Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am” (“je pense, donc je suis”; “cogito, ergo sum”) is probably the most famous sentence ever written by a philosopher. Of course he meant it as a proof of his existence, but it’s very easy to adapt it to become a statement about the goal or rationale of human existence: it was also famously adapted in a song to become “I think, therefore I am a rhubarb tart” (I would be indebted to anyone who could provide a Latin translation of that). The poem that follows started as a kind of arabesque around the subject.
I THINK BECAUSE I AM NOT
“I think because I am not,” the wise man said,
“If I were fully in the material world,
The tease of rain, the anger of a rock,
The taste of apples and of fertile woman
Would leave no room for a philosophy
And doubt would be a slipping on the scree.”
“I think, therefore I am,” the lecturer said.
“This itch of questioning and of making patterns
Says who I am, and if I plant it here
And simply give it water and tough skin
To give the grazing deer a nasty bruise,
There is no way the human spirit can lose.”
I think because I cross a borderland
Where shadows may be real and real things vanish
As thought and dream and shivering in my scalp
Circle and blend like warriors or mating cats
And somehow show a way I should not tread
According to the mighty and the dead.