Ol’ man river, dat ol’ man river
He mus’ know sumpin’, but don’t say nuthin’
He jes’ keeps rollin’
He keeps on rollin’ along
— Jerome Kern/
When I was in college I thought I was pretty smart. Actually, I thought I knew everything. That was how scared of the world I was. Since then I’ve gotten braver, allowing my ignorance to expand.
Watching the Internet go by today it’s hard to escape the feeling that things are completely out of control. They’ve always been out of control. It’s just that now I
can watch it roll by on a screen, an incomprehensible river of psychic debris.
You cannot step into the same stream twice, for the water is ever flowing on.
Are there any new ideas?
This is probably the wrong question, for there are certainly many good old ones I’ve never heard of, never dwelt in. Heraclitus, for starters, and his idea that the only constant is change. Which idea pretty much discounts the chances of keeping up.
When, I ask myself, will I get that the point is not to sample, but to dwell?
The idea of lingering and inhabiting what you read, as by curling up with a good book, has gotten so quaint it’s been given a name: immersive reading. This is to distinguish it from jumping around reading, the thing I am so good at on the Internet. (The concept of immersive reading was invented by some academic who calls himself a “digital thought leader,” but let’s not get into that.)
Here’s something to get into:
I have walked along many roads,
and opened paths through brush,
I have sailed over a hundred seas
and tied up on a hundred shores.
Everywhere I’ve gone I’ve seen
excursions of sadness,
angry and melancholy
drunkards with black shadows,
and academics in offstage clothes
who watch, say nothing, and think
they know, because they do not drink wine
in the ordinary bars.
Evil men who walk around
polluting the earth . . .
And everywhere I’ve been I’ve seen
men who dance and play,
when they can, and work
the few inches of ground they have.
If they turn up somewhere,
they never ask where they are.
When they take trips, they ride
on the backs of old mules.
They don’t know how to hurry,
not even on holidays.
They drink wine, if there is some,
if not, cool water.
These men are the good ones,
who love, work, walk and dream.
And on a day no different from the rest
they lie down beneath the earth.
A FEW INCHES OF GROUND
A man read this poem the other night in my men’s group. When he was done, we asked him to read it again. I’m struck by how prescient the poem seems. But then, here is Koheleth, writing 500 years before Heraclitus:
There is no new thing under the sun. — Ecclesiastes
The point is to work the ground.
Machado is the man at the restaurant table above. He taught high school French. I suppose he wrote the poem around a hundred years ago.
I can’t look at the photograph without wanting to join him at that table. But I’d be happy to be the waiter in the mirror.
This is a man who knew how to dwell.
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Poem Credit: “I Have Walked on Many Roads” by Antonio Machado, from Times Alone: Selected Poems of Antonio Machado, translated by Robert Bly, Wesleyan University Press, 1983. © Wesleyan University Press. Used by permission.
What’s the river like for you? Just Add Father is listening. (Add your thoughts by clicking a few lines below below, where it says comments or add one. I always respond here.)
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