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Palimpsest is the word
On my tongue and my mind
When on waveswept expanses
Of seashore I find
Angular outlines
Traced in the sand
Where castles and citadels
Once used to stand.
Now erased by the tides
They resemble, indeed,
Those ancient craters
That mark Ganymede
Which sagged to the surface
Completely depressed
Until just their outline remained:
My mind's own parchment
Like the sands of the shore
Is erased and reused
It is pristine no more.
Elisha ben Avuyah, it's written,
Once said
He who studies God's law
While still a young lad
Has a mind like fresh parchment
At its cleanest and best
But in old age the mind
Is a mere
                   DPS 1982

Note: The ancient Greeks and Romans did not have paper: their books were hand-written on parchment--specially treated animal skin, forming thin hard sheets. Parchment was expensive, and therefore when a book was no longer of great interest, the letters on its parchment were sometimes carefully scraped away with a knife and the pages re-used. Such a clean-scraped parchment--usable, but no longer as good as new--was known as a palimpsest. The quote from Elisha be Avuyah, listed among ancient Jewish sages though himself an apostate, is in the Mishnah, Sayings of the Fathers, VI, v. 25.

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Author and Curator:   Dr. David P. Stern
     Mail to Dr.Stern:   stargaze("at" symbol) .

Last updated 25 November 2001