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Glimpse: Selected Aphorisms

by George Murray

George Murray’s fourth book of poetry is a selection of 409 aphorisms – those sometimes philosophic, sometimes sophomoric distillations of thought invented by Hippocrates and perfected by Yogi Berra. Murray is one of the few poets publishing aphorisms in English today, and Glimpse proves he is also one of the best.

Murray’s aphorisms cover erotic, aesthetic, theological, and gastrointestinal ground. His most successful technique is one perfected by François de la Rochefoucauld: the triple noun and/or gerund syllogism (“Clinging is climbing without ascent”). His tone varies from that of a wild-haired desert prophet to boozy penseur; Murray as frequently channels Lao Tzu or Descartes as Henny Youngman. Few aphorists could give us both “The night is so covered in full stops we cannot read the sentences for the periods” and “That’s the thing with evolution, it’s turtles all the way down.”

Wittgenstein, in one of his own aphorisms, wrote: “Like everything metaphysical, the harmony between thought and reality is to be found in the grammar of the language.” The sense one gets from reading the best aphorisms – and many of Murray’s can stand alongside the very best – is that the grammar of the aphorism itself becomes figurative, and we see the world as metaphor. The syntax becomes epistemological, and it’s the syntax that convinces us of the aphorism’s rightness. When Murray fails – which isn’t all that often – it’s because that syntactical bridge between the world and the word is an unsteady truss or two away from suspension.

However wonderful these aphorisms are on their own, Glimpse’s real accomplishment is in its sequencing. The page is its own unit in Glimpse: each group of five aphorisms is subtly interlocked to its page, and each page to the collection as a whole. It’s this sophisticated curation that prevents Glimpse from becoming a kaleidoscope of bon mots or a burlesque of cracking fortune cookies. Instead, we get a glimpse into the soul of a man – eloquent, wry, contradictory, profound.