Wednesday, January 5, 2011

One of the Joys of Having Literate Friends

They send you things of such charm and complexity! The following was attached by Facebook friend and long-time correspondent Prof. Wombat to a discussion of the animal nature of mankind. I will confess my prior ignorance of it, and my pleasure at its discovery.

Were I (who to my cost already am
One of those strange, prodigious creatures, man)
A spirit free to choose, for my own share,
What case of flesh and blood I pleased to wear,
I'd be a dog, a monkey or a bear,
Or anything but that vain animal
Who is so proud of being rational.

The senses are too gross, and he'll contrive
A sixth, to contradict the other five,
And before certain instinct, will prefer
Reason, which fifty times for one does err;
Reason, an ignis fatuus in the mind,
Which, leaving light of nature, sense, behind,
Pathless and dangerous wandering ways it takes
Through error's fenny bogs and thorny brakes;
Whilst the misguided follower climbs with pain
Mountains of whimseys, heaped in his own brain;
Stumbling from thought to thought, falls headlong down
Into doubt's boundless sea, where, like to drown,
Books bear him up a while, and make him try
To swim with bladders of philosophy;
In hopes still to o'ertake th' escaping light,
The vapor dances in his dazzling sight
Till, spent, it leaves him to eternal night.
Then old age and experience, hand in hand,
Lead him to death, and make him understand,
After a search so painful and so long,
That all his life he has been in the wrong.
Huddled in dirt the reasoning engine lies,
Who was proud, so witty, and so wise.

John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester 'Satire Against Mankind'


  1. delighted to be of service, as always

  2. Got into it with a doc who saw evolution teleologically, and wrote this in disputatious reply; a bit in the same spirit as Wilmot (who reminded me: feel free to give it none of the credit it doesn't deserve (modal Bacter is the class of bacteria):

    Well played, indeed, but, seems to me, it's key
    To eschew facile teleology
    When evolution rears contingent head,
    And all collapse in existential dread.
    Consider man, perhaps in easy chair,
    Ensconsed in castle, cave, redoubt or lair,
    Before a fire, sheltered from the squall,
    Admiring himself, as Lord of All!
    Ultima Thule! A culminating grace,
    A finish line to nature's plodding pace.
    Yet he's too clever, I would say, by half:
    I hear the Modal Bacter, as they laugh.
    They, by the pound, reside within his bowel,
    Are troubled not at all by sob or howl.
    His body, built from dust, his manly pride,
    In which the Bacter cozily reside,
    Might for that purpose built, they might well think,
    Regardless of how poets spill their ink.
    Perhaps they go to church, where preachers tell'em
    Of their God's sensitive, puissant flagellum,
    And, as bowels move, though host be cramped and pained,
    At last, there's shit where once but darkness reigned.

  3. Wombat!
    Kudos. Worthy of Ogden Nash himself:...where preachers tell'em of their God's sensitive, puissant flagellum!
    most excellent!