Isaac

They woke no earlier than usual,
just dawn, as though it were another day
of tending flocks. At once he saw the way
was different, though, not toward the jagged wall

of date palms, and through it past the rock-fall.
Where were they going then? When would he say?
He looked. His father’s look did not betray
intent or doubt. It was a stern white wall.

He nearly fainted when he saw the knife.
He fainted when he smelled the ram’s fat burn,
the smoke like black wool curling from the stone.

That night he dreamt he was a man with wife
and child. The angel came, stony white, stern,
and his face was flame. He said, Wake your son.

 

 

Schopenhauer at the Englischer Hof

A Monologue in Blank Verse

I have been called a pessimist. I am.
What man who calls himself a thoughtful man,
a feeling man, can be ought else? The wine?
The wine is good, but I prefer the beer.
I took no wife because I wanted none.
I live alone because I wish to live
alone. The passions must be overcome.
I recommend the veal. It’s excellent.
The monarchs made a mockery of hope.
My father was a businessman. He killed
himself when I was seventeen. I left
my mother’s house soon afterward because
she chose a life I could not tolerate
to look upon. She was a novelist,
you know, received the intellectuals
of Weimar in her parlor. And her bed.
She let old Goethe bring his Christiane
with him, but when he told her I, her son,
would be a very famous man, she pushed
me down the stairs. Her name is only known
through me, the bitch. Who reads her novels now?
I come to dine here almost every day.
Before I start I place a coin—this one—
beside the plate, and when I’m done, I put
the coin back in my pocket once again.
It is a wager that I’ve made myself
to drop it in the poor box of the church
the day the English officers who dine
at this establishment should talk of else
than horses, women , or dogs. Here, I have
one. His name is Atma. It means World-Soul.
Why was my masterpiece unrecognized?
Because just those who could have given it
publicity—the university
philosophers—I have attacked in it.
Ah, yes, good man, the veal for both of us.
The rule, I sing the song of him whose bread
I eat, has always held. It now, too, holds.
I make no living from philosophy.
I have inherited an interest in
my father’s firm, and that has been enough.
The life of every individual,
when we survey it as a whole and stress
its most important parts, is tragedy.
But in the details, always comedy.
The world is bankrupt in the end, and life’s
a business which does not recoup expense.
All happiness requires ignorance
or youth, for youth and ignorance are one.
The fear of death is the beginning of
philosophy, religion’s final cause.
Diogenes refused to breathe—and died.
A brilliant victory! Alas, how vain.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
This is the essence of philosophy.
The true philosophy of history
lies in perceiving this eternal truth.
In general, the wise have always said
the same. The fools have acted all alike
as well and done the opposite. And thus
reality is suffering and pain.
And thus the genius suffers most of all.
You hear? You hear the English gentlemen?
The coin is in my pocket yet again.

 

 

J.R. Solonche has been publishing poetry in magazines, journals, and anthologies since the early 70s. 
He is the author of twenty books and coauthor of another. He lives in the Hudson Valley.

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3 Responses

  1. Dave Whippman

    “Isaac” is a well-crafted sonnet re-telling a powerful narrative from the Bible. Skilfully done.

    Reply
  2. C.B. Anderson

    The first poem stands out for what it didn’t say, for what it didn’t HAVE to say, for all of the important ideas were implicit in the text. Explicit expression of these ideas would probably have ruined the poem.

    The second poem was Browning-esque in the best possible ways. Though you eschewed rhyme (except in a few spots), you caught the mood of “My Last Duchess” in a thoroughly digestible and delectable manner.

    Reply
  3. Cynthia Erlandson

    The story of Abraham and Isaac is such a profound and moving story, and your re-telling of it really illuminates it in our minds and makes us feel it in our guts.

    Reply

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