Greek Theater: second draft

Posted in poetry on March 13, 2013 by admin

UPDATE: a final draft of this poem has been posted here.

This is the second draft of a poem by Peter Dale Scott that was originally posted here in order receive feedback from readers. You can read the original draft along with the comments it received here, and what will probably be the final draft here. (Though you’re still invited to make comments on it.)


How Mario Savio Changed My Life


But in diverting the city’s desires another way instead of complying with them…
that is the only business of a good citizen.
— Plato, Gorgias 517 B-C
It has taken weeks
of unsettled half-awareness
for me to recognize
the student wrestled to the ground Cohen Freedom’s Orator 213
by six policemen in uniforms
a baton menacing his neck and tie
(an arm across his throat
to keep him from speaking) San Francisco Chronicle December 9 1964
on the cover of this book
about how J. Edgar Hoover
slipped lies to the San Francisco Examiner
advancing the career of Ronald Reagan Seth Rosenfeld Subversives 212-13, 227
is Mario Savio
on the stage of the Greek Theater December 7 1964; Rosenfeld Subversives 224
wrecking the well-planned closure
of the assembly called to proclaim
an end to the protests and sit-ins
of the Free Speech Movement
and the inauguration
of a new era of freedom under law Rosenfeld Subversives 223
by an ambitious professor Cohen Freedom’s Orator 213-14
hoping thereby to become
our next Chancellor
who defended the war on TV
and is now less googled
than his daughter a language poet Leslie Scalapino
The anticlimax when Mario
came back out to announce
there would be a Free Speech rally Cohen Freedom’s Orator 213-14
on the Sproul Hall steps Rosenfeld Subversives 224
up-ended my own planned life
I was just a few yards away
at the same camera angle
one of those who had urged
the students to trust
the decency of those in power
my head then filled with Anglo-Latin
verse from the ninth century
why the return of a cuckoo in spring
spoke to the heart
expressing aspirations of friendship
more deeply than Virgil could Scott Alcuin’s Versus de Cuculo
and did more to invent Europe
at a higher level —
Christianus sum I am a Christian
non possum militare I cannot make war – Acta Maximiliani 1.3
than the battle stopping the Moors
on the banks of the Loire
two different kinds of power
the power of dominance Douglass Gandhi and the Unspeakable 25
and the power of persuasion
through not enmity but love
as I had seen in an iconic moment
alone reading Plato’s Gorgias Plato Gorgias 503-21
in the Ambassador’s huge bed
when I was chargé d’affaires in Warsaw —
the power of persuasion
and that of the nightstick – Cf. Arendt Between Past and Future, 93
the first a traditio
so precious and fragile
I gave up all those frills
(my chauffeur        that flag up ahead on the limo)
to help preserve it in a university
Well – little could I foresee
how Mario in an instant
had changed me from a Latinist
into an activist
no longer a mere spectator
(as I had been five days earlier
when the students filed into Sproul Hall
singing We shall overcome) December 2 1964; Rosenfeld 216-22
that same evening I spoke
at the crisis faculty meeting Cohen Freedom’s Orator 214-15
and only one month later
my first public appeal
to get troops out of Vietnam
which though I could not know it
was doomed to help end
my evenings with Milosz
debating the right English
for what is poetry
that does not save
nations or peoples? Milosz New Collected Poems 78
a heartbreaking loss at the time Haven An Invisible Rope 69
but not one that deterred me
as much as the crazy violence
that broke out on all sides
the gates opened
to a decade of tear gas
from Filthy Speech to Prairie Fire Smelser Reflections 30-38
and the struggle between
two kinds of decency
one struggling for an end
to racial hiring
in the local supermarkets Rosenfeld Subversives 176-77
one that of the U.S. middle class
who did not want their kids dropping acid
or cursing Amerikkka Ruether America Amerikkka
and so when given a chance
voted for Ronald Reagan
the great persuader Broder Washington Post 6/7/04
while Richard Aoki
as a paid FBI informant
armed the Black Panthers Rosenfeld Subversives 418-19, 421
and while I discomforted
by the screeds of the Situationnistes’
plans for Paris ‘68
plastered on the outer walls
of Cody’s bookstore
You have to maim a horse
on stage to remind these people Scott Rumors of No Law 43
tried to write like Brecht
whose Entfremdungseffekt alienation effect
leaves you wishing for something more
and I quoted from Chairman Mao’s
Talks at the Yenan Forum
which by then I was teaching
along with Lenin Gandhi and T.S. Eliot
to a large undergraduate class
love is a concept Mao Tse-tung 260
Fundamentally we do not start from a concept Scott Rumors of No Law 43
before I decided to follow Gandhi
the approach to Truth is through love Gandhi’s Bible 2001, 169
But once one has seen
a student’s cheek under a boot
as an example of freedom under law
and a vivid pantomime
on a political stage
of the two kinds of power
one has to choose between
the power of the Internet
versus the killer drone
either the troops with DEA equipment
who massacred dozens of students
at Thammasat University in Bangkok Scott American War Machine 127
and the cop who thanked Howard Zinn
for his talk to the Police Academy
then pled with him desperately
to please leave the antiwar blockade
before a little later
battering him with an outsized club Ellsberg A Memory
or the power of satyagraha truthforce nonviolence
which changed the American South
and expelled Russian troops from Poland Schell Unconquerable World 227-31
encouraging me to search
at the limits of language
in the spirit of Mario
for new Socratic energies
(grounded on those hints
of human freedom
encoded in our DNA)
at a higher level
than the Occupy movement
still struggling to break free
from the habits of the past
that less than a year ago
led the UC campus police
to drag my colleague Celeste Langan
a Wordsworth scholar
across the grass by her hair Robert Hass New York Times November 19 2011


Acta Maximiliani, ed. H. Musurillo. The Acts of the Christian Martyrs. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972.Hannah Arendt. Between Past and Future: Eight Exercises in Political Thought. New York: Penguin Books, 1993.

David S. Broder, “The Great Persuader,” Washington Post, June 7, 2004,

Robert Cohen. Freedom’s Orator: Mario Savio and the Radical Legacy of the 1960s. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

James W. Douglass. Gandhi and the Unspeakable: His Final Experiment with Truth, Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2012.

Daniel Ellsberg, “A Memory of Howard Zinn.”, January 27, 2010,

Mahatma Gandhi, ed. Louis Fischer. The Essential Gandhi: An Anthology of His Writings on His Life, Work, and Ideas.

Mahatma Gandhi, ed. William W. Emilsen. Gandhi’s Bible. Delhi: ISPCK, 2001.

Ralph J. Gleason, “The Tragedy at The Greek Theater,” San Francisco Chronicle, December 9, 1964,

Robert Hass, “Poet-Bashing Police,” New York Times, November 19, 2011,

Cynthia Haven, ed. An Invisible Rope: Portraits of Czeslaw Milosz. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2011. Contains Peter Dale Scott, “A Difficult, Inspirational Giant.”

Mao Tse-tung. Mao Tse-tung: An Anthology of His Writings. New York: New American Library. 1962.

Seth Rosenfeld. Subversives: The FBI’s War on Student Radicals, and Reagan’s Rise to Power. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012.

Rosemary Radford Ruether. America, Amerikkka : elect nation and imperial violence. Oakville, CT : Equinox, 2007.

Jonathan Schell. The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence, and the Will of the People. New York: Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt, 2003.

Peter Dale Scott, “Alcuin’s Versus de Cuculo: the Vision of Pastoral Friendship,” Studies in Philology, LXII, 4 (July 1965), 510-30,

Peter Dale Scott. American War Machine: Deep Politics, the CIA Global Drug Connection, and the Road to Afghanistan. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2010.

Neil J. Smelser. Reflections on the University of California: From the Free Speech Movement to the Global University. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010.


4 Responses to “Greek Theater: second draft”

  1. In response to comments in the earlier version of the poem posted here, I have reworked the ending, but not enough to satisfy some. I’d appreciate hearing from others, even very briefly, if they think the ending works or not.
    I’ve also complicated the poem with new references to Brecht, the Situationnistes, Mao Tse-tung, and Gandhi. Do I get away with dropping so many new names?
    If you want to compare with the old, simpler version, go to the top of this page and click there where indicated.
    Thank you for visiting this site.
    Peter Dale Scott

  2. Brenda Walsh Says:

    I like the ending Peter, very fitting…

  3. Tony Bates Says:

    The more the merrier! in the conversation across time.
    Mao and Lenin spoke for one kind of power and Gandhi, another
    and it is interesting to look back at them in this light, adding scope
    to the poem.

  4. I’m thinking of slightly expanding my memories of the diplomatic life I gave up, to read

    a traditio
    so precious and fragile

    I gave up all those frills
    (my chauffeur that flag ahead on the limo
    the sit-down banquet at Schönbrunn

    for six hundred people
    served by liveried footmen)
    to help preserve it in a university

    What do readers think?

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