Poetry: The Book of my Enemy — A Line and a Theme from Noam Chomsky | clivejames.com
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A Line and a Theme from Noam Chomsky**

Furiously sleep; ideas green; colourless
Sweet dreams just lately ain’t been had.
Sweat smells like the colour of the jungle.
Things looked bad then. They go on looking bad.

No question Charlie asked for what he got
Below from us, from up there by the jets;
Else their I D-ola G’d’ve prevailed,
They’d’ve swum here and stole our TV sets.

We lined ’em up, we knocked ’em down; we smoked.
We finished off what we’d been told to do.
Back stateside I expected to forget
How heads look when an M16 gets through.

Green nightmares; pillow strangled; sheets mussed up
By day a ‘Go’ light stops me in my tracks.
Shades don’t help: they make the whole works green.
A night’s sleep is a string of heart attacks.

Furiously sleep; ideas green, colourless
Sweet dreams just lately ain’t been had.
That time our gunships hit us by mistake,
I was mad then, I mean angry. But this is mad.

Noam Chomsky gave colourless green ideas sleep furiously
as an example of a random sequence of words which could
have no meaning. It seemed possible that they could,
if the context were wide enough, and that their meaning
might relate to the Vietnam War, at that time Chomsky’s
main political concern.

Note (from Collected Poems)

Though I eventually came to view Noam Chomsky’s political opinions as adding up to a toxic attack on the liberal outlook he professed to support, I was immensely impressed by his first theoretical work in linguistics. As an undergraduate in Cambridge I caught a train to Oxford just to hear him expound his concept of deep grammar, and I was never more thrilled by a lecture in my life: it was better than listening to Isaiah Berlin. But I did notice a flaw in Chomsky’s contention that a string of words — ‘Colourless green ideas sleep furiously’ was the example he concocted — could be completely meaningless. Not, I thought, if you could sufficiently widen the context.