excerpt from a letter to Christian Smith

October 4, 2003

...also, for weeks now I have been deeply immersed in Latin -- or one might say a derivative activity, rather remote, from actual Latin, but until just this past Wednesday, I was desperately in need of a Latin scholar, and had completely mislaid in my brain that you were such! Or I certainly would have called on you ere now!

Let me tell you the tale. When you look at my website you can see, if you so desire, some three hundred maybe thirty-eight poems which I did a few years ago, one poem for each Form in the English language -- except those which were more "content" than "formal form" defined.

Anyway, I so enjoyed doing that. For about a year I wrote at least one poem each day, each day in a different form. The series is called The Desolation Poems. Than a few weeks ago, I was looking for a new project and I thought Aha! I'll do another series of form poems, call them the Exultation Poems and this time really dwell as long as I like with each form. So, where to begin?

The Desolation Poem forms were picked at random, but this time, I thought, I'll go alphabetical. Besides, I had, last time around fallen in love with the Abecedarius form. So I open "The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics" and stopped!!! entranced at the first entry -- ABECEDARIUS. And, reading to the end, came upon this fact: "...they (abecedarius) ...were copious in Med. Lat.: St Augustine's well known abecedarian psalm against the Donatists (Migne, PL 43.23 ff.) is the earliest known example of medieval rhythmical verse..." etc.

So I thought, after writing two more preliminary Abecedarii, (I had written two for the previous set of form poems as well) I'll just find this "well known" psalm and steal it's form -- an artifice I am quite fond of indulging in. So off to the Internet and the Library -- several libraries.

Through several librarians at each library and much hunting I found "Psalmus contra partem Donati" in Latin! But continued to urge on my, by then, coterie to find an English translation. Well, Well, Well! It was written in c. 395 but never, in these 1600 years since, it seems, has it been translated into English!!!!!! I was amazed. We all were amazed! One of the librarians did turn up a recent book "Early Christian Latin Poets" by Carolinne White in which there were 4 stanzas and the Epilogue translated. So not being willing to give up my search. I searched her on the NET, found her e-mail at Oxford, and wrote to her asking 1) if those stanzas in the book were her translations 2) if she knew of a full translation, and when she said yes to the first and no to the second, I asked her if she planned on translating the rest of the 293 line poem. Well, she would be glad to do it when she had the time. Ah an Oxford Scholar's help on my problem!!! I was delighted.

So, by now, having read all I could find about the poem, I thought, what the heck, I'm only stealing the form, not the content and so began writing my version. At one stanza a day, it took me from September 6th to September 27th (I spent two days on the epilogue). Here are its specs: St. A. uses a 20 letter alphabet, leaving out j, u, and wxyz. Why he stopped before w is not quite clear. But you must remember I know nothing about Latin, except that u and v were more or less the same in 395, and as I recall, X was a very late comer.

Anyway, the form has one stanza for each of the 20 letters he uses, right through the ABCs with 12 lines per stanza (though there are two anomalies in the two Latin versions I found, one line missing in "C" and two lines missing in "Q". One fills the single missing line in "C" by repeating a line, and the same one adds two lines in "Q" -- but since I don't know Latin, I don't quite know what is going on there, so I simply regularized the whole, and did 12 lines for each stanza. There are 16 syllables per line with a caesura in each line at syllable 8. And then!!!!! I thought it said that each line in the Epilogue ended in "e" or "ae", so I wrote the epilogue that way, in fact doing a really wild Iroha mojigusari (Japanese Abecedarian form) take-off for it.

THEN I discovered I had misread, finding out that Every Line in the poem is supposed to end in "e" or "ae". So now, revising it to reflect this "minor" fact, I am about 1/4 the way through the poem again. And it really is great fun having it all there to work on and rework with the ending "e"s in mind.

AND lo and behold, just as I finished that first draft, Carolinne sent me a full literal translation. Great luck! So there it is! My adventure in Latin! You can read it on the NET in the first version at now, or you can wait until I get the "e" version done, and it will probably be posted just below #121. I haven't decided whether I will leave both versions up permanently -- it really depends on how well the "e" version turns out.

It really was quite a shock to find out that St A's poem was never translated -- his only poem, and a seminal poem vis a vis "medieval rhythmical verse" But I'm not sure this is actually true, as some of the other sources said the Palmus lacked both consistent quantitative as well as stress accents, and its main regularity was simply the 8 syllable, caesura, 8 syllable count line. -- i.e. I assume this means, not rhythmical! But not knowing Latin, I don't know which is true, i.e whether it is rhythmical or not rhythmical verse.

Anyway, my crib is very much just a 16 syllable line, mostly with caesura, but sometimes a wee bit casual about that. Though, of course, who can write 293 lines without getting a little swing going from time to time.

Oh, one other fact you might be interested in. When I first found it in Latin, I put it through Quick Latin on the Net -- which does a "non-human" word by word translation but, though this is nice to have and I refer to it a little, it is mostly so literal that I can't make any sense out of it -- because I know nothing about Latin grammar. Now that I have CW's translation, I may study hers further by checking it out against the "literal" She simply translated the content, without any effort at the form. But it is a lovely translation none the less, and suits my purposes exactly.

except in the Epilogue

09-06-03 to 09-28-03


Based on the form of St. Augustine of Hippo's Psalmus contra partem donati (Psalm against the Donatists), which was written in ca. 395
and has, so far, never been translated into English. I use only the form, not the content -- except the Saint's inclusive philosophy.


First Draft

001. Those who would truly know the world, must lay down judgment's cruel arms.


002. Abundant possibilities, like small leaves in the winds of time,
003. dance for man-created visions of belief, of symbols, of joy.
004. Whirlwinds of certainty reduce the multiplicity of worlds
005. to texts and testaments, to vows, to hatred, to defense with guns
006. of what were words, images, thoughts, abstract, unreal, ephemeral,
007. nothing ever felt or smelt or nothing seen, eaten, tasted, heard.
008. The cooling wind moves against flesh, sunshine's heated quarks open ways
009. un-thought of in a constrained world. New beliefs will be encoded,
010. fought for, died for, will rise in song, real or unreal, foolish
011. or blessed, they live and perish, endless entertainment filling
012. the endlessness of time passing, encouraging rigorous thought,
013. analysis, debate, causing codes old, new, simple and divine.

014. Those who would truly know the world, must lay down judgment's cruel arms.


015. Bonding two percent of the world, human history distorts life.
016. It serves the merchant, the ruler, the Ayatollah, the Guru.
017. In times past it served Priest and Pope. History is written of wars,
018. of disasters, discoveries. Little is written of people
019. who live and die. The amusement of history ignores mere life.
020. Limpidity, ubiquity maintains life outside history.
021. A deceiving mobility, a treacherous charm, exults life,
022. precludes all classification. Most genuine records of time
023. are erased by their swift passage. What censorship forgets, people
024. accomplish in peace's silence. The usefulness of perceived truth
025. precludes truth, conceals the missing, extols one thread above the cloth,
026. distorts the design, throws balance, favors greed, envy, exclusion.

027. Those who would truly know the world, must lay down judgment's cruel arms.


028. Codifying the unseeing, endless aspects of abstract thought
029. man must pursue his amusement in philosophy, science, art.
030. Religion still exercises man's supreme creative powers,
031. inventing demons, bugaboos and gods, high overhead, seated
032. upon irradiating stars, susceptible to warring states,
033. powers of self and destruction greater than a god can conceive.
034. Living in states of deception, overweening pride, hubris, greed,
035. man in his entertainment-lust has now mastered apocalypse --
036. formerly his gods' assignment. He ignores the fact that his -- man's --
037. annihilating Big Bang will eliminate his inventions,
038. imperatives; the world, unthought, will return to its pristine self.
039. The world, untextualize, free, will manifest amazing forms.

040. Those who would truly know the world, must lay down judgment's cruel arms.


041. Delete it and no one will miss your history, my history.
042. All history, literature, scholarship, science, linguistics
043. philosophy, psychology, politics are but single threads
044. in humankind's grand tapestry, inclusive human history.
045. Plucked, raveled up or unraveled, they form a free floating mirage,
046. hovering against the background and multiplicity of all
047. peoples living and dead swept on the waves and tides of the ocean
048. of being. But individual threads are no more meaningful than
049. one movie or another when re-edited, spliced together,
050. admired or not admired, but soon forgotten, or even,
051. if remembered, but one two-hour summary from the quadrillion
052. quadrillion quadrillion events, hours passed, recorded and lost.

053. Those who would truly know the world, must lay down judgment's cruel arms.


054. Entertainments, an exact term, hardly serious or needed,
055. are but ways of passing the time. Luckily language came along
056. quite soon, and soon writing followed. How else to fill the days except
057. with stories, speculations which, given little else to do, soon
058. became dogma, truths handed down by gods, angels or whatever
059. else was in the sky, talking stars, echoing spaces, limitless
060. vistas: sky, appearing empty, held myriad, odd messages.
061. Interpretations were devised, solidified into cultures.
062. People roasted in blazing hells, simulated from human fear.
063. Men's abstract words became concrete instruments with which to torture
064. those who said otherwise. Swords, guns were invented to reinforce
065. the opinions of the rich, while the innocent poor hurdled life.

066. Those who would truly know the world, must lay down judgment's cruel arms.


067. Fortunately time manages to fade or transform anything.
068. Vows of changelessness are buried deep in the fabric of each new text,
069. Each catastrophic, chaotic, unimaginable event
070. creates a taste for permanence, permanent remembrance destroyed,
071. just as the moment, the building, the life broken, cast aside in
072. marked/unmarked graves, is no more, is disremembered from grief or
073. exuberant entertainment or driven by the violence
074. of wind blown time, just as gods ride off to become literature.
075. Even carved stone eventually crumbles, is eaten by the wind.
076. Smooth-faced, immortal texts belie the purpose of their creation.
077. What once was, is no more, is gone. Unnoticed archaeology
078. bargains for respite from the wind: is granted a moment, is gone.

079. Those who would truly know the world, must lay down judgment's cruel arms.


080. Gratuitous, done without charge, life is given, a gracious gift.
081. How did the human mind fill so quickly with the absurdities
082. of should and shouldn't? Poison kills, but nonsense proliferates on
083. forever and forever like reverberations from black bells,
084. giant bells, log-struck in the dark, in the winter air, into non-
085. judgmental nothingness. Silence follows, followed by more theories,
086. guesses, hopes, incarcerations, blinders folded around vision.
087. Don't see too clearly lest, without sound, the balsa-wood structure comes
088. tumbling down, each hypothesis accumulating dust transformed
089. into lore. A dictionary is a useful thing, hiding in
090. alphabetical order all the playthings of the human mind,
091. rearranged, reassembled, it embroils all but life -- in this world.

092. Those who would truly know the world, must lay down judgment's cruel arms.


093. Homo Ludens, he who must play, but does so grimly. Life or death
094. is often his game. History says so, but history's tissue
095. is almost essentially lies. Nothing like history ever
096. happened. There may have been disease, slaughter, starvation, but people,
097. most of them, were elsewhere, living little, cultivating gardens,
098. gestating, enjoying sun, moon. The rains came down, the earth flourished.
099. Many people enjoyed bounty until history, played by few,
100. disturbed the planet, created chaotic and uncountable
101. justifications, called reason, called serious, called anything
102. but what they were: un-named murder of the earth, plants, the animals,
103. un-named killings of each other for, first) possessions, later) for
104. power, a slow intangible, abstract as entertainment's need.

105. Those who would truly know the world, must lay down judgment's cruel arms.


106. Investigation is a choice form of entertainment for man.
107. It pays the investigator -- always of the appropriate
108. class. Millions, inevitably spent, maintain swarms of livelihoods
109. while the professionals deeply investigate why the poor are
110. poor and never a nickel need be spent on the impoverished
111. to alleviate their hunger, homelessness, hopelessness, cold, pain.
112. Then committees and consultants, counselors with offices, staffs
113. (all of the appropriate class, who have and must maintain standards
114. of living) are brought in, maybe, occasionally, to talk with
115. the (lower standard of living) poor. But it will never become
116. mandatory to give money to the poor. They wouldn't know how
117. to spend it! Ah! Why are the poor dumb? Ah, we must investigate!

118. Those who would truly know the world, must lay down judgment's cruel arms.


119. Keystrokes dealt on the computer of time sliding eternally
120. toward codes, tricks, even glass-bead-games cannot organize playfulness
121. free of theory, dogma, yes-but. Gently let the synapses snap,
122. the dendrites dwindle, the blood brain barrier lift and fall. Weep not,
123. for the world turned to words will turn again to the futile image
124. of idle despair and lonely beauty moved, inexorably,
125. toward chaos, implosion, black holes. Gravity's slow need to invert
126. the world is aided, ever so little, by hot, human hubris.
127. Pause now and then to contemplate the patient ease of extinction
128. visited on the dinosaurs by meteor or internal
129. compulsion -- an almost human madness to become something else.
130. Tap, tap, tap on the computer's creation the keystrokes of doom.

131. Those who would truly know the world, must lay down judgment's cruel arms.


132. Ludicrous shadows play, cornered in my darkened mind, winnowing
133. my wisdom until there is none. Where some was thought to be, now there
134. is scum scuppering overboard. It is amazing how many
135. words I spell for which I barely know a meaning. Lubriciousness
136. grabs for almost anything. It prefers luminescence, but will
137. accept even dark, decaying cilantro leaves in a slimy,
138. unclean sink which leads, who knows where? -- into the bowels, five stories down,
139. into the sewers where our quest for entertainment will build new
140. lives when we have forgotten old friends and old todays composed of
141. anti-compassion, hatred, greed, market-value, mawkishness and
142. murder. But no need to apply accurate words, we can make it
143. just fine with something-like. Kneel! bow! worship the busy human mind.

144, Those who would truly know the world, must lay down judgment's cruel arms.


145. Marvel at the world chewed up to manure man's demand, whence spring
146. the daffodils, anemones, the fragile Icelandic poppies
147. grown tall on Santa Monica Boulevard beneath the palms and
148. the-spreading-as-wide-as-a-world Morton Bay Figs cultivated,
149. be-smogged, hydrocarboned to death. Disrespect for the way things are
150. leads man by the nose toward ever greater and greater vanity.
151. Bonfires of the vanities light our planet. Luminosity
152. from their flames travels on and on and on and on and on and on
153. into the universe, beyond our galaxy, beyond other
154. galaxies forever, ever more. Where is the edge, the limit,
155. the walls and voids beyond which dwells oblivion? There is no such
156. thing -- confirms science. Nothingness does not exist. Time has no end.

157. Those who would truly know the world, must lay down judgment's cruel arms.


158. Nevertheless, we do end. We could do better. We could
159. replace philosophies, beliefs, fairy-tales, science studies --
160. we could grant them their amusing, time-passing stature and get on
161. with the dreadfullness of living, dribble drops of compassion here
162. and there instead of studying, we could say "Hello" to the poor,
163. give them food, houses, employment, honor their dignity and their
164. humanity, cancel their debts. Why does any programmed-for-death
165. earthling, for his ninety years, need billions? To blind him to exposed
166. bones from starvation, big bellies from malnutrition, torn human
167. body-parts bandied about by bombs, mines, greed? Why did the human
168. mind run away with the human heart? Can it be caught? Can it be
169. cajoled, kidded, tempted, tickled by loving other human hearts?

170. Those who would truly know the world, must lay down judgment's cruel arms.


171. Over there in the dust among the rocks of the road lie the brains
172. and teeth of a dead Iraqi, blown up or dropped from an open
173. shroud. What is an Iraqi? O, not a plant or a mineral.
174. That's a being, human, but not important. Iraqi killers
175. are important: brave, mourned, far from home, trying their best to ram their
176. idea of life down the throats of all those who disagree with
177. their "democratic" ideals. "Hegemony" is a favorite
178. concept. "Smart Bomb," is a brilliant euphemism for "killing just
179. Iraqis." Vocabularies differ, but games remain the same:
180. Boys will be boys and they grow up to be men, with the strength of men,
181. with boys' brains. Count the bodies, count the brains, wash all the gore into
182. the river of time, where truth's stones are polished by hypocrisy.

183. Those who would truly know the world, must lay down judgment's cruel arms.


184. Part now with pleasure, certainty, hope. The worst, unbelievable,
185. will happen. You will no longer walk, you will no longer stroll
186. the quiet twilight. No matter how slow you are willing to go,
187. you will no longer go. Stasis reigns. Stasis has taken the reins.
188. Death has bid farewell. Change is gone. We are stuck in life, immobile,
189. without choice save to learn. Learn what? Learn the slow invention of time.
190. Death and time, O, great sisters, be; let be; be on my side -- now. Shun
191. the light, shun the day, shun what was. What is now? Ask again. What is
192. now? Where can it be found? -- breathing. In darkness, breathing is now, no
193. other. Breathing is the light, sky, space. Gentleness is the nature
194. of the birds, the molecules, death. Resurrection comes with the sun.
195. Newborn creatures will grow, unlike any of memory's children.

196. Those who would truly know the world, must lay down judgment's cruel arms.


197. Questions need to be asked again. Three narcissus bulbs are greening.
198. The first, two days ago. The last? A week from now? In the future
199. perfect tense nothing will have changed. The sun gets lazier every
200. day. Soon it will not get up 'til eight. The days grow shorter, my sleep
201. descends deeper. Grogged over by time, a certain light-headedness
202. remains. I shed imperatives. I know what enlightenment means:
203. bouncing like a neutrino -- no weight, no mass, the spin of one half --
204. through the universe, smiley-faced, an image of idiotic
205. glee, bliss, peace. Who needs it? Not I cries the Twenty-first Century
206. deep in the gore of its anger, determined to hold back change. Things
207. must be as they are because they have been as they are, Will! Be!
208 As! They! Are! Nature laughs, speeds up her plans for a nine-headed cow.

209. Those who would truly know the world, must lay down judgment's cruel arms.


210. Resurrecting another time's sound, other tastes, another place,
211. Beethoven on tape, but lacking Oistrakh's cadenza. None-the-less
212. it signals how far I have come. I see the music's, bones, structure.
213. I hear deaf Beethoven at work. Then, I knew nothing of music.
214. In the twenty years since I last heard the Violin Concerto,
215. my dendrites and synapses have vaulted, run, jumped, leapt, lain quiet
216. sparked connections, taught me I am the whole world. I do not live in
217. the world, the entire world lives in me. Once entered nothing departs.
218. The knitting speeds up, busy as grandmother, tatting, crocheting.
219. No need to re-create the fresh, cool air, the morning's sunnyness,
220. the playful cat's leap at finding I knew the concerto by heart.
221. I've been in another country, another culture. I've come home

222. Those who would truly know the world, must lay down judgment's cruel arms.


223. So what to believe in beyond the nether end of nothingness?
224. Shiva is the name of the great god of destruction, the name of
225. my cat. Shiva Purna. The whole world is a post for honing his
226. claws. At his mouth's sides, pink mucus membranes adorn his strong jaws, long
227. canines. He is a carnivore. He has trouble distinguishing
228. my hand from raw meat on his plate. Or does he? Does he, like humans,
229. have the endless desire to eat up everything? Digest it! Shit
230, it out! Want more! Attack as part of his nature? All things must be
231. destroyed, before creation can begin again. The cycle of
232. being: to live, to die again, again, around seasons, around
233. ages, millennia gurgle, churn up time, things change, time repeats.
234. Before, I listened to foggy images, now I hear music.

235. Those who would truly know the world, must lay down judgment's cruel arms.


236. Thirty-five, forty years ago I used to watch our cats sidling
237. through the tall golden grass of late summer in the Pennsylvania
238. heat, padding soundlessly, moving with infinite slowness, caution,
239. charm, watching, listening, sniffing an unusual blade of grass, still
240. green, biting it, moving on, then, for no apparent reason, lie
241. down, paws tucked, contented, often out of my view. "Why there?" I would
242. ask myself. "Why just there?" We might not see that cat again for hours.
243. But walking, if I chose, I would find one cat here, another there.
244. "Why just here?" I'd whisper, kissing pink nose and taut, inquisitive
245. whiskers in the vast desert, vast as the Gobi: rocks, wind and dust,
246. "Why just here?" Why pluck that reason from the rubble of time, carry
247. it forward, triumphant, to be buried beneath moments' mountains.

248. Those who would truly know the world, must lay down judgment's cruel arms.


249. Valery has written: "The Gods have received from the human mind
250. the gift of the power to create because that mind, being cyclical
251. and abstract, may aggrandize what it has imagined to such a point
252. that it's no longer capable of imagining it."* Forward
253. or backward, time remains without direction. White-booted, bloody,
254. memory and the lack thereof replace every imperative.
255. Be-whiskered, bemused, soft, purring was this the cinema or life?
256. "What happens to me is my life," especially if I am asleep.
257. The grand viziers of wisdom pass in their great turbans with short skirts
258. flutteringly like un-cocooned butterflies -- none daring to see:
259. "Who's real?" And what would it matter? Beyond larvae, beyond pupae,
260. use every word you can, lest life perish and this poem survive.

261. Those who would truly know the world, have lain down judgment's cruel arms.



262. Ascribe this strange poem to age. Blaze joy through it. Let it baffle
263. before blame, let it shine, bustle, contrive to amuse, crenelate,
264. charge across time, slowly convene dare-devil critic, desperate
265. disciple, dauntingly destine Essene or excessive excuse,
266. endure to hauntingly embrace feeble reason freely: fare, foe,
267. fee, frequent follicle and flame grimace a pain-like guillotine,
268. grumble, groan, but soon graduate, take a deep, heme-colored, hirsute,
269. histamine hoarse hippie for hire. Insupportable, insulate
270. ire irrevocable, intense, keystone Klee-like lines surely kite
271. Kampuchea or any knee. Live with love lowered to re-lave
272. laureate in a lime-green loge, mime morale, morals, a mongoose
273. made from catastrophic moonshine. Nightie be damned, never negate.


274. Naivete necessitates noise, obdurate sounding off, oblique,
275. obscure and a rarely obscene palpable, pongee paradise.
276. Parachute from a projectile, quake while seeking the quintessence,
277. quote while contemplating quagmire, ramble around the rapture range.
279. Rape, though rare ravages, revenge. Scripture skillfully sere, single
280. side, single source will simulate temple, throne, trappings of trade twine.
281. Transpose whatever trouble tale vestige is left to valentine
282. verve, vaccinate each ventricle, ascribe this strange poem to age.
283. Jejune jalousies will joggle, jangle, fall for want of justice.
284. Jaundice opinion will jostle jute in the jungle jubilee.
285. Uterine darkness, while urbane utterance use, untie, upstage
286. urbanize, untangles ursine, unwise upgrades for fake usage.
287. We were where wired and everywhere. Woe wore elaborate wreckage.
288. Wreathe, wiggle, wrinkle, wobble, wipe, write up your life woven in white.
289. Xenophobe with a xylophone, X-chromosome rare xerophyte,
290. Yankee ever so yare at Yule yippee, yokemate of yore, yoke
291. zoophyte or zorille, zygote, zombie through an Internet zone.
292. Artichoke-like, fuzzily butte, ascribe this strange poem to age.

Copyright © 2003 Jan Haag
Jan Haag may be reached via e-mail: or





21st CENTURY ART, C.E. - B.C., A Context