Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Rime of the Ancient Barrister

It is an ancient Barrister
And he stoppeth for to pee
As he doth do so often
With increasing urgency

The tavern's door is open wide
The bartender he beckons
The Barrister he steps inside
And quickly orders seconds

The Barrister has downed his drink
"There was a boy" quoth he
"Who read too much for his own good
And with celerity

He thought that being clever would
Impress all those he met
But found he did no more in life
Than make a palimpsest

The first draft was a tragedy
Though one of his own making
In giving he was too inept
But too adept at taking

The end it came and such an end
It was that he went mad
For many years he sought sucrease
But 'twas not to be had

And then in time he learned that
It was pointless so to grieve
And so he vowed to venture on
Another kind of screed

Behold, he did and it is well
But he is doomed to wander
In and out of tavern doors
And while he drinks to ponder

He is obliged to tell his tale
To barkeeps who don't care
And they all smile and pour his drinks
And wish he wasn't there

A sadder and a wiser man
No bartenders may see
No albatross about his neck
Is hung, nor should one be

No spectral voices to recite
The misdeeds of his life
As to a Hermit, there is none
To shrive him of his plight

No Wedding Guest for him to grab
And bore him with his woe
But he's content to tell himself
Exactly where to go.

I had forgotten what a stupid and annoying poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is, almost.  What was Coleridge thinking?  What, indeed, was one or another of my forgotten teachers thinking when compelling me and others to peruse this dreadful sing-song, this epic bit of portentous fluff?  There's no art involved in it, the rhyming is easy and uninspired and the story it tells is unremarkable.  But it's easy to parody, and I do so here as a most ominous birthday approaches; one of those birthdays which reminds those who "celebrate" it that there are fewer years left than those that have passed.

I am not the man I used to be.  I don't refer merely to problems of the prostrate and other physical failings though judging from commercials that is all that truly concerns those males of my age.  Erectile dysfunction, the need to urinate and troubling leakage as Tony Siragusa so kindly reminds us; this is what life is made of now, it seems.  But I wonder also--am I less sharp?  Do occasional lapses in memory signal the onset of senility?  Sharpness is significant in these times, when there is no opportunity for thoughtfulness, or perhaps no occasion for it.  Neither is anyone the man he used to be, but there is a sense of weariness that comes with the observation, and resignation.

Go not far from the ship, says Epictetus, especially now.  Be ready for the captain's call.  Why?  What happens if the ship sails without me?  I'll die in port in that case; what does it matter?  But perhaps he refers to the spark of the divine the Stoics claimed is part of us all.  When we wander far from that when we're old, we become monsters like Tiberius was said to be while in his last years in Capri, desperately hoping to revive the aging flesh.   Better to be one of the sages standing in God's Holy Fire.

Well, I'm not called, yet, and will await the call patiently, but will see what there is to see and know what there is to know while I can.  That way we keep rewriting our lives and perhaps in doing so we achieve something though it may not be what we thought to achieve in the first draft and regret never achieving.  Quod scripsi, scripsi as Pilate said, or as someone wrote he said.  There's nothing to be done about the past we've written.  Perhaps what's yet to be written will even be something better.

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