No 8 - Autumn 2005
From Between Gods and Demons
How could he hope the gods would accept him now
who impious had proclaimed that they lived no more?
And if they lived how could a mortal
rise up against their enshadowed edicts?
They live no longer? – yet with a steel regard
observe him issue out of the shattered keep
the people's plaudits round his brows once
proud now defiled with the rage of glory?
And one to whom they give in their mystic speech
the name of Loosener lifts the enforcing hand
and gives the sign.What now no longer
may be unloosed must be rased. He smites then
with night the brow which sinks before its time.
The gods are satisfied so; the demons as well.
A head that used to be is sealed with
laurel. The crowd have not even noticed.
II (Sapphic variant)
Free the rebel is not. His childish working
all unconscious of bounds gains not the human grace.
Him though the time devours who, a timid man,
subdues himself to law established.
Giving no one offence the just man lives – his
doings, whom do they harm? All of his little lust
asks no atonement. Only the heaven-sent
beset by hatreds pays full penance.
Men are made by their fate. The groom has none such.
Save the hero is none worthy the inborn death
which in his breast he bears like a hallowed heart
while all his life aspires to die it.
Ah, to leave behind not a vestige, wholly
subject but to the gods! Only, the gods will have
even for this last freedom their due revenge.
The constellations move impassive.
III (Third Asclepiadic)
Downward, what does he take? Comfort, though of his dead,
cheap it were; but a time, stripped so of all pretence
leaves no right to the victim.
Yet he dies as a brave man dies.
Dire it is for a race, living reft of a god.
Worse when the god deserts those of his secret house
and the language, opaque and
grand, is thrown to the day for meat.
He who loyally hymned order in times confused
knew no longer why mouth lifted itself to mouth.
Bound to follow his stars he
fades away into lasting night.
There is triumph and fall. All that the spirit sinned
he in spirit atones. Since but the dead can be
wholly spirit and life keeps
nothing. Praise the immortal gods.
What designs they have for us though are hidden.
We regard as ruin what they above us
Call beginning. Yes, while we hurtle down or
suffer our sentence
still their zealous eyes are upon us, guiding.
From our fate they live as from noble fare. So
we live, beasts no more: to this end preserving
faith in their greatness.
Always mortal man though he fight or suffer
struggles. In our battles they are concealed as
in the tears we weep. And the doom which holds us
separate binds us.
Let no man admitted to their high secrets
breathe but one. We are because They keep from us.
We have need of darkness and awe. And therefore
babble the poets.
VIII (Glyconics and Pherecratics)
Botched beginnings is all a man's
issue, he is himself no
more than endlessly fragment, no
hand shall round him to wholeness.
Let no one who has gone before
turn for thought of his kind to
be of us and to make again
dwelling with us, but wretched.
Cast down into despair – for
how could he for a single day
live his visions of vastness? –
blemish plunges him deep in night.
Madness he will call gracious then,
praise as truth of all seeking
death, who takes in the end, indeed,
all things – even the lost man.
XXXV (Third Asclepiadic)
Just a botched bit of work! Portion, how strange, which brings
height of soul for the loss, pride for the mourning, and
beauty freighting the peril.
What without this were humankind?
Forest flower, you possess, butterfly, you too,
all – and nothing beside. Less is given us.
Yet, how much from our slightness
rises durably like a tower.
Peerless star of the night, mountainous height of day,
fixed, you keep in your place, knowing no change at all.
We, we change all the time and
gather strength from our wandering.
We are mountain and star, wildflower and butterfly
as the season enjoins. And on the sky's unsafe
ladders meeting, we give each
other greeting and kindly words.
Translated by D.M. de Silva
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