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Three poems for existentialists by Sue Johnson
Kierkegaard rejected system,
Denied truth is objective.
“Logic is not true to life
Faith is what’s effective”.
Hegel claimed society
Defines ethic value.
Kierkegaard did not agree:
Said, “Self finds what is true:
Faith begins where thinking stops:
The mind, in time’s dread thrall,
Cannot know infinite God:
Experience is all”.
Heidegger said that we are thrown
Into the world to live alone.
We know that we exist, and dread
The fact that soon we’ll all be dead.
‘Being’ is a mystery
We share with every beast and tree,
But, unlike these, we are aware
And all the time we must beware
that we don’t let society
Tell us how to live and be:
Authentic being means we should
Decide ourselves what’s bad or good.
(Or, name that philosopher!)
I find myself existent, incontrovertibly,
So now I ask: “What am I for?” – it seems it’s up to me.
I’m not convinced that God exists: Therefore, I have no role
That’s predetermined: Value’s out; There’s certainly no soul.
From this flows, paradoxically, what nonetheless is true:
I can be anything I want – do what I wish to do:
Yet, every choice is valueless and every action vain:
If, ultimately, nothing’s good, the thought gives me a pain.
It makes me sick to realise the emptiness of life:
I’m free to choose, yet every choice with worthlessness is rife.
I could of course just end it all – “To be or not to be?”
It’s logical, it’s valid, but it isn’t really me.
I could conform to others’ views – I could decline to choose –
But that’s bad faith, dishonest, so that route I must refuse.
The only way to live is to determine my own fate,
Despite the uselessness of choice, and life, and love and hate.
© Sue Johnson 1995
Sue Johnson is Head of Religious Studies and Philosophy at The Grammar School for Girls, Wilmington, Kent, and writes silly verse in an attempt to provide ‘A’ level Philosophers with aides-memoire.