Sloth

the notion of acedia means that a man does not, in the last resort, give the consent of his will to his own being; that beneath the dynamic activity of his existence, he is still not at one with himself
….. ….. -Joseph Pieper

 

When autumn came, my grandfather set up
Behind a metal desk in his garage,
With slender ballpeen hammer and curved pick
….. To hull and crack

The acrid mound of tennis-ball-sized husks
From which he freed those gnarled piths of black walnuts
Gathered beneath our trees the weeks before
….. And meant for this.

Other men I have known had other passions,
To sell insurance or run clothing stores,
To coach a squad of boys to pitch and hit
….. In summer league.

And we are so impressed by excellence,
By concentration, how it shuts the world out
And brushes off distraction with a rudeness
….. Quite accidental,

That some have thought that this was our vocation,
The answer to the question why we’re here,
And whose unceasing cultivation is
….. Our happiness.

But even as a boy, when I would see,
Stowed in my idle laziness, the girls
Solicitous of every teacher’s praise,
….. Those busy bodies

Who volunteered to cook hot meals for old folks,
To tutor after school, or paint bright signs
For spirit week, I’d spy their flitting ache
….. Of restlessness.

And though I felt rebuked by their good will
And knew my brooding silence in the lunchroom
Was also discontent, if not distraction,
….. And marked for shame,

I nonetheless thought they had fled the question
Posed by their selves, or pushed it off beyond
Tomorrow with assurance that they had
….. Done what was asked.

And later, when I saw what Pascal wrote
About the king possessed of everything
Who would not have himself be left to sit
….. In solitude,

For fear his roving mind’s eye might return
Upon the glowering emptiness within
And there, cut off from glittering abundance,
….. Find gnawing misery,

I knew that man, contemptible and great,
Could build a far-flung empery from worry,
An earnest moral sentence from a lie
….. He tells himself;

And knew reflective anguish, in being thought,
Resembled more than humming outward deeds
What both too easily parody: that peace
….. We fear to seek.

For it is silly, Aristotle says,
To think the gods live their eternity
Fiddling about with war or sex or money.
….. They are all stillness.

No less must we, who crack our meat from shells
And earn commissions sweating at the office,
Set by our deeds at last for that pure act
….. Of god-like rest.

James Matthew Wilson

James Matthew Wilson

James Matthew Wilson has published eight books, including, most recently, The Hanging God (Angelico, 2018). The 2017 recipient of the Hiett Prize from the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture, he is associate professor of religion and literature, in the Department of Humanities and Augustinian Traditions, at Villanova University. He also serves as the poetry editor for Modern Age magazine and the series editor for Colosseum Books.
James Matthew Wilson

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Author: James Matthew Wilson

James Matthew Wilson has published eight books, including, most recently, The Hanging God (Angelico, 2018). The 2017 recipient of the Hiett Prize from the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture, he is associate professor of religion and literature, in the Department of Humanities and Augustinian Traditions, at Villanova University. He also serves as the poetry editor for Modern Age magazine and the series editor for Colosseum Books.