A poem, for me, is often very clearly a response to what I am reading and the way it fits into my material existence. The poem in other words is both a reflection on literature and the way that literature seems to become a meaningful part of my life, my thinking. Sometimes, it seems as if my life would not make sense without the literature I discover I can apply to it after the fact, after events conclude.
Advice from Thoreau begins this poem that I called “The Tattered Man.” The tattered man is a character (more a figuration) from Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage
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. In fact, most of this poem is stolen from Crane’s classic war novel (no glory in it, no promotion of war or even the brotherhood of it), from Moby Dick (of course), from De Quincey’s “Confessions of an English Opium Eater,” Walden, and cannibalized poetry of my own. The bulk is Crane and De Quincey nearly verbatim–some rearranging only. The ending, beginning “Reason, being piece-meal,” is my own reflection on what has just unfolded above.
“It is best to avoid the beginnings of evil.”
How can one argue? Recognizing the evil is perhaps a little more difficult than this simple advice might suggest.
You can explore this poem knowing me, knowing the facets of my life that are clearly figured here. But if you don’t know me? If you know Crane’s novel, you’ll get the idea, too, I think. For me, a recognition that “The Generals were all stupids,” is essential to coming to consciousness. Also, trying to figure out what to keep and what to slough.
Ultimately, this is a poem about that. A House is (de)constructed here. But what is most needed is pea soup.
The poem can be read here: “The Tattered Man” It ends like this:
Reason, being piece-meal,
and like light in
ancient Temples, let in
only at top,
prefers the false clubbing
of new men.
used might have been
better unfolded, and
much not used might
have been added with good
to sleep (out of seeing)
and fix upon heaven.
has been given–
stand no more on
others’ legs, nor build one
joy without ____.