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Scott Cairns: On Slow Learning

If you have ever owned
a tortoise, you already know
how difficult paper training can be
for some pets.

Even if you get so far
as to instill in your tortoise
the the value of achieving the paper 
there remains one obstacle -
your tortoise’s intrinsic sloth.

Even a well-intentioned tortoise
may find himself, in his journeys
to be painfully far from the mark.

Failing, your tortoise may shy away
for weeks within his shell,
utterly ashamed, or looking up with tiny,
wet eyes might offer an honest shrug.
Forgive him.

–Scott Cairns, “Slow Learner” in Compass of Affection: New and Selected Poems (Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2006), 5.


  1. i love scott cairns.

    Thursday, October 18, 2007 at 8:01 pm | Permalink
  2. I’m so glad to see you reading Scott Cairns. He’s my favorite American poet. You should really try to get a hold of Philokalia, which is the best collection of his poems.

    Friday, October 19, 2007 at 7:10 am | Permalink

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