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Temporary Well Being -- Kenneth Burke

Guest poem sent in by Neville Clemens
(Poem #1613) Temporary Well Being
 The pond is plenteous
 The land is lush,
 And having turned off the news
 I am for the moment mellow.

    With my book in one hand
    And my drink in the other
    What more could I want

 But fame,
 Better health,
 And ten million dollars?
-- Kenneth Burke
I was loitering about New York's Pennsylvania Station about a month ago waiting
for my train to arrive when I came across these lines engraved on one of the
walls. The station had been renovated a few years ago and the new polished
granite walls were liberally garnished with delightful short poems (I suppose
one isn't inclined to read epic ballads when there is a train to catch) such as
this one, by poets from in and around the tri-state area.

From the snippets that I remembered when I got back home, I wasn't able to find
the poem on the internet. So last week as I passed by the wall again, I
stopped, stared and memorized it the best I could - and here it is. I'm not
sure if this is part of a larger poem, but in any case I think it stands very
nicely on its own. [verified against a copy on the net -- martin]

This poem, to me, speaks out against what I call 'selective renunciation'. It's
an argument I've had with my parents on many an occasion. We urban people tend
to romanticize the countryside and the hill stations and often express our
desire to leave everything behind and retire to some such place and give it all
up - only we don't *really* want to give it all up. We still want a nice warm
house, a department store nearby, a bank to keep our money safe, a nice school
for our children, a car to move about and so on and so forth till we've utterly
destroyed the charm of the place, and then we move on to romanticizing the next
pristine spot.

So let's stop calling ourselves 'nature lovers'. We're urban animals and living
in an urban jungle is just the cross we'll have to bear, as responsible human
beings. Either that or we go and live by yonder pond in yonder woods like
yonder Dead Poet if we truly wish to 'suck the marrow out of life'.

Neville

[Links]

Biography:

http://www.press.jhu.edu/books/hopkins_guide_to_literary_theory/kenneth_burke.html

Review:
  http://hcl.harvard.edu/houghton/departments/harvardreview/27/giamo.html

56 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

H.J. Scheiber said...

Yes, a wonderful & wondrous short lyric which I've seen on the same wall at Penn Station numerous times.

I am finally tracking it down to have the words of this short poem on hand!

- H.J. scheiber, PhD

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Anonymous said...

I saw this in Penn station too and Google brought me here. Was glad to see this. I strongly agree with your point. Cheers to that! Love this poem. So beautifully written.

Anonymous said...

I am painting this on glass and framing it. Very moved. Penn Station is like a museum of sorts and I'm glad you loved it too. My search was not long. Thanks, my brother.

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