“It’s a shame that the tradition of producing small poetic encapsulations
of classic texts seems to have died out.” —Joseph S. Salemi


I. The Way of Peace

an alexandroid

Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, Book III, Chapter 23

Obey!  Go do another’s will;
__Avoid your own.
Choose having less; shun every frill;
__Seek God alone.

Select the lowest social rung;
__Obey, obey.
In you may God’s desires be sung;
__For this you pray.

The one who follows all these things
__Will soon be whole.
What peace and quietness this brings
__Into the soul!


II. The Blessing of Children

Psalms (126-127 by the Greek numbering,
127-128 by the Hebrew numbering)

Unless the Lord the house shall build,
The builders’ plans go unfulfilled.
Unless the Lord the city keep,
The guards may just as well go sleep.
No use to rise before the light;
God gives His loved ones sleep at night.

The gift of children from the Lord
Is both a blessing and reward.
Like arrows in a warrior’s hand
Are children to a family man.
How happy, he whose quiver’s filled;
It is his house the Lord shall build!

Blessed are you who fear the Lord,
For you shall not lose your reward.
You’ll eat the crops you’ve toiled to gain;
Prosperity you shall attain.
Your wife will be a fruitful vine
Around your house by God’s design;
Your children, strong as olive plants,
Around your table’s full expanse.

Behold, thus shall the man be blest
Who gives the Lord his very best!
May God from Zion bless you well
And give you peace in which to dwell,
And may you see Jerusalem
Peaceful in the days to come,
And may you live to see the days
Your children have their own to raise.


III. War Against Sloth

The Spiritual Combat, by Dom Lorenzo Scupoli
(Chapter 20)

“Man is born to labor and the bird to fly.” Job 5:7

We labor during many hours
__To fight our love of ease,
For if we lose, all evil powers
__Control us as they please.

Your useless pastimes have no worth;
__Don’t give yourself permission.
Detach your heart from things of earth
__Not fitting your life’s mission.

When God inspires you to act,
__Or men command on high,
Obey without delay; in fact,
__Don’t even ask them why.

For each delay will bring one more,
__And more will still succeed them,
For love of ease and dread of chore
__Will grow the more you heed them.

These shackles, once they grow, won’t break;
__You’ll balk at labor’s name,
So wear them down through work, and make
__Yourself be roused by shame.


IV. Thinking Makes It So

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations,
Book VIII, Paragraph 47

If you say something makes you sad
Or scared, or bad, or hurt, or mad,
Then you misspeak with “good” and “bad;”
Your thinking makes you sad or glad!

You’ve tried to change these things in vain?
Good news: your every bit of pain
Is but a judgment in your brain;
You have the power to break your chain!

Deride your own misguided pride!
Wipe out that judgment!  Just decide:
What looks like good you’ve been denied
Has downsides you could not abide!



Joshua C. Frank works in the field of statistics and lives near Austin, Texas. His poetry has also been published in Snakeskin, Atop the Cliffs, and the Asahi Haikuist Network, and his short fiction has been published in Nanoism.

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19 Responses

  1. Roy Eugene Peterson

    Joshua, you have admirably amplified some of the greatest works in history and focused on some of the most important lessons in life. When I was a kid, my grandfather taught me that to be educated I needed to read the “Bible,” “The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire,” and the Encyclopedia. Your additions to this list certainly would increase my wisdom. “We have the power to break the chain” is a clarion call to use our own God-given will to discern what is right and follow that path.

  2. Margaret Coats

    Josh, I must say, I think combining these two psalms is a great idea! I translated the same two from Hebrew for recitation at my wedding. It was not metrical, as Hebrew prosody is based on parallelism, but that enabled me to stay much closer to the precise Hebrew words. Your metrical version is a very good one, worthy to stand beside those of many other poets in the 500+ years of English metrical psalms. We have not had many metrical versions recently, because we have been plagued by “dynamic equivalent” prose translations and by paraphrases mostly intended for guitar accompaniment. My version was accompanied by organ following the pace of the recitation.

    With “Imitation of Christ” and “Spiritual Combat,” you made great choices among spiritual classics. Both would be difficult to encapsulate as a whole, but you have done quite well with a chapter each. Your title “Thinking Makes It So” recalled to me the practice of some Tibetan Buddhists, who try to affect the world in a positive manner by thinking with great spiritual strength of the ways in which the world desperately needs to change. They are more popular at present than Marcus Aurelius, and their perspective is different. His psychological exhortation forms an excellent contrast to theirs.

    • Joshua C. Frank

      Thank you, Margaret. It’s nice to hear that “The Blessing of Children” is worthy to stand alongside the many metrical psalms over the last 500 years; that means a lot.

      I wrote that one because many of the metrical psalms I’ve seen have a lot of fluff text in them (presumably just to get a rhyme in lines 2 and 4 of each stanza) that makes them longer than the psalms on which they’re based!

      I suppose one could write a metrical psalter and poetry collections that encapsulate these classic works, where each chapter is condensed into a single poem.

      Yes, Buddhism does remind me of Stoicism in some ways. I’ve read a lot more of Stoicism because I’m American and Italian, and both countries have a cultural memory of Rome. Also, many, both Christian and anti-Christian, have acknowledged Stoicism as the most Christian of any pre-Christian pagan philosophy.

  3. Joseph S. Salemi

    These are wonderful summations of great truths, and composed with expert skill. I would point out that those of Thomas à Kempis and Dom Lorenzo Scupoli are specifically directed towards those in religious orders, and not necessarily towards the laity.

    • Joshua C. Frank

      Thank you, Joe. It was your comment that inspired these, as you’ve undoubtedly inferred from the epigraph.

      Many laypeople have used these texts to grow spiritually. The Imitation of Christ is the most widely read Christian book, translated into the most languages, apart from the Bible, and St. Francis de Sales, a bishop, not only reread The Spiritual Combat many times over twenty years, but recommended it to all under his direction.

  4. James A. Tweedie


    What a fine collection of terse verse summations of classic wisdom.

    Well done. It must have been fun to put it all together. Thanks for rising to Joseph’s challenge and for sharing it.

    I particularly liked the polished perfection of

    For each delay will bring one more,
    __And more will still succeed them,
    For love of ease and dread of chore
    __Will grow the more you heed them.

    Truth well-spoken

    • Joshua C. Frank

      Thank you, James. Yes, this was fun to write. I hope others reading this will also be inspired to rise to that same challenge.

  5. Brian A Yapko

    Josh, all four of these poems are skillfully penned and successfully convey deep, complex ideas in memorable poetic form. Each one is wonderful in its own way, but I think my favorites of the quartet are The Way of Peace and War Against Sloth. The Way of Peace captures the heart of what it means to be a Christian not only with great economy but with the playfulness that an alexandroid seems to demand. It is a deep subject made accessible by a light touch.

    I also greatly enjoyed the War Against Sloth which offers a most meaningful discussion of discipline. The Blessing of Children is also a beautiful piece which nicely adapts the psalms upon which it’s based.

    The final poem, Thinking Makes It So, is well-crafted but presents an argument that I find difficult to agree with. Yes, it has a compelling domain of validity, but the line I most dislike in Hamlet is “There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so” and I couldn’t disagree with that position more. Good and evil exist, whatever I may think of them. Objective reality exists and it matters. That subjective reality is being elevated to the realm of objective reality these days is one of the great problems with modern culture. But I digress. You present Marcus Aurelius well. My quibble is with him, not you. Well done, all.

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      Hamlet’s comment about “There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so” is deliberately crafted by Shakespeare to indicate that the character thinks too much, rather than acting decisively. There’s no reason to assume that Shakespeare agrees with what Hamlet is saying, any more than any poet is compelled to sign on to what his fictional characters say.

      Since the basic point in Joshua’s poem is from Marcus Aurelius, we can simply read it as a mixed Stoic-Epicurean idea about the need to control one’ s personal and emotional reactions to anything, whether positive or negative. It’s not the same as the modern relativistic notion that there is no objective reality at all, and all subjective responses are equally valid.

      • Brian A Yapko

        Thanks for the clarification, Joseph. I didn’t equate Hamlet’s words with Shakespeare’s personal views. I just said I didn’t like the line or the philosophy that is Hamlet’s (not Shakespeare’s.) But I may have read more into the Aurelius than was intended. The lines I was thinking about were “… you misspeak with “good” and “bad;”/Your thinking makes you sad or glad!” which I basically equated with the modern new-agey idea that all you need to do is think something and you make it so. With your clarification, Aurelius seems to endorse a form of mental discipline which is nonexistent today — it is not reality that is subjective but how one REACTS to objective reality. Is that closer to his intent?

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        Yes, I think so. In my reading of it, Stoic-Epicurean thought is all about never getting upset or bothered or excited by anything, whether good or bad, and just following the path of virtue. In other words, take objective reality for what it is, and don’t let it frazzle you. With Epicureans, of course, this also took the self-indulgent path of getting as much legitimate pleasure as you could, and avoiding as much avoidable pain as you could, which is more a variety of hedonism.

    • Joshua C. Frank

      Brian, I’m glad you like these!

      Joe is right about Marcus Aurelius. The basic premise is that our feelings have beliefs behind them. We feel sad, angry, afraid, etc., because we believe that suffering is bad and caused entirely by earthly causes. In reality, as it says throughout the Bible, suffering is what God gives us to make us more virtuous.

      Read this for more on the subject: https://archive.org/details/TrustfulSurrenderToDivineProvidence

  6. Margaret Coats

    Here is my encapsulating couplet for the whole of Dom Lorenzo Scupoli’s Spiritual Combat:

    Every evil thought requires a fight,
    But when the foe is lust, you win by flight.

    I don’t know about trying to encapsulate divinely inspired psalms (maybe a dangerous exercise in reductionism). I’m all in favor of good new translations that respect the text where the original inspiration lies. Translations (whether metrical or not) always add something, possibly something valuable to readers of that era and language. The Spirit who inspires knows how His words will strike every reader.

    Incidentally, in the case of the Psalms, the inspiration may be present in the Greek Septuagint or in the Vetus Latina used by the Church before Saint Jerome’s time, as well as in Hebrew.

    • Joshua C. Frank

      I like your encapsulation of The Spiritual Combat!

      With the Psalms, I wouldn’t say writing an encapsulation of those is any worse than the metrical psalms that have been in use for hundreds of years, the most famous of which survives as the hymn “All People That On Earth Do Dwell.” These are not intended to be a translation from the Hebrew, Greek, or Latin, and make no claim to be such, just as “The Way of Peace” is not intended to be a translation from the original Latin of The Imitation of Christ. Someone who wants the full divinely inspired meaning of the Psalms would do best to read the Psalms.

  7. Peirithus

    I have thought about this long ago, I wanted to propose to Mr. Mantyk to write a poem titled “Ancient Purity” that gives an idea of the Iliad.

    I got this sensation of ancient purity from the Iliad, minus some small things.

    Simple minds, clean lives, away from evil, full of vitality.
    Alas, an epoch gone by.

    • Joshua C. Frank

      Sounds good to me! What if you were to write that poem yourself?

  8. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Josh, after reading these beautifully wrought poems that show off your linguistic prowess perfectly, I have a feeling that “the tradition of producing small poetic encapsulations of classic texts” is going to take the poetry world by storm! Bravo!

    • Joshua C. Frank

      Thank you, Susan! That’s what I’m hoping for: that people reading these will be inspired to write encapsulations of their own favorite classic texts.


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