A Better Sisyphus


I return to the story of Sisyphus because I can think of no ancient myth more alive for us today.

I even found a version of this myth in the comic strip “Hagar the Horrible”.

According to the Greeks…

…Sisyphus is condemned to roll a heavy stone up a mountain each and every day…

…only to see the stone roll all the way back down when he reaches the mountain top.

In Albert Camus’ existential version of the tale…

…Sisyphus takes responsibility for his fate and, in that way banishes the gods and makes of his torment a joy.

Well, I’m all for taking responsibility—no matter what befalls me.  What could be more futile than cursing the gods?  However, I think we need to go beyond Camus.

Camus’ Sisyphus still sees his situation as absurd—he knows the stone will keep rolling back down.  A torment that is a joy is still a torment.  I can accept torment—after all, I’m a writer…

…but I want to know that I’m benefiting from my troubles.  Therein lies my joy.

So in my version, Sisyphus gains, becomes stronger—grows.  Is this just wishful thinking?  That’s a good question to ask—in myth, we want to be truthful, not delusional.

Well, looking back at my life so far, I can see so much gain—I keep rolling the stone, but in the process, I’m developing myself.  I see a desire within me—a hunger—to learn, to grow in this way, in this way of the stone.

Thus, in my version, Sisyphus can’t wait for the morning, when he can again start at the bottom.  He knows he’s not actually starting over, at the beginning.

Since he’s grown through pushing the stone, since he has more perspective, the bottom would be at the base of another, higher mountain.

In that light, I offer this poem for possible inclusion in our new mythology:


I present myself as an exhibit
of a necessary human hunger—


even though this hunger nearly kills us—
kills me.  I fight not to be eaten alive
by my hunger.

this goat in me
has goaded me
higher than I ever
could have imagined—

back into—deep into—
those hungry black mountains

to try to satisfy
my hunger—a hunger
for something that
I do not know
and so
try to discover
if it actually

Blind, I touch and in touching, know–
know every round stone
as part of my foundation–

know every cave I find to be a kiln.

Alone, in my quiet lifting, I come to realize
how every mundane moment surfeits me.

All those tedious steps–
I love them, one by one.

So I’m not disappointed
that I still feel hungry
when I reach the mountain top—

no, I can hardly wait for Morning
when I start back at the bottom—
      but the bottom of a higher mountain–
because by keeping to this climb
I feed my driving hunger.

© 2011, Michael R. Patton
(for more musings on Sisyphus see June 29, 2009 entry)


About Michael Patton

I am a poet, novelist, and fabulist...A new mythologist, a peace miller, a dream worker...I don't qualify as an illustrator or photographer--I just "make pictures"...I have thirteen books available at amazon... I currently reside in northwest Arkansas, but have lived and worked all over the United States... I'm self-taught, for the most part--which is like searching for the right door in the dark. It's an on-going process.... I don't want to write MY story, I want OUR story, so that's what I'm studying: the human story: past, present, future, in its many aspects--including the spiritual. I'm proceeding at a slow crawl.... I don't see the inner world and outer world as separate. By learning about myself, I learn about others, I learn about my world.... Conversely, as I struggle to understand what I see OUT THERE, I learn about myself.... But to be clear: I don't claim any special understanding. I'm still purblind, still only half-awake.... After frustrating experience with the publisher of my first novel, I've published on my own, beginning with e-books, with plans to move into print and audio. Even video.... Along with a second novel, I've now published eight books of poetry. Each poetry book focuses on a theme. For instance, the collection GLORIOUS TEDIOUS TRANSFORMATION is about the slow difficult wonderful process of change.... In that book, as with all my work, I try to be accessible to a general audience, while also striving to achieve a certain literary quality.
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2 Responses to A Better Sisyphus

  1. Danielle says:

    Hello! I just read your post about the Hagar comic about Sisyphus. I know this sounds random but that particular comic strip and that particular one holds a special meaning to my boyfriend. Could you possibly tell me where you found that comic/what the date is of it? I would really appreciate it more than I can explain.
    Thank you,

  2. Unfortunately, that particular “Hagar” appeared years ago…maybe twenty-five years ago–or even farther back. It was a Sunday strip, that’s all I recall. Hope you find it.

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