Rest, Sweet, Rest 4

A Clear Midnight
by: Walt Whitman

This is thy hour O Soul, thy free flight into the wordless,
Away from books, away from art, the day erased, the lesson done,
Thee fully forth emerging, silent, gazing, pondering the themes thou lovest best,
Night, sleep, death, and the stars.

Published in Leaves of Grass Death-bed Edition

Courtesy and New Law Students Reply

The classical model of liberal education has been eroded, I must conclude, so that students before they arrive in law school have lost any sense of propriety and courtesy in their interactions. Martha Nussbaum in Volume 70 of the Chicago Law Review writes that the traditional view of liberal education included the capacity to “develop each person’s capacity to be fully human, by which he means self-aware, self-governing, and capable of recognizing and respecting the humanity of all our fellow human beings, no matter where they are born, no matter what social class they inhabit, no matter what their gender or ethnic origin.” She concludes this statement with Seneca’s charge “Soon we will breathe our last. Meanwhile, while we live, while we are among human beings, let us cultivate our humanity.”

In laying out the case for the developing of human beings in law school, Nussbaum advocates for several critical components:

  1. Socratic Self-examination — to be critical of one’s self and one’s traditions
  2. Cultivation of a world citizenship — moving outside of the narrow confines of personal, economic, or social interests
  3. The development of narrative imagination

Learning these things is critical. They will not make students successful of themselves. But certainly lacking them will hold them back from achieving a truly good life. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “life is not so short, but that there is always time for courtesy.”

Martha’s article Cultivating Humanity in Legal Education, 70 Chicago L. Rev. 265 can be accessed here.

An Earth Day Poem Reply

Tomorrow Morning
By Robert Penn Warren

In the morning, the rivers will blaze up blue like sulphur.
Even the maps will shrivel back in their own heat,
And metaphors will scream in the shared glory of their referents.
Truth will embrace you with tentacles like an octopus. It
Will suck your blood through a thousand suction-cups, and
The sun utter the intolerable trill of a flame-martyred canary.

Does this suggest the beginning of a new life for us all?

Or is it only, as I have heard an eminent physician remark,
A characteristic phase at the threshold of the final narcosis?

Published in The Collected Poems of Robert Penn Warren (ed. John Burt).

Truth and Loneliness Reply

Robert Penn Warren, as a writer viewed the world through two lenses: one was the lens of the perceptive — the wanderer in time who encounters phenomena and tends to make conclusions about their significance.   The other was the lens of the stationary — the constant.   Thus, RPW tended to gravitate towards hisorical narrative as a means of developing his characters.  The following two poems exemplify RPW’s lens of the world:


Truth is what you cannot tell.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Truth is for the grave                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Truth is only the flowing shadow cast                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           By the wind-tossed elm                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               When sun is bright and grass well groomed.

Truth is the downy feather                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           You blow from your lips to shine in sunlight

Truth is the trick that history,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Over and over again, plays on us.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Its shape is unclear in shadow or brightness,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             And its utterance the whisper we strive to catch,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Or the scream of a locomotive desperately                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Blowing for the tragic crossing. Truth                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Is the curse laid upon us in the garden.

Truth is the serpent’s joke,

And is the sun-stung dust-devil that swirls                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                On the lee side of God when he drowses.

Truth is the long soliloquy                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Of the dead all their long night.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Truth is what would be told by the dead                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  If they could hold a conversation                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 With the living and thus fulfill obligation to us.

Their accumulated wisdom must be immense.

The serpent’s joke that man can know truth.  In the end we just tell narratives — stories of our perceptions.  And perhaps the Dead might correct us if they could — oh how wise they would be.   How history taunts us, tempting us that we might be immortal, or at least our presence immortal.

Timeless, Twinned

Angelic, lonely, autochthuonous, one white                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Cloud lolls, unmoving, on an azure which                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Is called the sky, and in gold drench of light,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             No leaf , However gold, may stir, nor a single blade twitch,

Though autumn-honed, of the cattail by the pond.  No voice                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Speaks, since here no voice knows                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               The language in which a tongue might now rejoice.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  So silence, a transparent flood, thus overflows.

In it, I drown, and from my depth my gaze                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Yearns, faithful, toward that cloud’s integrity,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           As though I’ve now forgotten all other nights and days,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Anxiety born of the future’s snare, or the nag of history.

What if, to my back, thin-shirted, brown grasses yet bring                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  The heat of the summer, or beyond the perimeter northward, wind,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Snow-bellied lurks? I stare at the cloud, white, motionless.  I cling.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    To our single existence, timeless twinned.

Poems by Robert Penn Warren, published in The Collected Poems of Robert Penn Warren (Ed. John Burt).

Setting the Table Reply

The table is set. The greatest minds of literature are assembled. Robert Penn Warren, Herman Melville, Fydor Doystoyvesky, Edgar Allen Poe, Ralph Waldo Emerson, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and…You. That’s my table of course. Perfectly set with trimmings, wine and comfortable chairs. They would talk long into the night. I’d have so many questions. I would refrain. Asking questions would only lead to answers they did not want to give, questions they were forced to engage by an impolite host holding them captive by a warm table, succulent food, and the dribbled questions of groupies forever wanting to find some significance of themselves in the works of the author, and to have the author verify that significance of the individual as if the individual was as timeless as the work itself. Oh to hear Robert Penn Warren say that “You are exactly the sort of Jack Burden I wrote about!” Such need for validation is the common call of a modern man — unable to find his own self in the world. More…