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Folly is in poor repute even among the greatest fools.
When she's on her chaise-long,"Better a metropolitan city were sacked," Robert Burton wrote, "a royal army overcome, an invincible armada sunk and twenty thousand kings should perish, than her little Anger ache." That was my plan, too. I had nothing to do with sundry windbags who wrote odes to every two-bit tyrant who came along, tabulated their conquests, glorified their slaughter of the barbarians, and praised their incomparable wisdom in peace and war. I poked fun at the rich and the powerful, gossiping about their wives and daughters milking cocks while their husbands' and daddies' backs were turned. I didn't even spare the gods. I turned them into a lot of brawling, drunken, revengeful, senile wife swappers.
Make haste to And a footstool
For those dainty feet of hers,
Help her on and off with the slippers.
I turn to you in misery and tearsYou get the idea? Oh, the guises I had--more aliases than all the con artists of the world put together. I was that petty felon Villon, who almost ended up strung by his neck; Guillem IX, Duke of Aquitaine, who wrote his poems while he snored away in the saddle; Shakespeare, who some scholars tell you was not really called that but something else; Signor Dante, who gave us a first-class tour of hell to prepare us for the horrors of the twentieth century; and so many others. My fondest incarnation remains Thomas Bastard, who lived from 1566 to 1618 and whose life and career my anthology of Elizabethan verse describes, more or less, thus:
As turns the stag, when his strength gives out.
A country clergyman who made pitiably small headway in life, Bastard published his book in 1598. It was much ridiculed. Bastard died, touched in his wits, in debtors' prison in Dorcester.My life was like the history of costumes. One season I wore a powdered wig, rode in a glass coach, and scribbled sonnets on the cuff of my shirt between duels, taking time out to praise classical measures and restraint; next I was a wild-haired revolutionary shouting encouragement to the crowd while standing on some real or imaginary barricade, assuring my listeners that we poets are nothing less than the unacknowledged legislators of the world.
Excerpted from The Metaphysician in the Dark by Charles Simic Copyright © 2003 by Charles Simic. Excerpted by permission.
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|In Praise of Folly||1|
|The Devil Is a Poet||9|
|The Power of Ambiguity||15|
|Aberlardo Morell's Poetry of Appearances||18|
|Poetry and History||35|
|On the Night Train: On Mark Strand||41|
|Servant of the Dictionary: On Joseph Brodsky||52|
|James Merrill and the Spirits||64|
|The Thinking Man's Comedy: On Saul Bellow||77|
|Tragi-Comic Soup: On John Ashbery||88|
|Stargazing in the Cinema: On Joseph Cornell||101|
|Literature and the Gods: Roberto Calasso||112|
|The Strength of Poetry: On James Fenton||124|
|A World Gone Up in Smoke: Czeslaw Milosz||134|
|The Mystery of Happiness||147|
|The Romance of Sausages||152|
|Poetry: The Art of Memory||155|
|Evil: Menus and Recipes||157|
|Morality Made Easy||165|
|Metaphysician of the Little Box||171|
|Self-Portrait with a Bowl of Spaghetti||183|
|Poets Wary of Poetry: Billy Collins and James Tate||187|