Thursday, June 2, 2016

The Apology Box (Or a Brief Course in the Humanities Through Some Notables’ Last Words)



I've drafted a book in verse I'm calling "The Apology Box."  As I finish polishing the parts, I plan to insert them here.  The book sets out pages from a box that fell from the sky.  The pages turn out to be judgment day speeches of various historical characters.  In addition to any merits the book may have as verse, I hope the book can (1) prod the reader to survey the humanities to the extent required to understand what the characters are discussing, (2) provide examples of what does and does not work rhetorically, (3) explore how people were trapped by (or tried to use and trap others with) the frameworks, prejudices, and commonplaces of their times, and (4) maybe help rekindle more interest in formalist verse.  My original plan was to start with Adam and bring the book up to recent decades.  However, that project has proven too long and is likely ending with the Middle Ages.  That means the book is slanted purely by accident toward more ancient figures including many Biblical ones.  By omitting more recent figures I don't mean to suggest they do not interest me.  I am just being realistic about time.  Since many of the same issues plagued the ancients that plagued us, I'm hoping the book sensibly can end where it does.  I've posted a few of the finished speeches in other blogs and am repeating them here up front.  The book will grow from here as I add other finished speeches in no particular order--the box was jumbled after all.

                                                Prelude

We will all stand before the judgment seat of God. Romans 14:10.

God will bring every deed into judgment.  Ecclesiastes 12:14.

By him actions are weighed. 1 Samuel 2:3.

The dead were judged according to their works. Revelation 20:12.

In the midst of the gods he holds judgment. Psalm 82:1.

Set forth your case, says the Lord; bring your proofs....
Isaiah 41:21.

For by your words you will be justified, and by your words will you be condemned.  Matthew 12:37.

As night gives way, we’re daily born again
            And keep no portion of our prior life.
We start each day estranged both from the past
            And our remaining life.  Old man, don’t say
Your life has been too long because today
            You have no part of any prior years.
                                          Palladas 10-79

We never had one magistrate who was
            Both mild and clean of hand—such traits conflict.
The proud are pure while thieves are mannered mild.
            States need both traits and hire both kinds of men.
                                           Palladas 9-393

I marveled in the crossroads—[a bronze of Heracles]
            We’d often sought in prayer lay toppled there.
Much vexed I said, “Our guard from evil, child
            Of three nights, one beyond defeat, you fell.”
But then at night he came and smiling said,
            “Although a god, I, too, can learn the times.”
                                                     Palladas 9-441


                        Forward

I noticed Heaven cleaned that night--
I saw ephemeral streaks of light
As high debris flamed to the ground.
I found the crater.  There a box
Lay fastened up by three small locks.
I pried them loose.  Within I found
Large sheets of parchment loosely bound.
Intrigued, I lingered so I might
Review them.  In the lunar light,
I held and pondered over each
Transcription of some phantom’s speech
Allowed before the judgment--I
Might learn some rhetoric thereby
And maybe some philosophy
Along with lives and history.
 


                     Lilith’s Acrostic

Let me put it briefly if I may:
I was the first wife (as the scriptures say
Lord God made male and female as a deed
Implying that the Rib was second).  We’d
Take now our dower, cut his share in two.
Half Adam’s claim in Heaven’s Lilith’s, too.



                 Adam’s Oration            

                        Exordium

I speak as one who's imaged after you
And trust therefore I plead as you would do
In full and proper form with labeled parts
For others' use in studying rhetoric's arts.

                        Narration

You made me from the dirt that worms and beasts
Have crawled and nested in.  My pedigree
Is thus ignoble (though I have your form.)
I opened virgin eyes and all around
Me swirled your handiwork which you allowed
Me then to classify and name (although
If I made language how could you speak first?)
And though I “named,” I oddly couldn’t know
The right from wrong things I had named--the fruit
Of knowing that was banned on pain of death.
You took a piece of bone and doubled me,
And then commanded that we be one flesh
Yet multiply ourselves no less.  We did.
You said we had dominion over beasts
Although you put a snake beyond our reach 
That tempted Eve to bite the fruit you banned.
Not knowing right from wrong, of course she bit.
Not knowing evils such as selfishness, 
Of course she offered up that fruit to me
I had already bitten with her mouth--
We were one flesh, my bite superfluous.
We did not pass away as you had warned.
Instead, you gave us shame of our own flesh
(Although we're imaged after you).  You then
Revealed that work and suffering are the fruits
Of better knowledge.  Then you drove us out.
You made us homeless, forged your fiery swords
To keep us in that state.  We did the best
We could in circumstances vastly changed.
We stayed together and we multiplied--
So well in fact that angels even bred
With offspring of our own.  Until my death,
I grieved and tore my hair at what we'd done.

                        Proposition

Although we disobeyed, the rest we did
Speaks well of us and mitigates the blame,
Shows many years of light are not undone
By one eclipse that briefly hides the son.

                        Proof

Since you commanded we not taste the fruit,
I'll first concede without debate we erred.
Yet, that concession need imply no sin
For how can I have sinned not knowing sin?
As one to whom you gave the power of names,
I'd name no sin in that and would assume
My thoughts on this perhaps dispositive.
In any case, I would remind you, Lord,
It mattered not what Adam did.  For Eve
And I are one as you have said, and I
Had bit the fruit already with her mouth
And had no choice in that and thus no blame.
But choice aside, the logic's puzzling here:
How can we two be hurt by knowing wrong?
It seems to me the opposite would hold.
No serpent could have fooled Eve had she known.
And how could we know you, the greatest good,
Unless we can discern the right from wrong?
And even if somehow I might have sinned,
I can defend myself with other deeds
Outweighing that one apple that we bit.
By far, I did more right than any wrong.
I multiplied and my descendants were
Superb enough to tempt your angels who
Bred heroes with them as the Scriptures note.
I gave man words.  What value can one put
On such a treasure?  Going first I think
I've shown great courage which has worth itself
And serves as an example to those who
Must follow me in your Creation. I
Was made without a choice or warning. I
Faced up to that first chaos--saw and named
And organized it best I could.  When I
Was driven off, made homeless, I then faced
That second chaos which I organized
With sweat as well as words.  Such bravery
Defines me, not the fluke of some small fruit.

                        Peroration

Be proud of what you did in me and give
Those after me the hope that you forgive. 


                Eve’s Apology

If I avert my eyes, don’t take offense.
Please understand it’s deference to my sense
Of true virility, of fatherhood,
Of my respect, of acting as I should.
And please forgive me if my words are less
Than adequate.  I lack the cleverness
Of men, and yet I hope I’m understood.

With gratitude you brought this bone to life,
I served my role as mother and as wife,
And need not point out my companionship,
Or my consortium, or how I equipped
Our naked bodies or our household, how
I nursed and raised our children.  No, Lord, now
I shall instead turn straight to what I fear
Unfairly stains: the fruit.  Although it's clear
I once confessed, on more thought I now say
I viewed the matter once too harsh a way.

When you told Adam which fruits might be tried,
I was as yet un-plucked from Adam’s side.
At best your words to him about the tree
Would thus seem hearsay when applied to me.
Perhaps there was some error in the way
They were retold to me?  When we re-say
We often alter meaning.  When he took
The fruit it seemed in fact that I mistook
What you or he had said.  I saw the act
And thus deferred the hearsay to the fact--
I can't doubt my man's deeds.  Too, I had seen
Worm-eaten apples where the worms had been
Unharmed and lived to eat their fill.  I could
Not understand: mere worms could know of good
And evil but your images could not?
This makes no sense to me, my head's a knot,
And I might well be pardoned for a fall
With such confusion in a mind so small.

Yet even if I sinned, a woman’s mind
Can’t comprehend how it is any kind
Of justice to re-punish.  You gave pain
To birth.  You’ve made me suffer, too, the bane
Of homelessness.  Once punishment is done
More pain would seem but torture.  

                                                           I am done
With further argument.  Your will is mine.
As you decide, this woman will opine



                Salome's Villanelle

I leap and frolic like a brilliant flame.
O Lord, beyond the Earth, I blaze for you
And dance the spheres to Heavenly acclaim. 

My ruby strands now join the fiery game.
As white-hot diamonds flare and sparkle, too,
I leap and frolic like a brilliant flame. 

My shiny veils instead of hiding shame
Now swirl round me as fire’s hot vapors do
And dance the spheres to Heavenly acclaim. 

Now swirling in the firmaments, I aim
To please no less — the dance is never through.
I leap and frolic like a brilliant flame. 

I twirl with planets, angels. All can claim
Their rounds — I grab their hands no matter who
And dance the spheres to Heavenly acclaim. 

Perhaps, Lord, even one of Baptist name
Now joins the dance. If so, with him now, too,
I leap and frolic like a brilliant flame
And dance the spheres to Heavenly acclaim. 


                      Jonathan’s Sonnet

There was no color in the world before
That radiant beam of David made its sweep
Uncovering brilliant colors to adorn
The muted grays and darks the shadows keep.

I tore my armor off.  I made him wear
That metal once he left.  One had to guard
That David sun of sweeping light.  As there
Was mettle in me still and it was hard,

I gave up nothing giving things away--
How fluid is that calculus of love
That adds without subtracting!  True above
No less, I lose no motion should I stay

At Heaven’s doors till David comes.  I’ll seize
That torch he bears and seize what rapture sees.


                    Ruth's Sonnet

The Potter's never spun from other clay
A grander porcelain.  Naomi's face
Is rivaled only by the pure display
Of beauty in her heart.  There is no place

With means to have her that would sacrifice
Such priceless art—which means of course that she
Must stay forever in this Paradise
Which lacking her no Paradise could be.

By as-good logic, Paradise would break
Without me, too:  I’ve sworn to follow her,
And any place requiring that I break
Such vow is flawed.  Since God’s own place can’t err,

It opens wide judicious high gates to
Embrace its Ruth as paradise must do. 


                         Lazarus

                                            . . .I woke up
Enflamed with fever. Martha wet some rags —
Yet as my sister fought the blaze she seemed
Instead to stoke it. I was howling as
I burned alive. I swore if I survived
I’d never cook an animal again.
Yet I burned hotter still — and then the dark.
The cool and tranquil black enveloped me.
Although I could see nothing, I assumed
The body was consumed — I could not feel
Or find extremities or flesh. I planned
To understand it all — although not then.
I was exhausted from the trauma. Then
I only thought of undimensioned rest.
I therefore wafted in the dark relaxed,
Immune to gravity, collision and
The other painful attributes of mass.
As I was nothing, nothing would I need,
And lacking nothing I was richer than
I ever was embodied. Then against
My will some force or creature snatched me. I
Fought as it stuffed me in a four-day corpse.
The stench was horrid. I disgorged. I sobbed.
I squirmed as I felt worms crawl in that skin
And feast upon it in the pitch-black tomb
Till yet another terror came to me.
How long would that small fetid bit of air
Last in the cell? I tried to free myself
Yet linens held me tight. As no cloth tore,
More tears ran down my cheeks. What had I done
To merit such a torment? Had my tithes
Or alms been insufficient or were there
Some other sins forgotten? Then the stone
Rolled back. They fetched me out. While washing me
They said I’d suffered terrors so to grant
My sisters’ prayers. Once I had learned this
I naturally assumed the pain was done —
But I then found more torments were to come.
The title to what property I’d had
Was clouded. I was homeless now at law.
I was a monster to most children. They
Told tales about me, trembled in their beds
At night imagining sarcophagi
In nearby graveyards would spit out their dead
To stumble round on rotting, wormy limbs.
Were this not bad enough, I suffered worse —
The deadly hatred of the Sadducees,
Those priests who claimed no resurrection. With
Their livelihoods at risk, they hounded me.
They planned my murder. In the temple, I
Observed their daggers outlined under their
Well-laundered garments. Worshipping in crowds,
I never gave them leave to do the deed
In God’s house. Thus they took their plot outside
Where I could see the moonlit robes at night.
I knew I had no choice. I had to flee.
My sisters helped me find a boat to Rome.
As I was savoring my last glimpse of shore,
I saw the robes again across the deck.
They had me in a snare. I was resigned
To fate. My last remembrance was a breeze,
A moonless night on board and then a plunge
Of metal in the back and rustling robes 
That blending with the flapping sails above.
O Lord, have mercy!  Though I suffered, I
Did never curse or question you.  With Job
As my example, I did not defy
You, Lord, or have the arrogance to probe
Or question holy reason.  Lord, I would
Believe on balance I was therefore good
With hope of some small place in Heaven should
You find me worthy.  I have always stood
Beside you though I’ve rarely understood.


              Cincinnatus' Final Sonnet

No man alive’s too good to work the land
To feed and clothe himself.  A man is not
Entitled to be kept.  (Each such demand
Collapses on itself.  Each man who’s got

Such right gives it to others so he goes
In circles on himself--no substance in
Such foolishness.)  Thus when the Romans chose
Me as commander charging me to win

The battle with the Aequi, I agreed.
The whole included me.  The victory done,
I went back to the farm--no crown to cede
Where none could be.  Though now a shade, I shun

Conceit no less.  Still not above a plow,
Had I land here I would be farming now.

  
                       Cicero's Sonnet

We clearly must have order if we are
To be.  For lacking it would leave us no
Means to distinguish us.  Thus, insofar
As there’s disorder we’re extinguished--sow

Dissention in us and we start to fade
To that degree.  Thus, disagreeing, we
Survive to the extent that we persuade.
How do it?  Swords are tempting.  Yet, we see

The word’s superior.  What’s bloodless and
Eternal on its face is better than
A dated slaughter.  Good men therefore stand
With gods at journey’s end yet don’t quit man

In full.  Their words live though they lose their head
And hands. A good man is still fluent dead. 


                    Joan of Arc's Ballade

O Lord, I never wavered from the joy
I felt when I first heard you speaking with
Saints Michael, Margaret and Catherine.
As I would not depend upon hearsay
Of men or texts, I knew no other way
To find you under all those layers from
The Latin to the Hebrew that they wield.
I listen to you first, Lord, not to men.

Each mouth that quotes another for a truth
Stands further from that truth. Thus mortal courts
Take care to keep all such infection out.
As mortal courts refuse such hearsay for
Ephemeral matters, logic would demand
The same respect for God’s eternal court.
I have no time for preachers’ hearsay when
I listen to you first, Lord, not to men. 

They proved me right when they burned me upon
A stake because they said I wore “men’s clothes.”
What twisted reading of a hearsay text
Could elevate attire above the Rule
Of Gold? What arrogance of sinful men
To foist such deadly fashions on you, Lord,
Or claim to know your tastes as well as you!
I listen to you first, Lord, not to men. 

Lord, what is “man’s attire.” Tell me yourself
What’s right and what’s abominable to you.
Tell me yourself if I have rooms above.
I listen to you first, Lord, not to men. 


                          Erasmus's Sestina

Though the opposing sides condemned me, Lord,
As cowardly for keeping to the mean,
I understood (with Aristotle) man
Is fashioned for no more. When he would claim
The means to be extreme, the folly that
Ensues will soon unmask his hubris there.

This was quite clear in Rome. The proud Pope there
Was more like Caesar on his gold throne, Lord,
Than Christ. He was imperial, thought that
He could not err, that all his words must mean
Some clear thing he intended. Thus, he’d claim
(As Peter’s heir) some lordship over man. 

Still no less Luther (though but just a man)
Thought he’d unmasked the Cosmos finding there
Inflexibility so harsh he’d claim
Predestination. Thus, our Loving Lord
He turned into a vicious monster mean
Enough to force a deed yet damn it. That 

Was further proof the mean is best and that
An open mind is therefore moral. Man
By definition only keeps the mean
Without extremes of dogma. Therefore, there
Must be such liberty for mankind, Lord,
For any faith to make a moral claim. 

Of course, right liberty itself can’t claim
Rights to perform all kinds of actions that
Might come to mind. A man needs knowledge, Lord,
Of means and ends and how the virtuous man
(Through good role models) acts. With learning, there
Come skill and modesty and thus the mean. 

This must include disputes we have. The mean
Prohibits combat as extreme. Each claim
Must have its proof in words and not force. There
Must be good rhetoric requiring that
We relearn all those ancient volumes — man
Needs Cicero and Aristotle, Lord. 

Lord, as I’ve kept the mean, I’m hoping that
I’ll find the same above. A humble man,
I’d shun extremes of Hell, of Nothing, Lord. 


                Tertullian’s Sonnet

Why think of Athens?  What has it to do
With God’s Jerusalem?  I would refrain
From mixing categories.  I’d retain
Clear thinking, would not mix up “Greek” and “Jew”

As I would never jumble up the “snow”
With “rain” or “moon” with “sun.”  I would be true
To God and his Creation, never skew
The Earth and Heavens.  Thus, I suffered no

Theologies that threatened to distract
Us from the Lord, was careful to dispel
The pagan, segregate him safe in Hell.
I never let words bind God or subtract

From him--credo quia absurdum est.
I would be judged as well by such a test.


           Justin Martyr’s Sonnet

A single Cyclops’ socket in the head
Would lack the depth-perception needed for
Good images of truth.  God added thus
A Christian eye to complement the Greek

Which means of course that God would not condemn
The virtuous pagan--doing so would pluck
The pagan eye reducing once again
Perception and our image of the truth.

It follows thus that Heaven must have shared
A Christian eye with Plato who now sees
With clarity at last the Form of Good.

The same must follow for all ancients who
Had virtue prior to the birth of Christ--
No calendar confines God’s sacrifice. 



                          Harold II

At Hastings Normans would extinguish us,
Our art, our laws, our books, our Beowulf.
I, Harold, therefore had to fight and did.
I battled hard their bastard king who paid
In blood for every inch of England sought.
Although he took our crown, I did my best
Despite the odds. That is my measure, not
How many arrows Normans put in me. 


                      Sampson’s Sonnet 

The day misleads.  We’re blessed by losing eyes
Too easily distracted by the rose
That colors over thorns, insects, and blight,
And feigns geometries in petals though
True lines and circles never can be drawn
On warped and pitted canvases of earth.

The very structure of the eye proclaims
That sight has little worth.  Jehovah would
Not make such fragile orbs for vision if
It were a thing for us to treasure much.
Delilah is more proof.  Unseen she could
Not use her outer bloom for treachery.

By losing eyes, I took on better sight
And found more focus in the dark than light. 

                  Delilah’s Sonnet

How could betrayal happen to a man
Who’d made a wager, murdered when he’d lost,
Who knowingly pushed massive pillars down
To crush a child that led him to the place,
Who’d used his trust, dominion over beasts,
To bind their tails and send them off in flames?
(I still can hear the awful yelping of
The twice-red foxes till the fires consumed
Their tiny throats and tongues.)  I had no choice.

He was a monster.  Villainy requires
Containment which we did—yet let him live,
A courtesy he failed to show himself
In taking his own life that we had spared.

Delilah in return should, too, be spared. 


                Job’s "Sonnets" 

                       I.

I see we have due process after all-- 
We have it at the end though justice keeps 
Discretion and more distance during life
Allowing easy error judging men. 

Once haughty, I thought illness punished sin 
Before rank ulcers chewed across my skin,
Rewarding my own virtues with disease
While others sinned yet suffered no disease
And even prospered by their deeds.  I've learned
That earthly station often isn’t earned.

No earthly fortunes ever prove one's worth
Including, too, the final bounties God
Shared once the devil lost.  My merit's proof:
I mined and shared from matchless mines of me.

                         II.    

Despite false prophets of prosperity
That judge in terms of health and property,  
Fate traffics us in ways we do not see.

Real profits can be false if given sense
To speak of character beyond mere cents
Where fortune was the active agent.  Hence:

When a serpent happens on a priceless bird 
That proves an easy meal from nature's hand
There is no merit in the profit past

The accident itself, no avian wrong
That justifies slow death within a gut
Corroding color and dissolving song.

Thus, too, the wealth that God returned to me
Proves nothing of that true prosperity
I mined and shared from matchless mines of me. 


               Deborah's Sonnet Song

A bit of music!  Life leaps over speech!
Life leaves some greater parts beyond the reach
Of words alone.  Therefore, God gave us each.

I’ll sing of me who judged beneath a palm
And reckoned past and future.  Thus, I knew
Jael would drive a stake in Sisera

Once she had feigned her hospitality.
I killed no guests, there’s no hypocrisy
Here in my seeking hospitality.

Hear! I’ll sing purest notes beneath a palm
And judge not.  Here in Heaven I’m too new
To gauge Jael or even Sisera.

I’ll let the veterans guess at Sodom’s sin
Of harming guests one has invited in.



              Alexander The Great's Sonnet

Sweet novelty of death!  You’ve heard my prayer,
O gods!  There’s more adventure!  I am not
Condemned to idleness.  In brief despair
My reason was confounded. I forgot

The underworld that can be molded by
My sword and genius, too.  Profounder war
Will justify me further.  O gods, I
Shall meld from parts a better whole.  Once more,

I’ll combine East and West and redefine
The normal taste in men--my own won’t be
Scorned but admired.  Good standards will be mine
And I the norm.  Have confidence in me,

Commission me, O Gods.  I’ll serve you well.
I’ll take my sword to every inch of hell!



                    Cleopatra VII's Sonnet

O gods, you should receive at least as large
A welcome as mere Romans had from me.
The Styx of course should waft me on a barge
To you with purple plumèd finery

At least as grand as that displayed before
Mere men.  You’ve no less right to girls perfumed
As sweetest flowers (or to soft skin that’s more
Inviting than a couch or to queens groomed

More perfectly than sculptures to be found
In shrines.)  You’ve no less right to unwrap each
Fold of some gentle garments that surround
A pleasure that lies well within your reach.

Gods, take me now so no fools ever can
Pretend that gods are favored less than man.




     Cyrus The Great’s Proof

It’s wrong to disown any family.
We must be fair in hospitality
To every member. We may not despise
Another made in Heaven’s image.  Wise
Ones know the converse would be blasphemy.
We had to unify.  No boundary
Is moral.  Even Hebrews now are free
To come back in the fold, to realize
It’s wrong to disown any family.

Death can’t destroy your Image. Unity
Has to survive the grave and cannot be
Extinguished.  Live and dead must still comprise
A common brood.  We specters therefore rise
To meet you knowing that you will agree
It’s wrong to disown any family.


                       Esther's Sonnet

There’s bravery that’s physical in bed,
That’s cousin to the field of battle’s.  I
Burned with such valor from the day I wed
Another by whose whim I’d live or die.

I passed, had spies, laid trenches in the sheet.
I suffered the assaults but never gave
A true surrender.  I held till defeat
Had closed the enemy within his grave

With my assistance.  There’s no felony
In war’s attack, in what I had to do.
There are no lies or whores in battle.  We
Have heroes or we’ve cowards--just the two.

This star of Esther stayed though others fell:
By name, the heavens are where Esthers dwell.




               Boethius's Sonnet

Was Theodoric’s prison in the end
That proved the real academy.  Was there
They taught first hand true good cannot depend
Upon mere fortune.  There caged in despair

This humbled bureaucrat learned power flees
In but a moment and, too, learned, how fast
“Good” title both in name and properties
Is marred.  Yet, I found hope!  Though no things last

Below at length, that maid Philosophy
Took pity, visited dark dungeons and
Consoled me with her higher poetry
Of permanence.  Caressing that sweet hand,

I thought no more of nooses or of cells
But of divinity and where it dwells.


               Saint Ambrose's Sonnet

Before the awful bench where all will stand
We come in turn to plead and do admit
Our errors though in doing so submit
In mitigation it was not our hand

That sought the staff.  Instead, Milan asked.  We
Were acquiescent, humbly turned our backs
On Roman boons (yet kept her bones as racks
For Christian ornament--past lies would be

Upholders of the truth.)  Thus we transformed
Words, music, marbles, even living flesh--
Behold Augustine we baptized afresh.

Mere spirit now, our temporal see performed,
Pray let us see Rome’s church ascending now
Above Rome’s ruins we’ve refurbished now.

                
             Marcion The Docetist’s Sonnet

I’ve kneeled before the true God now revealed
Through that majestic phantasm called Christ
That clarified true faith and thus repealed
The older books.  Sweet ghost!  If sacrificed,

I knew it was not God.  Perfection by
Its very terms can never suffer.  For
To suffer is to lose, to be less than
Complete and thus prove imperfection.  Nor

Could it have been a man.  Though man could be
Sinless despite the lie of Eden, You
Could not allow a sinless man to be
Condemned and killed for sins he did not do.

Great ghostly messenger!  It had to be
Of course fantastic coming, Lord, from Thee!


           Confucius’s Sonnet

Mere force brings no true order since forced change
Warps from without and thus can never fit
An inner nature that’s rejecting it.
Without such fit, there’s but apparent change.

As mere force is deficient, sages thus
Discount it.  Righting wrong, they find a way
To change a man by his own choices. Thus,
They speak and do precisely. Sages sway

With virtue and right language of the kind
They’ve learned in studies of the old archives
Of ritual and common mythic mind.

Their teaching teaches them. Example drives
Without a whip. On earth, in heaven, too,
Truth bans all thrashings hells purport to do.



            Lao Tzu’s Sonnet

Would breath that loathed to make a sound in life
Somehow reverse itself in airless death?
Would it somehow convert itself at last
Into fools’ terms?  No--death is muter still.

I’ve neither arrogance nor wish to harm.
I’d not presume an ant cares how my mouth
Might label it.  I all the more of course
Would not presume that heaven gives a damn.

Man’s categories cause him needless ill—
A man can’t covet or despise a thing
Some category’s not disjoined from him.
Man's words spread categories' ills about.

Without air heaven must be wordless.  Hence,
I'm mute where no decrees expel me hence.



                   Plato’s Sonnet
            (A liberated caveman)

When I was tethered up inside the cave
Where I could see but shadows on the wall
I craved to see how Real Things would behave.
I plotted my escape through study:  all

Real Things should be discoverable in the end
Though first unseen directly.  I knew there
Must be Real Forms somewhere since shades depend
On Something Real to cast them.  With great care,

I studied every shadow so I might
Infer what cast the umbrage.  In that way
I burrowed backward out into the Light.
I now see plainly Forms have Forms, and they

Have culmination here in that one Form
Of Good that I predicted as the Norm.

  
               Aristotle’s Sonnet

A thing is not worth less for having use.
The practical thus merits study, too,
And though we’ve axioms that we deduce,
Pure theory’s not the only thing we do.

Our life’s a mix of logic and of sense
That we must catalogue if we would know.
I thus plumbed rules and crafts, found no offense
In usefulness of anything I’d know.

And now a shade I see beyond all doubt
That theory’s blind with practice taken out.
For though I’d thought I’d navigated all,

I find I’m checked in heaven.  I can’t call
Out to the unmoved mover, make a plea
Since one unmoved can never answer me.


        Epicurus’s Prelude, Sonnet, & Postlude

Although the larger bits have now disbursed,
The finer ones continue to cohere--
I still have thought.  The mind has not yet burst
Into its dainty specks.  It would appear
I have some minutes left to bend an ear:

What is the point of living if not well?
And what is living well if not to live
By grounded principles that parallel
The real and concrete and can therefore give
Sure means of our improvement?  Therefore, we
Work up from what we sense with judgment.  This
Leads us to atoms, voids and liberty.
We study these in search of lasting bliss—
Not blasts of joyous atoms that are shot
In moments.  We would have the greater good
Of long untroubled times.  The constant’s what
We seek and not the fleeting.  As we should,
We only ask for leave to live out life
With reason minimizing needless strife.

What more to say?  I’ll simply end it there
And settle in--no one has cause to care.
I am the foe of anguish everywhere.


             Zeno Of Citium’s Double Sonnet
             (Greek father of Stoicism)

I, Zeno’s spark, have molted now at last
Into essential fire.  I’ve wafted past
The lower regions.  Lighter since I’ve cast
Off bone and flesh that held me to the ground,
My spark by nature now rose Heaven bound
As pre-determined by the universe.
There’s nothing known to man that fire can’t heat
Which proves of course affinity with all
(Since lacking close relation fire could not
Effect such heat.)  Thus, nothing’s foreign to
Fire, meaning nothing’s different from it. Hence,
We see that fire’s the basic element,
And as it’s basic and as fire must burn,
Life is determined every way we turn.

Will can’t change fire into a thing that must
Not burn.  Without such freedom of the will,
All is determined and the rational mind
Therefore concedes its fate.  If mind would be
Not only wise but virtuous as well,
Such resignation is consensual.
To question fate would be unnatural
Since all that must unfold is natural.
Right therefore bears its fortune willingly,
And unfleshed mind is lighter meaning it
Must flicker up to Heaven as it’s done.
To question that would be unnatural, wrong,
And foolish.  All’s determined.  Gods can’t doubt
They naturally lack the power to snuff me out.


            Diogenes Of Sinope’s Sonnet
       (A Greek who loathed crimes against nature)

There’s nothing more disgusting than a crime
That runs afoul of nature, that inverts
Her just proportions, smears her essence.  I’m
An enemy of any who perverts
True nature.  Thus, when Alexander stood
Between the sun and my tub (an eclipse
Of scepters, diadems and fabrics he
Was born without yet wrapped round him no less)
I boldly made him move.  I would not stand
The unnaturalness of flesh all sceptered up
Or the unnatural act of blocking light
That nature cast upon me from the sun.
Thus, I, too, chase men’s “riches,” “honors” though
I chase them off instead of chasing them.

 
               Heraclitus’ Sonnet

We can’t go back.  Each thing is nevermore
At once.  Our “ancient” rivers aren’t old.  For
Each moment changes currents, makes them new
So “ancient’ rivers must always be new.

To be is change.  Thus, extant rivers pour.
We can’t grasp terms unless we know therefore
Their opposites.  We can’t know “good” before
We have some mastery of “evil,” too.

We can’t go back yet claim that we explore.
So change is not a thing wise men deplore.
The tension of its opposites at war

Pulls concepts taut that resting would undo.
We stand here sharper since change overthrew
Flesh for a shade and would be sharpened more.


            Protagoras’s Double Sonnet
         (A frank and level-headed Greek)

In life or death, we struggle with the swirl
Of sense we face, we try to render it
Controllable in ways that make it fit.
We face such struggle lacking absolutes
To bring consensus when we disagree.
Without good proof there are no absolutes
Yet having proof requires proof’s instruments
Which cannot read themselves.  Reading requires
Observers for the deed and since there are
Uncountable observers there cannot
Be just one vantage point that’s absolute.
Such logic holds in death as well as life.
Since different shades and gods see differently
No absolute can measure what they see.

We measure us by how we measure us,
By how we find we tame that swirl of sense
Surrounding us.  Without an absolute,
No “common sense” can bring consensus when
We have our different ends.  Of course, we could
By imitating brutes use force to sway
But that would not account for moral qualms
(Which are as real and forceful as the rest
Of our experience).  We therefore need
Some better measures where we disagree.
We find that in word’s bloodless rhetoric.
Protagoras is proud he sheathed his sword.
And drew consensus with his measured word
That drew men round him rather than their blood.


          Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Tale

We think with stories--nouns don’t wag themselves
Until some verb has given them a tale.
Once storied, terms turn temporal. They are
Man’s plot across the moral, cognitive,
Creative, and artistic realms.  God said:
“Fool, know thyself!”  Obedient, I read
And wrote much history to understand
Myself and therefore follow God's command.

As I was British, Britain and my race
Of course were my prime focuses.  To my
Dismay, I found few tomes about the two
And those I found were partial works at best.
I was compelled to remedy the void
And thus began inquiring back to Troy
Past Virgil who omitted British limbs
Of that vast, ancient Trojan tree.  Despite
The paucity of written volumes, I
Discovered much of what I needed in
Myself--I was a sumptuous gallery
Of Trojan portraits.  In my face I saw
Our brave Aeneas as he first set sail
As well as all the awful anguish he
Displayed at sea regarding Dido’s pyre.
I saw our diverse portraits of him as
He sought and then subdued all Italy.
I saw then subsequent great Romans all
Reflected in their English cousin.  I
Turned Northerly, saw Brutus, great-grandson
Of our Aeneas, drive the giants from
That Northern Isle and seed the Trojan race
In latitudes more rarefied.  I saw
Troy’s engineers grid out New Troy whose name
Would later be Trinovantum till changed
To London.  I saw portraits of the roads
And baths and amphitheaters they built,
Perused the faces of lawgivers such
As Queen Marcia and Molmutius,
Examined portraits of Belinus and
Brennius as they took both Gaul and Rome
Long years before their Roman cousins came
To Albion.  I saw Cordelia then
I glimpsed that brilliant jewel within the crown,
Our Arthur, then saw Merlin, too.  I looked
At Mordred’s features, feared that evil glance
Of treachery.  I saw the future, too,
When Trojans sailed abroad again to new
Uncharted regions, saw how, too, the sea
Itself acknowledged our hegemony.
I saw the continents and isles elect
To speak the British Trojan dialect
Beginning on a Carolina shore
That both Virginia Dare and mystery bore.
I saw the Trojans smiling in their graves
As Britain ruled both continents and waves.
And though I did not put it down in ink
I saw with certainty enough to think
Our cousins far across that western sea
Would some day walk upon the moon and we
Would tongue the heavens, too, with our own speech.

Now, Lord, I shelve myself here safe with you.
Just like the tomes we write, each man is, too,
A tale of both himself and of his race
Unique in aspect nothing can replace.
Like rarest books, same principles as well
Ban burning us in heaven or in hell.



            Henry II’s Short Ballade

Now judgment day has come at last for me,
I hope the Heavens will recall the way
I used the jury, dropped the blasphemy
Of the ordeal.  It seemed too proud to say
Man speaks God’s language equally and may
Decipher him in contests fortune ran.
A human jury seemed the humbler way
Since no man knows the mind of God or can.

I also hope when Heaven’s judging me,
It will recall proud Becket and the way
I handled him.  It was vain blasphemy
For priests (no less than other men) to say
They are the only ones who know God.  May
We all be humbler!  Until others ran
Him down, I tried to coach a milder way
Since no man knows the Mind of God or can.

Lord, though I hope in judging me you may
Find the vast Christian polities I ran
Well ruled, I won’t presume.  I’ll just obey
Since no man knows the Mind of God or can.


               Becket’s Sonnet Acrostic
                   (A strict role player)

For me, my duty was the polar star
I navigated by.  As Chancellors are
Devoted to their kings, I was therefore
Unwavering as Joseph was before--
Country and Pharaoh first.  Then “serve the Lord
Instead,” Pharaoh commanded.  In accord,
Archbishop I became.  As God’s trustee,
Roles changed and Pharaoh lost command of me.
Your servant now, he called me enemy

From that first moment when he knew I swore
In following you I'd follow him no more.
Refusing any compromise of roles,
Struck down in church for focusing on souls,
This priest reciprocated Calvary.



           Richard I’s Sonnet

Christ is my only standard. As he drove
The money changers from the temple who
Profaned it, I in imitation strove
To save God's temples from blasphemers, too.

If smaller groups of money changers must
Be driven out, much more so should we drive
Out hordes of unbelievers.  I was just
Therefore in how I chose to reign and live.

Although great men have critics and I'm not
Immune, I'm confident the worst they’ve said
Of me is I craved men and therefore led

Men East.  If true, such charge condemns me not.
In judging right and wrong, Christ is the test.
I've read his words.  The topic's not addressed.


               Saladin's Round
            (By a Kurdish hero)

There is no God but God and he is Lord
Of every atom of creation.  He
Is thus by his own essence rightfully
The Lord of old Jerusalem and all
Her Asian territories rather than
Someone whose agent sits in far-off Rome.

Someone whose agent sits in far-off Rome
Abstractly drinking blood and eating flesh
With wine and broken bread in temples there
Has brokered more than mere abstractions here.
This broker's swords have broken men and spilled
Real blood and gore throughout God’s Holy Land.

Real blood and gore throughout God’s Holy Land
Required response and we have given aid.
We’ve had to use swords doing that though we
Preferred the use of reason.  Though we’ve won
Upon the field, our greater victory comes
Through favoring mercy over death instead.

Through favoring mercy over death instead
Of other attitudes, we’ve followed God
And done his work.  Though evil trembles at
Such simple logic, we find rest in it--
God favors mercy and believers know
There is no God but God and he is Lord.


                Charles Martel’s Sonnet

Though God is three in one, it’s blasphemy
To tolerate an earthly trinity
Of Christian, Jew, and Muslim. There can be
Just one true faith since Christianity

Alone is scriptural.  Of course God knew
Martel means “hammer” and called me to do
The labor.  Although just a bastard to
That beast Plectude, great battle plans I drew

For plated men and beasts.  At Poitiers,
Design met field.  There my troops held at bay
The foreign hordes our armor drove away
From Christendom forever.  Lord, I pray

For Heavenly inclusion having fought
For God and Christendom as scriptures taught.




            Short Ballade of Henry V
                 (esse quam videri)

Although my youth was rough, I may defend
It.  By its terms, one's immaturity
Is that imperfect era one must spend
Developing, that time when logically
The mind and morals both are raw and we
Are all inferior.  I would not scheme
Like lesser youths and falsely polish me--
Hypocrisy's a sin.  I'd be, not seem.

When I was crowned, my youth was at its end.
Therefore, I ended my frivolity
Lest I live on a lie, lest I pretend
I somehow kept that younger quality
That I had lost.  I acted honestly
Instead when grown.  I battled till supreme
At Agincourt without distorting me--
Hypocrisy's a sin. I'd be, not seem.

Lord, now I'm but a spirit, I should be
In Heaven with the bodiless.  I’d dream
Of nothing else.  I’d feign no firmer me--
Hypocrisy's a sin.  I'd be, not seem.


             Ballade of William The Conqueror
                (Norman conqueror of England)

They labeled me a bastard, hated me
In those first days.  Though not my deed, still they
Held me accountable.  Adultery
Was somehow, too, my crime.  “Christians” could say
I sinned before I was.  Fools!  Unborns may
Err though unmade?  What logic could defend
Such hate?  Such gibberish could never say
How everything would turn out in the end.

Perhaps Edward and Harold both told me
The throne was mine believing pledges they
Had made to bastards could be broken free
Of sin.  If so, I landed to convey
By my example some instruction.  They
Would learn what’s right from William, comprehend
As well his destiny.  They’d learn that way
How everything would turn out in the end.

I never doubted my enormity.
When I was young and made my pompous way
Into Westminster, I had certainty
Of my great measure.  Later as I lay
Enormous, bloated by the coffin they
Would force me in, I hardly could pretend
More  meagerness.  I’d learned to my dismay
How everything would turn out in the end.

Lord, now that rotting flesh and innards weigh
As much as self-importance did, commend
To Heaven one who finally saw today
How everything would turn out in the end.



             Hannibal’s Double Sonnet
       (A General whose name meant “favored by Baal”)

In mortal combat with cold, sterile Rome
I paralleled on earth Baal’s war with Mot,
Black lord of death and infertility.
As Baal climbed up the frigid Milky Way
To chase the fiend, I climbed the snowy Alps
(To me as high and far) in my pursuit
Of Mot's foul children on the Tiber's banks.
As Baal walked stars once (some of which came loose
And flashed below), I walked those Alpine peaks
To me as high and splendid under snows
As Milky Ways I might instead have crossed.
As Baal raised fearsome armies, I raised up
My troops of diverse colors borne by beasts
Unseen in colder climates till we marched.

We brought our vengeance down on trembling Rome
With "Dido!" on our lips.  Baal’s furies, we
Combatted evil in that filthy place
With prayers Rome’s blood would also satisfy
The sacrifices priests informed us Baal
Required of men for earth’s fertility. 
When Carthage could no longer fund the stay
In Italy, I set out on my own
And scourged the various portions of her boot
Until I had no exit left and thus
Turned on myself to pilfer once again
Rome's final victory.  With my own blade
I took Rome's trophy--Rome could not parade
A ghost in chains.  Thus, I became a shade.


            Ballade of Charlemagne
                (King of the Franks)

The center was usurped and carried east
Though Rome defined the circle.  Finding that
Too byzantine for reason, I rebelled
Against such strange distortions.  As the law
Of Rome of course is Roman I therefore
Pulled back a western throne distended east
Restoring law and proving by the deed
That Rome reclaimed law, faith and art through me.

Distorting earth distorted heaven, too,
Inverting Peter’s throne outside itself
Into an oriental occident
Of nonsense.  Peter’s throne (like Peter, too)
Was crucified inverted, overturned
By making east of west until I raised
The popes again and proving by the deed
That Rome reclaimed law, faith and art through me.

Though art was warped as well, bent toward the east,
I drew it back into its occident
Where Ovid, Virgil, Horace and the rest
Wrote, where bright architects raised monuments
Not even knowing Christ.  But I knew him.
We wrote of him and raised cathedrals that
Befit the son of God and proving by the deed
That Rome reclaimed law, faith and art through me.

O Lord, I am the West’s embodiment.
It rises once again through me.  If I
Fall, half the world falls with me.  None can doubt
That Rome reclaimed law, faith and art through me.


              Roland’s Rhetoric                    

From where I stand upon these starry peaks,
Mere Pyrenees I climbed and crossed below
Seem childish exploits now I gaze beyond
The world itself.  Mere Spain seems but a speck
Compared to what unfolds beyond these stars
Inviting me to cross.  Should I await
Some horn sound from the Lord?  Or rather should
I simply charge these heights?  How can I know?  
Our minds are limited, can never do
A proper syllogism.  Only God
(Who knows all things) can know all premises
Required for proof. Perhaps we even risk
Our souls through hubris thinking we can think?
I'll not run endless circles of "what if?"
Debating tactics or morality.
Wise, honest men don't think.  They simply do,
And like the best of them I'll charge forth, too.  


              Anselm’s Short Ballade

I’m unsurprised that mind persists although
The body drops extinguished.  Nothing may
Be perfect but the Lord.  That being so,
Death must be flawed and therefore cannot stay
The intellect forever lest we say
Death is invincible and perfect, too.
I can’t consistently speak such a way,
Lord.  Reason will not let me turn from you.

Nor could I doubt your being, Lord, although
You did not show your face.  God is, we say,
The greatest thing conceivable.  That so,
God must exist since absent things, we say,
Are less.  Should God not be, that opens way
To something greater:  God plus being, too.
But nothing’s greater.  Logic shows the way,
Lord.  Reason will not let me turn from you.

And thus I kneel in hopeful prayer you’ll say,
“Come follow me as well in heaven, too.”
I cannot rise until you’ve shown the way,
Lord. Reason will not let me turn from you. 


                        Abelard’s Ballade

Thought is the cruelest place where charts mark no
Fixed latitude or constancy of shore
For shifting airy coasts and courses.  Though
Polaris holds without, within one's oar
Has no such brilliant constant marker for
Safe navigation.  Vague, obscure and fraught
With shifting inner shoals, one can’t ignore
The peril and the price of careless thought.

Did man precede the beasts?  Both “yes” and “no”
Say Testaments where just a pair yet more
Go in the ark, where Eve’s made second though
She’s simultaneous in lines before,
Where we’re commanded to love yet restore
Slaves to a master, where it’s said we ought
Not judge yet brook no sin.  We’re fodder for
The peril and the price of careless thought.

There’s such confusion--turn the cheek yet go
Acquire a sword as well?  Why wasn’t more
Care taken in the drafting?  All should know
That words have consequences.  Maimed, I bore
The scars of mixed-up syllables.  Before
More suffer needless butchery, one ought
To master language.  I explored, therefore,
The peril and the price of careless thought.

Lord, thus I did my volumes.  Since they store
All I discovered, I can rest.  Full taught
Below, no suffering here would teach me more
The peril and the price of careless thought.   



             Elisha’s Apology

I watched Elijah leave in fiery flight.
The sound of nothingness roared in my ears.
I was alone.  I trembled, was in tears.
I only had his cloak to calm my fears
As I stepped in to bear bare heaven's light.

Persuasion's manifold.  Elijah thought
The fastest and the surest lesson taught
Was by the rod.  I tried another way:
Example of good deeds can also sway.
I salted down the spring of Jericho
And caused pure waters once again to flow.
I turned the poison gourds into a soup
That safely fed a desperate, hungry group.
I made the axe-head float back to the top
Of that deep Jordan where they’d let it drop.
I took a little bit of barley bread
And made a feast where many mouths were fed.
I filled a widow's empty jars so she
Could pay her debts and set her children free.
I cured the awful curse of leprosy,
And moved men with my skills of prophecy.

Example and good deeds were rhetoric
That served me better than Elijah's stick,
And though no fiery chariot brings me
I trust the light I carry shines on me.



            Jonah’s Defense

With just eight words* I brought a city round.
In rhetoric’s annals nowhere else is found
A rival.  I will move the heavens, too,
And once again will keep my phrases few.
                                                      
I erred once I admit--although I should
Feel gross aversion handling pagan things.
Aversion keeps good order.  God would not
Condemn disgust toward anything unclean.
Instead he counseled that sometimes one should
Endure the filth he'd have one remedy.
Thus, for two reasons he unleashed the whale:
To right my course and in its belly train
Me for the stench ahead.  (I spent three days
Within its filthy gut till I was heaved
A chunk of living vomit on the shore.)
I made my way to Nineveh and gave
The famous speech.  I then withdrew to watch
The consequence. Beyond doubt I'm devout
To take a journey here, too, past the bounds
Of any maps or terms I’ve known.  I've come

(Although in fear) because God called.  I would
Give that as further proof of Jonah’s good.

*"Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!" 


           Ehud’s Solid Rhetoric
     (Left-handed judge who killed Fat King Eglon)

Somehow it seems we have reversed our roles.
I was to speak for you in judgment, Lord,
In Eglon’s case, yet now must plead my own

Which I presume cannot be severed from
The former.  I shall, therefore, make my case
By how I made your own where you required

More rhetoric than mortals could possess.
With words more flawed and limited than yours,
My noises, meanings, grammars would blaspheme

Should they pretend to speak as you would do.
With proper language absent for the task,
I would but mock ineffability

Were I to mouth in any way the scope
Or purpose of such sacred agency.
Instead I thus used your own elements.

My iron blade made your point. Although his fat
Made heavy armor, it did not deflect
But swallowed up the knife.  His fatty folds

Released a stench that summarized him well,
That underscored your judgment as he fell,
And yet misled his guards by such a smell.*

Although the spectacle was horrid, it
Avoided sacrilege of words not fit
For godhead or good agents serving it.

*They thought Eglon was relieving himself thereby giving Ehud more time to escape.



               Acrostic of Judas

Justice never punishes a deed
Unless it's evil, willed, and freely done.
Did I betray?  I did.  But fate forced me, 
And thus I did unfreely what the Lord
Set up instead as I shall briefly show.

Impelled by love, God had to make a world
Since isolation is love’s opposite.
Creation needed freedom all around--
An object of one’s love is not enslaved
Raising a contradiction:  what is free
Is free to sin and has a license that
Offends morality.  God's fix required
The incarnation penalty--not me.


        
            Pontius Pilate’s Defense

I was a “Roman prefect.”  Did I do
As Roman prefects should?  That is the gauge
Of any proper judgment.  (Reason looks
At purpose--we'd not judge a horse by ways
It climbs a tree, sings songs, or turns a phrase
Nor should we judge a prefect other ways.)

What was my prefecture?  It was a trust.
What was my trust?  It was my region and
My saddest case attests how well I served:
A Hebrew man was obviously insane
But hardly criminal.  I would not do
Him any harm in my capacity
As man--and yet I held a prefect’s trust
Requiring me to act as prefects must.

Though bound by law, still I was dexterous.
I tried to prod some answers from him I
Could interpose in his defense.  Yet he
Refused all my attempts.  Undaunted, I
Gave other lawful avenues a try.
I sent him to another court to plead.
When he refused, on Herod’s remand I
Then tried another option:  equity.
The conscience of the law could still release
The man--yet conscience also had its rules.
The crowd had to concur.  When it would not,
I had him whipped severely hoping that
That awful sight might satisfy their want.
Although that failed, I'm proud I exercised
All rights I had.  A lesser prefect might
Have done much less but I would sleep at night.


            Polemics of Herod Antipas

Unbound,  I would have kept John living yet
The promise had been made, the head was hers.
“Thou shalt not steal.”  No ambiguity
In your command left room to fetch it back.
In fact, another also forced my hand.
We're ordered not to covet “any thing”
That is our neighbor’s.  Both commands were clear.
(“Thou shalt not kill” changed nothing since the phrase
Of course implies the further phrase “without
Good reason." For the scriptures say as well
That you crave lambs and sacrifices and
That many mortal deeds are capital.)

The cousin was another gruesome case.
I wanted to preserve him, too, but he
Spoke not in his defense.  I would myself
Have fabricated something had you not
Proscribed “false witness.” My inventions would
Have borne false witness, Lord, against the man’s
Accusers at a minimum and might
Have done the same against the man as well.
Nor could I think of putting him before
Your word and therefore you--your Decalogue
Began with that proscription.  Therefore I
Returned the man to Pilate.  (And perhaps
By doing so I further honored your
Commandments.  Some maintained he claimed was
Divine.  But there can be no gods before
You nor vain things said of divinity.
Some said he had worked on the Sabbath. But
We are to sanctify that day with rest.
Perhaps, too, for these reasons it was best
To send him back to Pilate.)

                                                  As I rest,
O Lord, I won’t deny that I’ve known sin
I am of Adam where its roots begin.
I had no choice in that but gladly chose
To follow your commandments and through those
Would hope I have abated other sin.      


  
            Caiaphas’s Defense
                (A high priest)

Forgive this son of Adam who like all
In that descent is preordained to fall--
Though I would honor God by falling well.

How did I fall well?  God’s commandments I
Kept though I was of Adam’s sinful stock.
No other gods before God!  Thus, I drove
From earth a fraud who claimed that he was God.
I stopped him, too, from taking God’s great name
In vain by claiming God became a man.
The holy Sabbath! I prevented that
Same rogue from working more on such a day.
One’s parents merit honor!  Stopping that
Same knave stopped further shame to his own kin.
No theft or coveting!  That thief once tried
To free my several temple booths for his
Own selfish commerce. He did not succeed.
Adultery is wrong!  Yet he would treat
Foul whores respectfully.  I did not let
Him keep on flaunting God’s word brazenly.
Thou shalt not kill!  I did not do the deed
But let the hell-bound Romans kill instead.
As one can see, I therefore did my best
To keep the Decalogue.   Though scriptures tell
Men they must tumble, one can still fall well.

 
                  Ahab’s Account

My father must be honored so I wed
His choice of Jezebel--not mine instead.
I could not change my wife.  If I did, we
Would thus of course commit adultery.
Nor could I make her lie about her creed.
False witness can't be borne as you've decreed.
I therefore had to tolerate Baal, too,
Though I never put that god ahead of you
And thus kept your commandment. I took pain
To foster commerce so that men could gain
The property they craved.  I knew no one
Could steal or covet objects that they own.
As murder was prohibited, I formed
Some treaties with Phoenicia and I warmed
With Judah to the South so killing would
Be minimized.  I reigned in ways I should
By your commandments.  Though Elijah would
Condemn and tear worlds down, I chose instead
The harder course of building worlds.  He fled
Before death brought him down.  I stayed instead
And honored you  as your commandments said.

 
            Nicodemus's Double Sonnet

I saw the merit of that holy man.  I showed
Him bold respect in public and I sat
Beside him as my teacher.   I raised up
My hand in public when I was confused
By his instruction:  “How could an old man
Be born again?”  I asked.  He answered me.
When hypocrites would kill him in the name
Of “God” and “Church,” I interposed myself
And spoke in his defense.  I took the risk
Without a moment’s hesitation, and
When they had murdered him, I helped embalm
And carry the cadaver to a tomb.
With greater powers, I would have helped him more.
But born without them, I could do no more.

Why did I yet remain a “Pharisee”?
There only is one true assembly of
God’s people.  Words cannot change that.  I'd not
Concede my notion of a "Pharisee" to frauds.
Instead, I would protect it by my deeds
That would instead preserve exalted words.
I worshiped with God’s words while others lied
With them.  It was confusing.  Yet, I fought
And even gave my quandary a name:
The “Nicodemus Paradox.”  If we
Use “Church” with scoundrels it’s hypocrisy
Yet if we give them “Church” it’s blasphemy.
With greater powers, I would have wrestled more.
But born without them, I could do no more.



            Mary Magdalene’s Apology

Though fathers of the church might not recall,
I was his favored ally over all--
Though I had awful moments I admit.
I saw the seven horrid faces of
The demons driven out.  Pride lurched out first.
It smirked as it looked back at me.  It kissed
Its gilded mirror, dropped its glass, then spread
Its filthy, gaudy tail.  It stretched its wings
And took its pompous exit on the breeze.
Then Envy slithered out, a serpent scaled
With eyes instead of plates.  Each lens scanned round
From different angles not to miss a grudge.
Its filthy fangs were always poised to strike
With venom ever dripping.  Thus, the snake
Ingested greater poison than its prey.
Then Gluttony with well-worn teeth chewed its
Way out of me and tumbled on the ground
To roll away in its growing sphere of flesh.
Then Idleness crawled out.  Its wrinkled robes
Were stained and filthy.  It could barely hold
Its head upright until it found a bed.
Then heaving-breathing Avarice crawled out
So loaded down with precious things it could
Not stand. Despite the wealth it bore, its clothes
Were worn and fit it poorly.  Sweating, it
Crawled off distraught--it never hauled enough.
Then lion-headed Wrath leapt out of me.
Its awful roar was followed by a spray
Of blood its flailing limbs slung as it ran.
Then last of all sprang hairy Lust.  (Perhaps
I’m most remembered for the last since it
By chance became the final one to leave.)
O Lord, I tremble still to think about
Those awful spectacles as each came out.
And yet once freed of seven demons, I
Could kneel to wash my master’s feet.  I could
Anoint his head with oil and laud him well.
Then when his fortunes changed, I could as well
Stand by him as they nailed him up.  And when
Some armored angels swept him up from Hell
I could run out and spread good news to all--
I was his favored ally after all.           



          Augustine’s Lines and Acrostic
                     (A bishop of Hippo)

Si fallor, sum! I no doubt must exist
However fraught with error since to err
I must be there to do the errant thing.
Pure skepticism therefore can't be true
And truth I set off early to pursue. 

The Manicheans moved my ears with tales
Of light and dark in endless war they proved
Through daily combat of the light and dark,
Through daily rise and fall of suns and stars,
Through all our politicians and our priests
Forever mixed in virtue and in vice--
Such Manichean proof was powerful for
A youthful head untrained in reason or
How easily a fact can be a whore.

In time, I learned the syllogism and
Abandoned Manichean foolishness--
By definition good lacks evil.  Hence,
The good and evil cannot be conjoined
In such theatric struggle.  Thus, I turned
To logic and more careful use of words,
Learned rhetoric, but soon I wanted more--
I'd not forgotten my "si fallor, sum!"  
Through Plato I found changeless Truth and Good
Which briefly brought great pleasure though it vexed
Me next.  If real is really past all change
(Which seems required, too, if God foreknows all),
Must that not mean that everything was set
In stone from the beginning?   Thus poor Eve
Was forced to sin, the serpent to deceive?
I flailed about until I could perceive:

All inquiry of course fails where I am
Beliefless.  Credo ut intelligam--
How can I seek an answer unless I
Am clear first on the means with which to try?
Faith must come first to put some terms in place
That we can use for parsing up a case.
Gathering up my thoughts, I thus confessed
Raw sin throughout my life.  In faith, I'd rest
And pray for undeserved last clemency
Content to rest in God's hands knowing the
Election might have long passed over me.


        Daniel’s Sonnet
   (A Jew “exiled” in Babylon)

Through deepest faith, I tapped night's lexicon
That Nimrod changed. Confusion fell upon
More than the day when Babel’s Tower fell.
The language of the night collapsed as well,

And dreams took dialects they’d lacked before.
New gibberish infected night.  Therefore,
Men needed me to translate dreams that hid
Night's messages to them.  Of course, I did.

And when God wrote upon the wall instead
Of nighttime hieroglyphics in the head,
I was the only person who could read
The markings and convey what he had said.

I revel and reveal with words.  They are
Mind's whiskey, its key, and its reservoir.



     Julius Caesar Joins His Cousins

Hail cousins in Olympus!*  Like you, I
Have intervened throughout the world.  I warred
Not just in Rome but in far regions, too,
As god in man no doubt is prone to do.

Why not go far in war since I must war
Regardless?  God and man are opposites
And thus could not keep truces long in me.
They often warred and shook me violently.

I wondered how the two in me were mixed:
Were they both loose?  Were they together chained?
Was one a cage that kept the other pent?
Did they conjoin in some third element?

However joined, despite all paradox,
I came. I saw. I conquered.  I now thank
Rome's daggers that the incarnation's past,
That I'm a pure and quakeless god at last.

*He was an epileptic whose family claimed descent from Venus.



            Brutus’s Defense

Did we do murder?  Not on Caesar’s watch.
Crime is defined within some rule of law.
His tyranny suspended rule of law.

Did we do evil?  Not in killing him
When reason would instead condemn the hands
Refusing reason and its pure demands.

We rescued reason when our blades brought down
The despot flaunting it.  And if we should
Now balance pain, we find the common good

We did outweighs the suffering Caesar felt.
We should be stoic, too, and recognize 
That fate spins narratives and thus denies

The choice required for blame.  And yet so what?
The finest reason never dulls the pain
As past replays itself time and again:

The awful cries, the sounds of blades against
The spine, the red spurts, then the vacant stare
As rigor mortis seizes Caesar there.

I am no hypocrite.  I've suffered, too,
In righting Rome vile Caesar had abused.
I need no flogging.  I'm already bruised.




            Marc Antony’s Defense

Will future generations laud my name?
No. History is pillage victors own.
The vanquished are deprived of it--and yet
I stand before the gods with no regret
Or fear.  The judgment of the gods, I know,
Is never swayed by pillaging below.

Before I fell, in Athens they hailed me
As a new Dionysus.  They were right.
I saw beyond convention.  Nature was
My measure--not some antique prejudice
That drew a line between the West and East.
Uncritical acceptance in me ceased:

I freed my mind and heart to analyze
All things in truth, not prejudice.  I spurned
The ancient, awful bigotry of Rome
Permitting one the lowest Roman wife
Yet banning Cleopatra as a bride.
Pure truth advised me, too, when Caesar died.

I would not profit from his murder.  I
Embraced the bloody vessel that once held
Great Caesar and I promised my revenge.
Whatever evil men might say of me,
I was a loyal friend who also dared
To free both mind and heart Rome once impaired.



            Ezekiel’s Double Sonnet
             (A prophet of the exile)

                         I.

A rift ran down the middle of my soul
With halves that tugged perpetually at war
And kept me torn as both a priest and man.
I found that rules and that exceptions can

Be true at once.  Though contradictory,
We must have justice, must have mercy, too,
And must have death although we hear the din
Of dusty bones redressing into skin.

A nation must be punished for its sin,
A nation made of aggregates where one
Thus bears the guilt of all although no one
Is guilty for the deeds another's done:

The father's never guilty for the son
Nor is the child for what the father's done.

                        II.

God's scroll was written to be read. Yet, God
Fed me the message, too.  Sad to the ear
Words somehow tasted honeyed to the tongue.

In honeyed thought, I thought of being young
In Israel again although I knew
That logic stays me.  God, though, had free hand

To seize my hair and whisk me off to stand
Outside the temple walls. I found a hole
Within one wall and peered in where I saw

Beyond facades, beyond exterior awe
To inner awe that dwarfed all things that we
(However wise) have ever felt or said.

The universe leaps over heart and head
Whose terms of course can't curb a universe
Whose essence always brings it back to God.



                   Ballade Of John Lackland
            (English king & Richard I's brother)

Although I spilled much blood in France, I would
Have spared it had I means.  But they gave me
No choice.  Vast English lands within France could
Not spurn their sovereign with impunity.
When Anjou, Maine, Poitou and Brittany
Rebelled, I therefore fought.  What choice had one
Who held the crown, who must thus faithfully
Protect the English realm?  God's will be done.

Yet, when the fighting came home, too, I would
Not fight those barons who might murder me
And bring down England, too.  I understood
Consent under duress is legally
Not binding.  With such practicality
I saved the crown and nation.  Having done
So, I proved John would ever faithfully
Protect the English realm.  God's will be done.

Likewise, I fought that "Innocent" who would
Behind misnomers do his treachery
(Like wolves in sheep skin).  Therefore, I withstood
That scheming Roman priest across the sea
Who smelled our English lambs here grazing free.
He would have fleeced them had the Lord picked one
Less faithful, had the Lord not ordered me:
"Protect the English realm!" God's will be done.

O Lord, I only ask for serving thee
Long days for Albion.  When anyone
Presents a threat, King John will forcefully
Protect the English realm.  God's will be done!



             John The Baptist’s Sonnet
                    (A nomadic herald)

My one principal was God and as
His agent my one principle was God.
One principal and principle meant I
Ignored all call of urban artifice.

God tailored camels for a desert life.
Therefore, I clothed myself in camel skins--
How could mere John design a better wrap? 
With similar logic, I would not  rethink

The locust beans and honey God served there
That preferred to any urban fare.
I was God's pristine voice that wilderness

Kept pure enough for Christ himself to hear--
Though urban folk were deaf and Salome
Would have the mouth, not words upon a tray. 



    Witch Of Endor’s Double Sonnets

                            I.

I can't deny that I've known sorcery.
Men's words have cast their spells transforming me
Into a "witch" through verbal alchemy
Purporting to change essences of me.

I am a medium I will admit
But there's no shame or villainy in it.
How can it be an evil if I lend
A tongue to Heaven?  Hypocrites defend

The man who does the same when they declare
A "prophet" in their midst though they would tear
A woman into shreds who has the gift--

Unless of course a woman is more swift
In raising Samuel's ghost when trembling men
Must see it quick.  It's right to use her then.

                       II.

At men's request I raised up Samuel's ghost
That wore white veils across its sunken head
And mouth:  "Saul and his sons will soon be dead!"
Saul blanched and swooned. Now done with Samuel's ghost,

Men scorned my charity.  Not needed more,
I was a witch again good men abhor
And suffer not to live--though oddly men
Who have such powers are most godly men.

I  spat upon their terms, spat out my own,
And recognized no languages where few
Monopolize all prophets for themselves

In "piety" no doubt attempting to
Monopolize all profits for themselves.
I accept no words for me except my own.



        Simon Magus's Case*

Stand back, Jehovah!  I do not concede
Your jurisdiction over me. Instead,

I’ve secret knowledge shared among the wise
Of greater gods that reign above your head
And rest unstained by your Creation here.

Before this secret knowledge made me wise,
Men used to drag me to your temples where
They made me watch the helpless lambs within
Writhe as men slit their bleeding, bleating throats.
It was no better outside than within. 
There children starved and there poor animals
Would tear themselves apart in roles you made
Of prey and predator.  I saw the scrolls
Recounting other evils you had done.
You made the devil.  You made man without
A sense of right and wrong then punished him
For disobeying orders not to learn
That difference giving knowledge of your wrongs. 
You tainted Lilith and her progeny
Though she obeyed and never bit the fruit.
You baited Cain to murder by your whim
Of arbitrary anger at his gift.
You killed by indiscriminate deluge
Both beasts and infants that could not have sinned.
The common language of survivors you
Destroyed at Babel where (to add insult)
You forced your syllables on men though you
Had once told Adam he could name the world.
You tortured Abraham with felony,
Made him conspire with you to kill his son.
You baited Sodom with slick angels so
You might destroy again--this time with fire.
You burned up infants, animals, and turned
Flesh salt before a husband's frightened eyes.
You tortured your good servant Joseph in
A foreign land whose tongue he did not know
In a repeat of Babel’s cruelty.
Your mind on Egypt then, you unleashed plagues
So horrid I would rather not recount
The sufferings of men or beasts whose blood
You craved on doors or threw down from the sky
Or swallowed up attached to chariots
Beneath the crashing waves that closed on those
Not choked in waters turned to blood before.
For forty years you marched men in the sand
Where you dispensed bizarre rules governing
Such things as beards and testicles of priests.
You called these “laws” so you could claim the right
And pleasure of your awful penalties.
Bored with the desert, you then turned to war
Both in the taking and the keeping of
A “promised land,” an oxymoron of
Word rightly kept to steal another’s ground.

Not only does such evil bring you down.
Your very mouth betrays you, too: "I am
A jealous god!”  Such jealousy requires
An object.  By your own admission you
Have competition and are not supreme. 
Consistent with us both, I thus reject
Your sovereignty Jehovah.  I would dwell
Beyond your heaven and beyond your hell.

*Simon Magus was a Gnostic who tried to solve the problem of evil by creating another and better realm beyond the one in which we live.




            Ishmael’s Sonnet
                        
They called me Ishmael.  I was a first
Who wrestled with the "bastard" name though I
Was built as "normal" boys.  With Mother, I
Was cast into the desert.  Struggling first,
 
I'd often hide myself.  I'd lie about
My essence in some feint of normalcy
That let me pass.  As I was outwardly
A normal boy, I need not always out

Myself.  And yet the loss of me within
Such phantom lives did further damage. In
Such feints I slandered parents, slandered, too,
The Lord whose kingdom lay within me, too.

I therefore washed my mouth.  "I am" replaced
The "stain" of "bastard" washing had erased.



      Langdell Defends Langdell With A Villanelle

Practitioners dumb down.  A model school
Employs pure scholars.  (Langdell, though, is rare;
Langdell is an exception to the rule.*)

Pure science keeps to theory and to rule
And leaves mere practice to a tradesman's care.
Practitioners dumb down a model school.

Though calling cases "useless"** as a rule,
Langdell could do case science.  (Work by fair
Langdell is an exception to the rule.)

Truth wants a law school (not a lawyer school)
That teaches science, not mere craft.  Beware:
Practitioners dumb down a model school.

In fifteen years of practice after school,
Langdell saw practice taints beyond repair.
(Langdell is an exception to the rule.)

The best have never done.  They teach at school
Because they know.  And though they would declare
Practitioners dumb down a model school,
Langdell is an exception to the rule.


*Langdell practiced law for fifteen years.
**Langdell's actual words:  the“vast majority [of cases] are useless and worse than useless for any purpose of systematic study.”



            Double Sonnet of William James

                                   I.
  
Descartes, pure mind and body can't be kept
Apart as claimed.  Drawn from experience,
They share a common nature, common sense
That both derive from shared experience.

I am therefore a monist.  I accept
That all is drawn from pure experience:
The body, mind, and all relations.  Hence,
Truth, too, must come from shared experience.

Truth is what works in shared experience.
With free will, physics is indifferent.  Hence,
Determinism turns on how we find

An absence of free will.  Because we find
Determinism horrid, we are led
To free will's higher order in the head.

                            II.

Descartes, why suffer needless doubt except
When something fails to work.  There's little sense
In doubting for the sake of doubt. I've kept
So many years of James I see no sense

In doubting James.  Efficiencies accept
That James exists until experience
Astounds such thinking--I of course accept
Doubt when thought stumbles with experience.

For me, religious doubt makes little sense.
Belief in God disturbs no physics.  Hence,
If God brings better order to my mind,

I'd err denying God.  Of tender mind,
I savor God and angels overhead,
And grace that brings good order in the head.




    Wittgenstein’s Sonnet

When I was young, words worked a different way.
We hung them round like pictures on a wall
To replicate real objects.  Words used ink
Instead of photographic plates and dyes.

In replication either method worked
So long as illustration captured truth
By rendering objects as they really are.
What more to say?  It all seemed obvious

Until I pictured pictures without us.
No pictures see themselves, their objects, or
A world that is unfiltered by a mind.
Words and their objects are no different.  Thus,

Duck-rabbits now play games within the mind
Where certainty's more difficult to find.
 
                                    

         
 Pope Urban II’s Double Sonnet

                               I.

Although we were God's advocate below,
We were a child of Adam, too, brought low
By sin.  We therefore beg forgiveness though
We did our duty.  Bravely, we brought low

The infidels.  Our rhetoric called men to
Jerusalem with swords in hand as Christ
Himself commanded.  Fields ran red with sliced-
Up children, men, expectant mothers, too--

The serpent crushed within the egg can't grow
To blaspheme God or strike at others.  Though
Much bloody work, we had no choice.  Our trust

As shepherds left no option--shepherds must
Protect their lambs.  The Eastern fields ran red
With menaces that shepherds rightly bled.

                                    II.

We tended, too, our wandering sheep inside
The one true church. Thus, to our eastern side
We led the roaming churches back to Rome
While bringing, too, more unity at home

Among the many Occidentals who
Now shared a common venture.  Joined anew,
They focused on a foreign infidel
And Grace that comes from others sent to Hell--

Though we regret our actual person could
Not quit Rome's luscious palaces.  We would
Have joined the foreign danger, blood, and grind

Had our position not kept us behind.
A headless body could not wage a war.
We were the head and lodged in Rome therefore.



      Ballade of Charles Sanders Peirce

A "candle" burns a finger, lights a room--
The only sense that "candle" has is how
It might unfold in our experience.
Experience is "firstness" unified.
It's "secondness" upon division.  And
It's "thirdness" in relating separate parts.
Three categories mix.  We'll often see
That common measure of the number three.

A "candle" is a sign one can dissect.
Such word's a signifier pointing to
An object and a meaning of the word.
Since arbitrary, words are symbols though
Resemblance also signifies (icons)
As does participation (indices).
In parts and types of signs, again we see
That common measure of the number three.

We'd waste our time to doubt a sign unless
We're given cause within experience.
If so, we question what is plausible.
We then inquire what might be probable.
That done, we then examine likelihood.
In threes, hypotheses, deductions, and
Inductions wrestle doubt.  Again we see
That common measure of the number three.

James erred in his conception of the truth.
Instead, life's trinities are tilting toward
Real truth that casts a shadow we can see:
That common measure of the number three.



       LBJ's Villanelle
The Johnson name shall live forevermore
At home and overseas.  Of virile heart,
I shall not risk the loss of any war.

I’ll slay Jim Crow and poverty before
Another president can steel the part--
The Johnson name shall live forevermore.

I shall not ape old Chamberlain though war
Endangers plans at home. I've rhetoric's art--
I shall not risk the loss of any war.

No hypocrite, I've nitroglycerin for
Myself as well. I'll lob it at my heart--
The Johnson name shall live forevermore.

Though pills roll out my mouth, I've ever more
As I play one last time time's speaker's part:
"I shall not risk the loss of any war.

No, we shall overcome Jim Crow, the gore
Of jungles, and old chambers lain in heart.
The Johnson name shall live forevermore.
I shall not risk the loss of any war."




     An Angel For Moses [fragment only]

. . . . And thus I've set the lengthy facts before
The Heavenly Multitude (excluding you
Who always knew them).  Lord, I rest. The facts
Can best conclude the case of such a man
Of deeds who never wasted precious life
In parsing words.  At your suggestion, he
Spoke through the lips of agents--Aaron first,
Now here through wingèd counsel and the facts . . . .

                    Postscript

That fragment of an Angel’s speech
Exhausted all.  Dismayed to reach
The bottom, I examined, felt
It well--it could be false.  I knelt
And searched for hidden chambers, felt
Till hope was gone.  Dismayed no more
Transcriptions lay within, I bore
My box home, wondering why God threw
Down just those texts, not others, too.
Were they some warnings or were they
Just duplicates He’d tossed away?
Were they just pages that would fit
At random in that box?  Would it
Be followed by another load?
Why must the heavens speak in code--
Assuming that they speak at all?
Perhaps high syllables just fall?

***

Original Post 6/2/16; Continuing additions thereafter.


© Harold Anthony Lloyd 2017





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