Let’s All Write an Eclogue!

by Paul Mathers

The eclogue is an ancient form in which a speaker, either in a monologue or a dialogue, expresses their views on a topic. They are often pastoral, especially when the topic is something like “the greatness of simple living,” but they can also take place in an urban atmosphere if the topic is, say, “the greatness of progress.”

If you have two people speaking, you can have them disagree (and then have one of them “win” the dialogue) or you can have them agree (and build the case together.) Here is an example:

Eclogue by a Five-barred Gate

by Louis MacNeice

Well, I dreamt it was a hot day, the territorials
Were out on melting asphalt under the howitzers,
The brass music bounced on the houses. Come
I heard cry as it were a water-nymph, come and fulfil me
And I sped floating, my feet plashing in the tops of the wheat
But my eyes were blind,
I found her with my hands lying on the drying hay,
Wet heat in the deeps of the hay, as my hand delved,
And I possessed her, gross and good like the hay,
And she went and my eyes regained sight and the sky was full of ladders
Angels ascending and descending with a shine like mackerel—
Now I come to tell it it sounds nonsense.

The form is still occasionally employed (notably by the FAR underrated Louis MacNeice), but for the most part has fallen into disfavor in modern times. I understood the why of this viscerally while trying to write one. First of all, it felt extremely preachy. Second, and likewise, it seemed forced to me to write about ideas in this manner.

I chose to have a dialogue.

For my subject matter, I chose a topic which is one of my go-to rants: the subject of anti-intellectualism in modern America. I have recently joined the social media platform of Tumblr and, in the process of following people, have learned that there is a television series either currently running or in recent memory dealing, if I understand correctly, with the character of Hannibal Lecter before the events of The Silence of the Lambs, back when he was still actively eating people.

It reminded me of something I have felt for some time, that Hannibal Lecter is an anti-intellectual meme in our culture. He is a highly intelligent and cultured man and one of the most evil beasties stomping on the terra. Someone usually counters that they know many intelligent people who like Hannibal Lecter, but that proves nothing. No one is better at self-loathing than smart people. Someone may also counter with some anti-hero clap-trap. I won’t deny many of American entertainment’s current reprogramming agendas, like the humiliation of human dignity. More than one reprogramming agenda can be at work within the same meme.

This inevitably reminds me of a related rant, which is that I also believe that 1980s and 1990s sit-com character Frasier Crane is also an anti-intellectual meme in our society. He is an intelligent and cultured man who is a buffoon set up for our mockery. We see him as pompous and identify, instead, with his working class father or working class bar-mates. In both cases we are taught as a culture to denigrate and feel better than people who are trying to better themselves while subconsciously reinforcing repulsion towards bettering ourselves (thereby remaining more pliant television viewers which is equal to more obedient consumers).

But now I am giving away the content of the poem.

So, here are the two doctors self-deconstructing in my eclogue.

Eclogue on Anti-Intellectualism

by Paul Mathers

Frasier

I thank you for accepting my invitation

To speak with me here on my radio station.

Perhaps today together we can fix

The problem: that either one of us exists.

Hannibal

Now sit us down and share from this decanter

And we’ll work out this issue through our banter,

How bettering one’s self’s presented as too daunting

by entertainment’s game of Three Card Monte.

Frasier

The medium is what the medium sells.

It’s the answer to what, why, and how it tells.

And so we are paid handsomely to show

that low is high and, also, high is low.

Hannibal

The argument is merely dietary.

High culture does not make virtue plenary

And aspirations can tend towards the gall.

Our world fears heights. The gutter’s a short fall.

Frasier

Buffoonery or evil is the predicate.

Intellectual minstrel shows to validate

Watching anti-intellectual medleys.

Snobbery’s specter replaces Sloth in 7 Deadlies.

Hannibal

If each man’s improvement he sought to see

Of himself and his neighbor, then could he

no longer be the advertiser’s cog

and exit the arena where dog eats dog.

Frasier

Instead of letting others rule your head

Get thee to a library instead.

Hannibal

You are, of your soul’s helm, the only giver.

Beware of captains who would eat your liver.

Advertisements