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In the Presence of Great Men In the Presence of Great Men
by Dr. Lawrence Nannery
2013-02-10 11:18:06
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The Pantheon in Paris:
Music plays in my head on the journey thence, and never dissolves.
For this must be a holy place, a place where the great men lie, lined up in rows.

It is quiet in here, and one comes face to face with famous grandes hommes,
A drama designed to measure my own lack of stature. 
Well… yes, the encounter works.  I am duly impressed.
After all, what am I in comparison with these great men,
Who through dint of ideals and the most delectable writing styles,
Mobilized a nation, the leading nation no less,
To throw away its inherited institutions, with their corruptions,
Their irrationalities, and seek justice and equality for all mankind.

The soft pounding of drums in my ears embarrasses me
Because I am thinking also of my beautiful divorcée lover in Sedona,
Whom I love but who I know is at this hour lecturing dozens
Of wide-open eyes, loving eyes, about the meaning of it all.
She herself, she is saying, she herself and (oh) Nostradamus,
Or sometimes also John F. Kennedy have delved together
The depths of universal wisdom and discovered that they all are one.
And, in wondrous detail, how it is that we are exactly what we eat,
And no more.  How love is all that matters.  And how God is in His Heaven
Or not in His Heaven, it matters not which, because
This world is all we have, in addition to ourselves, of course.
And how this century has witnessed so many crimes, but
We have to get past that, and the only way to do that is to
Make ourselves one with Nature, and to get in touch with our true selves.
Surely all those crimes would never have happened if those evil men
Had felt the ameliorating force of the All, the perfection of the True.

The great men rot in their tombs in front of me,
And several of them were mediocrities put in here
In a mood of hysterical pity for their untimely deaths.
Still, the others were brave beyond all measure, causing striations in the body politic,
In the social order, or even in the inner sanctum of the heart,
Gave men ideas, encouraged the masses to rise up and kill the tyrants.
Their uplifting force moved mountains, and engendered faiths. 

Bless them; bless me; bless those who acted out their beliefs,
Not caring where it all began, but only where it would breed.

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Thanos2013-02-10 11:45:47
Beautiful poem Larry!

Emanuel Paparella2013-02-10 15:55:51
Thank you for this insightful stimulating poem, Larry. As I keep savoring and ruminating on it, it occurs to me that a Leonardo undoubtedly belongs in the pantheon of truly great men. Where other minds only saw an abyss, his mind saw a possible bridge or a synthesis; it conceived of no duality between the world of the Arts and the world of the Sciences and would have found modern logical positivism totally uncomprehensible.

Others' claim to greatness is more ambiguous. They were thought so because of their great skills and practical accomplishments but, as your poem intimates, they may not be genuinely such, for they were not noble and “great souled” as Aristotle (another great one) would put it. They lacked the poetical.

“Il Cinque Maggio” is a long poem written by a great noble man of Italian Literature, Alessandro Manzoni, author of The Bethrowed. That date (fifth of May) is the day when Napoleon died. Manzoni goes into his studio, reflects on a world that is forever gone, and comes out of it only three days later with his masterful poem which is now part of the canon of Italian literature. It begins with two words: “Ei fu” (he was), it reviews the military political “glories” of Napoleon and it ends with this crucial question and answer: Fu vera gloria? Ai posteri l’ardua sentenza.” (Was it true glory? To posterity belongs the answer). Manzoni refuses to render a final judgment. Some have called that doubt and the ambiguous answer a cop-out of sorts, but perhaps Manzoni was simply saying that, history usually has the final word on the matter of true greatness and may deliver its verdict many centuries down the historical telos in the light of other unpredictable events or novel interpretation of present and past events.

Leah Sellers2013-02-11 07:10:25
Dear Mr. Lawrence,
Your illustrious Poem is a Prayer within a Meditation.
Thank you, Sir.

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