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Tag Archives: Poetry

Eros/Thanatos One Drive: The Limb-Loosener of Sappho

Eros the Crawler

Reading over at Fido the Yak, “A Continuous Stream of Emerging Pattern” Fido expressed the desire to sing the praises of paralysis, invoking something of the Greek etymology of the word, loosening-beside. This called to mind Sappho’s use of a related word and concept, and I repeat hear my comment:  

I’m not sure if you have this in mind with your affinity for “paralysis,” but Sappho’s beautiful use of the word λυσιμέλης (fragment130) comes to mind; the word is often translated “limb-loosening,” used to describe the powers of the creeping, undefeatable, sweetly-bitter creature Eros, who has returned. Limb-loosening of course is what Homer uses to describe what happens upon a death-blow in battle [sleep as well], but there is a word-play here, as μέλος (limb), also can mean a “song, or strain” (melody, the song-road). The loosening is both a re/lease of limbs and song, but also a death. But even more, there is a hint of the verb μέλω, “I care, I have concern,” so the limb-loosener is also the care-loosener.

This phrase, and fragment has always haunted me every since I have read it many years back. She condenses so very much about the powers and experience of Eros in just a few compound words, in just a brief shard survived now for more than 2,500 years.

Expansion of Eros: The Loosening

The line reads thus in the Greek (I am never sure if fonts appear on all computers):

ἔρος δηὖτέ μ᾽ ὀ λυσιμέλης δόνει,

γλυκύπικρον ἀμάχανον ὄρπετον.

David A. Campbell (Loeb ed.), translates the line:

Once again limb-loosening Love makes me tremble,

the bitter-sweet, irresistable creature

I translate much more literally/experimentally:

Eros again, me of limb-loosening was shaking,

the sweetly-bitter, aidless creeper.

Aside from the nuances of association and wordplay, the word has the curious fortune of condensing a very significant question in the history of philosophy. Is there one drive, Eros, or pleasure, Joy (Spinoza). Or are there two, Pleasure and Death (Freud). I’m reminded of a recent reading over at Complete Lies, where there are musings about the nature of two drives understood as one:

What must be understood for this explication of drive is that things are continuously moved towards these impossible extremes. Does this mean that there is a fundamental dualism however? No; the drives to expansion and contraction, while seeming to have entirely different goals, achieve the same end: collapse. When a thing expands or contracts too much, that is, is taken from it’s precarious position of existence as we know it, it essentially disintegrates in the sense that is it no longer linked to other ghosts in the same way. This is the end that all things achieve at some point, their own elimination from this network we are a part of, the network of haunting and mourning. This is why both drives are ultimate death drives, as they both achieve death, in one form or another, in their drive to infinity.

I do not keep with Complete Lies’ position which is somewhat homologous with, though inverting of Empedocles’ theory of two forces (Aphrodite and Nike). But I would say that Sappho presents something of the internal forces, the ambiguities of what “loosening” means, as it can be both release and death, finding a correspondent in G&D’s (these initials should be reversed), territorialization and deterritorialization.

I think something of the apparent contradiction also exists in Spinoza’s One Drive format, as he argues that the more selfish we become, the more self-interested in power and its increase, the less of a “self” we realize that we are, finding expression in the distinct and determinative expressions of all that is beyond us. The pursuit and undestanding of love ends up with the integrative dissolution of the “self”, as a matter of perspective. Sappho gives us both, a literal Eros that crawls and creeps in such a way that the bitter, the sharpness is sweet, and our loosening helplessness beyond all device, is both a deathlike release, but also the release of a song, a melody. It shakes you, releasing you.

What if There was Only Poetry? What is the Referent of a Word?

Walking Between Spaces

As a happenstance some of the best thinking can sometimes be done in the footnotes, in the margins, and in the comments section it seems, where the constitutive effects of a text, refracted off of a number of diverse and unanticipated points, come to confluence themselves again, baring the traces of their brief travel. (For those who write without comments, without spaces, sad.) This is the secret to the bloggist form of intellectual cross-seeding and creative process. Epistolary reflection at an inspired rate.

Again, an interesting trail come from the side discussion over at The Whim, where Nicola responded to a comment of mine. He had written a poem, and I responded to the verse in verse, as somehow this seemed appropriate. And I mused, what if one could only comment upon poetry in poetry?:

…Sometimes I feel that this is the only response that should be permitted…in an aesthetic, or even epistemic sense.

What if we only spoke of poetry in verse?

Is there a reason why Parmenides who said there is no change wrote only in meter?

What did Plato lose when he took the meter out? (…and how did he smuggle it back in?)

Nicola, returned with a beautiful quote from Agamben), and then some thoughts about a possible utopian notion of language as poetry:

“Perhaps only a language in which the pure prose of philosophy would intervene at a certain point to break apart the verse of the poetic word, and in which the verse of poetry would intervene to bend the prose of philosophy into a ring, would be the true human language”  (Agamben)

The opening issue of Hot Gun! make a good poetic utopian pitch: “To achieve utopia, all language must be poetry . . . Poetry is the vocal mimesis of the experience of being in the world which gave rise to language. . . . Only once we have negated instrumental language, and brought ourselves back into the present, can we reintroduce result into mimetic language whereby the pleasure of telling you my feelings and of you understanding my desires in the present of action might be understood as a purpose. Poetry keeps language accurate but also does the opposite and slows it down to the point where language is itself and itself is the world” (Josh Stanley).

What an interesting proposal that language might best oscillate between the philosophical conceptual “intervention” with a kind of linear or spatial imposition, and then the returning bend back of poetic language itself. The ring composition of all truth. Do not the best philosophical works “rhyme”?

The Eutopia of Language

Instead of viewing this as a utopian project (which it is in a certain sense), perhaps as if often the case with utopias, we need only to realize that it is already the case. All language is poetry, (but simply does not know it). I have in mind Spinoza’s interesting recursive notion that any idea that is “in” the human mind (that composes the human mind), takes as its true object an extensional state of the body. The ideas I have of trees, Copernicus, newspaper print, chocolate cookie recipes, dust, Higgins Bosons are all ideas of various states of my body. In a certain oblique sense, the referent of the words I use, is “me” (or this compositional body). It is more than this though, for Spinoza. Any idea that we have is the expressed power of my body to act, and as such it is an affirmation of a certain degree of power of my body. Each time we “think” we affirm the flesh in one way or another, perhaps like a mainsail and jib that catches more or less wind with their ever fluctuating angles. In this sense, the words we speak, no matter their abstraction, come from the material dynamism of our bodies, are the poiesis of our bodies (and our bodies in combination with all others). They are poetry. Even the most instrumental language is instrumental in a different sense, in that it is expressive of powers far beyond its mere design.

If there is a utopian aspect of this, it is not that language must become poetic, but its very poetry must be recognized. A programmer may read a line of code and be moved. An archivist an inventory list and become stirred. Our language comes up and out of our bodies, but our bodies as they are precisely connected and materially joined to all others. If there is a philosophical/versed oscillation, perhaps this is only the one of our awareness.

Are not even the logic-chopping Analytic School stackings merely highly constrained quatrains without overt spatial imposition (I remember writing an entire novel chapter in Hexameter verse, yet letting it be “prose”) ? Is not the question of philosophy ever “From Whence Does it Come?” and the answer of poetry, “From here.” Is not each word a hiero-glyph under conditions self-traced and yet immanent to a horizon beyond any self that does not necessarily touch a community of things?

[addendum] Nicola ruminates that his desire for commentary is a desire for a space,

Of course something like this happens/is happening only through the wearing away of “poetry” and the practice the finding/possessing of other language as (always already) poetry. I am learning more and more how my desire for commentary is a desire for such a space, or as Agamben would gloss it a desire for language as mode of both understanding and possession/enjoyment.

While he seems to agree that other language is already poetic, I am unsure of this notion of a space of possession as an equivalent of enjoyment. I sense rather that commentary is (and my last post touched on this) the space of transmission and pollination. To understand is to transmit and be transmitted to, for the wave to have reached you. The space of this, in terms of commentary, seems to be not that of possession, for “enjoyment” is never held, but rather is more one of eddying, a folded-over zone, which may link to other such eddies elsewhere, a turbulence of continuities (or ratios, as Spinoza might have it).

It is not that instrumental or objective language should be eliminated, or even undermined, but rather when we see it, speak it, read it, we should do well to trace out and fill-up its full history of affective roots as a place and determination of its strength.

The Súmbolon and the Gold Coin of Poetry

Súmbolon: A. tally, i.e. each of two halves or corresponding pieces of an ἀστράγαλος or other object, which two ξένοι, or any two contracting parties, broke between them, each party keeping one piece, in order to have proof of the identity of the presenter of the other (LSJ)

Some quotes from Nietzsche that I never tire of, and which work with the “eternal youth” of a metaphor. Written a year ago, but I nice follow up on yesterday’s musings on the wealth of philosophers.

“What is truth then? A mobile army of metaphors, metonomies, anthropomorphisms, in short a sum of human relations that are elevated, transmitted, beautified in a poetic or rhetoric manner, and that appear to the people after a long usage as fixed, canonical and binding: truths are illusions of which one has forgotten they are illusions, metaphors that are worn out and literally became powerless, coins that lost their images and are now metal and no longer coins.”

“On Truth and Lie in the Extramoral Sense,” Nietzsche

Once we realize that power is a function of assemblage, then the “reality” of the súmbolon, the breaking of the event into the cause and its effect in a particular way so as to constitute an individual identification, a particular kind of assemblage, then the objective “falseness” of that division becomes the articulation of a means of power, a power valued by the sphere that produced it. The cause and its effect become the fulcrum of the “real”, the hinge upon which material power is leveraged, but also becomes the “sign”, the signifier of the social bonds, the omen which marks what is “true”, and identifies the user of the “true” as authenticated. We see this when the bond between a particular cause its effect is questioned, – which is one of the primary focuses of philosophy – the entire world that can be equationed, exchanged between two, comes into doubt. The knucklebone halves no longer match up, we do not recognize each other, nor therefore the “realty” in which that recognition would take place. When possessed of the halves of bone that form the súmbolon, one either must find new ways in which the two halves fit together, so that the seamless whole appears to be restored, or if believing too heartily in the “fact” of one half, one must search for the other half that matches. What is lost perhaps is that the súmbolon  is negotiation, an agreed upon act, an entered into pact or game, depended upon the coherence of “facts” over time. It is the ground upon with all else becomes exchanged. The social dimension of the “explanation” makes of the súmbolon, the cause and its effect, a kind of coin, that at an established value is passed around in guarantee, which allows the formal production of power, in real, material means.

“What is a word? It is a copy in sound of a nerve stimulus”

“To begin with, a nerve stimulus is transferred into an image: first metaphor. The image, in turn, is imitated in a sound: second metaphor.”

“To begin with, a nerve stimulus is transferred into an image: first metaphor. The image, in turn, is imitated in a sound: second metaphor. And each time there is a complete overleaping of one sphere, right into the middle of an entirely new and different one.”

“On Truth and Lie in the Extra-moral Sense”

“[Valéry] contrasted the poetic word with the everyday use of language in a striking comparison that alludes to…the gold stanard: everyday language resembles small change which, like our own paper money, does not actually possess the power it symbolizes. The gold coins…on the other hand, actually possess as metal the value that was imprinted upon them. In a similar way, the language of poetry, is not a mere pointer that refers to something else, but like the gold coin, is what it represents”

“Philosophy and Poetry,” Gadamer

A related post, a theorization of Davidson and Vico: Davidson’s Razor, Vico’s Magnet


Campanella’s Prison Song to his God: New Year

Lyric Strain



As Tommaso Campanella counts it, his imprisonment began in 1591/2, with his first Neopolitan trial. By July 1604 he had been transferred from a more comfortable prison to the dank, nearly lightless dungeons of San Elmo. There he would remain for four years continously manicled and chained, and in which he would undergo a conversion of a kind acceptance in 1606. (Transfered to better conditions in 1608, he returned again to the “belly” from 1614-1618). Far from the abstract alegory of a cave, dreamed up by that great Greek philosopher, Campanella lived the rock-hewn reality of a human bodily, political limit, as his photographic memory-aided mind reached out beyond that limit. What his poetry surely lacks in elegance or sophistication, it makes up with prodigious emotional content and primordial situtation, inscribing his dolorous hopes and glints of light in an utter bleakness of condition. Nearly the whole of his adult life will have been spent in prison when he was finally released by the Spanish in 1628.


I cannot help but think how these words, before translation, existed on difficult to procure scraps of paper, held in manicled hands, tipped to the angle of the sun in high window, light for only a few hours a day, and yet now exist floating across an ethernet into your eyes. When he says, I’m “tortured in chains within a pit for Thee” what might be a heavy-handed poetic trope suddenly turns leaden when you hear the sound of links that tink as he writes and turns. Even if you care nothing for the poem, there is something to the redemption of that moment, when his words find your eyes, the impossibility that those thoughts could ever reach their compliment, not only beyond the powers of the Spanish monarchy and Papal authority that contrained him, but also across the four vast centuries intervening, in which the memory of the man and his writings has nearly been swallowed whole, something to this moment that speaks to what a New Year is.


Prisons are mulitfarious. But not nearly so as their voices. One wonders what inspires one to rhyme, in prison. Is there an apophanic limit to Plea?



Orazioni ire in Salmodia Metafisicak congiunte insieme


Almighty God! what though the laws of Fate
Invincible, and this long misery,
Proving my prayers not merely spent in vain
But heard and granted crosswise, banish me
Far from Thy sight,-still humbly obstinate
I turn to Thee. No other hopes remain.
Were there another God with vows to gain,
To Him for succour I would surely go :
Nor could I be called impious, if I turned
In this great agony from one who spurned,
To one who bade me come and cured my woe.
Nay, Lord! I babble vainly. Help ! I cry,
Before the temple where Thy reason burned,
Become a mosque of imbecility!

Well know I that there are no words which can
Move Thee to favour him for whom Thy grace
Was not reserved from all eternity.
Repentance in Thy counsel finds no place:
Nor can the eloquence of mortal man
Bend Thee to mercy, when Thy sure decree
Hath stablished that this frame of mine should be
Rent by these pangs that flesh and spirit tire.
Nay if the whole world knows my martyrdom-
Heaven, earth, and all that in them have their home-
Why tell the tale to Thee, their Lord and Sire?
And if all change is death or some such state,
Thou deathless God, to whom for help I come,
How shall I make Thee change, to change my fate?

Nathless for grace I once more sue to Thee,
Spurred on by anguish sore and deep distress:-
Yet have I neither art nor voice to plead
Before Thy judgment-seat of righteousness.
It is not faith, it is not charity,
Nor hope that fails me in my hour of need;
And if, as some men teach, the soul is freed
From sin and quickened to deserve Thy grace
By torments suffered on this earth below,
The Alps have neither ice, I ween, nor snow
To match my purity before Thy face!
For prisons fifty, tortures seven, twelve years
Of want and injury and woe-
These have I borne, and still I stand ringed round with fears.

We lay all wrapped with darkness: for some slept
The sleep of ignorance, and players played
Music to sweeten that vile sleep for gold:
While others waked, and hands of rapine laid
On honours, wealth, and blood; or sexless crept
Into the place of harlots, basely bold.-
I lit a light:-like swarming bees, behold !
Stripped of their sheltering gloom, on me
Sleepers and wakers rush to wreak their spite:
Their wounds, their brutal joys disturbed by light,
Their broken bestial sleep fill them with jealousy.-
Thus with the wolves the silly sheep agreed
Against the valiant dogs to fight;
Then fell the prey of their false friends’ insatiate greed.

Help, mighty Shepherd! Save Thy lamp, Thy hound,
From wolves that ravin and from thieves that prey!
Make known the whole truth to the witless crowd!
For if my light, my voice, are cast away-
If sinfulness in these Thy gifts be found-
The sun that rules in heaven is disallowed.
Thou knowest without wings I cannot fly :
Give me the wings of grace to speed my flight!
Mine eyes are always turned to greet Thy light:
Is it my crime if still it pass me by?
Thou didst free Bocca and Gilardo; these,
Worthless, are made the angels of Thy might.-
Hast Thou lost counsel? Shall Thine empire cease?

With Thee I speak: Lord, thou dost understand!
Nor mind I how mad tongues my life reprove.
Full well I know the world is ‘neath Thine eye,
And to each part thereof belongs Thy love :
But for the general welfare wisely planned
The parts must suffer change;-they do not die,
For nature ebbs and flows eternally;-
But to such change we give the name of Death
Or Evil, whensoe’er we feel the strife
Which for the universe is joy and life,
Though for each part it seems mere lack of breath.-
So in my body every part I see
With lives and deaths alternate rife,
All tending to its vital unity.

Thus then the Universe grieves not, and I
Mid woes innumerable languish still
To cheer the whole and every happier part.-
Yet, if each part is suffered by Thy will
To call for aid-as Thou art God most High,
Who to all beings wilt Thy strength impart;
Who smoothest every change by secret art,
With fond care tempering the force of fate,
Necessity and concord, power and thought,
And love divine through all things subtly wrought-
I am persuaded, when I iterate
My prayers to Thee, some comfort I must find
For these pangs poison-fraught,
Or leave the sweet sharp lust of life behind.

The Universe hath nought that changes not,
Nor in its change feels not the pangs of pain,
Nor prays not unto God to ease that woe.
Mid these are many who the grace obtain
Of aid from Thee :-thus Thou didst rule their lot:
And many who without Thy help must go.
How shall I tell toward whom Thy favours flow,
Seeing I sat not at Thy council-board?
One argument at least doth hearten me
To hope those prayers may not unanswered be,
Which reason and pure thoughts to me afford:
Since often, if not always, Thou dost will
In Thy deep wisdom, Lord,
Best laboured soil with fairest fruits to fill.

The tilth of this my field by plough and hoe
Yields me good hope-but more the fostering sun
Of Sense divine that quickens me within,
Whose rays those many minor stars outshone-
That it is destined in high heaven to show
Mercy, and grant my prayer; so I may win
The end Thy gifts betoken, enter in
The realm reserved for me from earliest time.
Christ prayed but’ If it may be,’ knowing well
He might not shun that cup so terrible:
His angel answered, that the law sublime
Ordained his death. I prayed not thus, and mine-
Was mine then sent from Hell?– ‘ .
Made answer diverse from that voice divine.

Go song, go tell my Lord-‘ Lo! he who lies
Tortured in chains within a pit for Thee,
Cries, how can flight be free
Wingless?-Send Thy word down, or Thou
Show that fate’s wheel turns not iniquity,
And that in heaven there is no lip that lies.’-
Yet, song, too boldly flies
Thy shaft; stay yet for this that follows now!

trans. John Addington Symonds 

Tommaso Campanella’s Poems, original language 

Symond’s Translation of the Sonnets

Opticality and Fragmentation: Rilke

…und bräche nicht aus allen seinen Rändern
aus wie ein Stern: denn da ist keine Stelle,
die dich nicht sieht. Du mußt dein Leben ändern.

…it wouldn’t be breaking out from every edge
like a Star: for there is no place on this stone
that does not see you. You must change your life.

I think that something like this radiality is what Descartes has in mind.



Rorty’s Daimon


Rorty, in view of his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, wrote “The Fire of Life” a Socratic-like, just-before-death turn to the power of the music of words.

I learned the bad news, I was sitting around having coffee with my elder son and a visiting cousin. My cousin (who is a Baptist minister) asked me whether I had found my thoughts turning toward religious topics, and I said no. “Well, what about philosophy?” my son asked. “No,” I replied, neither the philosophy I had written nor that which I had read seemed to have any particular bearing on my situation… “Hasn’t anything you’ve read been of any use?” my son persisted. “Yes,” I found myself blurting out, “poetry.”

Rorty’s father was a poet. Here he puts forth, in summing up his recent essay “Pragmatism and Romanticism”, that what comes from rationality must first come from imagination:

At the heart of Romanticism, I said, was the claim that reason can only follow paths that the imagination has first broken. No words, no reasoning. No imagination, no new words. No such words, no moral or intellectual progress.

This bears some connection to my thoughts on Davidson and Vico, and the nature of metaphor, for which Rorty was a partial guide. And we recall here Decartes’ comments about hammers having to be smithed at some point once without the aid of hammers (and Spinoza’s appropriation of the image).

What one is left with though is a sense that imagination itself is rational, that is, it both explains and constitutes our relationship to the world, and to others, and that what we call “imagination” is a production of reasons.


We thank with brief thanksgiving
  Whatever gods may be
That no life lives for ever;
That dead men rise up never;
That even the weariest river
     Winds somewhere safe to sea.

Huygens’s Lens

This struck me as such a remarkable image, one that I have found in my just nascent research into Spinoza’s lens-grinding techniques (Huygens was a companion and nearby neighbor of Spinoza’s in the years 1664 and ’65). This is the lens with which Huygens discovered the first moon of Saturn (in March of 1655), and then the rings, as unlike Descartes before him he embodied his studies on the nature of optics.

There are several things that are eye-catching. First is its thinness and size. Likely ground by hand, it is merely 5.7 centimeters across and yet has a focal length of over 3 meters. It is only 3.4 millimeters thick.

Then there is the inscription at the edges, found scratched into the wax-yellow material:

A line from Ovid:

Admovere oculis distantia sidera nostris : They carried distant stars to ours eyes.

In anagram:

Saturno luna sua circunducitur diebus sexdecim horis quatuor : With Saturn, his moon circles itself around in 16 days, 4 hours”

It is this artifact of discovery, the materiality of the lens, emphasized by inscription, the presence of the poetry and the observation, that we glimpse something of the physicality of sciences, and the conceptions that enlighten it.

Later, when other moons besides this one were discovered, Huygens simply called this moon, “my moon”. One gets a sense of the personal, material and historic conception of invention.


Borges and Spinoza: Ground Glass

It is rare that a poet is able to analyze a philosopher to a greater degree than commentators can, especially it would seem a philosopher so un-poetic as Spinoza. And that it is done by a minor poet, a poet who does not even consider himself as one is surprising. In the last days I have thought about my long standing intution that Spinoza’s lens grinding lead to substantive influences on his his very idea of what an Idea is…that is, how he might conceive of an Idea in a way fundamentally different than Descartes did. I realize that this notion must have come from my long ago reading of Borges’ sonnet on Spinoza, one which equates his grinding of lenses which his polishing of propositions.Here is the poem and a literal translation for those interested:


Las traslúcidas manos del judío
labran en la penumbra los cristales
y la tarde que muere es miedo y frío.
(Las tardes a las tardes son iguales.)

Las manos y el espacio de jacinto
que palidece en el confín del Ghetto
casi no existen para el hombre quieto
que está soñando un claro laberinto.

No lo turba la fama, ese reflejo
de sueños en el sueño de otro espejo,
ni el temeroso amor de las doncellas.

Libre de la metáfora y del mito
labra un arduo cristal: el infinito
mapa de Aquel que es todas Sus estrellas.


The translucent hands of the Jew
Work in the penumbra, crystals
& the evening, dying, is dread & chill.
(Evenings to evenings are equal.)

The hands & space of hyacinth
Waning in the confines of the Ghetto
Almost do not exist for the man so quiet
Who is dreaming a clear labyrinth.

He’s not perturbed by fame, that reflection
Of dreams in the dream of another mirror,
Nor by the timorous love of maidens.

Free from metaphor & myth
He works a hard crystal: the Infinite
Map of That which totals His stars.

This is of course more than an honorary poem, it is a meditation, and a meditation by one of the greater literary/philosophical minds of the century. What is most remarkable about it is the way that Borges bridges the historic Spinoza to the Infinite Spinoza, through the act of lens grinding. Spinoza, in the very materiality of his act, the grinding of a hard, difficult crystal, somehow escapes history, yet in a personal sense. It is a paradox, and Borges, the lover of paradoxes, grasps this nexus point with tremendous subtlety.

What Borges said of this poem was this:

“In that sonnet, I refer specifically to the philosopher Spinoza. He is polishing crystal lenses and is polishing a rather vast crystal philosophy of the universe. I think we might consider those tasks parallel. Spinoza is polishing his lenses, Spinoza is polishing vast diamonds, his ethics.”

It would seem that Spinoza would ultimately agree with the notion that his Ethics was a vast diamond(s), a tremendous lens which he worked on for over decade. He would enjoy the idea that the work itself is a materiality, (his ontology demands it), a materiality which we too use, in combination with our own materiality. This is a physicality of idea that necessitates mutuality. I am not sure, but I believe that Borges wrote this sonnet when he was losing his vision, what would seem like a terrible loss. Here, the evening falls, and the hands become even more physical, and even less confined.

If Spinoza argues for a liberation, it would seem to be a liberation which understands freedom to be the most material of things, and his Ethics to be material construction. The internal paradoxes of such an aim, the clarity of its labyrinth, are the things which make it possible.

And here Borges himself reads his sonnet, starting a little after minute 2:40:

[written May 7, 2008]