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The Disease – A poem written a few years before 9/11

The Disease

I’ve watched it grow
I’ve seen it sow
true minds into despair

souls of sorrow
ladened deep
burning horrid stares

I’ve seen it work
at lightning speed
to destroy mankind’s seed

through the air
it does its deed
this is its only care

sans partiality
sans decency
Yes, this is “the disease”

You over there!
you believe you’re clear
of this melancholy breeze?

Well let me tell you
if you please
it’s a fatal,
dreadful siege

For once contracted
once enacted
you’ll go on normally
“it’s okay”
“I’m just fine”
“yes, I think I am still free”

But then, alas!
the grippe is tightened
beyond all points of ease
and shipwrecked sailors on the sea of life
all drown
irrevocably

Yes I’ve seen this blight
‘cross this land
and winds are blowing high
no apple pie nor starlit nights
will save this rotting sky
all is darkened
all are dead
all are doomed to die

Lance it fast while time remains
avoid a fearsome plight
destroy this curse
and rest assured
your mark is
for the
light

Cast it out and let us pray
“Lord give us back our sight”
Cast it out to guarantee,
Truth shall conquer might


The Disease © Michael Clark 1997 to present. All rights reserved.

Satan on his way to bring about the downfall o...

Satan on his way to bring about the downfall of Adam. Gustave Doré’s illustration for Paradise Lost by John Milton. Paradise Lost Book III, lines 739-742 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This poem was written somewhere between 1997 and 1999. I’d just finished my Ph.D and was living in a top floor apartment in an old, run-down house in Ottawa, Canada.

I was having a dreadful time with a professor who changed his mind about postdoc letters of recommendation, relatively close to scholarship deadlines.

Realizing this guy had a lot of power in the department, my gut told me that his withdrawal of support was tantamount to a pink slip.

Just as bad, some old friends and many professors suddenly chilled when I told my story. They assumed it was something about me. Nice trick of the devil. Turn the blame on the victim. Maybe the professor wanted it that way.

So this personal misfortune no doubt influenced the poem. However, in the larger sense I understood “The Disease” as a metaphor for ideas found in existential literature and social psychology: John-Paul Sartre’s bad faith, Erich Fromm’s mechanical man, Albert Camus’ The Plague and the NeoMarxist notion of false consciousness. 

In other words, I fit the professor’s creepy behavior within some of the stuff I’d read over the years.

The poem was written mostly as stream of consciousness. While typing it out on my primitive laptop, I remember thinking just how foreboding the lines were becoming (rotting sky…all are doomed to die) and not really knowing why.

Following my instinct, I didn’t delete the darker verses, but I did consider it.

"Satan rises from the burning lake" ...

“Satan rises from the burning lake” (1866) by Gustave Doré; a critical interpretation of the poem compares Ulysses’ final sentiments with Satan’s “courage never to submit or yield” in John Milton’s Paradise Lost. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After 9/11, it seemed the poem was larger than my personal misfortune. The foreboding parts could be taken as a premonition for 9/11.

As the new millennium drew near, not a few artists and sensitives were picking up something rotten on their radar.

The Muse sees.

At least, that’s one way of looking at it. Around that time I was reading John Milton’s Paradise Lost and Dante’s Inferno. So one could say I wasn’t intuiting anything at all.

A psychoanalytic perspective would reduce the poem to a subconscious mimicking of the literary greats and their treatment of evil.

That seems trite to me. Not that my personal unconscious had nothing to do with it. But I tend to think the personal and collective are synced. So my own development probably coincided with an expanded view.

That’s the Jungian take. And my PhD, which I had just completed, was all about Carl Jung’s concept of synchronicity.

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