Michael Shepherd

Rookie (8.4.1929 / Marton, Lancashire)

! My Father's Plato - Poem by Michael Shepherd

And that’s not a claim to paternity –
it’s the possessive case; though to what degree
my father possessed Plato, or Plato, him,
remains one of those unsolved mysteries
stored in that little room of sadness in the hearts
of children of that more formal, distanced age…

Like so many self-made men, he’d never read
a novel before he retired; and then
set out to educate himself
as would befit the father of a son
he planned – God unwilling, at first – to have,
whom he would provide with all the advantages
he’d never had… alas; alas for both of us…

He’d read of course, Smiles’ ‘Self-Help’ – they all had;
moved on to Carlyle, Ruskin (briefly) , Emerson; wrote
in warm approval to George Bernard Shaw,
who responded with one of his printed pre-texted postcards…
then worked through those nicely-bound
sets of Hardy, Galsworthy, Dickens, Scott, and H.G.Wells,
offered cheaply by the Daily Mail or by Wills’ Cigarettes…

then – Plato; or at least, his Republic;
a yellow bound, standard Everyman; but this one
- I discovered far too late in life -
fiercely underlined in summary pencil lines…

and that was really, all he needed; busy
with his hens and chicks, his toddler son (at last…) :
later, novels of another sort crept up on him; he lived
a – no, don’t call it fantasy – a parallel life
in volume after volume of those yellow-covered
Wild West Club. (That’s where he would have flourished,
aggressive boss of bosses, if he had not been stone-deaf…)

So what was he to Plato, or Plato said to him?
Are the underlinings an extension of that angry, abrupt man
meaning, that’s my experience; so he’s right…;
or was there stunned admiration; or
was there a humility I never saw
until efficiency turned to eccentricity,
eccentricity to dementia…
a humility, perhaps, that took him to another world
of ancient Greece, and glories, virtues, and ideals,
where Spartans from the wild wild East
rode roughshod over democracy, and
where a good man must be sought,
to run them out of town…?

One day, I’ll have to face the mist of tears,
read those fierce underlinings made
as if by the muzzle of a Colt
guarding civilisation by the gully and the scrub,
the horses tethered, (Indians, always the third estate) :
seek in the underlinings to immortal thought,
the man I loved but never knew.


Comments about ! My Father's Plato by Michael Shepherd

  • (10/25/2007 11:05:00 AM)

    I relate to this poem. My father was one of those men who was too smart to be dumb enough to love. (Report)Reply

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  • (10/25/2007 11:03:00 AM)

    Seems it's always been easier to get to know our mothers. Sometimes fathers seem distant-mine certainly was. Maybe the feminist revolution will have that indirect benefit of making men more open with their feelings. Excellent poem, especially the final verse. 'Fierce underlinings made as if by the muzzle of a Colt (I think of both a young horse and a Colt 45 gun) . (Report)Reply

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Poem Submitted: Thursday, October 25, 2007

Poem Edited: Tuesday, April 19, 2011


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