Poems about philosophy & wisdom

Wisdom

Wisdom is moderation of all things:
to neither be a puppet
nor pull strings,
to lead with strength
but not an iron fist,
to smartly borrow from, but not consist
of lessons learned in lifetimes besides yours,
to seize the day, yet not forget your chores
& take action, but give in when you’re wrong.

Yes, balanced moderation makes you strong —
except in love, which no wisdom can touch:
love proves itself by loving
far too much.

*

 

Poem for Socrates

If words transcended time, I’d say:
“Thanks, Socrates—for to this day
you set a golden standard & example,
stand in sanity when truth is trampled,
immortalize humor,
lead leaders to love being wise
& remind me there are always times to fly
by the seat of your conscience.”

~
Image: Jacques-Louis David, 1787

 

The Allegory

There is a cave where people are enslaved
with manacles around their necks & ankles
& made to sit, silent & well-behaved,
beholding shadows cast from many angles.
Eventually, one prisoner gets free
& sees—in horror!—the machinery
that’s been projecting his experience.
He knows this is his disappearing chance;
he climbs out of the pit, gasping for air,
where, right away, his eyes scream in the sun—
but now he’s seen the light! He runs to save
the freedom of his chained companions—
but now the cave is dark, & he seems blind;
the cavemen, laughing, say he’s lost his mind.

 

What is Tao?

A pure mirror disappears. The mirror is Tao,
a secret known & kept by all
being (by nature) untold.
It’s boring unless
you seek to be born.
It prescribes nothing, yet heals, I think
today. What it is, though… who’s to say?

 

Wisdom vs. Knowledge

Wisdom sits with knowledge in her lap
wisdom’s the compass
knowledge is the map
wisdom’s the water
knowledge is the tap
wisdom is supple
knowledge sure can snap

Image: El Greco, 1609

 

Impostor Syndrome

If I wasn’t an impostor
I’d be virtuous & brave—
but my courage is all posture
& I mostly misbehave.

If I wasn’t an impostor
I would take a leader’s stance—
but I’m bound to make a wrong turn,
so I’d best not take the chance.

…then again, I’ve seen no roster
listing who’s best fit to lead—
what if leaders are impostors
taking risks in times of need?

*
Image: Ivan Aivazovsky, 1890

 

Keepers of the fire

With this brief time
you might as well aspire
to be among the keepers
of the Fire.
This Fire’s not like the rosy cheeks
Time steals—
instead, by peeling layers,
Time reveals
the timeless—ageless—Fire
decay conceals.

*
Image: ‘Astronomer by Candlelight’ by Gerrit Dou (ca. 1665)

 

Fools often speak

Fools often speak out daringly
while wise men speak more sparingly.

*
Image from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927)

 

Playtime

Want a useful thought? Here’s one:
play is good for more than fun.

Through play, even wild wolves explore
in peace their readiness for war,
& language (“give a thing a name”)
is mankind’s first recorded game.

The rest is easy to derive:
we work hard & play hard to thrive.

The most advanced tribes ever known
used playing as a shared backbone
as they passed down, against all odds,
their richly painted masks of gods.

Invention (i.e. “make cool tools”)
is simply play with self-made rules.

We use play to grow, learn, create,
communicate & propagate—
plus (Shakespeare said it) play’s the thing
to catch the conscience of the King.

*
See also: Homo Ludens by Johan Huizinga
Image: Van Gogh, “First Steps” (1890)

 

Poem for Jordan Peterson

Only after your time will Time decide
how well you’ve served our species as a guide,
but, since a leader’s life’s the life you lead,
here’s how I hope (& think) we both agree:

1
A good teacher won’t preach what he thinks;
instead, he shows the thirsty where he drinks.

2
The more he grows, the less he thinks he knows.

3
Friends are those who keep him on his toes.

4
Blazing no new trail from which to stray,
at best, he sheds some light that lights the way.

5
Finally (to not drag out this poem)
he understands this story as his own:

A wisdom-seeker lived inside a cave
for many moons. He neither spoke nor shaved,
but scribbled nonstop nonsense on the walls
until, clearly enlightened, out he crawled.

The only drawing left, of all he’d done,
was one big disk—a circle, like a sun.

Many disciples followed in his wake,
except they kept on making this mistake:
they drew circles, just like his, everywhere,
never discovering how his got there.

 

Poem for Ayn Rand

When Reason, man’s most perfect power,
is exiled from the Ivory Tower,
you stand outside as fearless proof
of its unconquerable truth.

While institutionalized minds
grow coddled, sheltered & unwise,
you teach bright people to be free
& draw their strength from liberty.

You set the tone, you set the stage
for freethinkers of every age:
You brought, with your life’s burning blaze,
the truth to light, where now it stays.

 

Advice for readers

Vacations taking nothing but your mind
exist in inexhaustible supply,
so never settle. Keep your standards high.
Great writing moves you fast ahead, and far;
Bad drags you back, or leaves you where you are.

Great writers help their readers come away
equipped not just for tasks, but for the day:
Aware that facts can fail when given straight,
they aim to bring you face to face with fate,
with conscience, with desire, with suffering—
the greatest writers don’t communicate
so much as they illumine the innate.

So, don’t eat food for thought that’s bland or dry
or feed cheap candy into your mind’s eye:
Demand that we, your writers, satisfy.

 

The Receiver

There once was a quiet dystopian town
where the people amazingly found
one among them was born with an uncanny gift:
taking bad memories. He’d just lift
pain from your brain like it was never there,
each trace recollection erased.
How it worked: This ‘Receiver’ himself made space
for your suffering in his own mind,
so you stepped out smiling while he stayed behind
and wept in your place.

…but soon, as things go,
the Receiver could feel his soul-force getting slow
as he watched his dark beard turning silver —
so he passed all those memories from long ago
to a young man who called him the Giver.

*
Photo by Donald Teel on Unsplash

 

A definition of desire

Desire (n.)
a self-devouring snake,
its scaly tail convulsing in its fangs;
whatever satiety it feels is fake;
there’s not even a momentary break
as it ingests its own abdomen’s pangs

for emptiness alone fulfills Desire,
which, eating itself, eats you along the way.
what’s more to say?
you’re empty of, or else feeding, Desire;
if neither, you’re entirely a liar.