Many thanks to Ritabrata Roy for suggesting today's poem. DECALOGUE, n. A series of commandments, ten in number -- just enough to permit an intelligent selection for observance, but not enough to embarrass the choice. Following is the revised edition of the Decalogue, calculated for this meridian:
(Poem #735) Decalogue
Thou shalt no God but me adore: 'Twere too expensive to have more. No images nor idols make For Roger Ingersoll to break. Take not God's name in vain: select A time when it will have effect. Work not on Sabbath days at all, But go to see the teams play ball. Honor thy parents. That creates For life insurance lower rates. Kill not, abet not those who kill; Thou shalt not pay thy butcher's bill. Kiss not thy neighbor's wife, unless Thine own thy neighbor doth caress. Don't steal; thou'lt never thus compete Successfully in business. Cheat. Bear not false witness--that is low-- But "hear 'tis rumored so and so." Covet thou naught that thou hast got By hook or crook, or somehow, got.
[Notes] Taken from "The Devil's Dictionary", published 1906. Attributed by Bierce to "G. J." (Father Gassalasca Jape, S. J.), the writer of several other pieces of verse to feature in the Dictionary. In the 1911 edition of the lexicon, Bierce included a revised version of this poem, which I've appended below. I don't know who Roger Ingersoll is. Anyone? [Commentary] One of the nicest things about Ambrose Bierce's cynical classic "The Devil's Dictionary" is the way he illuminates his entries with throwaway pieces of verse, many of which are well worth reading in their own right. Today's set of five pithy couplets is an excellent example: neither the definition nor the poem are out-and-out brilliant by themselves, but put them together and the whole is definitely greater than the sum of the parts. [Links] We've visited Ambrose Bierce before: Poem #320, "Rimer" Poem #400, "Elegy" Poem #148, "With a Book" The first two of these are also taken from the Devil's Dictionary. The third has a biography of Bierce attached. As Ritabrata points out, "Decalogue" is more than a little reminiscent of Arthur Hugh Clough's "The Latest Decalogue", Poem #159 on the Minstrels, written in 1862. Here's what Bierce himself has to say on the matter: PLAGIARISM, n. - A literary coincidence compounded of a discreditable priority and an honorable subsequence. PLAGIARIZE, v. - To take the thought or style of another writer whom one has never, never read. -- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary The complete text of the Devil's Dictionary can be found at [broken link] http://rabi.phys.columbia.edu/~matmat/html/devils.html [Moreover] Here's Bierce's preface to the first edition of the Dictionary: The Devil's Dictionary was begun in a weekly paper in 1881, and was continued in a desultory way at long intervals until 1906. In that year a large part of it was published in covers with the title The Cynic's Word Book, a name which the author had not the power to reject or happiness to approve. To quote the publishers of the present work: "This more reverent title had previously been forced upon him by the religious scruples of the last newspaper in which a part of the work had appeared, with the natural consequence that when it came out in covers the country already had been flooded by its imitators with a score of 'cynic' books - The Cynic's This, The Cynic's That, and The Cynic's t'Other. Most of these books were merely stupid, though some of them added the distinction of silliness. Among them, they brought the word 'cynic' into disfavor so deep that any book bearing it was discredited in advance of publication." Meantime, too, some of the enterprising humorists of the country had helped themselves to such parts of the work as served their needs, and many of its definitions, anecdotes, phrases and so forth, had become more or less current in popular speech. This explanation is made, not with any pride of priority in trifles, but in simple denial of possible charges of plagiarism, which is no trifle. In merely resuming his own the author hopes to be held guiltless by those to whom the work is addressed - enlightened souls who prefer dry wines to sweet, sense to sentiment, wit to humor and clean English to slang. A conspicuous, and it is hoped not unpleasant, feature of the book is its abundant illustrative quotations from eminent poets, chief of whom is that learned and ingenious cleric, Father Gassalasca Jape, S.J., whose lines bear his initials. To Father Jape's kindly encouragement and assistance the author of the prose text is greatly indebted. -- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary [More Moreover] Here's the revised version of the poem I mentioned above: "Decalogue - 1911" Have but one God: thy knees were sore If bent in prayer to three or four. Adore no images save those The coinage of thy country shows. Take not the Name in vain. Direct Thy swearing unto some effect. Thy hand from Sunday work be held-- Work not at all unless compelled. Honor thy parents, and perchance Their wills thy fortunes may advance. Kill not--death liberates thy foe From persecution's constant woe. Kiss not thy neighbor's wife. Of course There's no objection to divorce. To steal were folly, for 'tis plain In cheating there is greater pain. Bear not false witness. Shake your head And say that you have "heard it said." Who stays to covet ne'er will catch An opportunity to snatch. -- Ambrose Bierce Ritabrata comments, and I agree with him, that while both Decalogues are wonderful pieces of satire, the former seems less forced. thomas. PS. (Administrivia) I'm back online after a brief trip during which I was net-disabled. My thanks go to Martin and all the guest Minstrels who've submitted poems in the last week or two, for covering for me in my absence.