If only

Végre nem butulok tovább is Hungarian for
“I’ve finally stopped getting dumber.”
If only, I thought…

If only that were true I
would not fool me so often—
shame, then double shame on me.

If only that were true I
would not calculate so dear
the zero sum gain of a
positive sum loss of want.

If only that were true I
would, instead, invest in the
future and not in the past
and grip firm that which
truly profits me.

If only that were true I
would not calculate
the function of a yielding curve
integrated over time;
I’d sum, instead, the slopes of
the effort at the instant
spent overcoming what is me,
knowing this to be
the final truth of the heart.

If only.

The quotation that starts this poem came from a posting on the excellent essay blog, the Bully Pulpit, about Paul Erdős, one of the  most brilliant and prolific mathematicians of the twentieth century. Erdős proposed the line as his epitaph, and really, how can you not admire someone with that sense of humor? Or honesty.

The title of this poem was my immediate reaction to the quotation. It still is. It probably always will be.

If you are a math nerd you’ll most likely get the allusions in the poem. If you’re not a math nerd (it’s not as if we run in packs) here’s a short explanation for the obscure bits: ‘integrated over time’ implies the mathematical process of integration, the summing up of the effort put into the ‘yielding curve’ of humility. Mathematically, this is actually valid. On the other hand, the ‘sum of the slopes’ suggests the counter mathematical process of derivation, quantifying the surge of effort required at the instant of decision. Summing up such efforts is mathematically imprecise, but humanly real and justified, I believe, under my officially-issued certificate of poetic license.

I have it here somewhere if you want to see it…

Thank you for reading If only. I sincerely hope you have enjoyed it and I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain. As always, I look forward to your comments.


© 2013 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. This poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2013 by John Etheridge, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com.



Filed under Poetry

2 responses to “If only

  1. Man. This is very solid. I like the mathematical imagery and the structure of the work; the ending surprised me. I’ll be reading this one a few more times to try to grasp it in its entirety, but on the first few readings, I like it.

    Thank you for the reference, by the way. Erdos was quite an interesting guy.

    • John, thank you for the compliments and, of course, thank you especially for the original source of the quote. I had never heard of Paul Erdos before and he was, quite simply, a super fascinating guy. And I am so glad you liked the mathematical references. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I thought that was the only theme I could go with, given the source. The poem went together surprisingly easy (for me) even though I also wanted to write it in precise, 7 syllable lines. That is always so sweet when it happens and makes it a joy to reread afterwards. Again, many thanks!