Greek Theater: new draft

Posted in poetry on August 1, 2013 by admin

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

This is a new draft of a poem by Peter Dale Scott that was originally posted here in order receive feedback from readers. Here is Peter’s description of this revision:

I consider this a near-final version of my poem. I think I’ve pretty much ended changing it on my own initiative. But would still welcome feedback from readers, which has been helpful in the past.

You can read the original draft along with the comments it received here, and the second draft and its comments here.


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 leader of Berkeley Free Speech Movement
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 — stand-in for absent ambassador
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 —
the cook my chauffeur        that flag up ahead on the limo
the house party up the Hudson
where baffled ducks were released
for the guests to shoot
the sit-down banquet at Schönbrunn
for six hundred people
served by liveried footmen —
so I could teach in a university
the heritage of the Patrologia Latina
which I had skimmed so greedily
my first semester back
Well – little could I foresee
how Mario in an instant
(who himself had been inspired
by the plays of Sophocles
and Aeschylus and Euripides Cohen Freedom’s Orator 35
before being beaten in Mississippi
for walking in public with a black man
as part of Freedom Summer) Cohen Freedom’s Orator 59-60
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
would soon bring a painful end
to 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
after Mario resigned his leadership
not wanting the Movement
to become too dependent on him Cohen Freedom’s Orator 237-38
the gates opened
to years of hate and 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 I by then was teaching
Mao’s Talks at the Yenan Forum
love is a concept Mao Tse-tung 260
Fundamentally we do not start from a concept Scott Rumors of No Law 43
along with Lenin Gandhi and T.S. Eliot
before I chose Gandhi
the approach to Truth is through love Gandhi’s Bible 2001, 169
Because once one has seen
a student’s cheek under a boot
as an example of freedom under law
and a vivid pantomime
of the two kinds of power
one has to choose between
the cop who thanked Howard Zinn
for his talk to the Police Academy
then pleaded with him desperately
to please leave the antiwar blockade
before a little later
battering him with an outsized club Ellsberg A Memory
or else the satyagraha truthforce nonviolence
grounded on those hints
of human freedom
encoded in our DNA
which empowered those like Mario
in the American South
with more reason than Gandhi had
to fear death McWhorter Carry Me Home 199
who nonetheless overcame
the machine so odious
you’ve got to make it stop Cohen Freedom’s Orator 183, 458-59



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.

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.

Diane McWhorter. Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama: The Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001.

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.


2 Responses to “Greek Theater: new draft”

  1. Powerful. The message of peace and justice should come in many forms, particularly in ways that trigger emotion to supplement rational discourse – prose, art, film…and thanks to people like you, inspirational poetry.

  2. Tony Bates Says:

    What irony in the “the struggle between
    two kinds of decency …” so many layers
    in this rich poem.

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