To James Boswell In London - Poem by Erica Jong
Boswell - you old rake - I have tried to imitate
your style; but it is no use; my dialogues are
all between my selves: and though I sit up late,
make endless notes and jottings that I hope will jar
my memory - it is in vain - for in the end
I have no Dr. Johnson but myself.
The difference is (I think) between our lives. You spend
the morning at the coffee house, nourish yourself
with talk and kippers before proceeding on to dine.
A ramble across London perks the appetite.
Every step is an adventure; the written line
distills itself from life. How can you help but write?
I consort with books while you see men, haunt the shelves
where your London lies buried. Your book once opened,
I become the ghost, a pale phantom who delves
into your life to borrow moments penned
two hundred years ago. I roam your world ignored -
while my own life, waiting outside, questions my motives.
A man should never live more than he can record
you say; but what if he records more than he lives?
My journal swarms with me and even I am bored.
I am all my personae - children, lovers, wives,
philosophers and country-wenches. Though I give them
different robes and wigs to wear, all converse alike;
all reason falsely with the same stratagem;
each suspects the logic of the other, dislikes
him, yet cannot prove him wrong. Petty cavils
grow to monstrous issues, belabored arguments
resolve themselves only in sleep; darkness prevails.
Only the living find solace in common sense.
Safe, preserved from the rape of the world, I grow
dishonest, and pen my crooked words, for one can lie
with ease about those things the world will never know.
Conversation - that clearinghouse for thoughts - denied,
the mind gets gouty and the conscience needs a cane.
Notions unuttered seem to echo through the brain -
and our monologues are doomed to the same end.
We all think better - interrupted by a friend.
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