©2020 Pericles at Play. Homepage paintings by Annabel Dover

To the Poets, to Make Much of Time

By Jordan Maly-Preuss

 

Homer! Thou shouldst be living at this hour:

England hath need of thee.

so much depends

upon

the Sapphic

strophe

underlying your

“translation”.

Some say the epic will end in fire,*

some say in ice.

From what I’ve tasted of desire,

I hold with those who favour fire.

But since I’ll never perish once,

Neither I nor my poem,

I’ll say that for destruction ice

Is not that great

And won’t suffice.

But if you’d care to bring me home

that would be nice.

* Rome 

† Pontus 

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;

Aeneas with a wet, golden bough.

Homer! Homer! burning bright

In the spondees of the night

What immortal hand or eye

Could frame thy fearful symmetry?*

On what distant isles or waves

Burnt the fire of thy staves?

To what songs dare he aspire?

What the hand dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder, and what art,

Could bend the sinews of thy heart?

And when thy heart began to beat,

What dread verse? and what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain?

In whose furnace was thy brain?

What the anvil? what dread grasp

Dare its deadly dactyls clasp?

When the gods threw down their spears,

And mortals shed their lusty tears,

Did you smile your work to see?

Did he who hymned the gods make thee?⁂

Homer! Homer! burning bright

In the forests of the night,

What immortal hand or eye

Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

* For discussions of Homeric structure, see for instance the works of B. Heiden, A. Kelly, and K. Stanley.

† Here the poet becomes somewhat elaborate in her conceit. Homeric poetry does not have staves.
‡ Many critics have complained that as a reference to φρένες this line is somewhat misleading.

⁂ A particularly well-turned line. The poet is in fine form, though we would do well always to remember: ‘Homer was not composed by Homer, but by another man of that name.’ This makes co-identity of the two ‘Homers’ exceedingly unlikely.
※ The usual complaint here arises about assonantal slant rhyme, which is a compromise technique at best. This critic has never yet discovered that ‘eye’ and ‘symmetry’ have been true rhymes in any dialect of English at any period.

How do I loathe thee? Let me count the ways.
I loathe thee to the depth and breadth and height

Thy verse can reach, when preening out of sight

For the ends of Drinking and the Pretty Place.
I loathe thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet read, by sun and candle light.
I loathe thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I loathe thee purely, as they turn from Praise.*
I loathe thee with the essays put to use
In my old class, and with my childhood’s faith.
I loathe thee for the time I seemed to lose
With my vain plaints – I guard from thee the breath,

Smiles, tears, of all my life! – and, if God choose,
I shall but loathe thee better after death.

* A most subtle denunciation of the target’s character.

Each poem here is addressed to a Greek or Roman poet, and remixes a post-classical poem. 

Image:

Pierre Bonnard

Stairs in the Artist’s Garden

1942/1944

Oil on canvas

Framed dimensions: 92.4 x 102.2 x 9.5 cm 

National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC: 1970.17.11