Another High Holy Day in Egoslavia. Anthony Hecht born 90 years ago today.
GREEN: AN EPISTLE
I write at last of the one forbidden topic
We, by a truce, have never touched upon:
Resentment, malice, hatred so inwrought
With moral inhibitions, so at odds with
The home-movie of yourself as patience, kindness
And Charlton Heston playing Socrates,
That almost all of us were taken in,
Yourself not least, as to a giant Roxy,
Where the lights dimmed and the famous allegory
Of Good and Evil, clearly identified
By the unshaven surliness of the Bad Guys,
The virginal meekness of the ingenue,
Seduced us straight into that perfect world
Of Justice under God. Art for the sake
Of money, glamour, ego, self-deceit.
When we emerged into the assaulting sunlight,
We had a yen, like bad philosophers,
To go back and stay forever, there in the dark
With the trumpets, horses, and ancient Certitudes
On which, as we know, this great nation was founded,
Washington crossing the Delaware, and so forth.
And all of us, for an hour or so after,
Were Humphrey Bogart dating Ingrid Bergman,
Walking together but incommunicado
Till subway and homework knocked us out of it.
Yet even then, whatever we returned to
Was not, although we thought it was, the world.
I write at last on the topic because I am safe
Here in the grubby border town
With its one cheap hotel. No one has my address.
The food is bad, the wine too expensive,
And the local cathedral marred by restorations.
But from my balcony I view the east
For miles and, if I lean, the local sunsets
That bathe a marble duke with what must be
Surely the saddest light I have ever seen.
The air is thin and cool at this elevation,
And my desk wobbles unless propped with matchbooks.
It began, I suppose, as a color, yellow-green,
The tincture of spring willows, not so much color
As the sensation of color, haze that took shape
As a light scum, a doily of minutiae
On the smooth pool and surfaces of your mind.
A founding colony, Pilgrim amoebas
Descended from the gaseous flux when Zeus
Tossed down his great original thunderbolt
That flashed in darkness like an electric tree
Or the lit-up veins in an old arthritic hand.
Here is the microscope one had as a child,
The Christmas gift of some forgotten uncle.
Here is the slide with a drop of cider vinegar
As clear as gin, clear as your early mind.
Look down, being most careful not to see
Your own eye in the mirror underneath,
Which will appear, unless your view is right,
As a darkness on the face of the first waters.
When all is silvery and brilliant, look:
The long, thin, darting shapes, the flagellates,
Rat-tailed, ambitious, lash themselves along -
Those humble, floating ones, those simple cells
Content to be borne on whatever tide,
Trustful, the very image of consent -
These are the frail, unlikely origins,
Scarcely perceived, of all your shall become.
Scarcely perceived? But at this early age
(What are you, one or two?) you have no knowledge
Nor do your folks, not could the gravest doctors
Suspect that anything was really wrong.
Nor see the pale beginnings, lace endeavors
That with advancing ages shall mature
Into sea lettuce, beard the rocky shore
With a light green of soft and tidal hair.
Whole eras, seemingly without event,
Now scud the glassy pool processionally
Until one day, misty, uncalendared,
As mild and unemphatic as a schwa,
Vascular tissue, conduit filaments
Learn how to feel the outposts of that small
Emerald principate. Now there are roots,
The filmy gills of toadstools, crested fern,
Quillworts, and foxtail mosses, and at last
Snapweed, loment, trillium, grass, herb Robert.
How soundlessly, shyly this came about,
One thinks today. But that is not the truth.
It was, from the first, an everlasting war
conducted, as always, at gigantic cost.
Think of the droughts, the shifts of wind and weather,
The many seeds washed to some salt conclusion
Or brought to rest at last on barren ground.
Think of some inching tendrils worming down
In hope of water, blind and white as death.
Think of the strange mutations life requires.
Only the toughest endured, themselves much altered,
Trained in the cripple's careful sciences
Of mute accommodation. The survivors
Were all, one way or another, amputees
Who learned to live with their stumps, like Brueghel's beggars.
Yet, for all that, it clearly was a triumph,
Considering, as one must, what was to come
And, even by themselves, those fields of clover,
Cattails, marsh bracken, water-lily pads
Stirred by the lightest airs, pliant, submissive -
Who could have called their slow creation rage?
Consider, as one must, what was to come.
Great towering conifers, deciduous,
Rib-vaulted elms, the banyan, oak, and palm,
Sequoia forests of vindictiveness
That also would go down on the death list
And, buried deep beneath the alluvial shifts,
Would slowly darken into lakes of coal
And then under exquisite pressure turn
Into the tiny diamonds of pure hate.
The delicate fingers of the clematis
Feeling their way along a face of shale
With all the ingenuity of spite.
The indigestible thistle of revenge.
And your most late accomplishment, the rose.
Until at last, what we might designate
As your Third Day, behold a world of green:
Color of hope, of the Church's springtide vestments,
The primal wash, heraldic hue of envy.
But in what pre-lapsarian disguise!
Strangers and those who do not know you well
(Yourself not least) are quickly taken in
By a summary prospect, shades of innocence.
Like that young girl, a sort of chance acquaintance,
Seven or eight she was, on the New York Central,
Who, with a blue-eyed, beatific smile,
Shouted with joy, "Look, Mommy, quick, Look. Daisies!"
These days, with most of us at a safe distance,
You scarcely know yourself. Whole weeks go by
Without your remembering that enormous effort,
Ages of disappointment, the long ache
Of motives twisted out of recognition,
The doubt and hesitation all submerged
In those first clear waters, that untroubled pool.
Who could have hope for this eventual peace?
Moreover, there are moments almost of bliss,
A sort of recompense, in which your mood
Sorts with the peach endowments of late sunlight
On a snowfield or on the breaker's froth
Or the white steeple of the local church.
Or, like a sunbather, whose lids retain
A greenish, gemmed impression of the sun
In lively, fluctuant geometries,
You sometimes contemplate a single image,
Utterly silent, utterly at rest.
It is of someone, a stranger, quite unknown,
Sitting alone in a foreign-looking room,
Gravely intent at a table propped with matchbooks,
Writing this poem - about me.
I interrupt this Egoslavian High Holy Day: that's new Yo La Tengo. I bought five tickets last night to 2013 tour stop at 930 on Friday 2/15/13, which I only learned about after Planet called me fifteen minutes earlier to brag about seeing Yo La Tengo in Ann Arbor on February 8. Mr Alarum and Ms Xtina claim two of the tickets. As always, I am in awe of Serendipity, Mr Alarum can vouch for this Heh! The Hamster Signal is lit for the fifth ticket.
Yes, I c/ped last years Hecht bday post. Again: getting to know and learn from and work with Tony Hecht at Hilltop is one of the highlights of my life. Type Anthony Hecht in the search box top left of this shitty blog for earlier and more extended iterations of the previous prayer plus LOTS of his poems. Yes, I scanned and posted the above poem in the past month or two too, it's better typed out, it's my most air-guitared poem ever, it's infinitely infinitely infinitely better read out loud, yo.
Oh OK, have some links before they're stale: What we know, what we need to know. Aaron Swartz at risk. Freedom to connect.
How the legal system failed Swartz, and us. Humanity failed Swartz. Justice is not law, law is not justice. Prosecutorial abuse. Going platinum. I_Me_Mime. Hell is for other people. An almost word-for-word endorsement of al-Qaeda's worldview. Haha. Someone still lives here. Top economists at work. Women around the world at work. The ecology of hell. A belated Happy New Year. The complete list of places linked to Pep Guardiola. Thank you for not participating. Yes, again:
Here in this bleak city of Rochester,
Where there are twenty-seven words for “snow,”
Not all of them polite, the wayward mind
Basks in some Yucatan of its own making,
Some coppery, sleek lagoon, or cinnamon island
Alive with lemon tints and burnished natives,
And O that we were there. But here the natives
Of this grey, sunless city of Rochester
Have sown whole mines of salt about their land
(Bare ruined Carthage that it is) while snow
Comes down as if The Flood were in the making.
Yet on that ocean Marvell called the mind
An ark sets forth which is itself the mind,
Bound for some pungent green, some shore whose natives
Blend coriander, cayenne, mint in making
Roasts that would gladden the Earl of Rochester
With sinfulness, and melt a polar snow.
It might be well to remember that an island
Was blessed heaven once, more than an island,
The grand, utopian dream of a noble mind.
In that kind climate the mere thought of snow
Was but a wedding cake; the youthful natives,
Unable to conceive of Rochester,
Made love, and were acrobatic in the making.
Dream as we may, there is far more to making
Do than some wistful reverie of an island,
Especially now when hope lies with the Rochester
Gas and Electric Co., which doesn’t mind
Such profitable weather, while the natives
Sink, like Pompeians, under a world of snow.
The one thing indisputable here is snow,
The single verity of heaven’s making,
Deeply indifferent to the dreams of the natives,
And the torn hoarding-posters of some island.
Under our igloo skies the frozen mind
Holds to one truth: it is grey, and called Rochester.
No island fantasy survives Rochester,
Where to the natives destiny is snow
That is neither to our mind nor of our making.