The Head of Wisdom

Written for Katherine Louise Lyle Starr, born May 16, 1940. The head is Beethoven’s.

THE little Will comes naked to its world
Without a rag of wit;
Church, State, the crazy categories
Crowd to the straw where it
Weeps under the family’s fondling;
The shepherds baa, the Magi smell like camels,
Hark, how Herod’s agents sing!
No godmother comes giftless to the foundling:
Child, is there anything
In your whole universe to spare you
Its witless and officious blessing?
‘Do, do,’ your mother nags,
Your father gives his senseless laugh, or mutters
His sour hits while he wags
A dry head at each new day’s errors;
State sets a rifle in that aimless hand;
The manufacturers
Bid for the labors of its fruitless years;
‘Obey, or hell is yours,’
Church tells; and your Hell’s apologists —
King, priest, philosopher, the lean professors —
Tell, tell, and tell. You see.
Learn it all — the lies, the hunger, and the blood:
The peoples’ history;
What we said; and all that we knew instead;
Learn it; but wisdom is more than knowing
What we knew, what we said,
The famous errors of the famous dead.
The maned and erring head
Holds, under the truth, under the lies,
Something stronger than either; the great stare
Of the magnificent eyes
Dazzles, is dazzled with more than tears;
No surprise
Warms the ruined face: the wilderness
Of confusion, of desolation, the helpless laughter
Of the wise break free
From the mouth open in the dying face —
Child, here is history,
Here is knowledge, is wisdom — see! see!