Kenneth Burke, “Testamentum Meum,” from Towards a Better Life

Kenneth Burke, Towards a Better Life: Being a Series of Epistles, or Declamations, 2nd ed. (1932; Berkeley: University of California Press, 1966).


VI. "Testamentum Meum"


WOULD liken God to a little mouse, since the differences are obvious whereas in likening God to the day, we obscure his splendour by suggesting the splendour of sunlight.

if one must seek solace, let it be in the cultivation of some power.

there were marked aspects of himself which Alter Ego would have greatly preferred to abandon-and on finding the same aspects in me, he quasi abandoned them by abandoning me.

the liver gnawed by vultures, though you brought fire to no one.

madness, travel, drugs, the Faith, death by one's own hand.

to guard against prayer, particularly that secular form of prayer which is ambition. An act is but the simulacrum of a deeper act, a disguised way of coming into port, of feasting after hunger, which is the essential process of the universe. And in too greatly desiring some specific thing, either in prayer or in the strivings of the ambitious, we forget the metaphorical quality of all desires. The universe is Cause and Effect in one, Command and Obedience in one, Need and Fulfilment in one. Throughout eternity there is hunger in the fact that the universe needs to be, and appeasement in the fact that the universe is.

there is an eye, firm as the eye of the newly dead. When I am alone, this eye inspects me.

you cannot renounce, for none but the rich dare speak in praise of poverty.

have said: This is the day. There will be some sign, or more than a sign, a clear alteration. Today some thing has been changed to meet my needs. And if night falls without this new thing's becoming ap-. parent, then the event was a letter written at a distance and started on its way but not yet delivered; or a decision reached by some one who has still to act

upon it; or if the relief is to come wholly from within me, the process is even now at work, but has revealed its presence before revealing its nature.

if they cannot have religion, they should have lotteries.

speech being a mode of conduct, he converted his faulty living into eloquence. Then should any like his diction, they would indirectly have sanctioned his habits.

can conceive of two men, one rebellious, without compromise-the other given to half-measures. This second man, by his yieldings and flunkeyings, gets himself some modicum of independence-but the more thoroughgoing man has been too often routed in the interim: it is he who, to exist, must court favour.

not his worst qualities that got him into the worst trouble.

a sire, a bull for breeding, kept stabled, his eyes hooded, the movements of his legs hampered by thongs. He tramps restlessly, in darkness and con-

finement, no muscle permitted a sufficient range of movement in which to vent its powers. Held in abeyance, to be given freedom at the requisite moment, and burst forth in fury, a monster, bent upon rage, upon pleasure, upon assertion. To lie unused, to be fettered by lack of purpose, to champ, to rub weighty buttocks against the sides of the stall . . . to be called forth, bound upon some task . . .

a groveller, in boasting, must say that he would not be otherwise than he is.

do not watch him so uneasily, Woman. He will not approach your child. He is already disciplined in these matters.

stopped a stranger in the street and told him of my misfortunes, though he kept glancing in the direction of his appointment.

testamenturn meum.

he might sally forth, try things as he chose-and if the situation became unbearable, he could announce that he was returning to his refuge. In this refuge all the old voices would be silenced-one could de-

tect only such sounds as he had never heard before. The new sounds would be like gifts-he could hold them in his hands, or even lay his head against them.

had grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric as their trivium, yet knew so little about the deceptions of speech.

I went to her and turned her face to the light, but it was not Genevieve.

would not insist that we are, or are not, free to choose. But do insist that, when choosing, we cannot foresee all the factors involved in our choice and how could a choice be called free when its consequences are unknown at the time of our choosing?

The man did good for the oppressed? Then he made them oppressors.

A dream of Anthony. He referred on several occasions to his "exile," though it is I that was in exile. And without playfulness, he addressed me by his own name, nor did I find this unusual.

humbled that all negatives must be affirmed-for how advocate silence silently?

lapsing into the unformed.

if enough men could be brought to realize their plight, then we could at their instigation have a reshuffling.

this pledge of fidelity: Were you, Genevieve, to return and by your sweetness to lift me from the entanglement into which I have got myself, were you to be the woman of a new era for me, in this new era I pledge fidelity. I should seek no further turmoil, not even were my life to lack freshness.

had he found the matter ludicrous, he could have spared himself much indignation.

now that she is gone, you cry out for her. But if she were with you, might you in some new way dismiss her?

could I, by a ritual, like the old Jews, load my sins upon a goat, I would beat it mercilessly and drive it into the wilderness to die.

each time I insulted them, they toasted me vociferously. They clamoured, huzzaed, pounded the table

in delight. And finally, tiring of me, they pummelled me and pitched me from the room, though their good nature continued-and when I called for money they threw a few coins after me.

the practice, among conquering tyrants, of putting to death every twentieth man. Am I the victim of my attitudes, or a victim of vigesimation?

a few hours of abundance, to prepare for a lifetime of famine.

if decisions were a choice between alternatives, decisions would come easy. Decision is in the selection and formulation of alternatives.

I was but a harmless moth, made by its markings to look ferocious. I was a pumpkin to frighten children. Yet for this they have punished me.

have dreamed of Genevieve's return, but the nature of the dream confirms me in my fear that she is dead. Dreaming, I saw her in a mirror, where she spoke mirror words-and the flowers on her breast had mirror fragrance.

sitting on the same bench with me in the park . . . they seemed like students . . . while listening to their conversation I felt that I had things of importance to tell them . . . "circulus vitiosus" . . . yet they resented my intrusion . . . otherwise I should not have asked them for money.

if I could contrive some toy, such as a doll which, by an inexpensive mechanism, could be made to act insolently. Then I could take it to a man of enterprise-and if I were careful as to how the contract was worded, I might get substantial returns from the foolish thing.

they must train themselves in ingratitude, since they can live only by taking alms from the enemy-and how is the enemy to be vanquished unless they are prepared to bite the hand that feeds them?

there comes a time when one must abandon his vocabulary. For the rigidness of words, by discovering a little, prevents us from discovering more. There is a time for silence‹not only outward silence, but even the silencing of one's own thoughts. Soon I shall open a door and pass through it, closing it

softly behind me‹and thereupon I shall be sitting in a chamber of silence.

I vilified them, but they enjoyed me as a king enjoys his parrot or his dwarf. The more I attacked them, the noisier grew their delight.

If I became well known, and she were still alive, the newspapers would assist me by printing throughout the country the story of my search for her. But recall the Prince locked up in the Beast. She must find you before you are released to go in search of her.

became bat-blind, that he might have bat-vision.

resurgam! resurgam! I shall rise again! Hail, all hail! Here is a promise: resurgam!

stop and examine dark alleys, as Genevieve may be there.

though you, in learning, brought trouble upon yourself, let no man discredit your discoveries by pointing to your troubles. Nor must you turn against your bitterness. The sword of discovery goes before the couch of laughter. One sneers by the modifying of

a snarl; one smiles by the modifying of a sneer. You should have lived twice, and smiled the second time.

could not escape misfortune unless they all did as I did.

what voices would one hear were the mind to be plunged into total silence! Were he to say nothing, not even in his thoughts-were he to live in the stillness of a void‹could he hear the cells of his body speaking! Might he distinguish the songs of the myriad little tenants in his blood, as we can contemplate the pulsing sound of frogs rising above a marsh?

if they would let me stay about to amuse them, as the old kings kept dwarfs, I could say all kinds of scathing things to them that made them laugh-and each of them could tickle himself by prodding me to attack the others.

all I have pondered in malice, some one, coming after me, will consider comfortably. What I have learned through being in grave extremities, he will handle with ease.

Not only not responding, but even refraining from soliloquy-for if we tell no one, the grave burden accumulates within us. Henceforth silence, that the torrent may be heard descending in all its fulness.