Friday, February 13, 2009

When you can't sleep

A bad head cold resulting in spasmodic coughing has forced me into the guest bedroom. This is turn has led to more late-night reading. Last night I picked up my favorite novel of all time, John Barth's The Sotweed Factor. Never has a book, not even Don Quixote, had such an appealing protagonist: Ebenezer Cooke, the hapless Poet Laureate of colonial Maryland.

Early in the novel, back in England, before being more or less exiled to the New World, Cooke begins his studies at Cambridge. Unable to focus he diverts himself from the academic topic at hand by writing related poems. After attending a lecture on philosophical materialism, Cooke finds that the only entry in his notebook is:

Old Plato saw both Mind and Matter;
Thomas Hobbes, naught but the latter.
Now poor Tom’s Soul doth fry in hell:
Shrugs GOD, "'Tis immaterial."

One aspect of Barth's genius was making Cooke's poetry "almost" good. This little ditty was the first verse that Barth places at the pen of Cooke.

When I read The Sotweed Factor years ago I wasn't involved in faith/science intersections. Perhaps that is why I don't recall this little poem as leaving me incapacitated, as it did late last night, suffering from convulsions of laughter intermixed with eyeball popping coughing. Or maybe it was the Tylenol-Cold.

No comments:

Post a Comment