Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Bill Huber
I’m currently scrambling to finish and submit my master’s thesis, so for this month’s post I’m taking you into the frightening folder on my desktop called “Old School Stuff.” In November of 2016, shortly after Donald Trump’s election, I was in a Renaissance and Reformation Literature class taught by our beloved faculty advisor Deb Rienstra. Our assignment was to rewrite any of the texts we’d read that semester in a style of our choosing.
I chose as my model John Donne’s “Satire 3,” in which Donne’s narrator struggles with the difference between true and false religion. My own narrator sits at his laptop on election night, his spiritual agitation growing as he flips from election results to Facebook and back again.
Like any good piece of Donnean poetry, my poem has metaphysical conceit: a oddball metaphor that the narrator can’t quite seem to let go of. In my case, I end up writing a lot about soup. Let me know in comments if you need help untangling anything—I don’t want to be needlessly obscure (I’m not a modernist, after all), but I also don’t want to ruin the fun.
Kind pity chokes my feed, can scorn afford
those posts to issue which swell my keyboard?
I must not type, nor stir strife, and be wise,
Can silence then cure these ballot-worn eyes?
No, for our mistress, fair Religion, 5
more worthy of all our soul’s devotion
than red liberty or faded flag,
has sold her grace to rally ‘round an hag,
more great to make our world and hate. Alas,
as state by state this night to crimson pass, 10
those who fear Thy name shout, and shout loud,
upon that blue book, faces in the cloud.
“Dar’st thou join the fray?” my soul doth ask,
a query oft dismissed for better task,
but now, blinded by the muck and soup 15
that now my friends have cookèd up, I droop
to new heights, and courage fills my hands.
I pray, I type, I read, I write more ands.
I dream I own a magic spoon, gold-lined,
possessing power, having wisdom, tined 20
and filled with virtue, apt to strain the sane
broth from the spoiled meat of faithful swayne
by the red-rimmed lies that lately I have seen
(for Monday I journeyed where rot is green).
Ah, sweet will be the stew that fills my bowl 25
and all my friends drink, learning the role
that Christ has given his sous-chefs, to follow
the simple words that often ring so hollow.
“The recipe for life—it has no rot!
You’ve let your food be filled with blight, and not 30
the true blue meat that nurtures rich and poor,
And all those whom soup-stores have off-swore.”
But rememb’ring late, I take a silver spoon
And sip the soup that I had cooked too soon.
My golden scoop had slits too thin, it took 35
much meat the slow-lived rot had not yet shook.
I learned that tasteless day that my small soup-shack
Stands not for Truth-climbers to rest and snack,
having just reached the top of Donne’s famed hill,
and now prepared to save the world from voices shrill. 40
My soup instead must nourish those who climb,
who run, who fall, who cry, who rhyme, who chime,
who lose the road and wander through the woods,
who faint for lack of meat, whom broth-filled goods
will ne’er guide back to the grass-filled path. For I 45
hunger also; my spoon was starving my
weak-willed belly that needed meat as well.
I killed myself while saving friends from hell.
Fine, then! But what of the rot? What heat,
what chill, what bowl, what mill, can rid our meat 50
of the putrefaction first fueled my words?
What sauce can make the runners order thirds?
It cometh not from me. It cometh not at all.
Let us don our toques, kitchen will call.
Though Chef be silent, orders slow down none; 55
This task is ours: the meat must well be donne.