In the latest issue:

Botanic Macaroni

Steven Shapin

What made the Vikings tick?

Tom Shippey

In the Lab

Rupert Beale

Will there be a Brexit deal?

Anand Menon

Short Cuts: Under New Management

Rory Scothorne

Out-Tissoted

Bridget Alsdorf

Sarah Moss

Blake Morrison

Poem: ‘Country Music’

Ange Mlinko

On the Trail of Garibaldi

Tim Parks

Art Lessons

Peter Campbell

You’ll like it when you get there

Tom Crewe

Early Kermode

Stefan Collini

‘The Vanishing Half’

Joanna Biggs

At the Movies: ‘The Truth’

Michael Wood

The Suitcase: Part Two

Frances Stonor Saunders

Poem: ‘Siri U’

Jorie Graham

Diary: Getting into Esports

John Lanchester

The Dying Scholar’s ConfessionGeoffrey Strickland
Close
Close
Vol. 8 No. 3 · 20 February 1986
Poem

The Dying Scholar’s Confession

Geoffrey Strickland

362 words

Now I am about to die and the secret
Of my ignorance dies with me.
That I put it over them the more discerning
Guessed, their eyes told me, but how much I fooled them
None will ever know. My secret dies with me.

I die mercifully before the secret is out:
The books I quoted and had not read,
The names I hoarded from the talk of others
And dropped into my own,
The desperate webs I wove to fill
The dusty silences of teaching hours.

Why, I have spoken in tongues of which I am so much the master
I could not ask my way in them
Or call for food and a room.
I have spoken like the possessor of experimental skills
Which, if put to the test, would have blown whole laboratories sky high.

I have filled many hours of my pupils’ silence
And intent gazing with my foolishness,
Made exhortations which, had they heeded them
(Or even bothered to read their own lecture notes).
Would have dragged them raving into Hell.

Fortunately, they thought of me only as a good show,
One of the more stimulating lecturers.

And yet I love my ignorance.
The untold treasures of what I do not know
Are more dear to me than the well-lit room
And sagging bookshelves I have owned for years,
In which I am at home and in which I shall die.

The world of what I do not know is like
A towering city on a nest of rocks,
A climbing road, a maze of streets
And squares with antique pumps that I have visited
Many times but cannot find on a map

With men and women who have the look and voices
Of mountain people, who call out to one another
With the rough kindliness of mountain people
In the luminous evenings when the doors are open.

Now that I am dying, I can lapse back into my ignorance.
It will be expected of me even, I shall be honoured for it.
They will say: ‘Once he knew many things, now he knows nothing,
Which is why we mourn for him.’
What have I ever known?

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

letters@lrb.co.uk

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Read More

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences