Crisis: a poem

Written in a time of transition a few years ago, this poem may not have have much literary value, but the process of working it out was valuable for me.

The Greek krisis means turning point, as in the decisive moment of a disease leading to either recovery or death. I decided to take that “turning point ” literally. The root of the word also means to choose, decide, judge. The image of the crossroads was what occurred to me to start with, and I did not know where it would lead me. The result was somewhat of a surprise.


I came to a crossing of the ways;
“Now I must choose,” I said.
“One way goes left, the other right,
The last leads straight ahead.”

“Follow my heart!” I cried, and dashed
With joy on the leftward way,
To live for pleasure all I asked
Of a long and merry day.

I loved – till love turned sour at last;
I laughed – till laughter fled.
And as the sky turned dark with night
My heart fell cold and dead.

“The heart,” I said, “cannot be made
For happiness alone.
Each cry of joy is countered
By sorrow’s bitter moan.”

The crossing I beheld again,
I went now to the right.
With iron will I’d face all foes
And bend them to my might.

My sword slew dragons aplenty, true,
And giants by the score.
Yet for each monster that I killed
There sprang up dozens more.

“This will not do,” I said, aghast,
“My strength can never win
Against an outer enemy
When there bides one within.”

The crossing place appeared once more
Before my furrowed brow.
One way remained, the way of thought
To tread straight forward now.

Head bent, with heavy steps I paced
Beneath a pitiless sun.
My head was full of whys and hows
But answer came there none.

“My head is useless by itself,
No riddles can it read.
I’ve split myself three ways, and none
Has yet supplied my need.”

As darkness fell, I found myself
Back at the cross again.
“What other choice is there?” I cried,
“My journey is in vain.”

“One path is left,” some strange voice spoke,
No louder than a hum.
I looked, and thought, and turned around
To face the way I’d come.

I’ve walked this road already,
Not once, but thrice – and yet
With all I’ve learned behind me
My course that way I’ll set.

Duccio, Road to Emmaus (1308-11)

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