each stanza as well as Yeats did. Still, I’m happy with the results.

The subject matter of the poem derives from the Discourses of Epictetus, Book IV, Chapter VII. In it he uses an analogy- children scrambling for figs and nuts- to show how ridiculous our behaviors become when we place intrinsic value in something whose value is at best a matter of indifference. Here's a segment from that chapter:

A man scatters dried figs and nuts: the children seize them and
fight with one another; men do not, for they think them to be a
small matter. But if a man should throw about shells, even the
children do not seize them. Provinces are distributed: let children
look to that. Money is distributed: let children look to that.
Praetorships, consulships are distributed: let children scramble for
them, let them be shut out, beaten, kiss the hands of the giver, of
the slaves: but to me these are only dried figs and nuts. What then?
If you fail to get them, while Caesar is scattering them about, do not
be troubled: if a dried fig come into your lap, take it and eat it;
for so far you may value even a fig. But if I shall stoop down and
turn another over, or be turned over by another, and shall flatter
those who have got into chamber, neither is a dried fig worth the
trouble, nor anything else of the things which are not good, which the
philosophers have persuaded me not to think good.


I imagine a modern day Stoic (perhaps another Epictetus) chiding those who would embrace conflict to achieve an end whose value is less than indifferent, who exchange integrity of soul for so trivial a thing. The fact that they would set up embattlements and wage warfare for these things only serves as testimony to their level of dilapidation. He warns elsewhere: Mischief is a great mystery to those who inflict it, O thief.

The voice concludes with a brief awareness of its placid state in relation to its environment of greed, and considers whence its state of peace.

2 comments:

Kendra Lise said...

This poem gives me hope and inspiration that not everyone is plagued with tunnel-vision. It's true; so many are overrun by the sparkle and shine of extrinsic rewards, only to stifle the authentic needs and wants of their internal world. It seems so many barely recognize the consequences of their narrow focus.

Nancy said...

You could have knocked me over with a feather when I realized that this was an original piece. It has the polish of a classic. Truly. The rhyme scheme is a masterpiece! One thing I have noticed about your poems- that seems only to be getting better and better- is that they read so fluidly. One does not have to struggle with tricky meter that makes it difficult to enjoy the content. This is not to say they are simple, far from it. They are simply well done! They also invite the reader to go deeper, to the many levels that exist beyond the initial words and imagery. This poem is a beautiful example of that.

It was ironic that I first read it the very day after my kids had been to a party with a piñata. I struggle with trying to teach my son to think of others. He was a bit bigger and stronger than the other kids and kept rushing in with "no thoughts of others" to grab the few pieces of candy that fell with the early blows. When the chaos subsided after the mad rush when the container broke, I told him (and his sister) to be sure everyone had some and to share with those who didn't or had little. They complied, but their little faces gave away their disappointment in having to do so.

Here is the clincher… one the friends we were visiting is from Mexico and in keeping with his heritage, had Mexican style treats. The lollipops were pepper-flavor with, yes, "a bitter taste." The kids' greed had been to no avail and the "prize" was no longer of interest or value. A beautiful lesson that you articulate so well in this poem. I can only pray that they also can learn to "have but little care, just peace that would the gods astound." Jesus taught us that we cannot serve two masters and this stoic will be "a slave to no one's candy mound." Praise God.

(Side note: I never realized there were so many technical aspects to poetry. Kudos to you for explaining them so well and for utilizing them so cleverly in your work. You are a one-of-a-kind talent rare in today's world)

As of April 9th, 2010