Porphyry, his Seed

October 2, 2013

For the philosopher, Porphyry,
the sun was not so much a real thing
as it was a name for that which we
could not possibly name. A name for God, say.
Every day he set out his seed
to toast in the hot sun.
He thought about how a shaft
of light can transform a fire from the safety of
a home and hearth into the majestic
destroyer of woods and fields.
How quickly the dead leaves and the birds’ nests
are set aflame. Why, even the cobwebs must briefly glow.
So why not burn a man? A spark,
then smoke rises into his limbs and lungs.
It is as if a whole world were on fire.
A singed sky, a poem and metaphor, all in a man.
And all point to flames even higher.
A spark. For what? To lift our souls?
Porphyry could not have known
about the inquisition. Or the burning
of heretics. That lay too far in the future.
He simply knew the Christians had
misunderstood his philosophy.
That was enough.
His trees would not burn.
He would live in history…

After his walk, Porphyry popped
a few seeds in his mouth.
They seemed to help his digestion
and they tasted so much better for the sun.

 

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3 Responses to “Porphyry, his Seed”

  1. John Stevens Says:

    No, Porphyry was not a familiar friend! I don’t have Kenny, but turned up nine references in Bertrand Russell’s Western Philosophy – unfortunately all parentheses in the discussion of someone else. The internet was much more helpful.

  2. extrasimile Says:

    Thanks for tackling this one, John. I have to admit I meant for that reading list be compiled. What, you’re not familiar with Porphyry’s contribution to logic? Actually it was significant. Anthony Kenny’s big history of western philosophy devotes a page or so to it.
    Thesis: one reads differently with a computer and the internet at hand. Question: What is the significance of this for writing [for poetry]?
    My model for this poem was actually Kant’s legendary afternoon walk. You could set your watch as he went past your house. Also I was surprised to find Porphyry anti-Christian. As a Neo-Platonist he had to have much in common with their worldview. I imagine he was rather more sophisticated than your average Christian. Basically though this is just a little glimpse [almost completely made up] of a learned scholar and philosopher as he takes a little dietary walk after lunch. He thinks about the sun—it must be made of fire. What would it be like to burn a man? It would be like burning a whole world, would it not? What his ‘seed’ is of course is left a little ambiguous. Go ahead, let your mind run with it.

  3. John Stevens Says:

    You have sent me on a hasty reading-trail, Jim, looking up Porphyry, neoplatonism, “Against Christians”, the Porphyrian Tree, classification, substance, and even vegetarianism. I hope to emerge wiser in due course! Meanwhile, I like the sound and feel of these lines – and they’ve been a stimulus as you see!


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