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Descartes Composes a Ballet


Death looks like my natural daughter
Who died at the age of five; she dances
Toward me in her skeleton; I cannot remember
Her mother, though, long ago, it was a warm embrace.
Cold of death here in Stockholm. I rise
At five every morning to teach Queen Christina
In her study. She is killing me with arguments
Of how to live happily in sight of God and man.
Always I yearned for morning hours in bed
And warmth for thought. In the Bavarian Army,
During the Thirty Years War, I climbed in a stove
Each ice-shattered morning to keep warm
And meditate. The Queen is my stove,
Impatient youth, commanding mistress of logic.
With her I have analyzed love, and the Passions
Of the Soul residing in the tiny pineal gland.
Her Majesty of Argument has set me to compose a ballet:
Scepticism dances toward my luring senses.
Am I sitting by this fire in my dressing gown?
Sometimes I dream I sit here quietly for warmth
When I am naked in bed. Madmen have such dreams;
But there remains something I cannot doubt.
No demon can deceive me if I do not exist.
Though I think everything false, I am
Something since I think...
Small defense against this passionate Queen
Who walks in logical snow to freeze my age.
I have delved in matter and freed its substance
From the ancient world, but not from God.
Mind and matter are God’s creatures, His will,
And hence distinct from Him. They dance
A singular science for which I went
On pilgrimage to the Blessed Virgin’s shrine.
The dancers shall whirl in passion of faith
Out of the sin-lit south in this dark north.
God, being good, will not deceive their limbs;
If they stumble, it is her whirling will,
Her will to death that kills me in this cold land.
Even if mind sleeps in my daughter and madmen,
God’s mind will dance in this ballet
And the Queen see my marvel if the light reflected
From the body of a wolf into the eyes of sheep
Excites them to quick flight? Mind is music,
God is beyond, God stands to Himself,
Invisible dancer who dances quicksilver vision.

James Schevill

Dance Poetry
A comprehensive anthology
Edited by Alkis Raftis
Copyright 2012