Thursday, June 24, 2010


I believe that it impossible to write without reading.  It would be a static, stale, placid thing.  I am an obsessive reader, but on rainy days and quiet days and greyer days and loosely knit days of shallow water, I love poetry.  The economy.  The heft.  The precision.  The balance.  The song.  

Honor to those who in the life they lead
define and guard a Thermopylae.
Never betraying what is right,
consistent and just in all they do
but showing pity also, and compassion;
generous when they're rich, and when they're poor,
still generous in small ways,
still helping as much as they can;
always speaking the truth,
yet without hating those who lie.
And even more honor is due to them
when they foresee (as many do foresee)
that Ephialtis will turn up in the end,
that the Medes will break through after all.

I am on a bit of a Cavafy kick at the moment.  "a" Thermopylae?  How wonderful to find such an unsuspected metaphor.  The single thing that you will defend with everything.  To not define it in universal strokes.  To understand that its boundaries shift slightly from life to life.  How extraordinary.

There are days that are just ripe for Cavafy.

Also for Zbignew Herbert.  He wrote this raw and luminous poem for Czeslaw Milosz and Milosz translated it.  "Fallen nests"?  What an incandescent usage.

Elegy of Fortinbras

for C.M.
Now that we’re alone we can talk prince man to man
though you lie on the stairs and see no more than a dead ant
nothing but black sun with broken rays
I could never think of your hands without smiling
and now that they lie on the stone like fallen nests
they are as defenceless as before The end is exactly this
The hands lie apart The sword lies apart The head apart
and the knight’s feet in soft slippers

You will have a soldier’s funeral without having been a soldier
the only ritual I am acquainted with a little
There will be no candles no singing only cannon-fuses and bursts
crepe dragged on the pavement helmets boots artillery horses drums drums I know nothing exquisite
those will be my manoeuvers before I start to rule
one has to take the city by the neck and shake it a bit

Anyhow you had to perish Hamlet you were not for life
you believed in crystal notions not in human clay
always twitching as if asleep you hunted chimeras
wolfishly you crunched the air only to vomit
you knew no human thing you did not know even how to breathe

Now you have peace Hamlet you accomplished what you had to
and you have peace The rest is not silence but belongs to me
you chose the easier part of an elegant thrust
but what is heroic death compared with eternal watching
with a cold apple in one’s hand on a narrow chair
with a view of the ant-hill and the clock’s dial

Adieu prince I have tasks a sewer project
and a decree on prostitutes and beggars
I must also elaborate a better system of prisons
since as you justly said Denmark is a prison
I go to my affairs This night is born
a star named Hamlet We shall never meet
what I shall leave will not be worth a tragedy

It is not for us to greet each other or bid farewell we live on archipelagos
and that water these words what can they do what can they do prince


  1. I am not a huge poetry buff - but I think I get what you are saying! I will have to give poetry more time! Happy reading and writing.

  2. happy reading and writing to you as well!

  3. I'd recommend a little Osip Mandelstam too. Don't know if you're familiar with him. I think the Voronezh Notebooks are some of the finest writing to come from Stalin's monstrous days.

  4. i love mandelstam. tsevtaeva and akhmatova are also favorites. this all started with joseph brodsky's gigantic class such a long time ago.

  5. typos everywhere--dearrie me. must wear glasses...

  6. Thank you for introducing me to Cavafy, I am on my journey to Ithaca

  7. I am trying to make Compare and Contrast friends. st

  8. yes you are! now read louis macneice's 'thalassa'. umm... essay topics?

  9. "And your past life a ruined church--"

    So Cool!! -one day i will write like this!

    "The narwhal dares us to be free;

    By a high star our course is set,

    Our end is Life. Put out to sea."

    Thalassa- Louis Macneice

    beautifully slow

  10. the rolling beat of a wave--genius

  11. found you from the hop and I love your blog, I will be back! I adore poetry :)

  12. Lovely poetry if a bit heavy on a sunny Sunday morning ;-) or maybe that's just me. I have to admit that I'm completely unfamiliar with the authors and that I've not read any poetry for years, not properly really read and understood anyway. Thanks for sharing, have a lovely Sunday, Love from London x

  13. yes. it is sunny here too! i hope your sunday was lovely! xx


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