Statue of Socrates‘Knowledge as a Mixed Blessing,’ Three Sonnets by Philip Keefe The Society September 24, 2019 Beauty, Culture, Poetry 17 Comments I. Is curiosity the bane of man As seeking knowledge often leads to woe? Do only fools pass their allotted span Disclosing some things better not to know? Or is pursuit of truth its own reward, Stagnation of the mind the lesser choice? A perspicacious man is never bored, He learns from every dead and living voice. But there are stories bound to wrack the heart And poison any person’s waking dream; Some secrets tend to set a soul apart From others who think things are as they seem. __Life’s mysteries the ignorant ignore __May shake who try to solve them to the core. II. Pain of knowing is unknown ‘fore knowing, And things once known may not be willed forgot. Memory always its seed is sowing In matter grey where lies the fertile spot. Once planted, germinating in that brain, The roots of doubt spread quickly through the mind, Whose peace, now gone, will never come again, Tranquility nor consolation find. This cognizance, incurable dis-ease, Interrupts in all unconscious thought; At each ill-guarded moment it will seize Its chance to any lasting solace thwart. __To live a life of bliss with no recall __May be the kind to envy after all. III. That knowledge is benign is oversold, Its value often proving less than price. Sometimes we suffer pain from what we’re told And so turns learning’s virtue into vice. Free man must weigh and judge what to believe As independent thoughts form his own view; Ideologues wear someone else’s weave, Better minds themselves decide what’s true. On wisdom’s path no terminus awaits, Enlightenment comes not with every stride. The truth that any prideful person hates: Sagacity exists where it’s denied. __The man who says that he does little know __The wiser understanding does he show. Philip Keefe was born in Wales and educated in England. A sometime carpenter, sailor and song lyricist he is now a naturalized American citizen retired and living in Rockledge, Florida. NOTE TO READERS: If you enjoyed this poem or other content, please consider making a donation to the Society of Classical Poets. The Society of Classical Poets does not endorse any views expressed in individual poems or comments. CODEC News:Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on WhatsApp (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pinterest (Opens in new window) 17 Responses Peter Hartley September 24, 2019 Philip – Excellent, and it certainly made me think. It reminded me of a little maxim I learned at school. He who knows and knows that he knows is a wise man: follow him. He who knows and knows not that he knows is asleep: wake him. He who knows not and knows that he knows not is ignorant: teach him. He who knows not and knows not that he knows not is a fool: shun him. Reply Peter Hartley September 24, 2019 Philip – This is excellent. It reminded me of a slightly repetitious maxim that starts off with “He who knows and knows that he knows …” and I typed the whole thing out, but when I tried to send my I-pad told me “You’ve already said that.” So I felt a bit of an ass and tried again with the same result. Reply Peter Hartley September 24, 2019 So now it’s partly in duplicate… Reply James A. Tweedie September 24, 2019 Peter, it never hurts to know something twice! Your citation is a maxim worth knowing. Philip, You have a marvelous way with words and an ability to convey complex thought in a single turn of phrase. I am particularly fond of “A perspicacious man is never bored” (how true) and “That knowledge is benign is oversold, Its value often proving less than price.” where you manage to tie two separate thoughts together with a retail metaphor! The poems remind me of the sin of Adam and Eve: partaking of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil—something that sets humans apart from every other creature. This has proven both bane and blessing, and, overall, has no doubt made our lives more miserable than God intended them to be!?Like Prometheus and fire or Pandora and her box, “things once known may not be willed forgot.” I once dealt with a man who had a secret life with a second woman in a second city. His remorseless response when his wife learned of it (and their marriage fell apart) was to say, “Everything was fine and everybody was happy (before you found out). What was wrong with that?” Is ignorance bliss? Good questions raised by good poetry. Thanks. Reply Philip Keefe September 25, 2019 James Thank you very much for your comment and for mentioning some lines you thought were good. I do appreciate it. I guess I was trying to touch on the dichotomy: is ignorance bliss or is the unexamined life not worth living. Philip Reply Joseph S. Salemi September 24, 2019 Knowledge always comes with a hefty price tag. Consider T.S. Eliot’s magnificent and yet deeply troubling line: “After such knowledge, what forgiveness?” Reply C.B. Anderson September 24, 2019 Without going into details, these poems are almost. The worst departure from sense & understanding was at the end of part II. I understand what you were trying to say, but you didn’t say it. “It’s chance to any lasting solace thwart.” is an abomination. That’s just my opinion, but you might be better off without such byzantine constructions in written English lines. Reply James A. Tweedie September 25, 2019 Philip, You are very welcome. I thought you handled the poetry and subject of the dichotomy well, although I do agree with C.B. re that one line (which, even after all the contortions, doesn’t even rhyme). In light of the whole it is a small thing, but, like a small puncture, it can lead to a flat tire. If you choose to do so, I believe you could find a way to patch it up without too much trouble. Reply Philip Keefe September 26, 2019 James The way I pronounce “thwart” it does rhyme with “thought”. Perhaps it’s a British diction, basically the “r’ is hardly sounded if at all. I know it is often different when said by Americans who make more or their “r”s than the British (must be a joke there somewhere) but for me fort rhymes with fought, tort rhymes with taut and taught. And putting the verb at the end of that line isn’t it similar to: “What light through yonder window breaks?” Philip David Paul Behrens September 25, 2019 The more I know, the more I know how much I don’t know. (I may be paraphrasing something I heard somewhere.) Reply James A. Tweedie September 27, 2019 Philip, You should be a barrister. You present a good case! I shall not yet surrender my sword but I shall retire from the field with my banner sagging just a bit. By the way, just curious, what part of Britain are you from? “Fort/fought/thwart/thought” represent a regional accent I don’t recognize. To me, it like a cross between Cockney and Brooklynese sounds! Reply C.B. Anderson September 27, 2019 James, The same thing happens in Boston: Harvard is pronounced “Hahvid.” Joseph S. Salemi September 29, 2019 Dear Kip — Here’s a sample of Boston dialect, which I use when teaching my philology students: Ah medhim at ah caahd paahty. (I met him at a card party). That drawn-out “aah” was once typical of New England, but was especially strong in Boston and its environs. James A. Tweedie September 29, 2019 Yes, Dialects and regional accents are delightfully distinct and complex matters. I am familiar with the “Thoity poiple boids a-sittin’ on the coib” cliche as well as the Bahston “ar” as “ah” syndrome. But the example cited by Philip is unique and new, at least to me, having never heard of it before and finding it difficult to imagine how those four words could be voiced as (for all practical purposes) two sets of homonyms. Reply Philip Keefe September 29, 2019 Have you never watched Downton Abbey, James? Reply Joseph S. Salemi September 29, 2019 “Fort” and “fought” can be homonyms in some dialects (that of New York and New Jersey). But “thwart” and “thought,” as far as I’m concerned, are just fairly close near-rhymes. The sentence you quote (“Thoity poiple boids a-sittin’ on the coib”) is a mishmash of several dialects. The “oi” sound substituted for “ir” or “ur” is a well-known marker for New York City speech, yet most people are unaware that it is not generalized in the city, but is a peculiarity of the Lower East Side, much as the Cockney dialect was originally bounded in London by the sound range of Bow bells. If you want the real Lower East Side version of that sentence, here it is: Thoity poiple boids wuz sittin’ on duh coib. The verbal structure “a-sittin'” is an archaism that does not appear in New York dialects, but is now pretty much limited to the American Deep South. And the article “the” is almost always replaced in this city by “duh.” Most of these dialectical variations are now gone, having been replaced by the bland, nasalized speech of mass media. Reply James A. Tweedie September 29, 2019 Ah, yes, Downton Abbey–almost every episode but the movie! I’m one of those USA West Coasters the American mass media has been trying to speech-emulate for the past forty years. At least they don’t say San Jose (with a hard “J” and a long “e”) like they used to. I recently (correctly) rhymed “slough” and “buff” in a poem so I guess as far as the English language is concerned, anything is possible. As for local New Yawk dialects, I suppose it’s like speaking pidgin in Hawaii. You either grow up with it or you’re, “Tryin’, brah!” Reply Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYour email address will not be published.CommentName* Email* Website Notify me of follow-up comments by email. Notify me of new posts by email. Δ This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.