Commencement Address, “A Life in Leuven”

In June 2010, I was invit­ed to speak at the Com­mence­ment Cer­e­mo­ny for the Hoger Insti­tu­ut voor Wijs­begeerte in Leu­ven. I deliv­ered this poem. It was pub­lished in Vol­ume 18 (2010–2011) of The Leu­ven Phi­los­o­phy Newslet­ter. [PDF]

 

 

A life in Leuven: Ten stanzas in the style of Hillaire Belloc

Pass­ing ‘neath the iron gate
of the High­er Institute
one can sense that one has come
into a place of some repute.

And after many months of time
spent con­tem­plat­ing mat­ters learnéd
one can say with certainty
that this repute is well-deservéd.

If you’ll let me, I shall say
why, to me, it seems this way.

Past the archives and salons
and past the lawn and wil­low tree
and past the secretariat
one comes into the library.
Its col­lec­tion is superb
(a ‘gem’ as Fried­man once intoned)
and creaky stairs and floors ensure
you won’t for­get you’re not alone.

These books work with the lectures
to deep­en our conjectures.

The lec­tur­ers are thought­ful men,
I’ve stud­ied with a few.
Fried­man on the Trinity
and Desmond’s metaxu;

Visker ques­tions Levinas
and Braeck­man reads Arendt,
Van­heeswijk reads Gauchet, and Cloots
asks what reli­gion meant.

Van Brakel’s sci­en­tif­ic virtues,
Mar­tin Stone’s Descartes,
Cruysburgh’s anthropology
and Bernet’s course on art;

Steel with friend­ship is concerned
and Ray­maek­ers with Kant,
and Geyskens’ talks on Freud reveal
just what we real­ly want.

Breeur on modernity
and Moors on Kant, again,
and Burms on intuition –
tru­ly these are thought­ful men.

But still these lec­tures aren’t complete.
The HIW’s indeed replete
with more to do and see.

Take the Thurs­day Lectures,
and the wine t’which we repair,
(Or the) Card’nal Merci­er seminars
this year with Jonathan Lear.

If stu­dent company’s more your thing
then pass some time with IPSA;
con­certs, read­ing groups, and bread
make for a hap­py picture.

Just add the Christ­mas Din­ner and
your satisfaction’s ready to hand.

Despite how some­times it may seem
there is a world beyond the gate,
and out in Leu­ven city do
diver­sions and temp­ta­tions wait.

You can ride your bike to Peeter’s;
get a book for thir­ty euro,
or else hit up a copy shop
(if your income’s close to zero).

A famous Alma din­ner pleases
all but the gourmets,
though for­eign­ers all war’ly eye
that tub of mayonnaise.

Lat­er there’s the nightshop;
you can get a drink and then inspect,
while sit­ting on Ladeuzeplein,
that strange, impaléd, green insect.

(And) echo’ing off the cobblestones,
through gray and rain (and some­times sun),
the sound of bells is hourly heard,
<dun da dun da dun da dun>

Yet per­haps the most distinctive
plea­sures of the place
come from sit­ting in the sun
and talk­ing face to face.

At Eras­mus you may find
you’ll want to nev­er leave;
just speak those mag­ic words you know:
een koffie alstublieft.

Or grab a brood­je at Commerce,
a cof­fee at Pangaea,
kebab and frites on every block!
(Though of those last you’ll tire.)

If a beer you should prefer,
the Oude Markt awaits you,
Leffe, Duval, Rodenbach,
though next morn’ your head may hate you.

Of course one needs to moderate
these plea­sures of the flesh;
to turn the mind to high­er things,
and keep the spir­it fresh.

But life in Leu­ven: it is good,
flesh and spir­it both,
with each day anoth­er chance
for true and last­ing growth.

And so these thoughts I here conclude,
lest I should, in time, protrude.
I hope you’ve found them well construed.