Arcadia Art Share: ‘Sometime During Eternity’ and the Cat Who Really Laid It On Us

By Purnell T. Cropper | April 12, 2011

Editor’s Note: As part of Arcadia Art Share—a new series that features faculty, students, alumni and staff discussing literature and the arts—Joshua Isard, Coordinator of Arcadia’s M.F.A. program and Adjunct Professor of English, reflects on Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s poem “Sometime During Eternity.”

By Josh Isard

In high school I always felt like there were two languages in my English class: prose and poetry. I devoured novels and short stories, but always felt myself limping through poems, a little frustrated that the meaning was never as clear to me in stanzas as it was in paragraphs.

Still, once in college I was excited to hear that the famous Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti would be reading nearby. I knew of Ferlinghetti, being a Jack Kerouac fan like every other freshman English major at my school, but I didn’t pick up his work until before that reading. I paged through the library’s copy of Coney Island of the Mind, and when I got to “Sometime During Eternity” [full text] I found myself reading the same two pages over and over again.

What attracted me to it was the way Ferlinghetti uses colloquial language to describe one of the most important, and for some people the holiest moment in Western history—the crucifixion. Ferlinghetti describes Jesus Christ as “a kind of carpenter/from some square-type place like Galilee,” and then says that “the cat/who really laid it on us/is his dad.”

I never knew that every day English could be so powerful, that poets didn’t always adopt a lofty tone in order to discuss the most important events and ideas…that they didn’t have to be linguistically cryptic or dense. This poem was in my English, not the Victorians’ or Elizabethans’.

Agree or disagree with Ferlinghetti’s satiric point in “Sometime…” (and I’m sure readers take sides on this one, as have my students in the past), the author’s idea comes through with great precision and power, which to me is the mark of a great poem.

When I saw him, though he didn’t read “Sometime…,” he used the same English I heard in my head when I read his poems to myself in the library. It was like he spoke to us, in our language, but somehow heightened, so that I understood more and more quickly than I had before.