Wall, Cave, and Pillar Statements, after Asôka

By Alan Dugan 1923–2003 Alan Dugan
In order to perfect all readers
the statements should be carved
on rock walls, on cave walls,
and on the side of pillars so
the charm of their instruction can
affect the mountain climbers near
the cliffs, the plainsmen near
the pillars, and the city people near
the caves they go to on vacations.
The statements should, and in a fair
script, spell out the right text and gloss
of the Philosopher’s jocular remark. Text:
“Honesty is the best policy.” Gloss:
“He means not ‘best’ but ‘policy,’
(this is the joke of it) whereas in fact
          Honesty is Honesty, Best
          is Best, and Policy is Policy,
          the three terms being not
          related, but here loosely allied.
What is more important is that ‘is’
is, but the rocklike truth of the text
resides in the ‘the’. The ‘the’ is The.
          By this means the amusing sage
          has raised or caused to be raised
          the triple standard in stone:
the single is too simple for life,
the double is mere degrading hypocrisy,
but the third combines the first two
in a possible way, and contributes
something unsayable of its own:
this is the pit, nut, seed, or stone
of the fruit when the fruit has been
          It is good to do good for the wrong
          reason, better to do good for the good
          reason, and best of all to do good
          good: i.e. when the doer and doee
          and whatever passes between them
          are beyond all words like ‘grace’
          or ‘anagogic insight,’ or definitions like
          ‘particular instance of a hoped-at-law,’
and which the rocks alone can convey.
This is the real reason for the rock walls,
the cave walls and pillars, and not the base
desires for permanence and display
that the teacher’s conceit suggests.”
          That is the end of the statements, but,
          in order to go on a way after the end
          so as to make up for having begun
          after the beginning, and thus to come around
          to it in order to include the whole thing,
add: “In some places the poignant slogan,
‘Morality is a bad joke like everything else,’
may be written or not, granted that space
exists for the vulgar remarks, the dates,
initials and hearts of lovers, and all
other graffiti of the prisoners of this world.”

Alan Dugan, “Wall, Cave, and Pillar Statements, After Asôka” from Poems Seven: New and Complete Poetry. Copyright © 2001 by Alan Dugan. Reprinted by permission of Seven Stories Press.

Source: Poems Seven: New and Complete Poetry (Seven Stories Press, 2001)

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Poet Alan Dugan 1923–2003

Subjects Religion, The Spiritual, Arts & Sciences, Language & Linguistics, Philosophy

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Alan  Dugan


First books, especially volumes of verse, are often relegated to obscurity, but Alan Dugan's Poems was greeted with enthusiasm. Philip Booth saluted Poems as "the most original first book that has appeared on any publisher's poetry list in a sad long time," and the awards the book later received bore out Booth's appraisal. Poems was awarded the National Book Award in 1961 and the Pulitzer Prize. Many commentators felt that Dugan . . .

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SUBJECT Religion, The Spiritual, Arts & Sciences, Language & Linguistics, Philosophy

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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