I read in the morning
papers of a proposal
to update the text of
Shakespeare, and saw
the thought dismissed
as a waste of time.
What more horrid oth-
er loss can there be?
Who knew, convenience
would offer sanctuary
to simple immortality?
Yet we find this for-
tunate calculation at
work in the odd tree,
not clear-cut from the
mountaintop, and the
mute, unbothered, for
having nothing to say.
Subtle Plato, patron saint of friendship,
Scolded those nurslings of the myrtle-bed
Whose tender souls, first seized by love's madness,
Then stirred to rapturous frenzies, overnight
Turn sour, their eyes narrowed with suspicions,
Sleepless, feverishly refusing company.
The soul, in constant motion because immortal,
Again and again is "deeply moved" and flies
To a new favourite, patrolling the upper air
To settle briefly on this or that heart-
Stopping beauty, or flutters vainly around
The flame of its own image, light of its life.
Better the friend to whom we're drawn by choice
And not instinct or the glass threads of passion.
Better the friend with whom we fall in step
Behind our proper god, or sit beside
At the riverbend, idly running a finger
Along his forearm when the conversation turns
To whether everything craves its opposite,
As cold its warmth and bitter its honeydrop,
Or whether like desires like - agreed? -
Its object akin to the good, recognizing
In another what is necessary for the self,
As one may be a friend without knowing how
To define friendship, which itself so often slips
Through hands because ... but he's asleep
On your shoulder by now and probably dreaming
Of a face he'd glimpsed on the street yesterday,
The stranger he has no idea will grow irreplaceable
And with whom he hasn't yet exchanged a word.
The Rest of the Way
An Essay on Friendship
Alfred A. Knopf, 1992©