“Man, sometimes it takes you a long time to sound like yourself.” –Miles Davis
So I was thinking about this line from Miles Davis (because it turns out that epigraphs are a great way to overcome your writer’s block), and I thought about how we constitute the self. And then I had that last stanza from Philip Larkin’s poem “This Be the Verse” go through my head, one of the very few pieces of poetry I have memorized:
This Be The Verse
They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.
But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.
Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.
Now, I will admit that this is more than a bit cynical and that I have been relatively lucky in my upbringing, but there is also some good sense to it, as when people have pain, they tend to spread it around like manure, but generally without the benefit of nourishing anything. Still the eight-syllable line and abab rhyme scheme together make for a catchy (and therefore more memorizable) poem, even if does get a little sing-songy, which maybe takes away from the seriousness. So I adopted some of this to create my own bit.
The Tri-fold Self
Three things make up the self, I think:
The mind, the body and the voice.
Such things are passed on down to us
Without our say-so or our choice.
First comes the mind, the wandering wit
That tilts at windmills, fights through mazes,
Eats the words served up in books
And dreams the world in smoky hazes.
Next comes the body, old workhorse
That carries Mind from place to place.
We exercise to keep it fit
And use makeup to gild its face.
Last comes the voice, through which the mind
Speaks from this body to that.
And other minds judge what they hear
And call us either sharp or flat.
It takes long practice to learn how
The mind best works itself to learn,
Itself a cosmos hidden deep
Within the body, there to burn.
And longer still it takes to see
The beauty in the body aging,
Aching, creaking, fighting, winning,
Singing, all while life engaging.
But longest yet it takes the ears
To love the sound the tongue releases
From the moment we, born, wail
Until our last, when all breath ceases.
And so it is, all of us struggle
To be ourselves: voice, body, mind.
You know the struggle all too well,
So as you walk the world, be kind.