Tag Archives: philosophy


fragments from Underworld

Said Will, while pointing to the place he stood,
There’s Henry Jekyll, also known as Hyde.
Though math’s not how he earned his doc’tral hood,
His project was to physic’lly divide
The human soul into the “Bad” and “Good”
And fully feel the power of each side.
It seems his fame’s the sort to always soar
Because his name’s become a metaphor.

Of such distinctions, people are quite fond.
Imagined cosmic wars of Right and Wrong
Are something few of us have moved beyond.
We’ve seen in black and white so very long
For fear that existence is a pond
Whose waters flow around the pointed prong
Which, partnered up with Concept’s nimble knife,
Attempts to slice, then pin and label life.






I see a paradox in form and rhyme:
A pattern, regular as night and day,
Will coax a phrase we’d never think to say.
Inspired by verse, we might compare a crime
To something sour—perhaps a slice of lime.
This act of making words a thing of play
Restores the color to what’s going gray
And lifts the spells of blindness cast by Time.
Convention, seeming like a chain with locks,
Releases brilliance that we never sought
By forcing us to free a fettered thought.
In form and rhyme, I see a paradox.

Will Preaches [to Saint Nick]

[Part III of “Santa in the Underworld”]

“How Rumor’s spell enchants adult and youth!
On what they hear, they’d gladly place a bet
Since what’s said first ‘must surely be the truth’.
To act on whisp’rings, folks expend their sweat
But labor not to play the searching sleuth
[Who’ll keep no fishy facts inside his net
Instead of being like a mockingbird
Which sings whatever song it’s lately heard].

The gentlest saint who ever lives and dies
Can’t know what disrespect he might be paid.
The World might see, with its distorted eyes,
Mistakes where prudent choices had been made
[…And dream up faults or magnify the size
Of real but minor flaws] throughout its raid
On people’s bastions built of kindly acts.
[A better jury might prefer the facts].

Perhaps that’s why a wise and ancient sage
Advised his pupils to expect no praise.
Results of deeds are difficult to gauge,
And fog of time will thicken more the haze
That clouds the acts in which we all engage
While stumbling through this snaky social maze.
To be less hurt when hearing no applause,
Expect no cheering for your noble cause.”

The moment William took a breathing pause
His sermon, not yet ended, was assailed
By Santa, who despised the final clause:
“You think expecting cheering’s where I failed?
I’m weary of your proverbs and your saws.
My name was furiously flayed and flailed.
I don’t lament approval that I lacked
But rather being sliced, impaled, and hacked.

Despite your words, you’re seeking approbation.
Perhaps you hoped you’d get me to concede
The wisdom of your moral recitation
And boost you with the self-esteem you need
And try so hard to earn with each oration.”
I didn’t know where their debate might lead
But thought I’d better keep it calm and short
By asking Santa ‘bout his fav’rite sport.

The Absurd Wit and Dubious Wisdom of a Madman

10 Epigrams by Paul Burgess
I. [“Deer Money”]
A conversation quickly makes it clear
That venison’s the meat that’s held most dear.
All people seem to talk about or know
Is how to hunt some bucks or get some doe.

II. [“An Ineffective M.O.”]
To kill with kindness murderers once tried
But found intended victims rarely died.

III. [“Epigram on an Anagram”]
A “poem” might become a mixed up “mope”
Composed by some absurdly gloomy dope.

IV. [When will you write a serious poem?”: an Epigrammatic Reply]
If writing serious and earnest rhymes,
I might be jailed for literary crimes.

V. [“Praying Mantis Mating”]
A praying mantis says, “The sex was great!”
The womantis nods before she grabs her plate.

VI. [“A Teacher’s Epitaph”]
They will appreciate me when I pass.
I know they’ll say, “He had a lot of class.”

VII. [“The Unconscious Liar”]
Don’t trust a snoring man who’s closed his eyes
Because it’s said of him, “Asleep he lies.”

VIII. [“Carpe Diem!”]
Some never feel alive, it’s often said,
Except when doing what might make them dead.

IV. [“Hobbes]
When influential monarchist Thomas Hobbes
Suggests that men in nature are like brutes,
The modern readers say, between their sobs,
“I guess some haven’t left behind their roots.”

X. [“Freud”]
The most insightful book by Sigmund Freud
Says less of mother-loving we’d avoid.
In Civ’lization and its Discontents,
There’s less of Oedipus and more of sense.

“Mindless Life in Ghostly Shadows”

a sonnet by Paul Burgess–this is one of my rare “serious” works. I would genuinely appreciate any feedback readers would provide.

This drinking tea to empty out a cup
And doing tasks to cross them off our lists
Directs the eyes to what is coming up,
Although what’s here, and nothing else, exists.
If sewing only to complete a dress
With thoughts of only what will next arrive,
Then shadows and a deathly emptiness
Accompany all moments we’re alive.

Without Awareness, tapestries of what has passed
Are woven presents filled with ghostly dreams,
And threads of faded “Now” that we’ve amassed
Will hold together Future’s fraying seams.
To always look behind or play the seer
Exchanges “is” for “is not truly here.”

This poem was inspired by the following passage from Thich Nhat Hahn’s Miracle of Mindfulness:

If while washing the dishes, we think only of the cup of tea that awaits us, thus hurrying to get the dishes out of the way as if they were a nuisance, then we are not “washing the dishes to wash the dishes.”…If we can’t wash the dishes, the chances are we won’t be able to drink our tea either. While drinking the cup of tea, we will only be thinking of other things, barely aware of the cup in our hands. Thus we are sucked away into the future–and we are incapable of actually living one minute of life” (5).

“The Underdog Effect”

A prose reflection by Paul Burgess
– Consistent winners are often polarizing. While hated by many, they are loved by others who enjoy sharing vicariously in their glory. Consider the envy and hostility many spectators feel towards athletes and teams that seem indestructible, and think of the appeal of the ‘underdog’ with whom many identify.

-Perhaps the underdog effect is related to its ability to inspire in people the following thought process: “I, little lowly me, could also succeed at slaying the big dragon. People might look at me as meek, but I have potential. Look at those other underdogs who’ve proven the world wrong! I’d love to obtain similar vengeance on public opinion […or what I’ve perceived as public opinion when I’ve narrated my life’s dramas to myself]. I’d love to have “them” feel that they were wrong […although they likely never think of “me.”]

– Sometimes people who are not underdogs like to feel that they have been in order to experience a sense of vindication  in defying the supposed expectations of the doubters; they imagine the abstract crowd of doubters –often dubbed ‘the world’– thinking to itself, “I sure was wrong about so and so.” What fantasies and narratives we weave about ourselves!

-Might some people’s love of underdogs be motivated by pleasure derived from opposing prevailing opinion? Betting on the underdog means to go against “the crowd” while remaining in the security of another crowd (i.e. the “underdog’s supporters”). Some people might side with the underdog because they enjoy fantasizing about the malicious joy of taunting the mighty. Whether mighty or meek, people often indulge in thinking of themselves as underdogs whose failures can be attributed to their participation in a rigged game; when they succeed despite facing ostensibly long odds, they expect “the World’s” applause to ring more loudly than it would for the entitled victors of “the Establishment”–an abstract group containing miscellaneous “types” with whom they do not identify.

“*Civilization and its Discontents*

The most insightful book by Sigmund Freud
Says less of mother-loving we’d avoid.
In Civ’lization and its Discontents,
There’s less of Oedipus and more of sense.

–an epigram by Paul Burgess

Lucretius on Philosophy

Some brilliant lines from one of the greatest figures in Western letters–the philosopher/poet Lucretius:

Lucretius The Nature of Things [The A.E. Stallings Translation]
[Book V] (lines on the value of the philosopher)

…But if you think the deeds of Hercules compare somehow, [to the work of the philosopher]
You stray from truth and common sense. For what harm could come now
To us from the gaping jaws of the Nemean lion? And what more
Have we to fear now from that bristly brute, the Arcadian boar? [and several other monsters slain by Hercules]
…And yet what dangers threaten if the mind is not washed clear,
What battles we unwillingly invite into the heart!
How biting are desire’s cares that worry man apart,
How menacing the fears! And then consider Pride and Wrath
And Lust—and the catastrophes which are their aftermath—
And Gluttony and Sloth. And he who’s conquered all these, then,
And banished them from the mind—not by the sword, but by the pen—
Shouldn’t he be numbered with the gods and not with men?
[lines 22-24, 42-52]

“A Brief Reflection on Nihilism”

“A Brief Reflection on Nihilism” by Paul Burgess
Some people are like hypothetical astronomers who have convinced themselves that life could exist  on only one other planet. They focus their instruments on Mars and fight to prove the correctness of theories devised before adequate instruments were available. Once newer technology allows thorough exploration, these astronomers often react in one of the following ways to the apparent absence of life on Mars: some contort reality by insisting that life is only visible to the virtuous or faithful astronomer, while others conclude that there is no life anywhere else…even though they have looked at only one possibility among millions.

Wisdom from Seneca

All passages come from Seneca’s priceless The Letters of a Stoic [the Robin Campbell translation]

“Letter II”…It is not the man who has too little who is poor, but the one who hankers after more. What difference does it make how much there is laid away in a man’s safe or in his barns, how many head of stock he grazes or how much capital he puts out at interests, if he is always after what is another’s and only counts what he has yet to get, never what he has already (34).


“Letter III”
-Trusting everyone is as much a fault as trusting no one (though I should call the first the worthier and the second the safer behaviour) (36).

“Letter V”
-The very name of philosophy, however modest the manner in which it is pursued, is unpopular enough as it is: imagine what the reaction would be if we started dissociating ourselves from the conventions of society. Inwardly everything should be different but our outward face should conform with the crowd…Let our aim be a way of life not diametrically opposed to, but better than that of the mob. Otherwise we shall repel and alienate the very people whose reform we desire; we shall make them, moreover, reluctant to imitate us in anything for fear they may have to imitate us in everything (37).
-…one’s life should be a compromise between the ideal and the popular morality. People should admire our way of life but they should at the same time find it understandable (37-38).

’Cease to hope,’ he [Hecato] says, ‘and you will cease to fear.’ …Widely different though they are, the two of them march in unison like a prisoner and the escort he is handcuffed to. Fear keeps pace with hope…both belong to a mind in suspense, to a mind in a state of anxiety through looking into the future. Both are mainly due to projecting our thoughts far ahead of us instead of adapting ourselves to the present. Thus it is that foresight, the greatest blessing humanity has been given, is transformed into a curse. Wild animals run from the dangers they actually see, and once they have escaped them worry no more. We however are tormented alike by what is past and what is to come. A number of our blessings do us harm, for memory brings back the agony of fear while foresight brings it on prematurely. No one confines his unhappiness to the present (38).

“Letter XVI”
-…making noble resolutions is not as important as keeping the resolutions you have made already. You have to preserve and fortify your pertinacity until the will to good becomes a disposition to good (63).


“Letter XVIII

...it takes a more developed sense of fitness, on the other hand, not to make oneself a person apart, to be neither indistinguishable from those about one nor conspicuous by one’s difference, to do the same things but not in quite the same manner (66-67).
-It is in times of security that the spirit should be preparing itself to deal with difficult times; while fortune is bestowing favours on it then is the time for it to be strengthened against her rebuffs. .If you want a man to keep his head when the crisis comes you must give him so training before it comes.

“Letter XXXVIII”
-What is required is not a lot of words but effectual ones.
-…precepts have the same features as seeds: they are of compact dimensions and they produce impressive results—given, as I say, the right sort of mind, to grasp at and assimilate them. The mind will then respond by being in its turn creative and will produce a yield exceeding what was put into it. (82)

“Letter XL”
-…there’s no state of slavery more disgraceful than one which is self-imposed (95).

“Letter XCI”
So the spirit must be trained to a realization of its lot. It must come to see that there is nothing fortune will shrink from, that she wields the same authority over emperor and empire alike and the same power over cities as over men. There’s no ground for resentment in all this. We’ve entered into a world in which these are the terms life is lived on—if you’re satisfied with that, submit to them, if you’re not, get out, whatever way you please. Resent a thing by all means if it represents an injustice decreed against yourself personally; but if this same constraint is binding on the lowest and the highest alike, make your peace with destiny, the destiny that unravels all ties (181-82).