! ! A Cartesian Life Co-Odinated Poem by Michael Shepherd

! ! A Cartesian Life Co-Odinated

The year is 1607; the place, the lodgings
of the Jesuit College Royal Henri-le-Grand
at La Fleche; it’s evening;

around a flickering candle
three boys of eleven years,
bright young faces against black robes,
bright eyes, lit in each pupil by the candle flame;

too young yet to be tired
by their day of such demanding study,
they laugh over a game
designed to improve their knowledge
of the Latin terms that they must learn:

the one whose father is a High Court judge
of course knows most; yet is most bored;
such is a father’s ambition for his son…

the game, easily constructed without expense:
pieces of paper in a Jesuit cap
on each of which, a simple Latin word
most likely to be required for formal argument
in pulpit, in the courts of law:

the game, to be the first to draw
words which can make a sentence
that can pass for logical…

Bright, bored René draws first:
‘Ergo’ – ‘therefore’: they all groan; the very word
speaks study, formal argument..

the others draw their words;
in the second round, our René draws
‘Sum’ – I exist, I am’’

the third round: excitement intensifies:
can three words make a sentence fit
for speaking in this holy, hallowed place?

gods hold their breath; angels
hover on the wing; Fate shakes the dice;
nature, nurture, weighty past,
all conspire to set the seal
upon four centuries of future thought…

flushed young face and slow-moved hand
stretch out suspense in childish fun…
‘Cogito…’ reads René’s paper scrap…

how was the eleven-year-old to know
that his next words—so lightly spoke,
so soon discarded to the vaults of memory –
would shape a life, a nation’s self-drawn image,
more volumes in more languages
than any could imagine then?

alas! as every being in the heavens
awaited human statement of the greater truth
which would awaken mortal man
to his divine inheritance…
‘Sum, ergo, cogito’… they whisper to the Fates…
‘I am, I exist; therefore, I think…’

alas! Man’s hubris won the day…
‘Cogito, ergo sum! ’ shouts our triumphant René -
‘J’ai gagné! J’ai gagné! ’
and even God was heard to sigh…

The boys laugh; the game is won, discarded;
instant forgetfulness washes Lethe-like
over young minds; it will be thirty years
before our René dredges from his mind,
significance; human hubris; method; discourse…
sets the thinking world by egoistic ears…

and so four centuries of self-assertive Frenchmen
will gaze and talk with philosophic love
into the eyes of mesmerised
nubile young girls across the coffee-cups
of tables on the sidewalks of the boulevards;

proud to be born French; the nation
knowing that they, above all, they hold the secret
of philosophy, of life: we are, I am, born to think..
je suis né pour penser…

and what of being itself,
and what of consciousness,
that enfolds ‘I am’…?

mon pauvre, mon semblable, mon frere… mon assassin…
hélas! hélas! …

Bob Blackwell 26 April 2009

Michael, I found this a fascinating read, you are really the master of a tale, which unfolds with what comes next? Always the wisdom at the end. Thank you. Warm regards Bob

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Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd

Marton, Lancashire
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