Sokrates to Krito (letter from prison)

(Anne Carson)

Dear Krito, don’t come today. If you do, I’ll have to pretend to be asleep or ashamed or explain why I sent my wife home. Tears are all about the weeper, aren’t they? My kid has more sense. She was here, took one look around, said, It’s really damp in this place you need a hat, came back a half-hour later with that woolly cap you gave me last winter. I like practical people. My death is set for three days hence. There’s nothing you can do. But let me thank you for the hemlock. I know it wasn’t cheap with the bribes and the tax—why can’t they just grow the stuff in this country?—but God, it’s better than the other way, the so-called bloodless crucifixion, with the stakes and the iron collar. No one wants to see another person die like that—Krito, you’d have nightmares for years. And I sort of like the idea of just numbing out. I’ve been numb for years, according to my wife—it was the only way to bear her—oh that was unkind. I’ve been unkind for years, at home anyway. Funny how the worst self comes out there. My life is guys, you know that! Guys and drinking. I’m a talker. I believe in talk—rip the lids off ! let all the cats out of all the bags!—though most of what I say is just common sense. Do I frighten people? Claiming there’s no back wall? Nothing between you and your heart of darkness? Or if there is, you can’t pray to it, you can’t write poems about it, you can’t compete for its love. It smells of terrible plans and non-existence. Sorry, dramatic. Speaking of terrible plans though, don’t let Plato visit me today either. He’ll start quoting stuff I said in the old days, I shudder to hear it. Or he’ll lecture me on The Law. It’s not the law putting you to death, it’s the lawyers, he’ll say and I’ll say, Nice distinction. Then he’ll go on about swans or gymnastics or who knows what, he’ll go on, go on, go on—whenever I talk to our dear Plato, I feel I’m drifting into eternity. You know what I mean. Or maybe you don’t. You’re an odd one, Krito. You look like Bob Dylan with your little gold eyes and your skinny arms. And you just love arguments, am I right? When did I stop caring about arguments? Because I did, I stopped. My mind is blank as bread. Maybe it’s the hum in here. That humming, do you hear it? Is it in the walls or in my ears? Voices, voices, it’s there all the time, voices with no words. It drowns out every other sound. Remember the old days when they’d play Iggy Pop all night to break the prisoners down? That was when the war was on; the beast is dozing now. Anyway, if you were here, I might not be able to get what you’re saying—on the other hand, beloved Krito, if you do come, can you bring another one of those woolly caps? I gave mine to the guard. He looked miserable. It’s really damp in this place.

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