On Writing Versions of Heraclitus of Ephesus

What little is known about Heraclitus of Ephesus (c. 535–475 B.C.E.) comes down to us in mysterious, powerful fragments, mostly reported by Diogenes Laertius, a third-century biographer of Greek philosophers. Although scholars still dispute his claim, Laertius tells us that Heraclitus had actually written a full-length treatise entitled On Nature, and not just the terse sayings we know as the fragments.  Instead of a complete, systematic work, we are left with those shorter sayings of Heraclitus that often puzzle and stun.

When somewhat young, I discovered the fragments in a Loeb edition and tried to sift through some of the ancient Greek. There was a ferocity in Heraclitus. If we juxtapose two of his more famous sayings, ‘shit is somewhat better than a corpse,’ and ‘character is destiny,’ we might find that a kind of urgency about cheap nfl jerseys life emerges. We are going to become offal and we’d best make the most of it. It was the numerous connections between fragments that urged me to argue with Heraclitus, to argue with myself, to make ‘sonnets’ that gave both of us a place in the poetic cosmos.

The sonnets of Heraclitus are my attempt to compete in both of our voices, to strive against one another, often to the point of frustration and madness. Many of the lines within the sonnets are translations / paraphrases / imitations of Heraclitus’s fragments that have haunted me for some time. Within these fourteen-line structures, I wanted to remake Heraclitus into a poet, not just a mystic and philosopher. That being said, I wanted to remake myself into a being that could communicate with him, tease out his ideas, avow and reject them, revere and dismiss them. I would like to see the sonnets as amalgamations of his thoughts and my own, as well as attempts to make poems that both lessen and heighten the diction in Heraclitus’s fragments. You will find allusions to Tom Waits, sojourns into Honduras, and also, an argument between Heraclitus and St. Augustine, the latter being an identity I tried on. Not wishing us to be mere ‘shit’ when we expire, though unable to refute and only able to refuse the statement of Heraclitus, I tried on various historical hats, as it were, in order to gain the courage to talk to him, to let him sing, to let myself sing back at him.

Read four of the sonnets here.