ChatGPT and Goethe

ChatGPT is not reliable as far as Goethe as concerned. First it told me that Goethe wrote “Wanderer’s Night Song” when he was an old man (he wasn’t an old man when he wrote it), and then, when I corrected it, the bot apologized and gave me a lovely but incorrect poem as the Marienbad Elegy. I had to say, “Dude, that’s not it.” It apologized, had another look, gave me a fragment of the correct poem, then told me to go to various websites to find the Marienbad Elegy, in other words, “go look it up.” 🤣 Just a warning that if you’re asking it for Goethe, you have to check its work. Maybe in the brave new world of the future, poetry isn’t going to be a big thing whatever forum the bot ends up with.

Last week I read that the bot seldom scores higher than a B- on most of the exams it’s been given which makes sense.

And what is the Marienbad Elegy? When Goethe was 73 he fell in love with a 17 year old girl and asked her to marry him. She refused. Goethe’s view of youth and age was a little different, but the reality of the situation was almost 60 years…

After he more-or-less got over his broken heart he wrote, when he was 77, he wrote…

When I was still a youthful wight,
⁠So full of enjoyment and merry,
The painters used to assert, in spite,
⁠That my features were small—yes, very;
Yet then full many a beauteous child
With true affection upon me smiled.

Now as a graybeard I sit here in state,
⁠By street and by lane held in awe, sirs;
And may be seen, like old Frederick the Great,
⁠On pipebowls, on cups, and on saucers.
Yet the beauteous maidens, they keep afar;
Oh, vision of youth! Oh, golden star!


Kind of the obverse of Robert Herrick’s “To the Virgins to Make Much of Time.

Otherwise? Nothing much going on in the Bark of Beyond and that’s fine. The temperatures have warmed up to more-or-less normal for this winter. I don’t mind the cold, but it can be mildly challenging when the cold water hose to your washing machine freezes. In that situation, the important things are to be grateful it’s a hose not a pipe and to warm up the room.

From the Examined Life

I gave my students the chance to write a poem. It was never graded. I gave them a line, “Open the door…” and they had to take it from there. I wrote the poem above in response to a young woman in my Intro to Lit class who said, “I hate poetry. Do we have to read any?”

Of course they did. She ended up liking it partly because I could write some poems on the blackboard that I knew by heart. She loved that. A couple of years later, she gave me a present. A 150 year old book edited by Longfellow she’d found at a yard sale. It’s a treasure in and of itself but more because she thought of me when she saw it. It’s an anthology of European poetry from the Middle Ages to the Present (1850s or so…)

Every once in a while I find a fragment — one of the photos I took — from the 27 journals that comprised the Examined Life, and I stumbled on this one today.


On this cold windy day, the blowing snow
Fills our foot prints. Ice lace in the tire
Tracks. With her nose to the ground, my dog, slow,
Reads world history in the scents of prior
Animals. The wind stops and starts in blasts.
I tuck my chin more deeply into my scarf,
and feel glad for gloves. Snow showers fly fast
Past the mountains’ face; cold beauty, winter’s heart.
Tired of the fight, I turn back and see,
On the snowy road, shadows, light then dimmed,
Moving clouds. I stop in a suddenly
Different day with my back to the wind,
“This is beautiful,” I tell my dog who
Rolls in the snow and eats some rabbit poop.

Almost My First Poem Ever

Judy Dykstra found the first poem she ever wrote and asked her readers to share their early poetry. I don’t have the first poem (it was on a card I wrote for my mom for Mother’s Day sometime in the late 1950s) but I found a BUNCH.

Here is a poem I wrote in 1963 or 64 — I was 11 or 12. It was the poem that convinced my dad to give me the typewriter, a Royal portable.

And here is one I referred to in this post, “So, Uh, what’s your sign?” a poetic editing of a translation of a poem by Catullus that a friend, a Classics major and classmate, asked me to do. These were saved from the purging of The Examined Life of (literally) song and story.

It’s probably no surprise that most of my early (and now) poems are nature poems. I don’t think I’ve changed a whole lot!

The Girl in the Mirror

Fizzy dreams and broken hearts, latest styles
A young girl asks the mirror, “Am I pretty?”
Heartsore from her first crush. Bright sunburned smile
Shining eyes. Remembering, I pity
Her and that moment. “The mirror can’t say,”
I whisper, “Beauty is inside you.” She bends
this way and that. I want to yell, “Away!
Live this moment before the world descends!”
But no. She has all the time in the world.
“Come set the table!” Her mother’s voice grates
“I hate you!” she thinks, “I’m no little girl!”
But does as she told, slamming down the plates.
“What’s got into you?” asks mom, forgetting
She was once, not so long ago, fourteen.

This is a Shakespearean sonnet and here’s a very complete and somewhat annoying explanationof what that is. I write them because they’re easy and I don’t have to think that much about the form. I’m also not very fascistic about following iambic pentameter since English more or less forms itself into that rhythm pattern anyway.

Featured photo: Watercolor, watercolor pencil, gouache and lace paper on watercolor. My work. 😀

Being Old

I have a bunch of Facebook friends who are kids with whom I went to high school. We’re all 71 (some of us 72) this year. Some of them are troubled by the “invisibility” of old age. Personally I hate the “OK Boomer” thing, but I also think anyone who comes out with that is probably an asshole and I don’t want to know them anyway. As for invisibility? When I had to walk with a cane (in my fifties) I was REALLY invisible. For true invisibility, try being crippled.

I told one of the young (40 year old) people in my life that every old person is incognito. Whoever we are, we are dressed in the anonymous apparel of age, and all old people look the same.

The challenge of being incognito is that our “self” has to cruise around in a body that doesn’t want to do all the things it once did, and we are forced into identifying with something more enduring than physical prowess. That’s a drag and a blessing. My dad was dead at 45, my brother at 56, so I’m all about being 71 years old.

I don’t feel invisible. If someone disrespects me, that’s on them, not me.

For my birthday I got a new, short-sleeved t-shirt. I’m happy about that because I won’t have to wear my Sex Pistols “Pretty Vacant” t-shirt to get my annual old person’s flu shot this coming October. It’s always a little weird for people there at the public health event when I show up in Sex Pistols t-shirt with the cover art from “Pretty Vacant.”

The way I see this is that I’m just fucking lucky to be alive, to be (mostly) healthy, to be ambulatory, to live where I do where the compromise between my trashed knees and my adventurous spirit is easy to work out. I get to see Northern Harriers hunt and elk move slowly across my “empty” world. I get to talk to people who share my interests — true, there aren’t a lot of them, but there never have been. I have dogs who think our life together is as good as it gets, I’ve started two new careers in the past few years. That cliche that you’re “as old as you feel” is not true, but this is true:

‘T is not too late to seek a newer world. 
Push off, and sitting well in order smite 
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds 
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths 
Of all the western stars, until I die. 
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down: 
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles, 
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew. 

Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’ 
We are not now that strength which in old days 
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are; 
One equal temper of heroic hearts, 
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will 
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Alfred Lord Tennisball “Ulysses”

SO, when a kid in a car passes me at the Refuge, looks out of the backseat window at me and Bear, and says, “You and your dog match!” I’m honored.

More AI

Back in the day I wrote programs for my students using Apple BASIC. They were fun for me to write and for my students to use. They livened up the business of learning English. One of the programs I wrote was a Mad Libs program which was, of course, hilarious and (unbeknownst to my students) reinforced my students’ understanding of the parts of speech. It was basically this.

“Hi. I want to write a story, but I need your help. I don’t know many words. First, what’s your name?” Flashing green light

“Thank you. Can you give me five nouns?” Flashing light, flashing light, flashing light, etc.

“Wonderful. I couldn’t have done that without you! I think a story need something to happen. Can you give me five verbs?” Flashing light

“Great. I’ve heard of these things called adjectives. Can you give me seven?” Flashing light

“Wow. Do I need adverbs? Do you know any?” Flashing lights.

“Thanks. What is your best friend’s name?” Flashing light.

“OK. I can write it now. Would you please press Enter?”

And BAM — a story. The students would sit there for an hour or so writing story after story and then seeing what their classmates had and laughing. For some English had never before been in the least funny.

I came up with about a dozen of these. Their input went into an array so even with the same words (except the names) the stories wouldn’t always be the same.

I was reading more about AI story generators, and I’ve learned they are essentially a more sophisticated version of those Mad Libs.

The thing is, computers have a strange power over people, even now. I remember back in the 80s I had a class of bankers from Indonesia who were specifically at my school to learn to use computers. The program was paid for by Harvard Business School where they were all headed after a year at the language school. We had Apple II e computers in our lab, and these men had the idea that ONLY IBM computers were any good. The concept of a program in a language being the same program in any computer NEVER penetrated their warm and friendly but generally misogynistic brains.

Some of them were afraid of the computers and would only press Enter from arm’s length away. My job was also the get them over their fear. The first day they sat down each at a computer that was asking, “Hi, what’s your name?” They typed in their name and the computer answered, “Hi Lamont! Nice to meet you!” Or “Welcome Lamont. I look forward to working with you!” Some of them freaked out, seriously, “How does it know my name?”

That was my cue to explain that a computer only knows what we tell it. The long term goal for the summer was that they would write a simple spreadsheet.

I negotiated with San Diego State University (of which my school was a part) all summer to let us use an IBM Lab. At the time, they had 3. Imagine.. Finally, the last week of our term, we could. We were given an hour. The guys printed out their programs (BASIC) and we trooped over to the IBM lab. They had no idea how much they’d learned and when they typed their programs into the IBMs and they ran, the students didn’t understand that it WASN’T because the IBM computers were smarter than the APPLE IIe computers they’d been learning on all summer. They never understood it was because they — the students — had learned so much and had typed in (with their own hands) their de-bugged programs. I got nothing but shit for not “letting” them use IBM computers from the start.

I was angry, and I was hurt. I’d worked very hard to develop a curriculum for those guys that would bridge their skills from NOTHING to the minimum they needed to move forward. They HAD written a spreadsheet. It had been difficult for them to debug it, but that was the point. MOST of them persisted in believing that the computer was out to get them. Out of the 20, maybe ONE understood what had happened. They went to the program coordinator to complain that I’d made the course unnecessarily difficult, and if we had an IBM lab it would have been easier. Amazing. They — with my help — had achieved something significant, but had no awareness of it. The program director was dumbfounded. She could not have written a spreadsheet. She tried to explain but…

It wasn’t just them, though. My colleagues — many of them — refused to learn to use some of the language-learning software that would have improved their lives. Why? They were afraid the computers would be better teachers than they were. They NEVER saw the computers as tools. And they really thought something was wrong with me that I didn’t see the computers as enemies and even wrote programs. So weird. And frustrating for me since I had the task of helping my colleagues get the most out of that wonderful and expensive facility.

I’ve done a little research into writing an AI poetry generator. I’ve learned that they are simply a more sophisticated version of my Mad Libs with immense arrays. 🥸 The way things are now — with so much of the basic work done — it wouldn’t be all that difficult, and it might be fun, but I think there are already plenty out there.

I asked for haikus about dogs. Here they are plus 1….

Dogs are loyal friends,
Tail-wagging companions they be,
Fur-babies forever.

Pups with furry coats,
Frolicking in sun-dappled grass;
A blissful reverie.

Fur-clad canines,
Loyal and ever loving;
Eternal pupbuddies.

Dogs don’t live long
Enough. Every moment builds
A bank of sweet memories

And here are haikus about AI… I thought it deserved a chance to speak for itself (or its programers’ vision)

E’er advancing AI,
A ceaseless march of progress –
A mystery still.

Ai, so wise yet naive;
Processing data with care,
Colloquializing knowledge.

Ai advances, astound me;
The perfect solutions found.
Colloquial tongue used.


This morning WP is asking me what one thing I would change about myself (WP, if you’re listening, I really HATE seeing those questions when I open a new page. “Yeah but you’re responding to them!””Shut up, WP.”). That’s kind of an interesting question, and, in its way, jibes with what’s on my mind this morning. I wonder if any of us is exactly who or how we would like to be. I’m not, but when I look at the broken bits or the less than ideal bits and the parts that are OK and the few parts that are WOW! it all seems to make a kind of harmonious whole in the midst of the constant flux that is life.

In China I taught an American lit survey class to fourth year students, students on the cusp of graduating and becoming, themselves, English teachers. One of the poems I taught was Longfellow’s “A Psalm of Life” which he wrote when he was 19. In the pronunciation of Guangzhou, Longfellow became Rongferrow. I loved that so much. I heard, “Wrongferrow,” as my students talked about him and read “Rongferrow” sometimes and “Longfellow” most of the time in their essays.

The underlying concept in the poem is that our lives are something we “make.” I explained this by drawing pictures on the board and comparing the idea with a statue that we spend our lives carving, all this based on the lines,

“Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime
And departing leave behind us
Footprints in the sands of time.”

The idea I wanted to communicate to them is that — in Wrongferrow’s view — we make our lives into something comparable to a beautiful statue, an inspiring creation. We do that. Life isn’t random; we have something to say about it, if only in our attitude toward it. I did this by drawing a big, solid rectangle on the board with chalk and taking bits out until it was a person. They loved it.

In China at the time no one had much to say about what happened with their lives. It was right after the Cultural Revolution and my students weren’t there because it was their burning dream to become middle school English teachers; the government had put them there. I NOW think that none of us has complete freedom in the determination of our destiny; we DO have something to say about WHO we are approaching our destiny.

But POETRY, the beauty of that poem — they felt it. Add the fact that someone their age had written it! Those students loved it. Teaching poetry to Chinese students was one of the most wonderful things in my teaching life. They had been tuned into poetry all their lives. There was no need to persuade them that it was worth their time to struggle through the language, metaphors, similes, etc.

I have been thinking about the effect we have on each other. Yesterday Elizabeth came over to buy Christmas cards. I don’t have many any more because I can’t afford to have them printed, I haven’t completely solved the printing at home problem, and I haven’t had time to work on it. Later on I realized it wasn’t about Christmas cards. It was about socks. She came over armed with two $20. The price of two pair of socks at the boutique where I bought two pair of the socks she knits (and are the best for walking the dogs and dressing up and and and OK just generally the best). We’re neighbors, but friends, and kind of family. She didn’t want me to buy them, but the Holiday Boutique is a craft fair. We don’t carve these stones alone.

I woke up this morning with the idea that maybe life is going to push us in this stone carving business to, after a long process of carving and overcoming, to the point where we are faced with the THING, the monster in the closet, the bit of stone that has resisted everything, the bit we don’t even want to LOOK at let alone start carving. And I’m there. I can see it and I find myself marshaling all the tools I’ve acquired in the meantime that I didn’t know I had. I might succeed in finishing this thing the way I want to, but it’s a little scary.

And then, there’s Goethe, whose work Rongferrow translated. But this, “Have the courage to be what nature intended you to be.” Thanks for listening to my yammering. 😀

Seasons are Birds

Lined up along the road, around the pond
Black with golden heads, beady-eyed curious
Gregarious and brave, sun’s yearly bond
Brings them here in springtime’s furious rush.
Small brothers, shiny black and red, take flight
Together from the willows or sing their
Rusty-spring song from lonely fenceposts, write
Love songs in the sky, sonnets in the air.
Partnered up, squawking geese, chase their rivals
Down the road. There is no way around it;
All beauty hides a fight for survival.
Fox tracks in spring snow, a raptor’s silent lift.
Eggshells on the road, strewn feathers, remind
me to savor my own moment in time.

This sonnet is a VERY casually constructed Shakespearean sonnet. You can learn more about the form here.

Meditation on a Long Walk With Bear

Silence. No truck on the mile-away-road.
Me, Sandhill cranes above, my quiet dog
Some geese. Surprising new shoes lift time’s load
from my feet. Pure blue above autumn’s bog.
The noise in my head recedes when I hear
the timeless chortling of the sandhill cranes.
I watch them fly and wonder what they fear.
Shotgun, fox, coyote? Fields bare of grain?
I’ve seen them scatter when the eagle flies
Above them, hoping for a meal, to be
Disappointed when the cranes scatter high
Out of reach. Cranes fear enemies they see.
Humans? Destroy the world from pure caprice,
I doubt we can replenish wasted peace.

The World Is Too Much With Us


The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.

My sonnet is a casually constructed Shakespearean sonnet. You can learn more about the form here. Wordsworth’s — which I woke up thinking about this morning — is a Petrarchan sonnet. You can read about that form here. Reading Wordsworth’s poem this morning I was struck by the changing conventions over the centuries — allusions to Proteus and Triton might not mean much to us and I realized I’m unlikely to personify anything in nature. No ocean I write will have a bosom, and I don’t think I’d ever describe clouds as flowers, but maybe. One amazing thing Wordsworth did with his poetry is change forever the way we see daffodils. My favorite might be this:

The Child is Father of the Man

My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.