“Religion is an opiate of the masses,”
So says the Prof. lecturing to his classes.
“College used to be a carrier pigeon
For this terrible thing called ‘religion.’
Where all were forced to swallow orthodoxy,
And stick to dogma like epoxy.
Now all have freedom to have points of view,”
(As long as you conform to what I tell you.)
“Karl Marx was brilliant, but I disavow,
His acolytes like Stalin, Pol Pot and Mao.
Let me elucidate why you should scorn,
The farce that you’ve been taught since you were born.
No facts exist within this world of ours,
Only opinion — above all, NPR’s.”
I can’t keep quiet, I’m a naive hellion,
“But consider China’s Boxer Rebellion.”
“What do you mean?” he spat out through his frown,
Preparing for what ‘ere I say to shut down.
“The rebels thought that they’d not be harmed,
By British weapons because they were charmed.
One day the last thing that goes through their heads,
Is British bullets, and then they are dead:
Wrong-headed ‘opinion’ in actuality,
Can’t fight the physics of reality.”
He stared at me, his eyes exuding scorn,
Choosing a response — he really was torn.
“Depends on what ‘is’ is, surely you see,
Otherwise your thinking is so bourgeoisie.
That’s all for today,” he spoke with aplomb,
And ran for the door as though from a bomb.
That’s how it all transpired, at least in my dream,
For that’s not how to survive academe.
Just sit, take notes and finish your degree,
Nod your head and pretend you are free.


Steven Shaffer’s other art form is computer code, which supports his poetry habit. He lives in a suburb of the middle of nowhere in central Pennsylvania with his wife and two dogs. His blog is My So-Called Civilization 

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14 Responses

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      Chapel Hill is bad no doubt — but even worse are Harvard Yard, Ann Arbor, and Berkeley. These are all citadels of Groupthink.

      • William Krusch

        Though I am not to satire given,
        Fools’ lunacy has my pen driven
        To rout out the insanity
        That springs from boastful vanity.
        Far rather would I sing of dales
        Or rocky summits whipped by gales,
        But not till I the loons assail
        Will Beauty, Truth, and Love prevail.
        Within a land warm and serene
        Beneath blue skies and pine boughs green,
        There lies a town whose name is holy,
        Yet everywhere abounds sick folly.
        “The Harvard of the South,” some say,
        “Is here along the brick walkway
        Below the sky’s scholastic hue,
        Full of that shining Tar Heel blue!”
        How true! Our bricks are just as red,
        And here most minds are equally dead
        As those of our more northern neighbors,
        Whose heads are full like the loins’ sabers.
        ‘Tis fitting that we share some traits,
        For after all, the Yard’s iron gates
        Now open straight unto this camp
        Where all is dull and dim and damp.
        Perhaps you might think the warm weather
        Would make debate float like a feather
        Upon the winds that lightly waft
        Around the bell tower’s dunce-cap shaft:
        How wrong would that assumption prove
        If some strange urge did thus behoove
        Your mind to travel to this place
        Where women have beards and men wear lace.
        Soon you would find that all debate
        Is filled with naught but savage hate,
        And faculty sit on the fence
        When students take to violence.
        The liberal arts are here obsessed
        With gender, sex – nay, they’re possessed! –
        “Religion’s filled with fallacies
        That never will the phallus ease,
        So all that’s male we must convert
        To sterile pudding that’s inert.”
        Thus speak the righteous “feminists”
        Whose platform has a simple gist:
        Commit gross sin until you think
        The good life is to be a twink.
        “But surely there’s some good,” you claim,
        “In those who want to give the same
        Respect to women that men receive –
        This argument seeks to deceive.”
        Hold fast your tongue! Do hear me speak:
        I do not wish to havoc wreak
        Upon the few who want to praise
        The women who laboured to help raise
        Humanity to brighter heights;
        Yet there are women whose nasty bites
        Attack those of their sisterhood
        If they do not assume a mood
        Replete with a vile attitude.
        They praise not Joan of Arc, who died
        To serve the visions she espied
        When deep in meditative trance –
        To her the feminists cast no glance.
        Poor Margery of Kempe’s unknown
        Unless it is to make well-known
        How she and Julian of Norwich
        Where put down by men who were rich.
        Although most women are attacked
        By those who are by Marxists backed,
        There’s one old women who’s spared their wrath:
        The honest, virtuous Wife of Bath.
        More foul, vile deeds I could expose,
        But I would rather soon repose
        Upon the clouds of Keatsian rhyme
        And seek Truth’s wondrous power sublime.
        With what false blood does this land bleed?
        Fair Lux et Libertas, indeed –
        And so, as we drink from th’ Old Well,
        We find ourselves within fresh Hell.

  1. James A. Tweedie

    Way back around 1970 at SF State I had a Marxist prof who rejected my term paper. I then wrote a screed using every Marxist/Leninist/Communist/SDS/anti-colonial cliche I could cram into a five page paper. I received, of course, a grade of A++ with exclamation points as a bonus. Ironically, I was grateful for the experience insofar as it taught me the power of rhetoric to sway opinion as well as the power of educators (at all grade levels) to shape, influence, indoctrinate, and manipulate the still-malleable thoughts and opinions of their students. As I pursued higher education I began to challenge professors with viewpoints they did not personally embrace. When I did this well I would receive a B+. When I did it badly, I would be given an B. If I echoed their personal views I would invariably receive an A. It was predictable. Fortunately, even at that young age, I held certain values and principles that held me steady through such ideological onslaughts. Back in those days such professors may have been biased but I do recall that they were mean, angry, rude, hateful or (overtly) contemptuous of dissenting students. Today’s poem brought back many such memories. The poem’s meter is somewhat uneven but its thought is (sadly) straight on.

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      Mr. Tweedie, if you think it was bad in academia back then, you wouldn’t believe how ferociously rigid and ideologized things are today. Most faculty are raging fanatics who will not tolerate even a hint of sociopolitical disagreement from either students or colleagues. Forget about getting a B or a B+ for dissent — today you’d be lucky not to brought up on charges to the Human Resources Gestapo for being disrespectful and uncooperative.

  2. Steve Shaffer

    Hi all —

    I’m glad the poem evokes memories for you; sorry they’re all bad memories!

    I’m working hard to get my meter right and I’m starting to wonder if there isn’t an aspect of dialect that effects what someone thinks is right vs. not-right meter. I.e., it depends on how you pronounce certain things in your head. Any comments/suggestions will be much appreciated!

  3. David Paul Behrens

    I have no direct knowledge, so this is merely hearsay, but I have heard that the University of California at Berkeley, once the bastion of free speech in the sixties (remember Mario Savio?), now prohibits right-wing speakers. How ironic.

  4. James A. Tweedie

    I’m smiling partly because I have mostly positive memories from academia but am no stranger to the current state of affairs (4 earned degrees in three disciplines plus a postgraduate certificate from university of Edinburgh Scotland; having completed the most recent degree in 2012). In addition, my wife has been university faculty for over 25 years. I follow the current decline in academic decorum and pc intolerance with sadness and disgust (note that we live 2 hours from Evergreen State College near Olympia, Washington which has become the poster child of current widespread campus corruption and academic decline in civility and respect for diversity of thought.) My previous post was intended to be a nostalgic walk down memory lane with nod and sigh to the “good old days!” Next month Evan will be posting a poem I have written which addresses one facet of the current state of university hypocracy.

  5. Mark Stone

    Steven, Hello. Here is my advice on meter. First, pick a meter and stick with it through the whole poem. Your choices include the basic five: iambic, trochaic, anapestic, dactylic and spondaic. Then there are variations. Here are two of my favorite variations:



    I note the first couplet in William Krusch’s poem above is an example of the second variation. The couplet reads as follows:

    Though I am not to satire given,
    Fools’ lunacy has my pen driven

    Sometimes the way I choose which meter to use is I think of a key phrase in the poem I’m starting to write, and whatever meter that phrase is in, I use it for the rest of the poem.

    Second, don’t use any words in your poem unless the stressed and unstressed syllables of those words match with your chosen meter. This is, of course, obvious, but I mention it, since I see many poems published on this website that have no consistent and ascertainable meter. One way to maintain the meter is to include inversions of the noun and adjective, or of the subject and the verb (such as in the couplet quoted above). However, too many inversions can be annoying to some readers.

    Third, it’s OK to make occasional deviations from the meter if you have a good reason. However, you should really try to have the exact same meter in both lines of a rhymed couplet.

    Fourth, keep in mind that some English word are pronounced differently in different countries, such as: controversy, advertisement and garage. This will affect how your chosen meter will apply to them. Also, there are disagreements on how many syllables some words have. For example, does “every” have two or three syllables?

    That’s basically my advice. I’m sure other people will have different thoughts on meter, but this is my two cents.

    • Steve Shaffer

      Hi Mark —

      Thanks for the advice. I guess I’m wondering if there is such a thing as a dictionary of stressed syllables, because evIDentLY I get THIS wrong A lot 🙂

      I do note what you say about localized variation of pronunciation. When I read my work out loud, I have a cadence and pronunciation that seems to make sense to me.

      For example, I do marvel at Eminem’s ability to rhyme “hinges” with “oranges” (or should I say “orange-IN-ges”).

  6. James A. Tweedie


    Consider this quatrain:

    Let me elucidate why you should scorn,
    The farce that you’ve been taught since you were born.
    No facts exist within this world of ours,
    Only opinion — above all, NPR’s.”

    The first three lines are written in perfect iambic pentameter (10 syllables with the first syllable unaccented throughout). The fourth line, however, breaks down with the syllables being naturally accented thus:

    ON-ly o-PIN-ion a-BOVE all N p/P Rs

    (Side Note: I believe that you are reading it:

    ON-ly o-PIN-ion a-BOVE all N-p-Rs.

    This works only if you elide (merge) the weakly accented syllable pairs “-ly o-” and “-ion a-) into one syllable each. When read out loud by the author this works well. It does not work as well when it is being read silently by a first-time reader. All poets do this (even Shakespeare . . . often) but it is best to avoid this as much as possible. It also frequently occurs when a line begins with two unaccented syllables elided into one, as in:

    For the LIFE of ME i CAN-not FIND the KEY.

    I struggle with this particular bug-bear often. Fortunately, your poem is quite free of it! Now back to the main thought).

    If the rest of the poem is consistent this rhythmic aberration (including either slurring of the final P-R into one syllable or with the elides), while not perfect, would be acceptable, especially in a poem like yours which is not pretending to represent a classic form (such as a sonnet).

    The next couplet, however, demonstrates that the poem’s rhythmic variation is more or less the norm:

    I can’t keep quiet, I’m a naive hellion,
    “But consider China’s Boxer Rebellion.”

    Here the first line is correct but adds an extra unstressed 11th syllable at the end. This is sometimes referred to as a feminine ending. If used, the feminine ending should be mirrored in the following line which here it is, sort of, but without rhythmic consistency This line’s accents run astray as follows:

    but con-SID-er CHI-na’s BOX-er re-BEL-lion.

    To match the previous line and its iambic pentameter it would have to be read thus:

    but CON-sid-DER chi-NA’S box-ER re-BEL-lion.

    A clearer example is found closer to the beginning of the poem:

    Where all were forced to swallow orthodoxy,
    And stick to dogma like epoxy.
    Now all have freedom to have points of view,”
    (As long as you conform to what I tell you.)

    The first two lines each end with a feminine ending but the second line has only four beats (eight syllables), one short of pentameter.
    The next line has a masculine ending (the final syllable is accented) while its partner has a feminine ending (unaccented 11th syllable) which dilutes and distracts from the full effect of its rhyme with “view.”

    The sonnet posted on SCP today (which happens to be mine) shows how the iambic pentameter flows when it is consistent throughout. To do this takes a great deal of trial, error, time, experience and determination. Even then, I “cheated” a bit on the rhyme in the final couplet but, because the rest of the poem had no stumbles this (intentional) digression might have gone without notice by most readers had I not pointed it out. In addition the couplet was written that particular way because (as Joseph kindly points out) it was “that which is precisely needed, fulfilling the couplet’s purpose to perfection.”

    Your poem’s main purpose was to tell a story which contained both thought and emotion. You fulfilled this purpose. Your poem is wildly successful. The discussion of rhythm and meter is a side issue, perhaps not particularly important in this case, but simply an observation to make future poems even more effective.

    I hereby defer to Mark and to others more qualified than myself to offer comments and suggestions in these matters. I trust that if I have erred in something they will so kind as to correct me.

    Keep up the great work.

    As for oranges/hinges, I agree, it certainly seems to work for Eminem!

    • Steve Shaffer

      Thanks James! I will re-read this before sending forth my next poems to see if I can be more consistent.

      Thanks also for the nice comments.

  7. Evan Mantyk

    Dear Mr. Shaffer,
    Thank you for your poem. I just happened to be reading the below and immediately thought of your poem (as well as your previous one: http://classicalpoets.org/open-heart-surgery-by-steven-shaffer/):

    …required courses leave students with no alternative to the professors who more often than not use their classrooms as opportunities to spread their leftist ideologies, even using grades as an incentive to have students accept their views. Students who dare challenge a professor’s views are punished with lower grades. [49] The Marxist views of these humanities and social science professors not only corrupt students in their academic fields, but affect almost the entire student body.

    College students wish to be respected as adults, but both their knowledge and practical experienced is limited. In the relatively closed environment of the university, few of them suspect that their respected professors would take advantage of their innocence and trust to instill in them a set of completely wrong and damaging ideologies and values. Parents pay high tuition for their children to master the knowledge and skills they will use as a basis for finding their place in society. How could they imagine that their children are actually being robbed of their invaluable years, and instead being transformed into followers of radical ideologies that will affect them the rest of their lives?


    • Steven C Shaffer

      Hi Mr. Mantyk (Evan) —

      At least people are now starting to realize that this is happening. When I used to tell people about this going on in class, they looked at me like I was hallucinating.

      Thanks also for the link.

      Steve Shaffer


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