“A Romantic Poem” by John Koethe

From the Collection Beyond Belief

September 16, 2022  By John Koethe

 It’s supposed to be solemn and settled
And in celebration of the individual human life,
Whatever it is. It’s each of us of course,
And yet the view we have of it is so oblique
It might as well be one of nobody at all,
Or of a vague interior with a figure in a room
Who could be anyone. This sense that it’s so close
It must be you: what do we really know of it,
And how could anything that simple be that real?
We would be kings of our domains, alone in majesty
“Above this Frame of things,” but those are idle thoughts,
As idle as the vacant pleasures of a summer afternoon.
The truth is much more down to earth: we make things up
And celebrate dejection when we see they can’t be real.
Instead of clarity, self-knowledge is a study in confusion,
Driven by the need to see what isn’t there. Begun
In gladness, something carries you away until you’re
Everyone and no one, for no matter where you are
Or what your name is, it’s the same styles
Of thought, the same habits of contemplation
That carry you along to the inevitable conclusion
That life is either ludicrous or not worth living
Or both. But why does it have to be worth anything?
It’s just there, the way we’re all just there, moving
And needing to be moved, without knowing why.

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Excerpted from Beyond Belief: Poems by John Koethe. Copyright © 2022. Available from Farrar, Straus and Giroux, an imprint of Macmillan.

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John Koethe
John Koethe
John Koethe is Distinguished Professor of Philosophy Emeritus, Department of Philosophy, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, USA.

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