Saturday, October 22, 2011

Poem In Your Post: Perseus


Her sleeping head with its great gelid mass
of serpents torpidly astir
burned into the mirroring shield--
a scathing image dire
as hated truth the mind accepts at last
and festers on.
I struck. The shield flashed bare.

Yet even as I lifted up the head
and started from that place
of gazing silences and terrored stone,
I thirsted to destroy.
None could have passed me then--
no garland-bearing girl, no priest
or staring boy--and lived.

                           - Robert Hayden


The 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.
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
                 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?
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.

What hero-poem calls to you today?  Share it with us in the comments below, or link to your website or blogpost...



As the Crowe Flies and Reads said...

It always saddens/shames me how little poetry I read compared to you. I'm pretty sure I've never even heard of Hayden, much less read him, until just now. But that's a poem I could get behind.

Your second selection is obscured in part by the image on your blog, so I could read the first few lines of it, FYI.

Laurie said...

Thanks for the heads-up, E. On my screen there's no obscuring of Plath's language, but I'm moving the image because her always-edgy ideas are well worth considering in their fullness. How art thou, sistah?

As the Crowe Flies and Reads said...

heya. I didn't know you'd spent time on Jost! That's a place I'd like to develop an acquaintance with, surely.

That Song of Achilles book isn't out until March or possibly April, so you couldn't get it for your class, but I'm pretty sure that there's a bookseller in western MA who would send you her twice-read copy. Do you still have my email address to send me your physical address again? I don't think I kept it after I mailed the Brooks.

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