Adventures in New Testament Greek: Nous

BY SCOTT CAIRNS

You could almost think the word synonymous    
with mind, given our so far narrow   
history, and the excessive esteem

in which we have been led to hold what is,   
in this case, our rightly designated   
nervous systems. Little wonder then

that some presume the mind itself both part   
and parcel of the person, the very seat   
of soul and, lately, crucible for a host

of chemical incentives—combinations
of which can pretty much answer for most   
of our habits and for our affections.

When even the handy lexicon cannot   
quite place the nous as anything beyond   
one rustic ancestor of reason, you might

be satisfied to trouble the odd term   
no further—and so would fail to find   
your way to it, most fruitful faculty

untried. Dormant in its roaring cave,
the heart’s intellective aptitude grows dim,   
unless you find a way to wake it. So,

let’s try something, even now. Even as   
you tend these lines, attend for a moment   
to your breath as you draw it in: regard

the breath’s cool descent, a stream from mouth   
to throat to the furnace of the heart.   
Observe that queer, cool confluence of breath

and blood, and do your thinking there.

Scott Cairns, “Adventures in New Testament Greek: Nous” from Philokalia: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 2002 by Scott Cairns. Reprinted without the permission of Zoo Press. Source: Philokalia: New and Selected Poems (Zoo Press, 2002)

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