Monday, December 12, 2011

Bartleby the Scrivener

Ah Bartleby! Ah Humanity!
--Herman Melville

Perhaps he lost the language of desire,
hope checking out first
with its twin baggage of want and need,
hunger leaving no forwarding address.

Or maybe the language of etiquette
surrendered its meaning,
the tongue holding diplomacy hostage
behind a green folding screen.

Let’s presume he was stunned into silence
by God’s loneliness, by the fixed glare
of the black wall just beyond
the small side-window courting a dim light.

So much to prefer not to while the grass
and sky stitched together a singular void,
and the bud of Existentialism took root
deep within his heart, denial sprouting

against the dead letters and bricks
that merged into a mortuary of self-interest.
He knew nothingness soon becomes a stranger
to no one; preferring it was his last resistance.

“Bartleby the Scrivener” was originally published by Lake Shore Publishing, 1995.


  1. I have always read Bartleby the Scrivener as an attack on so-called "American benevolent rationalism" (possibly a euphemism for American avarice and self-interest) and Bartleby’s resultant existential understanding of the void and meaninglessness of existence. Perhaps his “I prefer not to” is a response to incoherency in an unjust world brought on by the Robber Barons of his era: their legalese and subterfuges that masked their ruthlessness and selfishness. One can imagine what Herman Melville would have written regarding today’s politicians and the billionaires that influence them.

    The difference between Bartleby and some of us, however, is our endless determination and passionate defiance against great odds. Like Sisyphus, our fate belongs to us.

  2. True strength is endurance. Persevere.
    You fellow Rock Roller,

  3. Did you know there was something (perhaps still is--have to Google it) called "The Bartleby Project," that was a plan to end "standardized" (always in " ", because it's neither valid nor reliable, thus NOT standardized--& has never been!!)? Some were trying to get it going, but it petered out--then, I think, became the opt out movement. "I prefer not to" makes perfect sense in what is, indeed, the ever-growing mass of senselessness in our world.