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Poetry

A Day by the Stream with Heraclitus

by Sarah Rochelle

Five hundred years before A.D.
There lived a man who said, “You see,
Things are not what we think they are,
And whether near, or even far,
They flex and change, are not the same”
And Heraclitus was his name.

It came to pass one sunny day
He took his children out to play;
“Back to the stream!” the children cried,
But Heraclitus frowned and sighed,
“I know to go back would be nice
You can’t get in the same stream twice.”

“But there it is,” the children said,
“The water cool above its bed;
We long to feel it round our toes.”
But Heraclitus scratched his nose:
“In winter yonder stream was ice;
You can’t get in the same stream twice.”

The smallest child began to cry
And said, “But, Dad, I can’t see why.
It was ice, now it’s liquified;
And there is something else beside:
The water running past my toe
Was there, but then I watched it go!”

Their mother came upon the scene:
“Why Heraclitus, don’t be mean;
Just let the kids enjoy their game.
The water’s changed, the stream’s the same.
I wash your robe here ev’ry week,
Unchanging water’d make it reek!”

Then Heraclitus smiled and said,
“It all comes clear, just use your head;
The bow must move against the lyre,
A flint on stone produces fire;
Each in one city has his role,
All things have parts and yet are whole.”

“I’ll second that,” his wife replied,
“And all the meals that I provide
Are made of many smaller parts:
Flour into bread, and fruit in tarts.
The heat of fire completes the dish –
A transformation, if you wish.”

Then Heraclitus laughed and said,
“It must be time that we were fed;
The fire that changes parts to wholes
Has stoked my appetite with coals;
And what is clear to any dunce:
Each meal is eaten only once.”

© Sarah Rochelle 2021

Sarah Rochelle is a social scientist, musician, practical philosopher, and writer of philosophical poems, which can be seen and heard at notequalpress.com.

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