A Few Bits Of Wisdom From The Poet Claudian


Long poems generally bore me.  Even the most eloquent verses, stacked up on each other at great length, can wear on the reader.  Perhaps every long poem is best digested as a series of short poems, read at one’s leisure.  No one ever wished a long poem to be longer.

In this spirit, I will make a short post today.  I’ll give you a little something to flavor the palate.  The heavy lifting we can do some other time.

Where long poems are out of fashion, short ones can find their mark.  A few well-placed couplets can say more than a thousands dreary sentences.  A great short poem is like a bolt fired from a cross-bow, shattering the plate-armor of our consciousness.  

Consider this little gem from Gwendolyn Brooks, who grew up in Chicago.  It’s called We Real Cool, and is a meditation on the futility of the dissolute lifestyle:

The Pool Players.

Seven at the Golden Shovel.

We real cool.  We

Left school.  We

Lurk late.  We

Strike straight.  We

Sing sin.  We

Thin gin.  We

Jazz June.  We

Die soon.

I came across a few verses today that I wanted to share.  They impressed me with their succinct wisdom.  The first is from the Roman poet Claudian (VI.78).  He reminds us that rage can be a powerful weapon.  Embrace your rage, he tells us, embrace your anger, and let it work to your advantage:

Anger provides a weapon to him who seeks one.

Rage changes whatever it carries into a javelin.

Anger arms us all.

When a ferocious right hand rages for blood, all things can serve as a spear’s point.

Rage converts whatever is carried into a deadly spear.[1]

We should never say that we are out of weapons.  We always have weapons, and we always have choices.  The resourceful man will make use of whatever Fate provides him.  And how about these great verses on the brevity and fleeting nature of beauty?  This is Claudian again, at X.92:

For the beautiful, to last a long time is denied by the law of Fate.

Great things rush forward with suddenness, and the highest fall at once.

A beautiful woman lies here.

She merited the figure of Venus, and the supreme gift of mortal envy.[2]

There is not much to add in the way of comment on these lines.  So I will close this short blog post with one admonition:  when you find good lines–wherever they may be–write them down and remember them.  

And when you need them, they will be right there.



[1] In iaculum, quodcumque gerit, dementia mutat.

Omnibus armatur rabies.  Pro cuspide ferri

Cuncta volant, dum dextra ferox in vulnera saevit.

Pro telo geritur quidquid suggesserit ira.

[2]  Pulchris stare diu Parcarum lege negatur.

Magna repente ruunt; summa cadunt subito.

Hic formosa iacet; Veneris sortita figuram

Egregiumque decus invidiam meruit.


Read More:  Anthony Swofford’s Memoir “Hotels, Hospitals, And Jails”