Lines from Petronius--on Writing Poetry

(The Satyricon, 118)

The way I see it, poets are dead wrong
Who call it ‘art’ to pipe a drunkard's song —
And yet, most men who write, think in their heart
That versifying is a sweatless art.
No sooner have they learned their A.B.C.'s,
And fossilized a few philosophies,
Than do they shirk Tradition’s tutelage,
And think themselves a credit to their age.
It's in this mode that highbrow-wannabes
Seek solace in cerebral rhapsodies,
Supposing that such senseless tremolos
Transcend the merits of plain-spoken prose.
The truth is, that since lucid thoughts are tough
To mass-produce, men seek out simpler stuff:
A mere twelve lines, arrayed with cryptic words,
Can fill a single page when hacked in thirds,
And hopeless nonsense flatters vanity
Much more than words of sober quality.

But nobler men are not so caught by glare,
Nor tempted (gamelike) to the fowler's snare;
Like doves, they must commingle with their kind —
As men, they seek friends cultured and refined.
The womb wherein their fetal thoughts mature
Derives its sustenance from Literature.
Like a historian, one must be sure
To treat one's subject like a connoisseur —
As is the case with diction: words may change,
And syntax may such units rearrange,
But diction is the constant agency
By which one may achieve sublimity.
One must divorce one's tongue from vulgar speech,
(Despite what men may do, or profs may preach!)
Though it is acceptable in prose or fiction,
In verse it's ill advised to mar with modern diction.
Also, one must take care that all belongs —
Uncouthness has no place in polished songs;
Grace is not piecemeal, nor should squally spots
Betray the turbulence of disjoined thoughts.
The whole must seem a single loveliness
Of pure and blending undividedness.

by Eric Martin

Eric Martin’s poems and translations have appeared in nearly forty print and online journals, including Blue Unicorn, Candelabrum Poetry Magazine, Contemporary Rhyme, Edge City Review, The Iconoclast, Lilliput Review, and Pivot. He currently resides in northern Maine, with his wife and family, where he enjoys fishing and listening to classical music.

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