Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The fun stuff we MA students get to do

Well, as of this morning there are still over 80 pages worth of papers to be written, and probably around 1000 pages of reading I could do, but I decided to do one of the Progymnasmata exercises we need to hand in around April. It isn't due for a while, but seemed like a fun thing to do to give me a break before this afternoon (after I TA...Blah) and start a seminar. Anyways, Progymnasmata are Medieval learning exercises to Teach children how to read coupled with a moral. It is a mental exercise of sorts (hence the word gymnastics in it). Our prof thought it would be fun to make us write one and since its only like 5percent of a mark they are just supposed to be fun. Being the hardworking student I am I didn' get past the first page of the possible Progymnasmatas and chose to write a fable. This seemed to be easy, and it was. So I googled up our good friend Aesop and found a list of about 800 fables and there are many awesome ones. But I decided to use one by Ambrose Bierce called "A confrontation of Moral Principle and Material Desires" If that doesn't hit you over the head with the moral I don't know what will. Anyways, here is my adaptation, enjoy,


(ps. I felt like I was back in gradeschool while doing this, and since I am nothing of a poet, the simple AABBCC rhyme scheme might also bring you back to those glorious days of being in gradeschool).


If any of you will claim to be wise
It is my hope that you will not despise
This simple tale. For as Hugh once told us
“Read everything, nothing is superfluous.”
So I ask those drinking from cups of gold
To take a moment, listen, as I unfold
A story sweet with bitter truth; which may
Let you once again value those old cups of clay.
Yet to those who are young, this is but a taste,
If you never get ahead, your life will be a waste
For as the Good Book says in words none to mild
“When I was young, I thought and acted as a child,
But when I became a man, put those ways behind me
And began a pursuit of the joys of Philosophy.”
And to those who claim possession of a superior wit
Forgive me for the fictional things I have writ.
Yet, if offended by fiction and its deceptively sweet taste,
The words of wise Plutarch might have your inhibitions erased
“For Lies will surely make the best philosophers frown,
But a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.”


Our story begins with a bridge and a river,
On a day so cold it made each timber shiver
As the river rushed by, treacherous, dark and cold,
The bridge just waited, tired, firm, and old.
Till from the East a sheep came walking
With an indifference to the cold you might find shocking,
But unlike you or me, this sheep was well clad
For days such as this, when the weather was bad.
The sheep was wrapped in a thick coat of wool
That was just as white as it was rich and full.
But don’t just use your mind’s eye, use its ear,
Move closer to our friend the Sheep and hear
How he faithfully recites as he carelessly frolics
All the good creeds: Athanasian, Nicene, Apostolic.
Along with these he cites writings in Greek
Of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, we can hear him speak
For this little sheep is on his way to classes
Where his teachers range from owls to asses.
But to get to the school, the river he must cross,
Yet to do so he must be pure, gold without dross,
For this is a world where such things matter
Even for a young sheep at the base of his ladder.

Yet, while the sheep sings, out of the West a goat walks
Going straight to the bridge, she neither sings nor talks.
In silence the goat approaches the bridge’s firm middle
Why she says nothing is so far a riddle.
Impatiently she stomps, which catches the sheep’s ear
He looks up, startled; what did he just hear?
He sees the old goat that is blocking his path
And his virtuous being is filled with holy wrath
With growing confidence, our friend makes his way
To find the bridge barred on this cruel winters day.
Boldly approaching, the sheep cries out loud
With the moral authority to which he’s endowed
“On your knees goat and let me pass over you
You know this bridge was not made for two!”

But the goat did not budge; she just stared into his eyes,
Which, to the young sheep, was a horrible surprise.
He looked up at the sun and noticed the time,
“Alright you horned fiend, listen now to my rhyme.
Since I am late for my Grammatical instruction
And neither of us can swim this river, due to its suction
I propose to settle this dispute as peacefully as can be
Which means that you must abide by the rules set by me.
What I suggest is pulling strings of hay,
Whoever pulls the long one must yield the way”
Turning to a gamble was as far as the sheep dared,
Yet the goat kept her silence and simply just stared.

“Alright this is ridiculous, how much more can I take?”
The sheep quickly thought of one more offer to make.
“Alright,” said he, “since I am known as such a peaceful creature
And to fight such an old goat would bring shame to my teacher
I will offer you a choice, but only today
In order that both of us can get our way
Since we both know this bridge was not made for two
I’ll lie flat on my belly in order that you
May cross.” So without regarding his wool so white
The young lamb laid down, avoiding a fight,
But while his face stuck to the cold, muddy planks
He did not hear hoofsteps let alone a “thanks.”
Twisting his neck, he looked up dismayed
The goat with her horns looked down unafraid.
Than finding a voice, which turned out to be her own
The goat began talking in a sweet, treacherous tone,
“No, no, no, this will never do
I can’t just simply step on top of you,
See, unlike you, I watch what goes underfoot
I hope before we proceed you have that understood.
Now get up, never mind the mud that mars your coat,
It will soon be cleaned depending on if you sink or float,
For, since I am immoveable, what I suggest
Is putting the strength of your legs to the test.
Now jump off this bridge, get out of my sight
And never forget you chose not to fight.”
The sheep stood up, his energy spent
And as the goat dictated, that’s exactly how it went.


Now on a literal level we can enjoy this tale
Of two common animals who can’t share a trail,
But since stories are means and never just ends
There is more here than a story of those who are not friends.
On another interpretive level, each “thing” in the story
Can work together as a sustained allegory,
Where the sheep is virtue and the goat is vice
Where the goat is pure evil and the sheep only nice,
But I’ll stop here for now, and let the industrious go on
For to give you all the answers would simply be wrong.
Alone, the good reader must mine , finding treasures untold
And bring them to light; determining whether iron or gold.
Yet the numerous questions that readers ask today
Are important, but also may hinder the way.
Questions regarding the importance of gender
Or who in this tale is the real offender.
Again, what can we make of the East and the West?
Why is the sheep a he and is that why he’s blest?
Or the she-goat from the West, how is that relevant
There are numerous trails to which our energy can be spent
But to the simple of mind and simple of heart
There is an obvious lesson I wish to impart
That though the pathway of learning and life is straight,
Do not let the tempting tangents make you hesitate
For though they are sweet they may come at a price
As the sheep soon found out, virtue is often weaker than vice.

1 comment:

Rebecca said...

Good stuff Doug- keep 'em coming!
quick question: James Smith- is that the speaker coming to Ottawa? If so, he was here, and he was good.