Published On: Wed, 25 Jan 2012 00:00:00 -0600
People in the middle ages didn't think they were living
Between two more important and enlightened eras;
Nor did they see themselves as the players
In act three of a tragedy in five acts.
It was not always late winter in the middle ages.
People in the middle ages were not all middle-aged
Though it is enjoyable on occasion to assume that they were.
The sun was as bright in the dark ages
As it is now—maybe a fraction brighter, in fact.
Think of the middle ages and what do you see:
Gloomy cathedrals, students dressed like monks in the rain,
Or a band of drunken pilgrims telling obscene jokes,
Or heroes embarking for the nearest wilderness come April?
Your answer will reveal yourself to yourself
But you may not know it—may choose to hide
In hazy visions of a serene and indescribable paradise.
And paradise, as we all know, may be paradise when we’re dead,
But is boredom on earth, alas.
We never think of ennui in relation to the middle ages.
Should we? Did Thomas Aquinas never get bored
Cooking up elaborate refutations of diminutive heresies?
No, and you shouldn’t either. Nor did the clerks
of Oxford tire of the sin against the Holy Ghost,
Trying to figure out what it was.
On chill September mornings when
I smoked too much the night before
And I drank too much the night before
And a sinister cough rises up
From the depths of the belly of my being,
I like to imagine living in Provence
Or even in Rheims during the middle ages.
David Lehman, "Ode" from An Alternative to Speech, published by Princeton University Press. Copyright © 1986 by David Lehman. Reprinted by permission of Writers' Representatives, Inc..
Source: Poetry (November 1979).
Tags: Ode by David Lehman
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Ode by David Lehman