Like A House

    (The young man PHILOLACHES, whose appearance agrees

    with what we have just heard about him, comes out of the

    house, and probably out of bed.  When he has collected

    himself sufficiently to be aware of the audience, he addresses

    them with an engagingly innocent candour.)

PHILOLACHES:

   After much pondering and contemplation

   And serious cogitation . . . or shall I say

   Heart-searching – if I have anything

   That can be called a heart; after much thought,

   I say, and inward rumination – MAN

   It seems to me, MAN, in whatever station

   He happens to be born, is rather like . . .

   Somewhat resembles . . . something which, I think,

   If I can illustrate my meaning . . . well,

   It’s this: I think a man, born on this earth,

   Is rather like A NEW BUILT HOUSE.  Observe –

   I’ll show you what I mean.  You won’t have noticed

   The similarity, but I’ll convince you –

   I hope – indeed I’m sure that you’ll agree,

   Once you have heard my arguments.  I’m sure

   You’ll say I’m right.  So listen, if you please,

   While I explain; because I shouldn’t like

   To keep this to myself; I want you all

   To share my great discovery.

 

   A house:

   Now when a nice new house is built,

   Properly finished, squared to rule and line,

   Everyone likes it; everyone says the builders

   Have done a splendid job; everyone wants it,

   Or wants one like it, and starts saving up

   And counting every penny towards the cost.

   But then, alas, in comes a thriftless man

   To take possession – a careless, idle man,

   With an idle family, a dirty man,

   A lazy man.  What happens?  Why, the house

   Begins to suffer from the same defects.

   A good house badly kept – it often happens.

   Come storm and tempest, tiles fall off, roofs leak.

   The careless occupant does nothing.  Rain

   Comes washing down the walls, drips through the ceilings,

   Rots rafters, ruins all the builders work.

   The building goes from bad to worse; it’s not

   The builder’s fault, and yet it happens so,

   More often than not.  A little money spent

   Could stop the damage, but they put it off,

   Do nothing till the walls are falling down;

   And then – and then, of course, there’s nothing for it

   But to rebuild it from the bottom.

 

   So much for houses.

   Now I must try to show you why a man

   is like a house.  The parents, in the first place,

   Are builders of children; they lay the foundations;

   They raise the structure up, and guide its growth

   On firm straight lines, or make all good and true,

   A credit to themselves, an ornament

   In the public eye.  They spare no pains or cost –

   They do not call it cost – to groom their offspring.

   They teach them letters, language, civic law;

   They spend their all in substance and in labour

   To make their neighbors envy them and wish

   That they had children like them.

 

   In due course

   The time for military service comes;

   Off goes the boy, committed to the care

   Of some respected relative.  And this

   Is where the builder loses sight of him.

   A year of service is enough to show

   What’s going to happen to the building!

 

     Just look at me.  I was a lad

     Of modest manners, blameless life,

        While they were building me.

     Left to my own devices – well,

     It didn’t take me very long

     To undo all the builders’ work

        And make the house a ruin!

 

     Idleness was the rainy weather

     That sapped my timbers; showers of sloth,

     Hailstorms of carelessness, attacked me,

     Shook my foundations of respect,

     Twisted my lines of rectitude,

        And rapidly unroofed me –

     Which damage I did nothing to repair.

 

     Then love – ah, love was the next wet season.

    It poured like anything! – into my heart,

    Into my soul.  I was flooded out!

     Good-bye to fortune, faith, good name,

     Honour, and virtue.  Wear and tear

        Just left me fit for nothing.

 

   And now my beams are rotten through and through,

   Beyond repair, as far as I can see.

   Nothing can stop the whole house falling down;

   A dead loss – nothing can be done about it.

 

       It makes me very sad to think

       Of what I was, and what I am.

          I was a model child.

        I really was – top of the class

        In games and exercises – discus,

        Javelin, fencing, running, riding –

        I loved them all, and my example

        Of hardiness and self-controll

        Became a pattern to my comrades.

        Even the best of them said

           That I could teach them something.

 

        And now . . . I’m good for nothing. . . .

        That’s the one thing

        That I have taught myself.

 

From, “The Ghost,” or Mostellaria,

Titus Maccius “Plautus”, 254 B.C.

Translated by E. F. Watling

Penguin Classics 1964

 

Up On Your Feet

My lungs were pumping as if they could not stop;

I thought I could not go on, and I sat up exhausted

the instant I had clambered to the top.

 

“Up on your feet! This is no time to tire!”

my Master cried.  “The man who lies asleep

will never waken fame, and his desire

 

and all his life drift past him like a dream,

and the traces of his memory fade from time

like smoke in air, or ripples on a stream.

 

Now, therefore, rise.  Control your breath, and call

upon the strength of soul that wins battles

unless it sink in the gross body’s fall.

 

The Inferno, Canto XXIV, Dante Alighieri, translated by John Ciardi, A Mentor Classic, 1954

And Yet — Should I Now Try New Songs To Sing

And yet — should I now try new songs to sing,

The old accustomed tone I could not find;

Too often grief my soul with pangs doth wring,

Instead of mirth, scorn filleth now my mind.

The world serves idols now, the good ignoring,

And truth is silent, beauty hides her face;

What is unnatural men are adoring,

God is forgotten, Mammon takes his place!

The Poet, now, should be a prophet warning,

Like those of old, reproving, praying, mourning!

The Trumpeter of Sakkingen – Preface to the Second Edition – Joseph Victor von Scheffel – 1877 Edition –

Translated by Mrs. Francis Brünnow

Fail – Democracy

“A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the majority discovers it can vote itself largess out of the public treasury. After that, the majority always votes for the candidate promising the most benefits with the result the democracy collapses because of the loose fiscal policy ensuing, always to be followed by a dictatorship, then a monarchy.”

 

Alexander Fraser Tytler