The On Being Project

Perfection Will Do You In

Are you a “perfectionist” who, for example, takes 30 minutes to write a post that should have taken five minutes because he had to make it “just so”? If you are, you’ll love this poem as much as I do!

You’ll also love the fact that the poet — who argues here with the 101st Psalm — is a 94-year-old Benedictine monk known worldwide for his scholarship and devotion to interfaith dialogue, who did not begin writing poetry seriously until he was 75.

Kilian McDonnell is founder and president of the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research at St. John’s University and Abbey in Minnesota. Thirty-five years ago, I spent nine months as a Fellow of the Institute and got to know this remarkable man who’s full of faith and hope.

As this poem makes clear, he also has a wicked sense of humor — and “wicked” is the right word for it, even though he’s a monk!

“Perfection, Perfection”

I have had it with perfection.
I have packed my bags,
I am out of here.
Gone.

As certain as rain
will make you wet,
perfection will do you
in.

It droppeth not as dew
upon the summer grass
to give liberty and green
joy.

Perfection straineth out
the quality of mercy,
withers rapture at its
birth.

Before the battle is half begun,
cold probity thinks
it can’t be won, concedes the
war.

I’ve handed in my notice,
given back my keys,
signed my severance check, I
quit.

Hints I could have taken:
Even the perfect chiseled form of
Michelangelo’s radiant David
squints,

the Venus de Milo
has no arms,
the Liberty Bell is
cracked.

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