Joshua's Poetry Megathread

  • I'm just putting this here to gather all of my relevant work so I can find it more easily. Perhaps one day, with a good deal more work, it will turn itself into a slender paperback.

  • Song of the Sage

    In imitation of Tolkien

    The world was old, and ruined walls

    Had told the tale of countless falls,

    Unnumbered tears, and silent bones

    In buried graves and catacombs

    Of cities dead when Rome was young;

    When Troy was lost, and poets sung.

    Alone the Evening Star gave light

    When Epicurus rose by night.

    Alone he trod on grassy leas

    And scanned for Law in changing seas;

    He grappled Chaos to the hilt

    And knew it for the lies it built;

    He wrung the truth from every blade

    That turned beneath his mental spade;

    The secret, deep and unalloyed,

    Of atoms bound in endless void!

    And when he raised at last his eyes

    Upon the splendid starlit skies,

    He laughed to think of Plato's chimes

    And probed the deeps of space and time.

    And where the priests saw godly powers

    He saw ten thousand earths like ours!

    Nor could the courage of his soul

    Be daunted by its mortal toll.

    The light that rose upon that morn

    For seven centuries was borne;

    Does it rest too beneath the hill?

    I cannot tell; I cannot tell.

    On Turkish shores the carven stone

    Still whispers in a dulcet tone,

    And Roman scrolls in Vulcan's cache

    Still slumber in the mountain ash.

    But there, outshining all the rest,

    Still Venus lingers in the West.

  • The Heron

    O Heron wan in water wading!

    Thou opus of untailored fashion—

    Sure-footed on the shoreline's footing—

    A tulle train, dawnlight's glisten,

    Gowns thy form in matchless morning!

    Heron! Ready in verdure reedy—

    Agéd angler, weedmidst waiting,

    Patient, still in silence stolen

    From the olden deep unending

    'Til the wide world's wild breaking—

    Hunter haunting on the march and

    interstice of world and world;

    Sea and sky, blade of beak

    Azure upon azure rending—

    Virtue of a vise unyielding.

    What crooked timber frames thy neck?

    Methinks that it is not so stiff.

    Whence the whittling of thy wing?

    What the aurum of thine eye?

    Where, thy heartblood's ceaseless spring?

    Are thou Plato's man-of-gold,

    Who rules a tribe of bronzéd fins?

    Or yet a hermit cynical,

    Who tossed aside his needless dish?

    Is this thy sandy portico?

    Nay, for thou art too like me:

    We bear the stamp of origins.

    Fatherless thou wert so feathered,

    Motherless milked on thy sweet streams,

    And here, alone, we stand together—

    No more! Aye, fly! Fly to thine pleasure

    Great noble bird, sun-midst sailing,

    Prow a-gleaming, southward seeking;

    Seek thee still a sweeter shore

    And I, a sweet philosophy.

    Yet I will linger here a time

    Tasting of the morning's fruits—

    'Ere long the yawning sea shall call:

    The tide shall fail, and then the light,

    And we shall mingle, you and I

    Void with void, and mote with mote.

  • Iowa Fields

    to Epicurus

    I saw Ilium gleam

    As her walls, in a dream,

    Watched her sons return home on their shields--

    Saw the marching Greek host

    In the corn, and the coast

    Of Asia in

    Iowa fields.

    The philosophers spoke

    In the shade of the oak

    As the willows and cottonwoods reeled

    In an October gale

    Blowing hearty and hale,

    Pages flipping in

    Iowa fields

    And I wrote out your name

    On the face of the stream,

    Writ in water but never repealed--

    Made your garden to bloom

    Like the yucca, festooned;

    Flowering lonely in

    Iowa fields.

    And your precepts I pressed

    Like a stamp to my chest--

    And a ring on my finger revealed

    Where your likeness was cast

    And a voice from the past

    Rose up godlike in

    Iowa fields.

    I hoped to see thee again

    By the feld or the fen

    When the bells of the Twentieth pealed.

    But--alas! lies my ring

    At the end of all things

    In a grave beneath

    Iowa fields.

  • Hermarchus

    Seeing the bust of Epicurus

    Ho! I--Master, I held from grief. We laid

    Your body to its rest beneath the sky

    And sun. What then to grieve? Thy atoms fly

    Scattered, thy soul at more than peace which said

    "Death is nothing"--but here! Thy sculptured head

    Is wreathed with leaves of bay. Ah, how can I

    Fall to grief? Your students with laughing cries

    Honor you--your 'membrance blesses their bread.

    Should scholarchs fail, and birds alone here warble--

    Should vine and olive go to sage and sorrel--

    Still aged men would carve your like in marble

    And shining youth crown thy head with laurel.

  • This poem is written in the form of a sestina, with repeating end-words. The first stanza sets the pattern; each subsequent stanza recycles the words according to the one before, in this formula: 5, 2, 4, 3, 6, 1. Because the second-line word goes second in the next stanza as well, its position never changes. That word is "garden"--stable, reliable, unaltered.

    The scene of the poem is the city written about by Lucian.

    Abonoteichus - a dialogue


    By winds and waves that storm our coast for ages!

    By sighing Aphrodite in her garden,

    Where hast thou been my son, for there is fire

    Deep in thine eyes, and strife upon thy temple?

    What trial shakes thy soul with trembling atoms,

    Sieging thy mind like a beleaguered city?


    I strain my limbs for use of all their atoms

    And refuge take in this the soothing garden,

    For multitudes are gathered at the temple

    Where piled scrolls are ravaged in the fire!

    A sickness lies upon this seething city,

    And men disgrace the memory of ages!


    Ah--is that all? Have ye not seen this city

    Charméd by snakes, defiling grove and garden,

    With grim religion spreading fast as fire?

    Have ye not seen them lurking by that temple--

    and of all sexes, qualities, and ages--

    Who rain on Epicurus scorn like atoms?


    But can it have been so in all past ages?

    Can truth have grown free only in a garden

    Which ought by rights have garlanded a temple?

    Will all mankind forsake that sacred fire,

    Spurning pleasure--denying void and atoms?

    Naught but Euxine waters would cleanse this city!


    Peace son! Their worth is measured not in atoms.

    Some yet will seek true health, and this our garden

    Will beckon them--a solitary fire

    Against the darkness; a bright green-grass temple

    Unroofed to starlight, shining like a city,

    And crowned with all the wisdom of the ages!


    Wilt thou then that we leave for that city?


    And bear the fruit of peace from out this garden.


    Even into the shadow of that temple?


    For Epicurus, even unto fire.


    And make his wisdom echo through the ages--


    And calm that rage, that rends his scrolls to atoms.

  • The Lighthouse

    Perched on shores of treacherous shoals

    Where water heaves and, crashing, rolls

    Beneath the beam that scans for souls,

    The weathered prow and turning lens

    That mortal after mortal tends

    Stands firm unto the end of ends.

  • Hymn to Venus

    a fragment

    Strange star! Light, lingering in the West, whoso

    Wouldst gleam this eve o'er silken river and

    The silt hills, and thread the hanging grotto

    Of dew-laden boughs with thy shimmering strand--

    You, who call forth the sun upon the morn,

    Setting fire to heaven, spreading light

    And vital heat to the meridian!

    In wondrous light all things on Earth are born,

    Reared, and given to passionate delight

    In the sweetness of life!


    Maid, keep you by night to some secret

    Tryst? Awaiting a youth handsome and bold

    To steal over the garden wall and get

    Your hand in his, and kiss you as he holds?

    O Venus, you! Whose ancient light deceives

    Me not, skating along the face of things,

    For I know its weft, and find it delved deep

    In the roots and bones of Earth. Thy reprieve

    Falls sweet--Tarry here, counsel me to sing

    Of old seeds of truths grasped, and pleasures reaped!

    The lamp of Vesper hangs still, a pale urn

    Watering our sleep with light and dewy dreams;

    But the motion of all things is return--

    Sink, and rise again. I trace thy gleam

    Wandering, alighting waves far past my sight,

    And sail thy wake on craft of human thought.

    Stars do not shine that men may calibrate

    Their instruments--float on! But my delight

    Shall be to wash on Grecian shores, where taught

    A sage long past whose simple truths abate

    All Earthly fears.

    That man, a Greek, fallen

    Into mortal memory--to stardust

    And starlight, scattering in the swollen

    Void those atoms that were the scene of lusts

    And terrors long conquered--Searching out the

    Grounds of wise choice and avoidance, he lived

    In this world a match for all the gods

    In happiness. His voice echoes to me

    Across the centuries; he has contrived

    A path of wisdom, pleasant still to trod--

    A path incorruptible, laid forever.

  • Just a bit of silly rhyming fun at the expense of the dour lechers who've slandered Leontium through the ages.

    To Boccaccio: A Rebuke

    I mark it, sir, and wonder at it dully,

    To find the lady's name maligned so fully

    On evidence begot anecdotálly;

    A pond'rous load to hang by such a pulley!

    Was our Leontium so fierce a bully,

    Who sent him off peripateticálly

    Pouting, old Theophrastus; when her volley

    Charmed a grudging kindness out of Tully?

    And have you, sir, the gall to say she sullied?

    Who scattered bastards all across Itály!

  • I mentioned Horace's epistle to Numicia in another thread. I wrote this poem as an Epicurean response to his question.



    While walking in the woods, I am at pains

    To pause at each cold circle of burnt stone.

    A totemic blending of the profane

    And sacred: a human altar where none

    So human live—where memory and time

    Are sacrificed in their concentric rings,

    The ageless for the transitory. Each

    Ring is a dolmen, or a stele of lime,

    And tells of the past in a varied speech.

    It gives me pause, this strange chaleur vitale¹.

    I think on sacred groves—such that deterred

    Thoreau², and Horace, with that old Ital-

    ic saw: Do you think Virtue naught but words,

    A forest only firewood? For though

    The greater mass goes up in flame, pile

    Upon pile of charcoal lying near

    Sighs at this loss; of what, I do not know—

    But that it pleases me to wander here.


    ¹French, Vital Heat

    ²Walden; "I would that our farmers when they cut down a forest felt some of that awe which the old Romans did when they came to thin, or let in the light to, a consecrated grove (lucum conlucare), that is, would believe that it is sacred to some god."

  • And...I think that's all! I'm happy to see signs of maturation as I read through them. I only recently read Horace's Ars Poetica for the first time and I'm trying to take some of his hints. Back to the blank page.

  • I am afraid that my poety-appreciation in general is very poor, and probably the others are much more sophisticated, but as a result the first one stands out for me:

    it's understandable, on an understandable topic, and it *rhymes* - all of which would have impressed me when I was in elementary school, and still impresses me today! ;)

    Thanks for posting these and I look forward to more.

  • Note; I shared this poem with Elayne on her blog, and felt it proper to get her feedback before I posted it here. It is an elegy for her father, disguised within an ode to Archimedes.


    The Physicist

    The waters of the Tuska-loosa run

    Down south into the Gulf of Mexico,

    And carry the quiet griefs and the tears

    Of multitudes to the sea—to mingle

    Here with waters wept in forgotten times.

    I think of one such now—of Syracuse

    On old Sicilian shores, and of her son

    Archimedes, in whose mathematical

    Problems and proofs were laid the foundations

    Of what has come to pass. The farmers of

    Pickens County still use his clever screw:

    Physicists at the University

    Still prove his theorems; yet when Cicero

    Was quaestor in Lilybaeum, his grave

    Was already forgotten, and his life

    Thought a mere legend by his townspeople.

    Tully found those lost bones. He needn't have—

    They are again lost to unending time.

    The life of the scholar was in his work;

    Take up the chalk and blackboard, or the graph

    Paper and the mechanical pencil,

    If you wish to find Archimedes. Or

    Stand rather here, on these darkling ageless

    Shores, or else out in the Alabama

    Woods, in a pine clearing covered by night

    And find his name written across the stars.


    "You who measured the sea, the earth, and the numberless sands,

    You, Archytas, are now confined in a small mound of dirt

    Near the Matine shore, and what good does it do you that you

    Attempted the mansions of the skies and that you traversed

    The round celestial vault — you with a soul born to die?" —Horace, Odes I.28; transl. Peter Saint-Andre

  • I love it! My dad used to tell me the story of Archimedes' bathtub Eureka moment 😃. The father of my children is from Benevola in Pickens County. Lots of Latin names for small rural towns in Alabama-- Romulus, for example. And of course, we have an Athens, just down the road from me.

  • I'm taking a break from reading epigrams, and have decided to try my hand at writing one. :)

    No. 1

    On a cold marble statue of Epicurus

    I see you there, old friend, looking as stony as a Stoic. This is "absence of pain", to be sure; yet where is the pleasure in it? My heart beats hot blood.

  • It's funny how discussions reinforce each other. "Absence of pain" is a compellingly brilliant concept to advance if one needs to define a logical limit of pleasure to show how Philebus should have responded to a Socratic word game, but it's ridiculously banal if one needs to express and feel the depth of what life is all about.

    That's just like, I would say, the tetrapharmarmakon can serve as an efficient memory device for those who are experienced enough to know what is being left out, but acts as a major impediment to those with insufficient background to understand it properly.

    Logic is not life and computers are not alive. It's the end result that is important, and different contexts demand different approaches. Only the living can make the adjustments required by ever-changing contexts.

  • This seemed an appropriate place to post this :) It seems Epicurus was NOT anti-poetry as I've seen some writers contend.

    We happened to have Janko's 2000 translation and commentary of Philodemus's On Poetry in the library. This is p.9.