Article in Arts / Literature / Poetry
The very first of the many poems I have written as the "Pied-Piper Philologist." INSTALLED 12 October 2011.

Pied-Piper Philology


The philosopher selects his topic

For the day, a Muse meant for winter’s gloom,

To wrest from sleeting particulars


A form for a fable for more than a few.

Music, he’s heard, is the only solution

To the problem he poses: everyone


Listens to music. But, he challenges,

“This is merely to restate the problem

Since music, though articulate, is dumb.


“Where is,” he asks, observing the planet

Wreak havoc in white outside his window,

“The Piper who need not apologize?”


As if the earth itself retorted aggrieved

The very mountains mocked his query,

So it seemed to him, since he understood


Division is the engine of all that lives.

Furious gales scoured the mountains,

As he lowered his gaze, and he felt the cold,


Loveless, but pure all around him, and white.

He thought again, another log on the fire,

“What do we mean, then, when we say, unity?


“Is it pure, white lovelessness, coercion

Of trillions of crystals by cohorts of cold?

When did we ever unite two things


“Without coercion, violence and disregard?

The wonder” (he appropriates thaumazein)

“Is always the couple that continues,


“Aporia insoluble in ordinary

Interrogation of the world we have erected

To pretend we are creatures not subject to cold.”


As if to mock him with providential proof

The winds hammer his roof, walls, and windows

With force so savage (if clean) he recalls


The hour he first understood mortality,

That men destroy with far greater gaiety

Than they create with. No house is natural.



“This is how she dies, be it orgasm or torture,

Nature unnaturally mailed in the law,

Penuried to the part of pleasure and pain,


“Where deliver she must more dust to dust

Lest pleasure should lack the pain, and blood,

To entice the beast—homo lupus hominis


“To lick at her wound and so fell the cities

Others have raised as if they were Other

Than the Animal enamored of Murder.”


The wind in his mind bites so bitterly,

He fears he has left some aperture unshut,

But he calms himself it is only a house.


The last woman to live there talked with him,

Her equal, and smiled at him when she died,

Mumbling incoherently of life and love—


Her lone child killed at her husband’s hand

Who killed himself with poison to die impure.

His Philosopher Queen, he’d smiled, already


The day they met and she ceased to weep.

She would have chastised him for digressing,

And he would have bit his lip in agreement.



“The Königsberg time-keeper, Kant by name,

Once thought for ten years without publishing a word.”

He strokes his cheek and returns to the construct,


The house, which quivers still with winter,

And which, he knows, was a place Kant rarely left,

For long, or far (itself a form for a fable).


So much happens within. He’d invented

In his youth a word that, he thought, told, in sound

And sight alike, the event he felt —inwordly.


(They had argued but finally agreed

Invention is the phont where th-ought is raised—

“But cave,” she would quip, “of Plato’s Error.”)


Inwordly, he conceives,” he posed, “what can’t

Utter its destiny any other way

Since he is his information and it


“Can’t suffer severance from its him (or her)—

Inword, she requires not just translation

But her own Pied-Piper Philology.”


Easy to comprehend why Kant stayed home

In a construct he might pretend his own

Since who walks abroad a lexicon incarnate?



“Many now hail the Muse Digitalia!

Stay at home and surf the world! Careful,

Though, of your connection: all that connects


“Is not gold (though log’d-on for sure it is).

Now our Grail is the unending nexus,

To every cataclysm immune, a Pearl


“Of feeds directly to the brain, no matter

(Pia or otherwise) the price.” “Restrain yourself,”

She would have cautioned: “Irony consumes


Its consumer until all thought is afterthought.”

He pauses to remember her voice

And notes that “Memory can’t be replaced


“By electronic devices: movies

Of her inword, neither programs nor -ware,

Are like the snow random and beautiful


And fierce.” He lays down his irony for her.

Immediately a new facet forms

Of the problem he has chosen for the day.



“Suppose, for argument’s sake, a unitary

Brain of all the neurons at the planet’s

Disposal—would the Many then be One?


“Would humanity be finished? Plato,

Asleep at last? Aristotle, too? and Zen

Masters folded in night eternal?”


Sed contra!” a scholastic might exclaim,

“From quantity to quality inference

Is fallible; otherwise, ants would be


“The highest form of life on earth—numbers

Guarantee their ecology.” And who knows

But that humans, just so, advance and serve ants?


“The problem,” he reminds himself yet again,

“Is not numeric, though science dream it were;

The problem is other, older than numbers,


“The problem is Otherness itself.

A man walks into a school and murders

The girls one by one. Counting is (in) vain.”



The tea kettle whistles. He takes the steam

Before he tastes the tea—very cold today.

“Tomorrow,” they say, “will be colder still.”


“How very accurate the instruments are!

Who can dispute that distance from Nature,

Prediction and control, are man’s crowning end!


“No house is natural and that is best.

Who wants to sleep on stone or lap the stale

If water is scarce and rain is missing?”


“Down with poets,” he’s heard the multitudes,

“Philosophers, too: Technology,”

They roar, “is Theology enough for us.”


And so he is surrounded by machines

Wizardry of yore could never imagine,

Much less tool to such pernicious precision.


He has heard them shout, “Tear out his tongue,

Chop off his hands—let Man the tool-maker

Have his revenge.” “Against such missiles


What missives might I send,” he muses?

“Even Orpheus” (no Orpheus, he) “succumbed—

And to rocks that begged forgiveness for harming him.


“What Piper for a world in which Robots

(Much cheaper than men) can run machines

Flawlessly and constantly—nay, endlessly—


“As long as electricity abounds?

Since there will always be electricity

(Greed requires it), the Pied Piper should sing


“For the children, the girls and the boys,

Who will never vanish inword the mountain,

Since the mountain vanishes inside the machines.”



He does not, as a rule, dine at mid-day,

But he’s hungry now—the cold, he reckons,

Hard to recall a day of late so cold.


Childless himself he had always known

Someone else’s imago he couldn’t be,

His own identity quicksilver enough.


Still he meditated on childhood a lot,

A universal transcending barriers

(Perhaps all of them, except division itself).


Characteristic of every child, all agree,

Is the will to believe, called, negatively,

Innocence (“not harming”); damningly,


Naïveté. He admitted, freely,

In him “A child still lives who sometimes crows,

As a small one will, when he topples his blocks,


“Thinking especially grand of himself,

Happy for ooh’s and aah’s coming his way—

Unknowing he plays for adulthood’s curse.”


The loss of innocence every culture

He consults from the dawn of its script

Grieves and laments: tragedy (or satire)


Crawls from the crack in the spirit’s crown

And forks identity with failure’s fangs—

“What! You thought a god was he who spoke to you?


“It was but an orifice of earth, my son,

And you heard yourself from your own gut groan

The end of your life awaits you there.”



Orestes had moved him as much as Oedipus.

The Greeks had taught him what we need to know:

“Our mothers doom us the moment they bear us,


Their love, though real, the face upon the monster’s void.

Let no one seek to know the origin,

Soon enough comes the panting in death’s embrace.”


She used to rejoin, “What must a woman do?”

They would argue for hours, at best to conclude,

“Allow not nature more than nature needs


Man and woman alike should fill the beasts.”

In their embraces, they strove for something more

Than the thrust of glands: they beheld one another—


As she gave him to him, he gave her to her,

That passion’s pathology might emerge

Passion that knows forth from both the fluency comes.



As always, to think of her was to think

With her, and in her, as in another language,

Not “foreign” but “neighboreign”—a fiction, yes,


But we do not live by bread alone.

“There must be some time a fantasy by which

We surprise the chemistry of carbon,


“Else why not indulge living narcosis?

Whether alcohol or cocaine, the drug,

So the argument runs, makes life bearable


“By mixing in death—the trick, we hear,

Is in the proportions.” He had waked up

In time to his own appetite for death.


He prepared more tea. When he was in school

Many of his friends had tried some “shit,”

Their name for it, and it grieved him to think,


“How right they were.” The afternoon sunlight,

As it will in winter, paled to thin yellow.

Time and he crossed in reverie revenant.



“There are,” he reckons, “many forms of narcosis,

Narcissism itself not the least of these,

Numbness needed against the pricks of life;


“But also the needles deep in the blood”—

The moments of youth when he needed sleep

Hardly at all but ate amounts of food


That appalled distinguished elders who deduced

Only a barbarian would consume

Like that (and yet he was always hungry).


As others learned what energy he burned,

They fled far away, but he told stories

Of needles in his blood interminable.


“Solitude is neither punishment nor crime,

But to sit still to concentrate with needles

In the blood is like Njál in his Saga,


‘Stritaðist hann við að sitja’: he struggles

To sit still (when he does he foresees the burners

Who will arrive to kill his sons and him).”


No one, not even she, had understood

How much it hurt to feel so much life

Injected into his veins—alone, he cried.


Cry he would still, in this decade, his seventh,

But no one saw, he was sure of that, for men

Flood with hate as they fill with years, and endless


Are the ways they tear each other apart

(“The smylere with the knyf under the cloke,”

As Chaucer had said)—he trusted no man


But loved all alike who could teach him

For the wisdom they gave, since he knew that time

Devours us all if our hate doesn’t first.



“What then would he be who could write a myth

To which men and women would freely assent

As the story for which they would spend their being?


“Any religion is too much religion,”

He swore to himself, as he lit a candle,

“‘Tantum religio potuit suadere malorum,’


“As Lucretius had said (‘So many evils

Can religion persuade men to commit’).

No, men and women need stories, not creeds;


“They need quests, not priests; imagination,

Not dogma; re-pairing, not des-pairing;

Figuration, not disfigurement.


“True, animals we are, one of the Apes.

But Power errs to presume that this is all—

In this animal evolved also spirit,


“And though some prove that they are bestial,

Many heed the spirit, answer humane:

These to the herd never surrender,


“For the narrative of humanity

Is resistance, heard through the ages,

And the title of tyranny is brief


“(Though the number of lives that are lost

Measures the horror and teaches the cause

Tyranny from the earth must be scourged).


“Let unity, then, be an ideal,

But not if by blinding and binding,

For then Power is ‘god,’ we are agreed,


“People are units for grinding Xchains

(Women on their knees, children in mine-shafts),

And the planet a sarcophagus,


Eater of flesh copulating for corpses—

Cupidinous somaticiosis.

Either this or a discourse of liberty—


“Forged from the urge to rise from foaming seas

Of primordial zoa practicing unity

Until a form emerges of fiction


“Capable, in idioms of spirit fluent:

Freedom is freedom to choose my bond

If bound I must be in the time called history;


“In the time called story, she is a woman,

He is a man, who heed the spell of Yes

To bliss the body for the blessing of death.”



These words he chose this time—this particular

Ruin of white. As always, he recorded them,

For the next time, in the core of his heart,


For the cold is ever, and infinite is space,

And night is the day when the stars demand

An account: “I am human, the being who speaks.”



R Allen Shoaf Identity Verified

About the Author 

R Allen Shoaf
EROTIC RECKONINGS, my second volume of poetry, can now be purchased from New Plains Press or from Amazon. My third volume, PIED-PIPER PHILOL

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