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Chanson Philosophique

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The nominalist in me invents
A life devoid of precedents.
The realist takes a different view:
He claims that all I feel and do
Billions of others felt and did
In history’s Pre-me period.

Arguing thus, both voices speak
A partial truth. I am unique,
Yet the unceasing self-distress
Of desire buffets me no less
Than it has other sons of man
Who’ve come and gone since time began.

The meaning, then, of this dispute?
My life’s a nominal/real pursuit,
Which leaves identity clear and blurred,
In which what happens has occurred
Often and never—which is to say,
Never to me, or quite this way.

Timothy Steele, “Chanson Philosophique” from Sapphics and Uncertainties: Poems 1970-1986. Copyright � 1986, 1995 by Timothy Steele. Reprinted with the permission of the University of Arkansas Press, www.uapress.com.
Source: Sapphics Against Anger and Other Poems (1986)

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This poem originally appeared in the August 1983 issue of Poetry magazine

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Chanson Philosophique

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