I scribbled this down yesterday:
Ashes and Clay
When the wordly wise seem to conquer,
when they scoff at the words on your tongue;
when they treat as though they were nothing
the chants your forefathers had sung;
when they speak as if Delphi's oracle
had informed them of all secrets and ends,
as if each word they were speaking
did from Apollo descend;
then cast off their sophists' deductions
and of their white noise learn to say:
Your maxims are proverbs of ashes;
your defenses are defenses of clay.
They may take for their fashion the pompous,
or the dismissal of every decree,
or lace every word with a scorning
of the things they do not bother to see.
They may boast of their goodness and virtue
or rejoice in their love of the poor
(whom they ignore every day in the passing
but as an abstraction adore).
They may contrast your life with disfavor,
but remember when the hounds start to bay:
their maxims are proverbs of ashes;
their defenses are defenses of clay.
They will speak at great length of true justice;
they will condemn you for faults beyond ken;
they will hold you to standards of greatness
beyond the attaining of men.
And when it is done will they embrace you?
No, they hold you, you alone, to the blame;
for you never did think like they think,
and your name was never their name.
When they do this be strong and have courage,
and a mirror hold up to their way,
for their maxims are proverbs of ashes,
and their defenses are defenses of clay.
But beware when you speak to another;
beware of your word and your thought.
For you are not so wise in your knowledge
as never in folly to be caught.
You may speak with great understanding;
you may speak with the wisdom of years,
or know al lthe paths that the world takes,
or the grounds of each hope and all fears;
but always be mindful of danger,
how someone might face you and say:
"Your maxims are proverbs of ashes;
your defenses are defenses of clay"!