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Malcolm M. Sedam's “Maturity Pains” and "Joseph"

Poetry became my passion after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class circa 1962.

Poem #1: "Maturity Pains"

Many readers have fallen for the twin notion that poetry is too difficult to understand and that meaning in poetry is hidden. Some folks have even landed on the absurd notion that a poem can mean anything the reader wants it to mean.

Other reactions range from avoidance to hatred. But the “trickiness” of poems often involves mere nuances of meaning.

Introduction and Text of “Maturity Pains”

Robert Frost said of his own poem, “The Road Not Taken,” “You have to be careful of that one; it's a tricky poem—very tricky.” That claim should alert readers to the possibility that many of Frost’s other poems could contain a trick or two.

My own personal perusal of Frost’s poems has revealed that Frost did, in fact, bake trickiness into many of his other poems, such as “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” and “Birches.”

Malcolm M. Sedam’s poem, “Maturity Pains,” offers an opportunity for cutting through trickiness. It may be considered as “tricky” as any of Robert Frost’s tricky poems, and yet as confrontational as any other Sedam poem in which the poet has created characters who fight with the Divine Reality or God.

Maturity Pains

I have resolved my quarrel with the snake
And I will accept him as one of God’s creatures
But with the bit of a small boy that is left in me,
You may expect that I will from year to year,
Throw a few rocks in His direction.

Reading of "Maturity Pains"

Commentary on "Maturity Pains"

This commentary will feature a line by line analysis because of the intensity and concentration built into Sedam's little versanelle.

First Line: “I have resolved my quarrel with the snake”

The speaker begins with a very bold statement: he has brought an end to his struggle with evil. A bold statement, indeed, because the consensus of humankind in the superficial mainstream of ideas contends that the question of evil remains just that, a question.

As a matter of fact, the question of evil expresses itself in numerous questions—why do bad things happen to good people? why does God allow suffering? how can a loving God allow devastating disasters?—finally resulting in the absurd notion that “life is not fair.”

So, that this speaker has “resolved [his] quarrel” is an intriguing statement. The reader immediately wonders how that happened or more specifically what the speaker might have done to have achieved such a state of grace.

To have accomplished what most of humankind still struggles to attain means that this speaker surely has something very profound to offer.

Second Line: “And I will accept him a one of God’s creatures”

As all concepts that remain ineffable are expressed figuratively, this one, “evil,” finds its expression as an embodiment in the “snake,” who is recognized then from the allusion to the original pair of human beings, Adam and Eve, being expelled from the Garden of Eden through the agency of the serpent or snake.

The speaker understands the symbolic significance of the snake’s actions. The snake whispered promises of the knowledge of good and evil into Eve’s ear.

Eve then persuaded Adam to give in to those delicious promises; thus the original pair committed the original sin against God’s commandment—the only one He gave them at that time. And that original sin resulted in the original pair’s expulsion from that pristine paradise.

Now, this speaker because of having settled his quarrel with the snake can simply accept that creature as just another one of “God’s creatures,” instead of the ghastly interloper who destroyed the bliss of paradise for the original pair and all their progeny thenceforth.

Third Line: “But with the bit of a small boy that is left in me”

Now the speaker employs a mighty shift: this apparently enlightened speaker, who can claim to having settled for himself the issue of evil in the world, is now admitting that he still retains a bit of naïveté.

The speaker is admitting that he still possesses, at least in part, the disposition of “a small boy.” Small boys do things that big boys eschew, so the speaker may be retreating from his earlier earth-shattering claim.

Fourth Line: “You may expect that I will from year to year”

The speaker now keeps readers in suspense for at least one more line, making them wonder what to expect.

The speaker is also alerting readers that whatever naïveté he will continue to hold will be done indefinitely, that is, the speaker will likely continue his present level of awareness to the end of his life, “from year to year.” He sees, at this point, no time in future that he will change his position.

Fifth Line: “Throw a few rocks in His direction”

The speaker then reveals that he will “throw rocks”; he will metaphorically complain about God’s ways. Such complaints may be anything from weak-faith implications to haunting jibes that question God’s love and fairness.

The Importance of Pronoun Capitalization in “Maturity Pains”

Upon first encountering the final line in this poem, most readers likely interpret the throwing of rocks as the speaker throwing rocks at the snake because that is what small boys do.

Remembering that in the third line the speaker has referred to that “small boy” whom he still retains in his psyche, and then by immediate association—“small boy” plus “snake” plus “rocks” signals that the speaker will continue to throw rocks at the snake throughout his remaining years.

The speaker will continue to complain about evil for the rest of his life, despite the fact that he has actually accepted evil as a part of God’s plan.

As sensible as that interpretation seems, it is not what the speaker has actually said. Comparing the following lines reveals the important distinction:

1. "Throw a few rocks in His direction"
2. "Throw a few rocks in his direction"

If the speaker had finished his poem with the second line, then the simple interpretation of complaining about evil would be accurate. But the speaker concluded with the first line in which he capitalized “His”; this capitalization indicates that the speaker is referring to “God” not the snake.

The speaker will continue to throw rocks in God’s direction. He will continue to complain and argue with God. In order to argue with God, one must intuit that God exists and that God is close to the individual, so close that argument becomes possible, even desirable.

No Blasphemy

With such a revelation, the speaker might be accused of blasphemy; after all, is it not improper to throw rocks at God, or even argue with or question God? Well, no. Not if the individual considers God his father, mother, creator, closer than any other relationship.

If one realizes that each human being, each human soul, is a spark of God, then the most natural thing in the world is to question, to wonder about what God is and what God wants from one, as one attempts to live the life of a human being on this mud ball of a planet that God has also created.

As a child grows to maturity guided by loving parents, the child may not always understand the guidance of those parents and thus will question, even argue with those parents.

God would expect nothing less from His created beings—those to whom He has given free will and a brain. Only atheists do not question God. Why would they? According to them, there is no such being to question.

William Blake’s "The Temptation and Fall of Eve"

William Blake’s "The Temptation and Fall of Eve"

Poem #2: "Joseph"

Highly doubtful of the feasibility of virgin birth, the speaker of Malcolm M. Sedam's "Joseph" dramatizes his iconoclasm as he attempts to speak for the Biblical wise man.

Introduction and Text of "Joseph"

Malcolm M. Sedam's poem "Joseph" from The Man in Motion plays out in two movements in fifteen free-verse lines. The speaker poses as the Biblical character of Joseph, husband of Mary, Mother of Jesus.

The speaker has Joseph relate his stance in order to press the speaker's opinion that even though the virgin birth story is likely only a fable, the fact that Joseph actually attended upon the rearing of the child Jesus renders Joseph the real father of "Christ."

The speaker employs the lower case in referring to "[G]od," but unexpectedly refers to the Son of man as "Christ," employing the monastic name instead of Jesus, whereas the more secularized name is more befitting the borderline atheism of the speaker.

This speaker's position is likely that of an agnostic, rather than an atheist, even though he appears to enjoy what he deems the task of "myth busting" or iconoclasm.

A heaping helping of hubris runs strongly through the veins of such a one who would myth-bust religious narrations about which they seem to possess little understanding. But such is the postmodernist mindset, which so willingly engages in that which is contradictory.

Joseph

Some things were never explained
even to me, and of course
they would tell it his way
but I believed in her
because I chose to believe
and you may be sure of this:
A man's biological role is small
but a god's can be no more
that it was I who was always there
to feed him, to clothe him
to teach him, and nurture his growth—
discount those foolish rumors
that bred on holy seed
for truly I say unto you:
I was the father of Christ.

Reading of "Joseph"

Commentary

The speaker of Malcolm M. Sedam's "Joseph," an iconoclastic nightmare spitting the face of religious myth, is dramatizing his iconoclasm as he feigns speaking for the Biblical wise man, disavowing the feasibility of virgin birth.

First Movement: Cosmic Drama Prophesied in Earlier Scripture

Some things were never explained
even to me, and of course
they would tell it his way
but I believed in her
because I chose to believe
and you may be sure of this:

It is helpful to be aware of the following significant lines from the Gospel of St. Matthew 1:19-20 as one encounters this poem:

19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily.

20 But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.

In that same dream, the angel further reminds Joseph that these cosmic events had, indeed, already been revealed in prophecy, and about which Joseph himself had been aware: "Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son."

Thus, Joseph was well aware of his rôle in the cosmic drama featuring the coming of the messiah, and he acted according to that knowledge.

To the secular, postmodernist mind, the pseudo-science of Darwinian principles led to the inability to appreciate or even understand the spiritual truths explicated poetically through figurative devices in scriptural texts.

Materialism's chokehold on the mental processes of the postmodernist mind thus rendered the idea of virgin birth outside the realm of "reason." Not only was the concept of virgin birth therefore considered not subject to debate, but it was seemingly forever subjected to ridicule and scorn.

Joseph would find such claims attributed to him as preposterous, likely wondering if the one uttering such nonsense could even read. The ancient man of wisdom could never have exclaimed, "Some things were never explained to me," because the angel, in fact, did explain everything to him.

The notion that Joseph believed Mary's condition was divinely ordained because he "chose" to believe it, not because it was true, is also preposterous.

Joseph believed the virgin would give birth because an angel had explained the situation to him, and he had already been aware that the cosmic drama had been prophesied in earlier scripture.

Second Movement: Postmodern Misunderstanding of Biblical Lore

A man's biological role is small
but a god's can be no more
that it was I who was always there
to feed him, to clothe him
to teach him, and nurture his growth—
discount those foolish rumors
that bred on holy seed
for truly I say unto you:
I was the father of Christ.

This self-professed iconoclastic speaker, attempting to pose as Joseph, remains blinded and oblivious to scriptural myth interpretation, and he is thus led astray by his own testosterone. Thus, he fashions fallacious claims that exude a false modesty, as he engages in unmitigated prevarication.

The speaker asserts, "A man's biological role is small / but a god's can be no more."

If God's role can be no more than a man's, then it is likely that a man created the universe, and rings in the cosmos, and causes the seasons to appear on time, and the sun and moon to move with a regularity that no human being can even begin to understand.

It takes an humongous load of hubris to assert that God and man's influence on creation are the same!

And then this speaker offers his narrow-minded provincially sheltered notion asserting in the final lines that he was always there: "I who was always there." This "I" who fed him (Jesus), clothed him, taught him, nurtured his growth constitutes the vanity of inserting himself as the "I, I, I" — up to his final farcical claim, "I was the father of Christ."

And while it is true that Joseph performed the nurturing functions of a father to the boy, Jesus, it is mythologically and mystically impossible for him to have been the "father of Christ."

"Christ" is not the last name of the prophet/savior; it is the name of his mystical status and function as an avatar. It is more accurate to say, "Jesus the Christ" than "Jesus Christ."

When Joseph as speaker of this poem says he is the "father of Christ" instead of "father of Jesus" is speaking nonsense. The real Joseph understood the difference between "Jesus Christ" and "Jesus the Christ."

The speaker of this piece is confident that he has seen through the ruse of religious mythology: he knows that Joseph would go about repudiating traditional scripture by asserting his fatherhood of "Christ."

For this speaker, biology surpasses spirituality, physical reality outweighs mystical reality, and solipsism eclipses humility.

Such hubris necessarily accompanies the task of the myth-buster who skims only the surface of narration, confusing science with junk science.

Surely, Joseph, the wise man of the Bible, would find it laughable, even if in a sad way, that anyone could ever be so ego-induced by materialism and false science along with masculine hormones as to assert such nonsense by characterizing the events of Joseph’s life in such a limited fashion.

Sources

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Linda Sue Grimes