Academic journal article Chicago Review

Reading Cicero's 'De Oratore.' (Poem)

Academic journal article Chicago Review

Reading Cicero's 'De Oratore.' (Poem)

Article excerpt


The edge of the text is where we sample the remarkable, as if gist were a kind of outward drift, pith a sponginess only substituting for the absent center.

Ezra Pound, whom we forgive, knew this. He "tried to write Paradise" and found only wind--what goes and goes, ruffling the borders, the hedgerows,

tossing, like scrap paper, a flock of juncos (and the odd sparrow) into itself. Letting the wind speak is Paradise that thing known only by its passing

through, its going elsewhere, a shiftles continuum moving ever generously over unbordered mountain and forest and town. Cicero wasn't the first man to inhabit one of those towns, though

town life agreed with a need to mark boundaries, to dispel the wild filigree of the countryside, that tangle, what he called "the rabble of rusticity," ever

encroaching, unknowledgeable, uninstructed. He was the first man to use the word "urbanity" and mean not just "citified" but "refined

by means of proper confinement." For without the boundaries of knowledge, Cicero thought, discourse is only "an empty and ridiculous swirl of verbiage"--

that "empty" recalling the sweet captivating roominess, what lies around the rustic's camp, that "swirl of verbiage" announcing the dangerous thicket within.


I love the story of Themistocles, the Athenian endowed with an unstoppable memory, a monstrous city of memory, all of whose inhabitants, having one day entered its prodigious gates,

were bound to remain, tearing about in toil and buckle, as if in a wilderness, wolf-haunted, un-rent and rude. And I love how a man, a quack (he pulled a gilt cart, he did a little show)

"offered to impart to the Athenian the science of mnemonics, then being introduced for the first time." And Themistocles refused, seeking "the greater kindness"--forgetfulness.

Behind the story, of course, is a fear of disorder, a fear of a seamless world. …

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