Where anathema was the theme,
The ancients convened to heap scorn on
One “dumb as an ox” — no oxymoron,
Classics not being what they seem,
But — as across their arrises a chamfer —
Laughter’s blunted by an edge of rancor.
Rhythmic feet dance rhyme-less, blanched and blanker;
Pith and gist are alternating in spasms —
Phlegm and apothegm, asthma and chiasmus —
Now clear, now convoluted in acanthus.
Spirits and indolence combine
Not for solace, but rather for
An amphora to hold the wine
And snappy patter in anaphora.
NOTES for Students of English
“Dumb as an ox — no oxymoron” – This line is a play on the English saying “Dumb as an ox” and the literary term “oxymoron.” Although oxymoron sounds like a combination of the English words “ox” and “moron,” it has no relation to either. Oxymoron means a combination of contradictory or incongruous words, for example “a cruel kindness.” It comes from the Greek word oxymoros “pointedly foolish” derived from oxys “sharp, keen” and moros “foolish.”
Arris – A sharp edge at the junction of two surfaces, e.g., the flutes of a Greek Doric column meeting in a sharp arris.
Chamfer – A diagonal surface made when the sharp edge (or arris) of a stone block is cut away, usually at an angle of 45 degrees to the other two surfaces; a beveled edge.
“Blanched and blanker” – Classical Latin and Greek poetry was written in “blank verse,” i.e., verse that has a regular meter but no rhyme. Blank verse is known as “white verse” in French (“vers blanc”), Russian (“beliye stikhi”), and other languages.
Apothegm – (Pronounced Á-po-them, “th” as in “thin”) A terse, witty, instructive saying; a maxim.
Chiasmus – (Pronounced ki-AZ-mus) In rhetoric, an inversion of the order of words in two parallel phrases or clauses, or the inversion of words when repeated, for example: “Burns with one love, with one resentment glows.” “Old King Cole was a merry old soul, and a merry old soul was he.” “To stop too fearful, and too faint to go.”
Acanthus – The leaf of the acanthus, a Mediterranean plant, was a common motif in Greek and Roman architectural decoration.
Amphora – (Pronounced AM-for-a) A type of ancient Greek jar or vase.
Anaphora – (Pronounced a-NAF-ora) Repetition at the beginning of two or more successive clauses or verses, especially for rhetorical or poetic effect, such as: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” (Charles Dickens); “And fare thee well, my only Love, /And fare thee well a while!” (Robert Burns)