This was a mammoth task! Lots of quotes from Dostoevsky’s Notes From Underground stuck out to me and I could identify very well with The Underground Man. Finding many of these quotes elsewhere online seems to indicate that many others identify with him too.
Anyway, I decided I’d try to write a poem for each quote as I’d done before. This took a while!
The themes are obviously all very similar, maybe it could’ve been one long poem but that would’ve surely made me more crazy. Words are borrowed and manipulated liberally from the quotes. This was a fun exercise but I’m glad it’s finished. On to the Dreams of a Ridiculous Man!
But I still say that not only too much lucidity, but any amount of it at all is a disease.
When you wake up, ready to go
In search of things you didn’t know
Does this compulsion drive you so
Too obsessive to properly grow
The disease of always learning
Never satisfies your yearning
That desire that’s always burning
Is like a wheel that’s always turning
…as a result of heightened consciousness, a man feels that it’s all right if he’s bad as long as he knows it – as though that were any consolation.
I know the things I’ve done
There surely is no prize
I justified the outcome
As I looked into your eyes
I’m guilty of being more intelligent than all those around me. (I’ve always felt that and, believe me, it’s weighed on my conscience sometimes. All my life, I have never been able to look people straight in the eye – I always feel a need to avert my face.)
Here on this pedestal, I sit
Judging all those below
It’s always been like this
And believe me, I know
When will you learn, I say
As if to deny what’s true
I don’t know who I am
But certain that you are you
….it will hurt itself a hundred times more than it will hurt the one against whom its revenge is directed, who probably won’t even feel enough of an itch to scratch himself.
Bad To Worse
When I took revenge on you
You didn’t feel a thing
Little did I understand
The trouble it would bring
I just wanted to hurt you
Make you feel my pain
Instead things got worse for me
Over and over again
How many times did I convince myself that I was offended, just like that, for no reason at all.
To Take Offence Is To Give Offence
Convinced myself I was offended
Just like that, no reason at all
My reaction less than splendid
Taking home my bat and ball
Where will I find primary reason for action, the justification for it? I exercise my power of reasoning, and in my case, every time I think I have found a primary cause I see another cause that seems to be truly primary, and so on and so forth, indefinitely. This is the very essence of consciousness and thought. It must be another natural law. And what happens in the end? The same thing over again.
Round and round in circles I go
Looking for the primary cause
It’s never ending, I know
It’s one of nature’s laws
You see, ladies and gentlemen, I have a friend – of course, he’s your friend too, and, in fact, everyone’s friend. When he’s about to do something, this friend explains pompously and in detail how he must act in accordance with the precepts of justice and reason. Moreover, he becomes passionate as he expostulates upon human interests; heaps scorn on the shortsighted fools who don’t know what virtue is or what’s good for them. Then, exactly fifteen minutes later, without any apparent external cause, but prompted by something inside him that is stronger than every consideration of interest, he pirouettes and starts saying exactly the opposite of what he was saying before; that is, he discredits the laws of logic and his own advantage; in short, he attacks everything…
Your Personal Friend
Roll up, roll up, he is everyone’s friend
He is another you
Arguing a point, a message to intend
About what you should do
Fifteen minutes, position is reversed
Opposite now true
Argued both ways, you’re becoming the worst
Split yourself in two
Attack from both sides needing to win
Making others blue
Needle your way under people’s skin
Two faced through and through
….in that future age of reason, there suddenly appeared a gentleman with an ungrateful, or shall we say, retrogressive smirk, who, arms akimbo, would say:
“What do you say, folks, let’s send all this reason to hell, just to get all these logarithm tables out from under our feet and go back to our own stupid ways.”
That isn’t so annoying in itself; what’s bad is that this gentleman would be sure to find followers. That’s the way man is made.
“Deny all reason and follow me
Your system isn’t working
I am the one to set you free”
I whisper quietly, smirking
…a man, always and everywhere, prefers to act in the way he feels like acting and not in the way his reason and interest tell him…
Don’t Do It
Who controls my brain?
I’m not sure it’s me
Don’t think about pink elephants
But that is what I see
I tell myself, don’t do it
And do it anyway
Shoot myself in the foot
Reason has no say
…there is one instance when a man can wish upon himself, in full awareness, something harmful, stupid, and even completely idiotic. He will do it in order to establish his right to wish for the most idiotic things and not to be obliged to have only sensible wishes…it leaves us our most important , most treasured possession: our individuality.
We’re All Individuals
I want to be stupid
It’s my right
Do dangerous things
In the night
I know it’s dumb
But I’m aware
It’s my choice
You don’t need to care
I’m prepared to follow you as soon as you have eradicated my desires, destroyed my ideals, and replaced them by something better.
Eradicate my desires
Perhaps I’ll follow you
Destroy my ideals
Would I join your crew?
If you want me to change
Follow you to the letter
You’ll have to show me how
You offer something better
You say you’re longing to live, and you try to solve the problems of life with tangled logic. And you’re so insistent, so arrogant, and at the same time, so afraid.
In your arrogance you insist
Don’t fear or resist
Your logic remains tangled
Your thinking quite mishandled
Change the way you live
By what it is you give
You can’t see it made
As long as you’re afraid
There is some truth in you, all right, but there’s no humility; and it is out of the pettiest vanity that you drag forth your truth, to exhibit it, to offer it for sale, to disgrace it. You really have something to say, but you hide your final words, out of fear, because you really have no courage, only the impertinence of a coward. You were bragging about your consciousness, yet you can’t grasp anything clearly because, though your head is quite lucid, your heart is murky as a result of debauchery, and real consciousness is impossible without a pure heart.
Truth For Sale
Do as I say, not as I do
It’s up for sale, what is true
No courage for your conviction
A murky heart, your restriction
Nothing clear in your action
No idea maintaining traction
Your debauchery brings disgrace
And permanently found it’s place
…there are things, too, that a man won’t dare to admit even to himself, and every decent man has quite an accumulation of such things.
Some things I hate to admit to you
And there’s others I cannot see
I also wouldn’t admit were true
So I’ll hide them deep inside of me
I would like to note here Heine’s remark to the effect that sincere autobiographies are almost impossible and that a man is bound to lie about himself.
Every day your autobiography
Is accumulating on your stage
Where you cannot hide behind
Lies you put down on your page
I was twenty-four, but even then I led the gloomy disorganised solitary existence of a recluse. I stayed away from people, avoided even speaking to them, and kept more and more to my hole.
A gloomy solitary existence
A rat hiding in it’s hole
Away from the tyranny
Of words that cut my soul
I, of course, loathed and despised everyone in my office, although I was afraid of them at the same time. At times, I even considered them above me.
Sits In His Office
In this office I sit and suffer
Despising those above me
Fools pandering to bosses
Whispering ‘please, love me’
Afraid of failure
And afraid of praise
I wish to be left alone
To quiet office days
I was painfully sensitive and complex, as a man of this age should be. The others, of course, were stupid and resembled one another like a flock of sheep.
Yes, I’m weird about some things
But that’s as they should be
At least I’m no stupid sheep
And learning what I could be
One day I’d refuse to talk to my colleagues at all; then, suddenly I’d be talking their heads off and even seeking their friendship.
Today I talk your head off
You just seem bemused
Yesterday I ignored you
No wonder you’re confused
I don’t know why it happens
My brain ain’t balanced well
What you’re gonna get today
Even I cannot tell
I, for instance, sincerely loathed my office work, and if I didn’t spit in anyone’s eye, it was only because I couldn’t afford to – I was paid to sit there.
Sits In His Office II
Another dollar, another day
I spat in no one’s eye
Loathing my self-loathing
Life trudges right on by
If I do not do this thing
I’ll be another useless jerk
So now I race to the office
For another hateful day at work
No, wait, don’t laugh, I can explain – I have an explanation for everything, you may rest assured of that.
I have an explanation for everything
You may rest assured of that
I’ll justify all my contradictions
Like an ageless teenage brat
How can one ever understand you…with all these noble feelings.
Your noble thoughts and feelings
Your enigmatic dealings
Can one ever understand
Life’s journey that you have planned?
I was already grimly wondering at the pettiness of their thoughts, the inanity of their talk, their games and their preoccupations. They couldn’t understand the essential things and were not interested in the most thought-provoking subjects, so I came to consider them as inferiors. …but while I was still dreaming, those boys were grasping the real meaning of life.
I discounted you in my false superiority
Because I felt I was far above the majority
Your talk and games are inane
Yet the meaning of life they explain
I still lay here, still provoking thought
In this trap I made, I am clearly caught
I hated them violently, although I was probably even worse than they.
What you did to me
Makes me so mad
And what I do to you
Is just as bad
This violent hate
The same as yours
Exposes us both
To our own flaws
I did make a friend once, but I was already a tyrant at heart and wanted to be the absolute ruler of his mind….It was as though I’d only wanted his total friendship just for the sake of winning it and making him submit to me.
The only way you can be my friend
Is if you submit to my will
Your submission must be total
Tho I will remain a tyrant still
If you break these unspoken rules
You will be castigated
I must be ruler of your mind
Until my ego is placated
I wanted to show the lot of them that I wasn’t the coward I myself thought I was.
My true colours as a coward
My bravado comes to hide
I hurt myself to prove to you
There’s more to me inside
That’s bad too – not to think. Wake up and get hold of yourself while there’s still time. Because you do still have time, understand that!
I don’t want to think about it
I just want to drink about it
I try to fix but always doubt it
In my mind is where I shout it
Can I wake up to myself
Whilst there’s time to be had
Try to think my way out
But…ah, well, that’s too bad
…we must first learn to live ourselves before we begin to accuse others!
Issuing instructions on correct living
Somewhat insincere, granted misgiving
Accusations undermined in ignorance
Hypocritical, devious denial of intelligence
I didn’t understand that sarcasm is a screen – the last refuge of shy, pure persons against those who rudely and insistently try to break their hearts.
I dare not speak of those things I’ve seen
Shy, yet pure, I must raise this screen
My last refuge is not as it may seem
This story plays out as a reoccurring theme
Indirectly, I direct you to where I’ve been
Cry off in the corner as I, smiling, beam
My reaction may be considered extreme
My sarcasm will rudely disturb your dream
Habit can do things to people, I’m sure.
Discipline breeds habit
Habits breed discipline too
Doing things to people’s brains
Doing the do, do do
I’d been insulted, so I wanted to insult back; I’d been made a doormat, so I wanted to show my power and wipe my feet on someone else.
You wiped your shoes on me
With your insulting behaviour
I’ll take my shoes to someone else
So they may feel my failure
I can only play with words or dream inside my head; in real life, all I want is for you to vanish into the ground! I need peace.
The life I wish for is just a dream
I play out in my head many times a day
I would never stick a real knife in you
Though I need peace – please, just go away
Of course, spinning long yarns about how I poisoned my life through moral disintegration in my musty hole, lack of contact with other men, and spite and vanity is not very interesting.
It’s Not Called a Men-cave
As you can see for yourself
My life is quite ordinary
The tales of my disintegration
They don’t often vary
From my cave I look out
A life so poisoned with spite
Unable to deny my vanity
And unable to make things right
We’ve lost touch to such an extent that we feel a disgust for life as it is really lived and cannot bear to be reminded of it.
It annoys me to be reminded of the way you are
Disgusts me so much that I then take things too far
Losing touch with reality, trapped inside this cage
Punishing myself as I’m tortured with this sickly rage
We don’t know ourselves. We would be the ones to suffer if our whimsical wishes were granted.
Ah, it’s the usual story
Wasted wishes on whimsy
We think we know ourselves
Yet the evidence is flimsy
So that we may suffer
When desires are not earned
Your third wish is for three more
Is something to be learned
…we long to turn ourselves into something hypothetical called the average man.
Poison girls once did tell
That Mr Average did never exist
Yet the desire for exactly that
Is a want we cannot resist