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
Green grapes grow into clusters
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
but as I have travelled most of
I won’t retrace steps.
He has his wish,
whose wish is to have enough: I
only to have what is meant to be.
There is no need for me to make
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.
to this life. My fire will find
Don’t be distressed.
Your pain is yours
you make yourself, so you hold
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
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