Monday, July 12, 2010
The Great Conversation
I sat in my armchair
on a steamy day in early July.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle got me drowsy,
and as I drifted into reverie
I caught the queerest glimpse of my bookcase.
Mr. Lewis (of the Clive Staples variety)
walked right out of his book
as if it had been a wardrobe.
He looked to his right, but it was empty.
(Conan Doyle had been nestled there)
So he knocked on Dickens' door to his left.
Out came Charles with some sausage
while Jack ran to fetch some tea.
Their dialog quickly turned to the French.
"Never could learn from the Germans."
"Far too much garlic in their sausages."
Next door Dante and Homer enjoyed each other's company.
Homer launched into a monologue
he was rather proud of
about Achilles' shield.
But really his diatribe was about
With beautifully declined nouns
Homer thought of what violent extremes
he would be forced to embrace
if he had to suffer through another sonnet
Thank the Gods Petrarch moved down a shelf.
And who made this Italian the Eternal Judge
free to toss poor Odysseus
deep in the Inferno?
Meanwhile, Dante couldn't give a damn
about Achilles' shield.
He regretted not placing Homer
much farther down below limbo.
he missed his pal Virgil.
At this point, Austen was kicking herself
for not being more diligent
in her Greek and Italian.
She could only guess at the sublime utterances
crammed with clandestine truth
issuing forth from those venerable lips.
Instead, she was swarmed
by those contributors to the 1,001 Nights,
exotic and wild.
And I employ not one ounce
of their skill for story crafting
when I tell you that
several of those sultry savages
pinched her prolific behind.
This thoroughly amused Douglas Adams
who sat next to Shakespeare,
both enjoying an excellent repartee
during the brief respites
the Arabs granted Jane.
Yann Martel was all too happy to be there,
but he had an odd way of showing it.
His nose was buried in a yellow legal pad,
trying to catch the natural wit
spewing from those two great wise-cracks.
Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach,
just one book over,
had her hands full trying to console Conrad
on the human condition.
"What could be more exquisite
than the rueful forgiveness from the wronged
to the offender.
In such a scene, how can we deny human greatness?"
"Can anyone know human greatness
if we can never know each other?"
Just to the right,
Tolkien was busy ignoring Conrad
and loudly complaining
that Lewis had suddenly turned uppity
after his talking animal show went leather-bound.
Clyde Pharr would occasionally try to talk some Greek Grammar,
but Tolkien just dismissed his attempts
with jabs about the superiority of Norse mythology.
And then Eliot sprang up from the shelf below.
He was born in an anthology,
so he had the nasty habit
quoting people at themselves
intentionally speaking Sanskrit to Dickens,
Greek to Frank Herbert,
or English to Dante.
In fact, every time he saw Dante,
his pernicious habits mixed.
he would say
with an American/London drawl.
There were several other discussions of note:
Victor Frankl spent quite a bit of time with Goethe.
Neal A. Maxwell and David McCullough
had a great time being insightful and polite.
Lloyd Alexander thoroughly enjoyed
his chat with Edith Hamilton.
I couldn't even follow
Tad R. Callister
and Phillip Pullman's
icily intense exchange.
Joseph Campbell and J.K. Rowling
found plenty to discuss.
Johann Fux and Tim Gautreaux tried.
And then as quickly as they came,
they all lept back in their respective books.
"What a loss!"
at first I thought.
Then I realized that
in a sense,
I had just seen my life.
I take all those writers with me everywhere
and am always trying to make sense
of their great conversation.