"More Poems and Further Musings" is a book of poetry by the acclaimed poet J. Philip Goldberg. In his own unique style, he treats us to his musings that range from the meaning of life, memories, and language, to nothing.
This poem was written upon the Poet’s rereading of Jonathan Swift’s Battle of the Books, a satire of a minor literary squabble that broke out at the end of the 17th century, over the question of who had the better learning – modern writers, or the writers of classical antiquity. The champion of the moderns was one Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle, who maintained that modern learning and reason were superior to the superstition of, and the limited world known to, the ancient Greeks and Romans. In 1690, Sir William Temple published an answer to de Fontenelle entitled Of Ancient and Modern Learning. This essay contained two metaphors: (1) Modern man was a dwarf standing on the shoulders of giants; that is, that modern man sees farther because he begins with the observations and learning of the ancients; and (2) that the ancients had a clear view of nature, and the moderns simply refined and passed on their wisdom. In Swift’s satire, the controversy is the allegorized story of the Spider (= the moderns) and the Bee (= the ancients). The bee goes about gathering nectar from the flowers, from which it produces the sweetness of honey. On the other hand, the spider consults its innards, from which it spins out its web.
The other night I went to bed,
But tossing and turning, to myself I said, “I just can’t sleep, I’ll read for a while.”
So I picked up a book by Jonathan Swift
Called The Battle of the Books (it had been a gift).
It tells the tale of a literary war
Between modern writers and those of yore.
Soon I fell asleep and dreamed, and in my dream, I saw a battle taking place in my library:
Where there is open upon a table
Quite a weighty tome, an ancient fable; But the book in my dream was full of blank pages (Something unheard of, surely outrageous).
But where had all the writing gone?
All the words and punctuation marks
Lay, downcast, upon the floor,
Lamenting that they would be of use no more.
Soon the words and punctuation marks parted;
And among the marks, a debate started.
Topic: Which one of us is the best?
“Why,” said a comma, the first to speak up,
“This is so clear, there is no debate here;
Just look at my beautiful curvy shape – I’m so curvaceous,
I leave all agape!”
“Just hold on there,” said the semi-colon,
“My curve is every bit as cute as yours; And just look at the jaunty little dot
That sits atop my curve – that’s something you ain’t got!”
At this the exclamation point shouted
(What else would an exclamation mark do?),
“You braggart semi-colon, I’ll fix you!
With my ramrod stiff body, I stomp upon your dot,
You miserable mark, you ain’t so hot!”
Hearing this, the parentheses came alive:
She was dozing.
Her job of enclosing
And deemphasizing made her lethargic,
Unlike the dash, whose task of emphasizing made him
Forceful, the complete antithesis of the parenthesis.
Here a sudden noise roused me from my reverie.
I looked all around, but I could not see
A single word or punctuation mark lying on the floor –
Swift’s Battle of the Books was intact, just as before.
No man ever steps in the same river twice,
for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.
Heraclitus, ancient Greek philosopher
535 B.C–475 B.C.
As the life of human beings is surveyed,
We see that certain truths will never fade.
The most fundamental of all is this:
All things are moving, nothing remains still,
The only thing that’s permanent is change.
So according to Heraclitus, this is the crux:
Everything in nature is in flux –
What is hot will cool; what is wet will dry;
What is living today tomorrow will die.
this is just the way of the world, who knows why?
So be neither too joyful nor too in distress –
You can be assured your current state will not last.
Man’s reach should exceed his grasp,
or what’s a heaven for?
As life’s end draws near
We live in fear
That we’ll leave this world
Before our work is done.
We live afraid
That plans we’ve made
Before our race is run.
Does this mean lower our sights?
Not in the least –
We should continue to strive,
To work toward our goal
It’s our job never to give in –
It’s God’s job to assure that we win.
Seasons come and seasons go,
And summer soon gives way to fall.
How many seasons will I know
Before I can say, “I’ve seen them all’’?
There are four seasons in every year,
And I have now seen three hundred fifty-two.
Thus I am eighty-eight, and I’m still here;
And I still have a great deal to do:
There are languages I’ve never learned,
And those once learned but since forgot.
There are degrees I could have earned –
I should have been a polyglot.
To achieve this goal I am inclined.
But I know there’s much I’ll leave undone;
When my time comes, they’ll be left behind,
All far from finished, though all begun.
Should I have aimed at less than what I did?
No! That would have been wrong, God forbid!
The poet walks the earth like any other man.
But like any other man, he’s not.
Wherein does he differ from all the rest?
What is he that they are not?
What does he have that they do not?
The poet’s a wordsmith, no more no less,
Compared to others, with words he’s the best.
The poet can turn a little ditty
Into something that is very witty;
And the poet can find a facile rhyme
For odd words like cyme and chyme.
Looking at the ordinary, he sees the extraordinary.
The poet is a sort of seer
Who observing what we do, can tell us who we are.
The poet must have a depth of knowledge,
For, as was said: “A little learning’s a dangerous thing,”
He must drink deep “or taste not the Pierian Spring.”
Better than others, the poet knows the arts,
But this greater knowledge, he doesn’t boast;
But instructs always with humility,
Ever aware of the dictum that states:
“Men should be taught as if you taught them not,
And things unknown proposed as things forgot.”
The poet must be forever aware
That that which he knows can never compare
To the vastness of what he has yet to learn,
At every level he attains,
He looks ahead at what remains,
And sees laid out before his eyes,
“Hills peep o’er hills,
And Alps on Alps arise.”
The ancient Roman poet Horace
Claimed that poetry had a double aim,
“To delight and instruct,
And to instruct by delighting.”
Thus, the poet is a dual creature,
At once an entertainer and a teacher.
In this poem the three quotations are from The Essay on Criticism by Alexander Pope and published in 1711. Horace was born December 8, 65 B.C. and died on November 27, 8 B.C. His thoughts on poetry and the writing thereof were set forth in his Ars Poetica (The Art of Poetry), an informal letter to his friend Calpernius, the eldest of whose three sons wanted to have a military career. The resultant poem, known as Ars Poetica, was a catalog of Do’s and Don’ts for writers.
The Meeting of the Three Pining Toys
This poem envisions a meeting of the Three Pining Toys abandoned by their little friend as she was growing up. Consequently, it may be considered a sequel to “Three Toys Pining for Their Long-Lost Friend,” which can be found in The Pendulum and Other Poems.
Back in the corner where they were left so long ago
By their little friend who once loved them so,
The toys pouted and cried and felt so blue,
They just sat in a slump, knowing not what to do.
Suddenly Teddy spoke up, and rallied the crew:
“Hey there, you Dolly! Hey there, you too, Bird!
Isn’t this long mope just a wee bit absurd?
It’s true our erstwhile little friend is gone;
She’s grown too big to play as in days bygone;
But let us look on the bright side of things” …
At this point, Dolly roused herself somewhat.
“Teddy, is there any side to this that’s bright?
I see ahead nothing but darkness and gloom.
For us, alas, I can see only doom.”
“Me too,” chirped Bird, in a most pitiful voice,
“I can see nothing for which to rejoice.
Oh, woe is us – alas and alack.
Our little friend will never be back.”
“What a lot of poppycock, my friends,
To think that this is the way our world ends.
Don’t you realize that we are just one phase,
And that down the pike are coming other days,
And that these other days will bring another kid
Who’ll need toys to while away her childhood.
She will find us, and things will again be good:
For we will bring joy to another kid,
Just as to her predecessor we did!”
The Year in Haiku
Haiku is a traditional Japanese poetic form. A Haiku poem is exceedingly short, having only 3 short lines and a total of 17 syllables. Line 1 and line 3 each have 5 syllables and line 2 has 7 syllables. Traditionally, the Haiku poem has no rhyme. The Haiku poem seeks not to narrate, but to create images in the mind. It traditionally contains references to nature, the seasons, and the like. The following Haiku poem [by Matsuo Basho (1644–1694), who is considered to be the greatest Haiku poet] will illustrate the genre:
An old silent pond
A frog jumps in to the pond
splash! Silence again.
With this in mind, I composed the following:
a lot of snow on the ground.
How long will it stay?
Valentines Day for lovers
Wish them happiness
March then blows in next
with stormy, blustery gusts
that chill to the bone.
April, lots of rain
that soon will bring May flowers.
They’ll be beautiful.