Gershon Hepner

Constant Fear of Not Being Misunderstood

Oscar said he was in constant fear

of sadly being not misunderstood,

a view that I accept with constant cheer

as blasted well a bloody likelihood.


Verse tries to justify misunderstanding,

frequently converting thoughts that are prosaic,

providing what may seem a loony landing

for fantasies that fail if formulaic,


offering experience priority

over expectations that are preconceived,

poetically providing it authority

to be, although it should not be, believed.


In “The code is smashed to bits” (TLS, 10/10/14)   Terry Eagleton reviews Kevin Birmingham’s The Most Dangerous Book: The battle for James Joyce’s Ulysses:

Modernism was among other things a defensive reaction to the emergence of a mass reading public. If its works were obscure, it was partly to prevent them from being too easily consumed. “I live in constant fear of not being misunderstood”, remarked Oscar Wilde. Having a readership was a regrettable necessity, like a visit to the dentist. A set of rootless, émigré artists, clustered together in some polyglot café in Europe, were forced to make a virtue of their marginality. If they were regarded by the general public as a bunch of limp-wristed, long-haired layabouts, then their art would turn its back disdainfully on such philistinism and take itself as its own subject matter.

Bumptious, arrogant and quarrelsome, Joyce displayed this spiritual elitism to the full. Yet Ulysses is also one of the most democratic of modernist works, with its shabby anti-hero and unerring ear for the Dublin vernacular. Eliot and Woolf have no such feel for the common life. The split between artist and audience is internalized by the novel in the contrast between the priggish Stephen Dedalus and the seedy Leopold Bloom. The two men come together only briefly and inconsequentially in the text itself; but for that text to be possible they must already have had a fruitful encounter in its author.

Rabbi David Wolpe’s comment on 9/9/22:

As a rabbi I need never fear not being misunderstood.

About the Author
Gershon Hepner is a poet who has written over 25,000 poems on subjects ranging from music to literature, politics to Torah. He grew up in England and moved to Los Angeles in 1976. Using his varied interests and experiences, he has authored dozens of papers in medical and academic journals, and authored "Legal Friction: Law, Narrative, and Identity Politics in Biblical Israel." He can be reached at
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