Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Duke Altum's Poem of the Week #16

Sorry folks, took the week off last week for Thanksgiving... but we're back now with a powerful and moving poem from the great Russian poet and Nobel laureate, Joseph Brodsky. This poem means a lot to me in a number of different ways. First, I always find it very interesting and illuminating when modern writers re-imagine the myths and legends of the ancient world, drawing out new meanings and interpretations from old stories. Here Brodsky writes from the point of view of Odysseus, having been wandering far from home for many years and now marooned on a strange island (as related in The Odyssey), writing to his son Telemachus, whose entire childhood he has missed due to the Trojan War and his subsequent, forced exile. What would a father write to his son if he thought he would never see him again, and if he has also missed all of his growing up? This touches upon another reason the poem hits me hard -- as father to three sons, I recognize some of the longing in it to know one's son, to wish the best for him and to hope that you've had some kind of impact on his life for the better. Brodsky also succeeds brilliantly at expressing the sorrow and despair that must haunt any parent that is somehow separated from, or has (God forbid) lost, their child.

This poem packs a lot of emotion and truth into a few lines, and is also an excellent example of the continuing relevance and genius of the ancient classics... material that is ever old, but also ever new.


Odysseus to Telemachus

My dear Telemachus,
The Trojan War
is over now; I don't recall who won it.
The Greeks, no doubt, for only they would leave
so many dead so far from their own homeland.
But still, my homeward way has proved too long.
While we were wasting time there, old Poseidon,
it almost seems, stretched and extended space.

I don't know where I am or what this place
can be. It would appear some filthy island,
with bushes, buildings, and great grunting pigs.
A garden choked with weeds; some queen or other.
Grass and huge stones . . . Telemachus, my son!
To a wanderer the faces of all islands
resemble one another. And the mind
trips, numbering waves; eyes, sore from sea horizons,
run; and the flesh of water stuffs the ears.
I can't remember how the war came out;
even how old you are--I can't remember.

Grow up, then, my Telemachus, grow strong.
Only the gods know if we'll see each other
again. You've long since ceased to be that babe
before whom I reined in the plowing bullocks.
Had it not been for Palamedes' trick
we two would still be living in one household.
But maybe he was right; away from me
you are quite safe from all Oedipal passions,
and your dreams, my Telemachus, are blameless.

1 comment:

Mutt Ploughman said...

Powerful poetic post. I can see why this would appeal most readily to my man Duke because of his three sons and tremendous affinity for each. Even still, anyone who is a parent can see the powerful emotion of longing to know one's child and feel the pain of separation that Brodsky infuses his Odysseus with in this poem. I have been curious about Brodsky before; he has a pretty famous book of essays, the name of which escapes me now. Of course, he is also a Nobel laureate, and I do my best to read as much by Nobel prize winners as possible. Also I have to comment on the wide range of subjects and historical time periods captured in Duke's poem of the week selections. Can anyone say "Anthology"?? Mr. Ploughman can.....