A writing exercise, just in time

Sunday December 5, 2004

Seeking inspiration to put fingers to keyboard and write, I was intrigued to be directed to a list of the world’s top ten quotes. For convenience and to allow for the “all this shall pass” nature of Internet links, I reproduce the list here:

  1. “It is necessary only for the good man to do nothing for evil to triumph,” Edmund Burke (attributed)
  2. “Tread softly because you tread on my dreams,” William Butler Yeats, 1899
  3. “Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee,” John Donne, 1624
  4. “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less traveled by,” Robert Frost, 1916
  5. “I have a dream,” Martin Luther King, 1963
  6. “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” Lord Acton, 1887
  7. “To lose one parent … may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness,” Oscar Wilde, 1895
  8. “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you,” Rudyard Kipling, 1910
  9. “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife,” Jane Austen, 1813
  10. “Genius is 1 percent inspiration, 99 percent perspiration,” Thomas Alva Edison, 1903

It’s tempting to go all curmudgeonly and take a grumpy old man line on the subject of quotes, the purveyors of quotes and the value of lists of quotes sequenced in order of popularity but I’ve done that so often I sometimes think I should be contained within a nutshell myself. Doing the grumpy old man thing is so much easier than actually thinking, and writing. So, instead, I decided to sit for a while, take all ten aphorisms on board, see where one, some, or none of them led me and what kind of a poem I’d find when I got there. At least, that’s what I thought. Never have been able truly to control the poetic process:


In pursuit of the metaphor
As I struggled from a hard-trodden dream
I heard him say: “Are you not feeling well?”
My options were many. Among them, between
misfortune and lack of care, was silence.
I chose the alternative, blaming my
confusion on the immanence of a poem.
“Does it hurt?” I was asked, as though
my affliction was like a cut or graze.
“Nothing elastoplast won’t fix,” I claimed,
pursuing a soothing metaphor.
John Bailey
December 2004, Lincolnshire



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