Alan Dugan

(12 February 1923 - 3 September 2003 / New York City, New York)

Wall, Cave, And Pillar Statements, After Asoka - Poem by Alan Dugan

In order to perfect all readers
the statements should he carved
on rock walls, on cave walls,
and on the sides of pillars so
the charm of their instruction can
affect the mountain climbers near
the cliffs, the plainsmen near
the pillars, and the city people near
the caves they go to on vacations.

The statements should, and in a fair
script, spell out the right text and gloss
of the Philosopher’s jocular remark. Text:
“Honesty is the best policy.” Gloss:
“He means not ‘best’ but ‘policy,’
(this is the joke of it) whereas in fact
Honesty is Honesty, Best
is Best, and Policy is Policy,
the three terms being not
related, but here loosely allied.
What is more important is that ‘is’
is, but the rocklike truth of the text
resides in the ‘the’. The ‘the’ is The.
By this means the amusing sage
has raised or caused to be raised
the triple standard in stone:
the single is too simple for life,
the double is mere degrading hypocrisy,
but the third combines the first two
in a possible way, and contributes
something unsayable of its own:
this is the pit, nut, seed, or stone
of the fruit when the fruit has been
It is good to do good for the wrong
reason, better to do good for the good
reason, and best of all to do good
good: i.e. when the doer and doee
and whatever passes between them
are beyond all words like ‘grace’
or ‘anagogic insight,’ or definitions like
‘particular instance of a hoped-at-law,’
and which the rocks alone can convey.
This is the real reason for the rock walls,
the cave walls and pillars, and not the base
desires for permanence and display
that the teacher’s conceit suggests.”

That is the end of the statements, but,
in order to go on a way after the end
so as to make up for having begun
after the beginning, and thus to come around
to it in order to include the whole thing,
add: “In some places the poignant slogan,
‘Morality is a bad joke like everything else,’
may be written or not, granted that space
exists for the vulgar remarks, the dates,
initials and hearts of lovers, and all
other graffiti of the prisoners of this world.”

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Poem Submitted: Friday, April 16, 2010

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