Skip to main content

Cleanthes

 


Cleanthes

 

 

Draw near my friend – you must hear what I say.

 

Be of good cheer.  I am old – soon to depart.

All that was made is created again.

Green grapes grow into clusters of ripeness,

afterwards raisins.

 

I have worked, I’ve worked hard

for wisdom and knowledge come hard to a striver

like me.  Once I was strong and knew how to fight

but now I am ready to stop, to welcome the rest.

I haven't been eating.

 

The soreness improved

after fasting – they told me to eat again

but as I have travelled most of this road

I won’t retrace steps.

 

He has his wish,

whose wish is to have enough: I desire nothing,

only to have what is meant to be.

There is no need for me to make changes, so

I will stay fasting.

 

Each step is a change,

not into what is not, but that which is yet to be.

Dear brother, give me your smile. Farewell

to this life. My fire will find new fuel.

Don’t be distressed.

 

Your pain is yours

you make yourself, so you hold the power

to extinguish it.  I have no pain. Now

you have heard the voice of one

who for a moment lived.

 

 

 

I hadn’t heard of Cleanthes until I set about learning a bit more about Stoicism.

I discovered a fascinating man. Born around 330 BC, he would seem to be one of the last people you’d expect to lead a major school of philosophy.  Of course, you too can google him, but essentially the story is of a young man who was a boxer*, who becoming interested in philosophy studied during the day and earned his living by carrying water at night.  His nickname of The Ass may have referred to his broad back and his ability to carry whatever load was put upon it, but perhaps it also described a certain slowness. Whether he was clever or not, and whether it matters, this autodidact with his natural humility, led the Stoics for a long time, until his death at the age of 99.

I can’t but admire his stoic attitude to his ulcer, as he recognised its resistance to healing and the inevitable result; my poem uses his reported words, leaving us in no doubt that the old fighter practised what he preached.

Although it’s now over two thousand years ago that a particular nonagenerian stoically decided to let nature take its course, the life in his message speaks to me with honesty, immediacy and intimacy.

I hope my poem shows how attractive I find much of his philosophy, and the man Cleanthes admirable, leaving me with little more to say.


 *I really like the broken nose in this image which, while it may just be the sort of trauma that a Greek statue experiences over the centuries, is so right for a boxer...

 

Comments

  1. Wonderful man. Wonderful poem. Wonderful message. Just goes to show, the great truths are old. We need only practice them. Thank you Richard. Harbans Nagpal.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks, Richard, for the introduction to Cleanthes. I knew nothing about humans am delighted to have him brought to life so vividly in your poem. Love his broken nose too. I know a little about Zeno, his predecessor Stoic, who's supposed to have said "We have two ears and one mouth so we should listen more than we say". Yes!

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

We were all together there in a foretime

    I find myself attracted to certain words, and here’s one.  Not a word often heard in modern speech, but perfectly proper and well-used since at least the sixteenth century. I came across it in Seamus Heaney’s Section 3 of Keeping Going in his phrase – We were all together there in a foretime. I imagined hearing in my mind’s ear his attractive rich voice rolling it out.   Foretime. Not just, or simply, the past, but a   foretime . (Interesting, that 'a'.  Not 'the', but 'a'). Fore , from before, so it is of course the past, but with a slightly different twist – an added dimension arising from the other words which use fore, as in forecast, foretell or even forehead, when it somehow also looks ahead, to the future… what lies before us? Foretime, Aftertime… be all that as it may, we’ve been here before, it affected us all then, it’s doing the same now and it’s threatening to overwhelm us in the future.   We were all together there in a for

The Three Hares

  The Three Hares We continue on our way running, running, running around held together tip to tip so I can hear what she can hear as well as her. And the other follows me in front of her – we are joined up by our ears so we follow, lead and follow running, running, running around we continue on our way. Running, running, running around – no cause for worry – what's to come has already been. The future's past – watch us here – we're going nowhere – the last is first and first is last. Our present moment sees us still although we seem to race – running, running, running around we continue. On our way running, running, running around hearing your persistent questions – why do you keep on asking? We cannot tell you any more. May you share your senses and find soft silence at your centre which is so close, while you go on running, running, running around. The turning of the year, with the various thoughts about the past and the future that c

The Signpost

Here’s a signpost – originally distinctive, being unique and handmade, and now even more so, with the evidence of ageing.   … numbers, distances, which way? While all signposts are interesting in their duty to inform, their presentation of choices and their simple declarative presence, I find this one special. It’s not just that it has much to say in terms of where you actually are, in which direction you might choose to go, how far your destination is (down to quarter mile accuracy) and even if your chosen method of transport is suitable. It’s also special in the simple elegance of its design, with the arms’ supports and the bevelled edges of the main post rising to that unexpected point. But the specialness goes further.  My friend James Ravilious took me there just at this time of year, over twenty years ago.  It was then upright and brilliant white, with crisp black letters. He certainly thought it was special, photographing it lovingly, in May 1988 ( Chawleigh Week Cross –