- Robert Hayden
PerseusThe Triumph of Wit Over Suffering
Head alone shows you in the prodigious act Of digesting what centuries alone digest: The mammoth, lumbering statuary of sorrow, Indissoluble enough to riddle the guts Of a whale with holes and holes, and bleed him white Into salt seas. Hercules had a simple time, Rinsing those stables: a baby's tears would do it. But who'd volunteer to gulp the Laocoon, The Dying Gaul and those innumerable pietas Festering on the dim walls of Europe's chapels, Museums and sepulchers? You. You Who borrowed feathers for your feet, not lead, Not nails, and a mirror to keep the snaky head In safe perspective, could outface the gorgon-grimace Of human agony: a look to numb Limbs: not a basilisk-blink, nor a double whammy, But all the accumulated last grunts, groans, Cries and heroic couplets concluding the million Enacted tragedies on these blood-soaked boards, And every private twinge a hissing asp To petrify your eyes, and every village Catastrophe a writhing length of cobra, And the decline of empires the thick coil of a vast Anacnoda. Imagine: the world Fisted to a foetus head, ravined, seamed With suffering from conception upwards, and there You have it in hand. Grit in the eye or a sore Thumb can make anyone wince, but the whole globe Expressive of grief turns gods, like kings, to rocks. Those rocks, cleft and worn, themselves then grow Ponderous and extend despair on earth's Dark face. So might rigor mortis come to stiffen All creation, were it not for a bigger belly Still than swallows joy. You enter now, Armed with feathers to tickle as well as fly, And a fun-house mirror that turns the tragic muse To the beheaded head of a sullen doll, one braid, A bedraggled snake, hanging limp as the absurd mouth Hangs in its lugubious pout. Where are The classic limbs of stubborn Antigone? The red, royal robes of Phedre? The tear-dazzled Sorrows of Malfi's gentle duchess? Gone In the deep convulsion gripping your face, muscles And sinews bunched, victorious, as the cosmic Laugh does away with the unstitching, plaguey wounds Of an eternal sufferer. To you Perseus, the palm, and may you poise And repoise until time stop, the celestial balance Which weighs our madness with our sanity.- Sylvia Plath
Long live the legend of Perseus, transformed through the minds of famed poets.
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