At opposing ends of life's seesaw sit
the complacent sage and careless scholar
candidates for the thorny crown of wit;
one crammed full of phlegm, the other choler,
but which is which is open for debate,
or who will prosper at the hand of fate.
Such a dialectic opposition
defines polarities of fool and sage,
but hasty judgment of one's position
still leaves the other standing on the stage,
pondering how the question should be put
if his boot were on his adversary's foot.
Impartial, standing in between the two
an invisible acrobat keeps the peace
by varying the pressure of his shoe,
a spritely dance that he can never cease;
this trinity of actors can be found,
in market place or martial killing ground.
Within the sage, a fool longs to get free
and the fool hankers after wisdom too,
the former tangled up in logic's tree,
the latter's thoughts mired by custom's glue;
one seeks his freedom chasing after facts,
the other lives a life of thoughtless acts.
Both sage and fool are bound to action's wheel,
forced to participate in Fortune's game.
The wise man wonders if the play is real,
while the fool struggles to advance his fame:
neither can be certain of success or
if wisdom lies in seeking more or less.
As the pendulum swings from side to side,
the sage devotes his time to find perfection
while the fool races down a winding slide
convinced he's going in the right direction;
one renounces joy for a final end
the other finding hope round every bend.
Anger, fear and greed are among the signs
displayed by those human beasts we call fools
but these traits were part of nature's designs
to protect and satisfy, before rules
were writ by clever kings and priestly stealth,
dividing human kind by wit and wealth.
Hatred, lust and envy, too, are despised
by seekers after truth and harmony,
who by their careful moral works revised
brash natures harsh and cruel symphony,
inclined to maximise the spread of life
despite its ravages of pain and strife.
Folly is wise judgment on the fool, but
fools think not sagacious judgment wise;
opposing wildly when the case is shut
they curse fate and shout anger to the skies.
Caught in wisdom's nets of specious laws
they damn all order and unsheathe their claws.
For each false notion the sage holds true
a hundred thousand true ones lie in store;
as many more false ones the fool holds too,
waiting ready to refute wisdom's lore.
This balance between notes of true and false
makes raucous music for the Devil's waltz.
Wisdom consists in more than doctrines tools;
the wise must assiduously enquire
into the validity of their rules.
As foolish lore falls short of fool's desire
they too must revise their kit-bag of wit
to repel wise assaults from logic's kit.
The continual question 'is this true?'
is too tiresome for the man of action,
a modus operandi for the few,
so no fool would crave this satisfaction;
but the seesaw of doctrinal debate
is too often the stage for fools to prate.
The miserly buffoon guards well his hoard,
as the sage keeps his library well stocked,
and is loath to throw old saws overboard.
The academic pantaloon is shocked,
when new ideas rain down upon his head,
taking shelter beneath old books he's read.
One hundred and seventeen kinds of fool,
listed on the manifest of Brant's ship*,
set sail upon the medieval pool
of wit, which makes this verse a tiny blip,
but that history of wise and foolish strife
stays much the same as in our daily life.
* The Ship of Fools, Sebastian Brandt, 1494