“When I saw the ‘ unfinished poem’ listed on The Wired Researcher website, I wanted it finished. Maybe it is just the poet in me, but I thought that such a work of art deserved to be concluded. I never thought that I would complete it. I had never done anything quite like it before: I couldn’t complete it. I extended the idea to Dr. Kendrick, but he reciprocated the challenge and offered it to me! Well, I couldn’t back down now—it was my idea after all.” — Timothy J. VanCuren
Last week, I announced that “Curious” had completed The Humourist’s “The Temple of Happiness”; that I had seen the finished poem; that I was impressed; and that you would see the finished poem soon, here!
Well, today is the day—for all the world to see! “Curious”—who posed the initial challenge that I should finish the poem, and, ever so wisely, I returned the challenge to him!—has agreed to come forth, neither as “Curious” nor as “The Humourist, Jr.” but rather, and—I think, wisely—under his real name: Timothy J. VanCuren!
Currently, Tim is enrolled in the General Studies degree program at Lord Fairfax Community College, and he plans to transfer to George Mason University where he will pursue a degree in Criminology with a possible minor in English.
I have been in touch with Tim since he posted his “challenge” here. Before sharing with you his finished version of Alexander’s Gordon’s “The Temple of Happiness,” you might find it interesting—and amusing—to see some of our email exchanges.
I sent Tim the following email on August 21:
I don’t want this day to end without telling you how stunned I am that you seem to have such misgivings about your “completed” version of Alexander Gordon’s poem “The Temple of Happiness.”
You have done a masterful job! You really have. You captured the spirit of what he began in his poem, and I think you brought it to a more than successful conclusion.
That being said, after we talked today, I re-read your version of the poem—with an eye towards your concerns, and I agree: you do have a few “rough” lines; you have a few word choices that I’m not sure would have been in the vocabulary then—and I’ll check those out in the OED; and, at times, I felt as if I was reading Wheatley or Freneau. I need to ponder those thoughts. The wonderful aspect of this partial poem is that Gordon would not have had access to Wheatley or Freneau, as you have had. His was a FRESH American view on happiness, preceding their views..
You need to ponder: to what extent were YOU influenced by Wheatley and Freneau, even if subconsciously. Follow? Just ponder. Gordon’s take on happiness would have been, generally speaking–or not!–different because he was earlier. So, think about that!
Again, what you have written is MASTERFUL! (I wish that I could have written it! I could not have!) It really is! Celebrate your talents!
Subsequently, Tim and I chatted in my office several times. On September 3, I sent him this email:
I am laughing—and I know you will appreciate it: when we spoke several weeks ago in my office and I mentioned several rough spots, I truly had credited YOU with passages that The Humourist himself had written! And on Friday, when I mentioned that YOU had possibly used some words that might not have been around when The Humourist wrote his poem, I had in mind some words from The Humourist’s part of the poem!
This translates to: what you wrote is so much like what The Humourist wrote that the lines blurred in my mind! Please note that I inserted a line break just now so that I could tell who wrote what!
Tim responded quickly:
Indeed, I am very amused (I just laughed aloud in the student lounge) at your comments! And yes, I am also very pleased. Thank you so extremely much for your feedback!
I remain amused that I—the expert—lost the distinction between that which Alexander Gordon had written initially and that which Timothy J. VanCuren finished subsequently! I can think of no higher tribute to Tim’s poetic talents!
Even so, I asked Tim to write a short essay explaining how he went about the task of finishing Alexander Gordon’s “The Temple of Happiness,” and I am pleased to share his essay with you here:
“A Humorous Ending”
Writing in the style of a poet is not exactly unchartered ground for me. Previously, I have written poems in the style of Billy Collins, William Blake, Edgar Allan Poe, and Emily Dickenson, among others. Each of them was challenging, but mostly fun because they each had a unique sense of adventure. I had the distinct pleasure of delving into the minds of some of the greatest writers the world has ever seen! I had the opportunity to “see” their works in ways that most other people had not seen them. It was not, however, a “copycat” gig that I was undertaking. All of the poems I wrote “in the style of” were just that – in their style. The poem stories themselves were completely original. I used the renowned poets as inspiration. Also, I was starting with fresh, new ideas that I could take wherever I wanted.
When I saw the “1 unfinished poem” listed on The Wired Researcher website, I wanted it finished. Maybe it is just the poet in me, but I thought that such a work of art deserved to be concluded. I never thought that I would complete it. I had never done anything quite like it before, I couldn’t complete it. I extended the idea to Dr. Kendrick, but he reciprocated the challenge and offered it to me! Well I couldn’t back down now, it was my idea after all.
It would turn out to be the hardest project I’ve accepted.
Having read the writings of The Humorist, I tried to “get inside his head” and see what he was thinking. It didn’t turn out so well, but I did gain a good amount of knowledge about the persona of the writer. I read the poem what must have been about 20 times before I could even start to think about where the story would go next. It was so incredibly hard to attempt to imagine what was going to happen with Virtue and Vice. After all, The Humorist (Alexander Gordon) had a specific intention in mind when he wrote this story, and it was up to me to finish what he started. With all of this pressure, I’m afraid it may be a little disappointing as to how I finished it – I wrote. And wrote.
That’s all I did. There really wasn’t much planning. I just started, and let the story finish itself. I don’t take credit for the story because, as I see it, I didn’t create it. Gordon created a living piece of literature that was simply waiting for someone to let it finish growing. I couldn’t allow myself to alter the story or do anything that would be untrue to the original intent. When I wrote it (well, when the story wrote itself), I did so in plain, modern-day writing. Before I knew it, I had a finished story on my hands. I didn’t even really understand how I got there, I just — got there.
The next challenge was to re-create the form, the style, and the feel of the writing. I took the story that I had already written and translated it into the old writing. I did this by taking a line from the original poem and changing the words to fit the new story that I had written. I tried to squeeze together the old and the new, hoping that the old would overtake the new, thus leaving a smooth transition in the poem.
I tried to edit it some, but after every attempt I made to change it, I ended up reverting to what it already was just one hour before. I just couldn’t satisfy myself with any changes I made, with the exception of one or two things. When I was done, I put it out to certain people for feedback, and then continued to adjust the minor things.
There. It’s done.
It all happened so smoothly and rapidly. I had finally finished what was the hardest project I’d ever accepted. It felt like I had been pushed under water, struggled to reach the surface, intensely using every muscle I had, thrusting upward, thrusting… and when I finally reached the surface I was told only one second had elapsed since I went under.
I am proud to present to you the finished poem, written by The Humorist. I can only hope it does justice to its author. If it does, then my goal is fulfilled.
And now, the moment that we have all been waiting for: Timothy J. VanCuren’s finished version of Alexander Gordon’s “The Temple of Happiness.”
THE TEMPLE OF HAPPINESS.
An allegorical POEM.
When now no more the summer’s scorching sun,
Beats with fierce rays upon the parched earth,
But bounteous autumn with refreshing showers
Revives each herb and beautifies the lawns;
Then, spent with labour, I retir’d, to rest
My wearied limbs, upon the flow’ry bank
Of a small rivulet, that murmuring ran,
While many a shining pebble roll’d along,
And serv’d to lull uneasy care to rest.
Lost in wild thought, contemplating I lay
On mortal man’s unsettled state on earth;
How every one does Happiness pursue,
How every one, or most at least, fall short
Of this their general aim; because, instead
Of searching for it in fair Virtue‘s path,
They’re idly turn’d aside, by every gust
Of ruling passion, to that delusive road,
Where subtil Vice does promise them content;
Sometimes assuming virtue’s lovely look,
And sometimes boldly throwing off the mask,
Which, tho’ its first appearance startle us,
By custom grown familiar, gives delight.
Thus musing, gentle sleep upon me stole,
And lock’d my senses in his droony cave.
My roving fancy, then quite unconfin’d,
Sprung to the stars, or sunk into the deep;
Flew o’er this ball our earth, and all things view’d
In air, on land, or on the chrystal main:
Saw weathy cities near their lofty tow’rs,
While waving forests grace the verdant greens,
And the huge mountain tops rise to the clouds:
Then pass’d from these, unto that liquid plain,
Where failing ships and wat’ry monsters sport,
Amongst the still more monstrous tumbling waves,
That threaten ev’n th’ affflicted globe itself,
And would involve it in the former chaos,
If not restrain’d by Pow’r Omnipotent.
A prospect such as this, was giv’n to him
Who’s fabled to have had that winged steed,
Sprung from the blood of slain Medusa‘s snakes;
Who then attempting heav’n’s blest wall to scale
Was by thund’rer justly thrown to earth,
His native clime, with all his golden views.
Thus, rapt on thought’s aërial wings I fly;
When lo! a vast extended plain appears,
Where all mankind, by Jove‘s decree conven’d,
With admiration captivates my sense.
Not more in number to the wondering swain
Do heav’n’s refulgent ornaments appear,
When now at eve he stalks along the green,
And throws his eyes, admiring, to the stars.
Rack’d with suspence, each throbbing breast expects
The dread commands of an eternal God,
While awful silence reigns thro’out the whole;
Then straight a venerable lovely figure comes,
By men term’d innate Reason, but in heav’n
He’s called the Dictates of th‘ Almighty Pow’r;
who thus declar’d unto th’ expecting crowd,
Why Jove this vast assemblage had ordain’d.
Ye sons of men, in still attention wait
‘Till I your being’s end and aim unfold.
Altho’ to the pale victor death you stoop,
Think not he can annihilate the mind;
You’re made immortal pleasure to enjoy,
Along with Gods eternally to live,
To whom tho’ still aspiring, still remov’d
Because the distance infinitely great
‘Twixt them and you. This day unto that temple
Where Happiness in splendor still resides,
And on the good all goodness does confer,
With me as guide, by Jove‘s decree, you go;
And if observant of my rules you walk,
Th’ expected port you shall with ease attain:
But if, allured by deceiving Vice,
Rejecting Virtue‘s salutary rules,
You scorn my precepts, and your reason yield
To those officious off’rers we shall meet
That promise you a pleasant nearer way;
Instead of Happiness, so much desir’d
You’ll find but disappointments, crosses, pains,
And all the mis’ries incident to man.
He ceas’d to speak, but did not to invite,
As soft persuasion sat upon his brow
His arguments with melting looks t’ enforce,
If mean would deign observance of his call.
But yet, who could refrain from tears? when told
That much the greater part of them fell off
From God’s Vice-gerent, foolishly seduc’d
To hateful Vice‘s part, by promise vain,
Of gaining Happiness, a surer way
Than by the thorny path of rigid Virtue.
For ev’ry fierce contending passion strives,
By specious Shews of Happiness prepar’d,
The inward call of Reason to evade.
Tempt’d by prowling Virtue man leaps.
Once giv’n the greas’d reigns of Vice,
The monotonous temptation twists to air.
Riding this carriage nam’d Vice causes
A pass of slipp’d grandeur by forsak’n Virtue.
Altho’ distant was Reason’s presence, remaining
Innate was his voice. He spoke, pleading,
With his subtly booming voice, reminding.
Ye sons of men, in quick arrogance run
From the Heav’nly sent symbol of Wisdom.
For Wisdom is the spouse of Reason,
And it is only from the mine of guilt whence
Emerges reconsideration, then reconciliation.
Together, Reason and Wisdom birth Virtue.
You have hastily sent away Virtue from your door
And invit’d Vice from afar.
You failed to heed my words.
In favour of disappointments and mis’ries incident to man,
You disregarded happiness so desir’d. You now can only
Attempt to attain satisfaction with that scowling companion Vice,
Though his bleak ways will Shew Empty.
He ceas’d to speak, but not to glow’r. Thro’ his
Face was the grain of mercy, held back as
The shores defie th’ rolling waters, rushing toward hope.
Mercy was present and actual, yet reserv’d and hesitant.
The gates of regained righteousness were bulging
As Virtue spoke these words. Vice crept toward the gates
And fought so that the gates should remain to themselves.
The time had pass’d, too soon for Vice, too slow for Virtue.
By the pleadings of those sons of men, forgiveness ran
Free as the springs of life. The wonder of a new frontier
Could not possibly surpass that of Reason and Wisdom,
Vice and Virtue. Vice strode away with sunk’n head.
The awareness of a flow’ry bank and shining pebbles
Rolling return’d to my consciousness. The contemplation
Of battles interior t’ each man left to mull with th’ next.
I still lie in a flow’ry bed, but now I see Virtue across fro’
Me. He smiles, congratulating me for my youngest
Yet most fruitful revelation. Happiness is near to
Each man, for it rests with’n his temple, gold’n, each
Unique to the man retaining it. It is plac’d there
As a reward by Virtue himself, honour’d.
Can YOU tell where Gordon leaves off and where VanCuren begins? If you can, you’re better at this than I am!
So, go ahead: check yourself by going back to Gordon’s unfinished poem published here on March 19, 2013.
For right now, though, join hands with me: let’s celebrate Tim’s poetic flight! Bravo, Tim! Bravo!