Pseudodoxia Epidemica


By acupuncture or by moxibustion
The soul repairs its vulnerable sheath;
And beetle paste is love’s electuary.
True tales and false alike work by suggestion.
Cure palsy with a poison-ivy wreath
Or squeeze the devil’s cherry to vamp an eye.

Our questions choose the answers they think good:
What shape is wine? The shape of any cup.
Since what we fancy serves to keep us human,
To keep love circulating in the blood
Its addicts, when they start to sober up,
Reach out and pour themselves another woman.

Let reason ignore the reasons of the heart,
Pure knowledge is a sow that eats her farrow;
But wisdom’s children may hear mermaids sing
In latitudes not found on any chart.
Fledged without feet, to miss the hunter’s arrow
The bird of paradise keeps on the wing.

Taken full-strength, truth is a drug that kills.
They say that when he rose, the morning after,
Faith took a tot and felt as right as pie;
But, having accurately checked his bills,
Clairvoyance was found dangling from a rafter,
All the true facts reflected in his eye.

He was my green youth, taught me probe and test;
My ripe years wrote of love: “The search is ended;
Green is the only colour of the leaf;
That golden legend was a dream at best.”
Yet, now my autumn comes, the boughs are splendid
Blazing with gold and crimson past belief.

A thousand years pen-white was the tradition.
There was the lake: one only had to look
To see truth’s emblem paddling in her snow;
The black one was a joke of the logician.
And yet there was a wild swan in my book
Proved him a liar. But how was he to know?

Cygnus mansuetus may be just a bird.
With you my fabled swan, I give up trying
To disbelieve what science cannot prove.
Let ornithology find our tale absurd:
The cob that sings at last when close to dying
May prove at last my parable of love.

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