Saturday, December 6, 2008

A Poet of Rags and Tatters

Dear Everybody:

We return today to that poet of rags and tatters, Archilochos, once as famous as you can get, and now... Well, be honest now. Had you ever heard of him? Me neither.

But is he useful, you ask? Divorce the poems of his history and what remains? For one...

To His Soul
by Archilochos

Soul, my soul, don't let them break you,
all these troubles. Never yield:
though their force is overwhelming,
up! attack them shield to shield,

nor victorious rise exalted,
vaunting you can never fall,
nor defeated lie in endless
grieving, as if loss were all.

Take the joy and bear the sorrow,
looking past your hopes and fears:
learn to recognize the measured
dance that orders all our years.

Okay, you probably had a little trouble with the poetic diction (i.e., speech which sounds like nothing you’ve ever heard come out of a real person’s mouth) in the middle. Easily resolved. Vaunting means boasting. So he’s saying, “Nor, when things are going your way brag that you can’t be defeated. And when you are defeated, for Chrissake, don’t wallow in it!”

So... useful? You betcha. Next time you’ve really screwed up, and things are looking bleak, try murmuring it to yourself. “Soul, my soul, don’t let them break you...” All the way to that end that recognizes that sorrow and joy are recurrent in our lives and that if you take the long view it all looks like a dance.

Or, in other words: Courage.

Your friend,


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