HOW JUST, HOW LEARNED, HOW WISE
I once heard loud shouts, which seemed to gurgle up from the lower regions through waters, one toward the left, crying, “O how just!” another toward the right, “O how learned!” and a third from behind, “O how wise!” (Emanuel Swedenborg, True Christian Religion §332)
The seer in the spirit world
Heard three exultant cries
Come burbling up from lands beneath:
“How just! How learned! How wise!”
Toward this din he downward climbed
And saw with opened eyes
Three companies each shouting praise,
“How just!” “How learned!” “How wise!”
He neared the clique who cried “How just!”
And saw a court of bricks
Where judges sat in robes around
A fire of pitch-soaked sticks.
The judges knew each point of law
That might enrich their friends
And skillfully they wreathed their writs
To bring about such ends.
Sulfureous phantom shapes lit up
The walls on every side,
And when each judge’s verdict came,
“How just!” his friends all cried.
The seer with an angel guide
Next sought the “learned” crew
And found them in a sunken plain
Stamped flat by boot and shoe.
“Each scholar here,” the angel said,
“Has such an open mind
They won’t decide on anything
Or leave one doubt behind.”
“Please let me pose a question,” called
The seer as he waved.
“By what religion must one live
In order to be saved?”
“Let us discuss,” the scholars said,
“But first let us define
‘Religion’ (if such thing exists).
This may take us some time.”
“Some time?” the seer asked. “How long?
A day? A week? A year?”
“Oh, more than that — a century
If we’re to get quite clear.”
“And meanwhile now,” the seer scoffed,
“You’ll live just as you please?”
“Yes, if we must to keep our pure
The scholars tramped in place again
Debating long and loud
And, as it meant they need not change,
“How learned!” cried the crowd.
At last the seer came to those
Who shouted out, “How wise!”
And found a crowd around some men
Constructing clever lies.
“They aren’t lies,” said one of them
When called out from the rest.
“We prove our points with valid facts -
Just put me to the test.”
A nearby skeptic challenged him,
“Then prove a raven’s white.”
“It is! The blackness that you see
Is just a trick of light.
Each fiber of its feathers viewed
Up close is white as snow.
You see? There’s nothing true or false
But thinking makes it so.”
“Then can you prove,” the seer asked,
That you have lost your mind?”
“I can, but I would rather not,”
The prudent man declined.
The perks of this approach weren’t lost
On those who gathered there,
Whereby in shouted unison,
“How wise!” the crowd declared.
So — when you tingle from acclaim
Or glow in your own eyes,
Be wary of the voice that cries,
“How just, how learned, how wise!”