A Day by the Stream with Heraclitus

A Day by the Stream with Heraclitus

Five hundred years before A.D.

There lived a man who said, ‘You see,

Things are not what we think they are,

And whether near, or even far,

They flex and change, are not the same.’

And Heraclitus was his name.

It came to pass one sunny day

He took his children out to play;

‘Back to the stream!’ the children cried,

But Heraclitus frowned and sighed, 

‘I know to go back would be nice

You can’t get in the same stream twice.’

‘But there it is’, the children said,

‘The water’s cool above its bed;

We long to feel it round our toes.’

But Heraclitus scratched his nose,

‘In winter yonder stream was ice;

You can’t get in the same stream twice.’

The smallest child began to cry

And said, ‘But, Dad, I can’t see why

It was ice, now it’s liquified;

And there is something else beside:

The water running past my toe

Was there, but then I watched it go!’

Their mother came upon the scene,

‘Why Heraclitus, don’t be mean;

Just let the kids enjoy their game.

The water’s changed, the stream’s the same.

I wash your robe here ev’ry week

Unchanging water’d make it reek!’

Then Heraclitus smiled and said,

‘It all comes clear, just use your head;

The bow must move against the lyre,

A flint on stone produces fire;

Each in one city has his role,

All things have parts and yet are whole.’

‘I’ll second that,’ his wife replied,

‘And all the meals that I provide

Are made of many smaller parts:

Flour into bread and fruit in tarts.

The heat of fire completes the dish—

A transformation if you wish.’

Then Heraclitus laughed and said,

‘It must be time that we were fed;

The fire that changes parts to wholes

Has stoked my appetite with coals;

And what is clear to any dunce:

Each meal is eaten only once.’

SR January 2021                                This poem was also published in Philosophy Now


© Sarah Rochelle 2020