Francis, Now It’s Your Turn to Listen

 bust-of-cicero-roman-1st-century-bcAuthor’s Note:  In 1345 CE, Francis Petrarch, now considered the early father of the Renaissance and the first humanist, discovered a lost trove of letters written by Cicero, the ancient Roman philosopher, orator and poet.  Following the assassination of      Julius Caesar in 44 BCE, Octavian (who eventually became Caesar Augustus)        battled with Mark Anthony for control of Rome. 
Cicero came out of retirement and strongly spoke out against Anthony. 
Shortly after, during a temporary rapprochement between Anthony and Octavian,
the two reached an agreement that Cicero would be beheaded for his actions.
In later years, a statue of Cicero holding his head in his hands would be affixed to the wall of the Roman Senate.  Cicero’s voice could no longer be heard, but the statue was a vivid reminder that all senators should be cautious in both oratory and action. 
Over 1300 years later, Petrarch penned “A Letter to a Dead Roman”, in which he wrote to Cicero, telling him that he was insane to have left his villa and quiet years of contemplative retirement and that he failed to recognize the appropriate boundary between private life and public service.  He scolded Cicero for leaving his library and taking actions that resulted in an unseemly death for a philosopher, orator and poet.
Ah, Petrarch, why did you decide to write to Cicero?
Dead for over a thousand years at the hands of Anthony and Augustus—
Who were you really penning the letter to— as Cicero could not read,
Could not hear, having lost his head for taking his last brave step….
What, pray tell, does it profit a man as yourself
To sit upon the bank of the Adige in Verona, to write to a dead Roman poet?
What vanity possessed you, as though you could give advice to another man,
Caught in the heat of passion and ardor for his country….
Who bravely stood, however foolishly, to speak on behalf of Rome?
By what torch do you now see beyond the years of your life?
You expose yourself devoid of wise counsel
When you write and give guidance, caught as you were,
In delusion that you had clarity, could judge the wisdom
Of Cicero offering opposition to Anthony— as though in his old age
His love for the Senate was thoughtless or wasteful.
What is worth dying for?  What do you love?
Are you so fearful of death that you cling to your bed,
Refuse to speak whatever truth is given your eyes to see,
Remain silent in prayer and meditation while others
Spill their blood upon the stage of war and history?
Oh, Francis—is there ever a time to hold back from
Whatever truth flows from the heart…. no matter the cost,
No matter how hopeless the effort?  How much better
For you to have stood with Cicero and offered a word of praise.
Death is not unseemly for a philosopher king at any age.
No life obscured with restless fear as yours appears to be,
Allows the right to offer guidance to another.
My dearest Francis, cloaked in your white robes…
I sense your need to speak, to write to Rome.
I turn and see your name now written faintly on the clouds,
Far distant on western horizon.  I hear upon the wind
Your words that sweep along edges of blue sky.
Were you speaking to yourself or to me who sits here,
Watching the world unfold… a poet that writes,
A neck bending close to earth, head still attached, for now.
Pray tell me from thick edge of the moment— Where are you?
What words should I now speak?  What stand should I take?
Here I am.  Give me what I need to hear….


One thought on “Francis, Now It’s Your Turn to Listen

  1. Fred, this is fascinating. it is one of my favorite pieces of your work. Like the historical connection. Liz

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