Theseus in Old Age

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Theseus in Old Age

Post by twoleftfeet » Mon Aug 05, 2019 7:05 pm

When his spear at length became a crutch,no longer
did it have a point.Theseus now lacks the strength
to lift his battle sword,recasting it at once
into an ornament fit only to remind him,in his cups
of a young man's over-confidence that saw
him draw it far too much,survive by chance.

His jaded shield sports ugly dents,deep pits,
mementos of a thousand scrapes;its once-bright
face has long since faded,unworthy of a
wide-eyed maiden's second glance.

By day he must impersonate a king,
pretending to disdain the need for rest,
his eyes squint his ears strain his back
contorts in pain his breaths come
hard labour like poor Sissyphus his head
swims his sanity clings to threadbare
memories of fair Ariadne,condemns
the fool who dropped her for another,
now both long dead.

Sometimes of an evening,doctored wine
lets Theseus slip into a sleep of sorts - but
there,the shades of those he killed or maimed
exhort redress,invoke the storm to rip away
the white sail once again,reveal his father
on the cliff,unhinged by loss,a black sail
in the distance,a loss that was no loss
at all,and the son alive to bear the blame.

At dawn,clawing his way up to half-awake
he stumbles back into the maze,
the creature he dispatched looms
closer,more ominous with each trip,
though it was no monster, just a robed man
in a bull-mask,a shadow lurking in the gloom,
to slit the throats of unarmed wretches,
weak from thirst and hunger. easy meat:

how mete it seemed to butcher him
in his turn,with no regrets.And yet -
the man was still a priest - things being thus,
the deities must have revenge;Theseus,
his guilt a chafing,weighty chain,sinks
slowly link by link,towards the end.

The Black Ship too will fall apart,
but it will be conserved,remain afloat
when every plank of wood on which
the ever-youthful warrior stood,
has given way to worm and rot,replaced
with reverence and fresh heart -

Few have the stomach to contemplate
old bones,stare truth full in the face; but
priests,who dream,and pick at entrails to predict
the machinations of capricious gods,
while praising heroes to the heavens,have
always seen and schemed,and understood.
------------------------------------------------------------------

http://bigthink.com/philip-perry/this-ancient-thought-exercise-will-have-you-questioning-your-identity
- the Black Ship Paradox is central to my own thoughts about growing (even) older.
Last edited by twoleftfeet on Tue Aug 20, 2019 11:04 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Theseus in Old Age

Post by Macavity » Tue Aug 06, 2019 9:01 am

Enjoyed the read Geoff, though my knowledge of the classics is vague. My default is to condense and drop much of the descriptive content/elaboration, but no doubt that is part of the form/narrative progress. I do feel more fullstop, than comma/semi-colon, would tighten and focus meaning and pace.

Some specifics to illustrate...
twoleftfeet wrote:
Mon Aug 05, 2019 7:05 pm
When his spear at length became a crutch,no longer...so he needs this to lean on for walking?
did it have a point.Theseus now lacks the strength
to lift his battle sword,recasting it at once
into an ornament fit only to remind him,in his cups...a crutch is not an ornament, a confidence crutch?
of a young man's over-confidence that saw
him draw it far too much,survive by chance...or the whim of the gods :)

His jaded shield sports ugly dents,deep pits,
mementos of a thousand scrapes;
,its once-bright
face has long since faded, now unworthy of a
wide-eyed maiden's second glance....................though all the content does colour a picture

By day he must impersonate a king,
pretending to disdain the need for rest.
His eyes squint, his ears strain, his back...............Some punctuation options to allow the reader to breathe :)
contorts in pain. His breaths come.....................too much internal rhyme?
hard labour like poor Sissyphus. His head
swims his sanity swims clings to threadbare
memories of fair Ariadne,condemns
the fool who dropped her for another,
now both long dead.

Sometimes of an evening,doctored wine
lets Theseus slip into a sleep of sorts - but
there,the shades of those he killed or maimed
exhort redress,invoke the storm to rip away
the white sail once again,reveal his father
on the cliff,unhinged by loss,a black sail
in the distance,a loss that was no loss
at all,and the son alive to bear the blame.

At dawn,clawing his way up to half-awake
he stumbles back into the maze,
the creature he dispatched looms
closer,more ominous with each trip,
though it was no monster, just a robed man
in a bull-mask,a shadow lurking in the gloom,
to slit the throats of unarmed wretches,
weak from thirst and hunger. easy meat:

how mete it seemed to butcher him
in his turn,with no regrets.And yet -
the man was still a priest - things being thus,
the deities must have revenge;Theseus,
his guilt a chafing,weighty chain,sinks
slowly link by link,towards the end.

The Black Ship too will fall apart,
but it will be conserved,remain afloat
when every plank of wood on which
the ever-youthful warrior stood,
has given way to worm and rot,replaced
with reverence and fresh heart -

Few have the stomach to contemplate
old bones,stare truth full in the face; but
priests,who dream,and pick at entrails to predict
the machinations of capricious gods,
while praising heroes to the heavens,have
always seen and schemed,and understood.

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Re: Theseus in Old Age

Post by twoleftfeet » Tue Aug 06, 2019 11:42 am

Hello,Mac

I am grateful that you took the time (..and it takes a lot of it :) ) to read through this ramble,let alone make some comments.

This is what gave me the initial idea:
https://bigthink.com/philip-perry/this-ancient-thought-exercise-will-have-you-questioning-your-identity

If the much-missed Barrie was still with us,he would no doubt have questioned the accuracy of the "events"
portrayed here!

You make some incisive observations about the spear and the sword:.
]When his spear at length became a crutch,no longer...so he needs this to lean on for walking?
Yes,but but otherwise I've completely messed up expressing the idea: if you cut off the point of a spear there's no point in calling it a spear any longer (and in any case it's now shorter :roll: but now the point of it is that it's a crutch - which I seem to have stumbled past..
to lift his battle sword,recasting it at once
into an ornament fit only to remind him,in his cups...a crutch is not an ornament, a confidence crutch?
-ah,I didn't spot the ambiguity - "it" is meant to refer to the sword which is now a "wallhanger" as far as
Theseus is concerned.Back to the drawing board,,
of a young man's over-confidence that saw
him draw it far too much,survive by chance...or the whim of the gods :)
Good point.
- yes,I need to reflect that possibility.The gods are definitely meant to be in the poem,but primarily in the
dreams/drugs/priests bits.
His eyes squint, his ears strain, his back...............Some punctuation options to allow the reader to breathe :)
contorts in pain. His breaths come.....................too much internal rhyme?
hard labour like poor Sissyphus. His head
swims his sanity swims clings to threadbare
memories of fair Ariadne,
- I want this whole section to be read as if expressing a panic attack/hyperventilation/lung or heart problems.
Any ideas?

"Clings" is there because the ball of thread that Ariadne gave to Theseus was his lifeline out of the maze.

Thanks again,Mac - as to cuts,that grinding noise you can hear looming ever closer,is NQS sharpening his axe! :)

Cheers
Geoffyseus
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Re: Theseus in Old Age

Post by NotQuiteSure » Tue Aug 06, 2019 1:31 pm

twoleftfeet wrote:
Tue Aug 06, 2019 11:42 am
as to cuts,that grinding noise you can hear looming ever closer,is NQS sharpening his axe! :)
I know an invitation when I read one.


Hi T,
like this, and like the leisurely pace of it. Seems fitting, given the subject. But the punctuation! Really? Must try harder! It would also seem to warrant a more formal structure.

Now, who mentioned cutting?
S2 is a candidate for the chop Doesn't add much, and seems like a Perseus reference. Also 'jaded'?. And either S7 or S8 (both seem like endings, and I don't think they work together) - I'd keep S8.

I think the troublesome S1 with its spear/sword as ornament ambiguity might work as a postscript of sorts. Or even as a short piece in its own right.
At length his fearsome spear became a crutch,
blunt and pointless. So, eld Theseus
lacking the strength to raise even his sword,
did hang it on the wall, an ornament,
fit only to remind him, in his cups,
of youth's vainglory, whence he did draw it,
deftly, without thought
, and far too much.



As Jack Nicholson to a wooden door, or
A Little Light Lumber-jacking ...



By day he must impersonate a king,
and from his throne disdain the need for rest.
His eyes squint, ears strain, back contorts
in pain. His breath comes hard, labouring
like Sisyphus. His tired head swims, he drowns,
sanity clings to wreckage, the last threads
of fair Ariadne. Gasping, he condemns
the fool who dropped her for another,
now both long dead. - don't understand this (who is 'both' referring to?) Might be the comma.

'shades of those ... maimed' makes no sense.
Ofttimes, of an evening, the poppy wine
soothed the weary King to a sleep, of sorts -
but there, wrathful shades, the restless slain,
invade his dreams, invoke the Storm: which rips
away the white sail, once again. His father
there upon the cliff, unhinged by loss:
a black sail in the distance, Coming home.

At dawn, fighting his way to half-awake
he stumbles back again into the maze.
The Creature he dispatched looms, closer,
more ominous with each remembrance
though no monster, not a beast, but man
beneath a bull-mask: a shadow lurking
in the gloom, to slit the throats of wretches,
unarmed, weak from thirst and hunger. Easy meat!

- the 'Easy meat/How mete' is a bit arch
How mete it had seemed to butcher him there
in his turn,with no regrets. And yet -
the man was still a priest. But the Gods,
things being thus, will have revenge.
Theseus, guilt a chafing,weighty chain,
sinks slowly link by link, towards the end.

Few have the stomach to contemplate
old bones, to pick at entrails, to stare Truth
full in the face. But priests, who, in temples
dream the machinations of deities,
while eulogising Heroes to the Heavens,
have always understood capriciousness.
And schemed.




Regards, ¬.




.

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Re: Theseus in Old Age

Post by twoleftfeet » Tue Aug 06, 2019 5:48 pm

Thanks for dropping by,NQSeus,
and (as I said to Mac) I'm grateful to anyone who even spares the time to plough through my ramble,let alone offer
comments.
And yes,it was an invitation,but (in a Michael Caine voice)
- you're supposed to hand in your axe at the bloody door! :)

Just kidding - you've given me lots to think about.
The edit you suggest is certainly a more accessible version,I feel - and reads better.

Some thoughts (I'll stick to original stanza numbers)

I think I'll post this in with the poem itself -
https://bigthink.com/philip-perry/this-ancient-thought-exercise-will-have-you-questioning-your-identity
- the Black Ship Paradox is central to my own thoughts about growing (even) older.

S1 needs a rewrite,but - again it's part of the paradox so I need to preserve it.

S2 - maybe needs a rewrite too;it's supposed to be about losing your looks.(Add your joke here..)

S3
- I want to keep "pretend" (as in "(pretender to the throne")

Good point about "both".
I originally had "another lover" - will that help it?

"Breaths" was deliberate and gives me "hard labour" which is what Sisyphus got,in a sense :) .
I'm probably asking too much of the reader to read it as if it's happening to him/her.
I appreciate also that it doesn't gel with the other verses.

S4
- I like "poppy wine" but I want to suggest that it's prescribed.

I agree about "maimed" - it was thrown in to give a rhyme,instead of which I can use use your "slain".
I must have "blame" for a sense of "survivor guilt".
I' like "coming home"
I'm in two minds about cutting "a loss that was no loss at all"
as it may help people who don't know the tale.Unsure.

S5
Stumble - trip - drugs/medication.
I originally had "beast" to match "butchered" but when I negated it,it made no sense.Hmmm..

S6
I' thought I'd seen "mete" used,archaically,as an adjective? May have to use "fitting" instead.
The joke is in very poor taste,however this ai museum exhibit

DESCRIPTION -
Lead sling bullet; almond shape; a winged thunderbolt on one side and on the other,
in high relief, the inscription DEXAI "Catch!"

S7 explains the paradox and S8 is meant to ask why the need to venerate the hero (and his ship),what does it
do for us? What do priests get out of it?

Yep - I'm over-reaching.

Your input is much appreciated,NQS.

Cheers
T
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Re: Theseus in Old Age

Post by NotQuiteSure » Tue Aug 06, 2019 6:32 pm

.
Hi Geoff.

- the Black Ship Paradox is central to my own thoughts about growing (even) older.
Is there a way of getting something of this into the title? The ship/paradox not your decrepitude :)
S7 comes rather late in the day. Could you not rewrite that verse, and begin the whole poem with it. Give the reader a fighting chance. :)
The Black Ship in the harbour, falls apart
but floats, for each
(any idea what type of wood was used) plank,
on which the eternal Theseus stood
- bit of a 'boy stood on the burning deck' :)
has given way to worm and rot, and been replaced
with fresh cut timber, laid with a reverent heart
by eager hands. Is it still my ship?
Wonders the king


S2 - maybe needs a rewrite too;it's supposed to be about losing your looks.(Add your joke here..)
That wasn't coming across. I just kept on think of Medusa.

S3 - I want to keep "pretend" (as in "(pretender to the throne")
doesn't 'impersonate' cover it?

Good point about "both".
I originally had "another lover" - will that help it?

That would mean both Ariadne and Theseus' other lover are dead? If so, yes it helps.

"Breaths" was deliberate and gives me "hard labour" which is what Sisyphus got,in a sense :) .
I'm probably asking too much of the reader to read it as if it's happening to him/her.
I appreciate also that it doesn't gel with the other verses.

I think you need to find a rhythm to achieve the effect you're looking for.
Breathing hard he labours like poor Sisyphus
his head swims, and his sanity clings ..
. ?

S4- I like "poppy wine" but I want to suggest that it's prescribed.
Then how about
Sometimes of an evening physicians prescribe
and Theseus slips into a sleep of sorts

unless the wine is also important.

I must have "blame" for a sense of "survivor guilt".
I' like "coming home"

Doesn't describing the father's grief, as you do, set up 'survivor guilt'?
(I'd keep 'no loss ...' ).

S5 - Stumble - trip - drugs/medication.
Yes, but I think you've already established it in the previous line, and the 'doctored wine'.

S6 - I' thought I'd seen "mete" used,archaically,as an adjective? May have to use "fitting" instead.
So did I.


Regards, Not.




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Re: Theseus in Old Age

Post by stuartryder » Mon Aug 19, 2019 1:11 pm

Yeah I like this one a lot, would only ask if the commas can be presented in the "normal" way with a space after them - it makes for easier reading.

It sounds like a monologue by a priestess in a movie about Theseus, or something of that cinematic feel.

Cheers

Stuart

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Re: Theseus in Old Age

Post by David » Tue Aug 20, 2019 5:33 pm

Interesting link. Is this autobiographical, in some way? Or is that stupid question which I really don't need to ask? Certainly Theseus seems an interesting hybrid of a mythical hero and an ordinary older man.

I like it anyway. Although, I can't deny it ... it is quite long.

Anyway ...

I like the pun in line 2, although it does give you a sort of mock-heroic stumble at the start. But the tone seems pretty much right throughout, letting some of those grammatical and punctuation points slide, and you seem to have covered pretty much all the mythological bases. I got right through it - twice - with no real problem.

So, it's ambitious, and rather rambling, but very likeable.

Cheers

David

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Re: Theseus in Old Age

Post by Jackie » Tue Aug 20, 2019 7:47 pm

Geoff,

The link made me think. You seem to be saying that as long as there are priests to consider them re-purposed, losses are not losses. Spears will become crutches; and fathers, their sons. But then there is will. Must a son wear his father’s guilt just so the blame survives? Must a ship renewed plank by plank from a rotting one keep the original name—to prevent it from dying—just as a person whose body parts have been uplifted by a surgeon keeps hers? Or do we need a law saying that after ten procedures, say, one must apply for a new-being card?

I'm not a classics person at all but would have expected a more rigorous form. Glad you kept it conversational so I could enjoy it.

Jackie

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Re: Theseus in Old Age

Post by ray miller » Fri Aug 30, 2019 9:23 am

Impressive, Geoff. I don't know the tale so I got a bit lost at the white and black sails. The final stanza is excellent. I had some suggestions, mostly about the rhythm and enjambment in the first 3 stanzas. It seemed best and easiest to just make the adjustments as I went along per below.
twoleftfeet wrote:
Mon Aug 05, 2019 7:05 pm
When his spear at length became a crutch,no longer
did it have a point.Theseus now lacks the strength
to lift his battle sword,recasting it as ornament
fit only to remind him of a young man's over-confidence
that saw him draw it far too much, surviving by chance.

His jaded shield sports ugly dents, mementos
of a thousand scrapes;its once-bright face
has long since greyed,unworthy of
a wide-eyed maiden's second glance.

By day a king he impersonates,
pretending to disdain the need for rest,
his eyes squint, his ears strain, his back
contorts in pain, his breaths come hard
and labour like poor Sisyphus, his head
swims, his sanity clings to threadbare
memories of fair Ariadne,condemns
the fool who dropped her for another,
now both long dead.

Sometimes of an evening,doctored wine
lets Theseus slip into a sleep of sorts - but there,
the shades of those he killed or maimed
exhort redress,invoke the storm to rip away
the white sail once again,reveal his father
on the cliff,unhinged by loss,a black sail
in the distance,a loss that was no loss
and the son alive to bear the blame.

At dawn,clawing his way up to half-awake
he stumbles back into the maze;
the creature he dispatched looms
closer,more ominous with each trip,
though it was no monster, just a robed man
in a bull-mask,a shadow lurking in the gloom,
to slit the throats of unarmed wretches,
weak from thirst and hunger.

How mete it seemed, to butcher him
in turn,with no regrets.And yet -
the man was still a priest - things being thus,
the deities must have revenge and Theseus,
his guilt a chafing,weighty chain,sinks
slowly link by link,towards the end.

The Black Ship too will fall apart,
but it will be conserved,remain afloat
when every plank of wood on which
the ever-youthful warrior stood,
has given way to worm and rot,replaced
with reverence and fresh heart -

Few have the stomach to contemplate
old bones,stare truth full in the face; but
priests,who dream,and pick at entrails to predict
the machinations of capricious gods,
while praising heroes to the heavens,
have always seen and schemed,and understood.
------------------------------------------------------------------

http://bigthink.com/philip-perry/this-ancient-thought-exercise-will-have-you-questioning-your-identity
- the Black Ship Paradox is central to my own thoughts about growing (even) older.
I'm out of faith and in my cups
I contemplate such bitter stuff.

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Re: Theseus in Old Age

Post by Joao » Mon Sep 02, 2019 1:42 pm

Very moving, Geoff. It reminds me of Tennyson's Ulysses, though your Theseus sounds more convincing. Now that you've done it, I can't believe anyone hadn't thought of applying the ship's metaphor to the man himself! Brilliantly done!

A few minor comments below.
twoleftfeet wrote:
Mon Aug 05, 2019 7:05 pm
When his spear at length became a crutch,no longer
did it have a point.Theseus now lacks the strength IMO, the 'point' pun weakens this powerful image
to lift his battle sword,recasting it at once
into an ornament fit only to remind him,in his cups it was clear to me that 'it' meant the sword
of a young man's over-confidence that saw
him draw it far too much,survive by chance.

His jaded shield sports ugly dents,deep pits,
mementos of a thousand scrapes;its once-bright
face has long since faded,unworthy of a
wide-eyed maiden's second glance.

By day he must impersonate a king,
pretending to disdain the need for rest,
his eyes squint his ears strain his back
contorts in pain his breaths come
hard labour like poor Sissyphus his head Does Sissyphus appear in any of Theseus' stories? If not, isn't it a bit of a cliché?
swims his sanity clings to threadbare
memories of fair Ariadne,condemns
the fool who dropped her for another,
now both long dead.

Sometimes of an evening,doctored wine
lets Theseus slip into a sleep of sorts - but
there,the shades of those he killed or maimed
exhort redress,invoke the storm to rip away
the white sail once again,reveal his father
on the cliff,unhinged by loss,a black sail
in the distance,a loss that was no loss I'd end in 'distance': I don't think the explanation that follows would help the reader who doesn't know the story
at all,and the son alive to bear the blame.

At dawn,clawing his way up to half-awake,
he stumbles back into the maze,
the creature he dispatched looms
closer,more ominous with each trip,
though it was no monster, just a robed man
in a bull-mask,a shadow lurking in the gloom,
to slit the throats of unarmed wretches,
weak from thirst and hunger. easy meat:

how mete it seemed to butcher him Agree with Not on the jarring archness of meat/mete
in his turn,with no regrets.And yet -
the man was still a priest - things being thus,
the deities must have revenge;Theseus,
his guilt a chafing,weighty chain,sinks
slowly link by link,towards the end. Beautiful image: one guilty memory prompted by (linked to) the other and grinding him down by degrees

The Black Ship too will fall apart,
but it will be conserved,remain afloat
when every plank of wood on which
the ever-youthful warrior stood,
has given way to worm and rot,replaced
with reverence and fresh heart - Brilliant conclusion

Few have the stomach to contemplate I didn't understand this stanza. This parts are striking and make sense in isolation (though weakened by the commonplace 'full stare', in my opinion), but I don't get the overall argument.
old bones,stare truth full in the face; but
priests,who dream,and pick at entrails to predict
the machinations of capricious gods,
while praising heroes to the heavens,have
always seen and schemed,and understood.
------------------------------------------------------------------

http://bigthink.com/philip-perry/this-ancient-thought-exercise-will-have-you-questioning-your-identity
- the Black Ship Paradox is central to my own thoughts about growing (even) older.

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Re: Theseus in Old Age

Post by Poet » Fri Sep 20, 2019 8:11 pm

Interesting poem, it does feel like a monologue and the way it is written is interesting. I have to say that it is really dense too because of the way it is written. Nothing to really add from there.

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