The Doctor Is In

in Poetry

Dr. Wes

Thoreau Is Concerned


For this column I wanted to talk about the demise in court of the anti-postering law, but then a couple of things got in the way. First of all, I don't know anything about the demise in court of the anti-postering law. Except that it has something to do with the Washington State Constitution, a 70 or so page book that I can't begin to make heads or tails of. Second of all, a book that was lying around the office distracted me.

Can you say "cosmic"? I thought you could.

You may all recall that last issue in this space I alluded to the fact that Henry D. Thoreau was deceased, but that certain of his concerns live on. When reading the blurbs on the back cover of this distracting book I was shakti-ed, simply shakti-ed, to learn that the book was one of Henry's concerns. No, I wasn't, but I couldn't resist saying that. Please forgive me.

Really, the Bhagavad-Gita (or the "Gita" as we aficionados like to call it) is just like the Washington State Constitution to me. It's a 70 or so page book that I believe is very important but that I can't begin to make heads or tails of. Yet, I am strangely attracted to it, in the same way that I am attracted to ducks. I keep coming back to it year after year, only to be bewildered as ever.

Part of the attraction of the Bhagavad-Gita is that it is a big poem, after all. It is a piece of the Mahabharata, the ancient Indian epic that has been called the world's longest poem. The Mahabharata is so long that I haven't even had the endurance to see the movie, much less read the book, but I know it goes on. So it was inevitable that we at Adventures in Poetry would have to mention the Mahabharata eventually, if only as an example of another way to write a poem to get noticed (write one really really long.)

Part of the attraction is that as far as its content goes, considered as a poem, the Gita is unbelievably audacious. Who starts out to write a poem about a big battle, and then has the main guy of one side of the battle say he can't go through with it, it's wrong, and then spend the remaining vast majority of their huge poem not on details of battle blood and gore but on laying out the main guy's conversation with his chariot driver about the nature of life-the universe-and-everything? And his chariot driver happens to be the Supreme Godhead, incarnated as the blue guy in those cool Hindu paintings, so He has all the answers? Can you say "cosmic"? I thought you could.

[Try it yourselves, you budding poesists! Write a poem like the Gita. Start out by talking about somebody planning to do something, I don't know, like writing a column. Have her/him stop and say, "Naw, I don't want to do it." Then spend 70 freaking pages of poetry describing a conversation between him/her and some form of God, in which the God explains everything in the world, so that the upshot of the conversation is that at the end, God says, "So, just do it. But hey, it's up to you." Then take it to an open mike. Your audience will tell you just how audacious your poem is.]

Part of the attraction, also, is that the Gita is an ancient classic, therefore written for a world that doesn't exist anymore (it has mostly gotten worse.) This makes for a lot of the difficulty in reading it, but that just adds to the charm.

OK, sure, the surface message, which seems to be that if you belong to the warrior caste, then you ought to do war, strikes many of us today as outrageously conservative and narrow-minded. But then we think, as justifications for war go, at least this one doesn't reek of hypocrisy. And we can escape the conclusion that war is justified by rejecting the premise that there is, any more, in the nuclear age, a warrior caste.

No, certainly nobody today is born with a duty to wage war. So, as an argument to preserve the status quo and keep the conquerees conquered and the conquerors conquering, the Gita would appear to have aged.

But the Gita does speak eloquently of duty. Now, the question still is, what's that?

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