Ithaca

  • The following was inspired by Emily Wilson’s translation of the Odyssey. Specifically, read the closing paragraph in my previous post: Emily Wilson’s Odyssey. I did a few things differently with this poem. I roughed it out first, something I rarely do; then the blank verse revision. I’ve also been reading Shakespeare’s late plays, the romances, especially with a mind to his late style; and in combination with a book by Russ McDonald called Shakespeare’s Late Style. Historically, Shakespeare’s later verse has been considered problematic and was, by later poets like Pope, revised if not excised. Not to me. The syntactic “incoherence” of Shakespeare’s late verse is unmatchably beautiful. So, by writing the following, I wanted to learn from it. I combined the epithets found in Homer with the syntactic addition, divagation, delay, elision and suspension typical of Shakespeare’s late style. I know this isn’t any way to write in the 21st century, but me and my poetry have gone our own way.

Odysseus, wily navigator, you
Who have endured a thousand harborless sorrows,
I too have suffered.
••••••••••••I, being sent to launder
Your mistress’s apparel in the river
Or often, by myself, to bring from orchards
A desired olive, fig or grape, was also
Betrayed by those you’ve slain—made by them
A slave to slaves—my vessel desecrated
My lading mired and diminished, sorted
With weeds and brackish waters—yet for that
Condemned.
••••••••••••Odysseus, ingenious King—
Tell him, your minstrel with the wine stained fingers
Who sings of wayward tides, of witches, Gods
And far-flung isles, that I was also lost
Longing for home who had no home to search for;
And tell your songster in your rage you snared
My sisters by one rope between a pillar
And dome; and that we were together lifted,
Each beside the other, nooses round
Our necks until our feet no longer touched
The earth—the knots tight as a luthier’s string.
Tell your songster, though he sings of you
To tell of the twelve girls who were like
Thrushes that spread their wings to fly at last
But could not. Though struggling, we only breathed
To take another dying breath—our agony
Your pleasure.
••••••••••••Tell him: ‘Sing of girls, of slaves
To slaves, who twitched a little while but not
For long; whose rags were left behind, bone broken
And creaking in the winds of Ithaca.”
Tell him that we waited to be lain
Among the corpses we ourselves had carried
From the blood-soaked hall.
••••••••••••So long as sings your minstrel,
Odysseus, so long will fly from us
The last syllable of our breath: that far
From Ithaca, cries of murder, bloodshed
And vengeance—where the grass at evening shivers
In sea-spray and the noiseless spider sifts
The wind—was seen a startled thrush that cried out,
Took flight above the drumming waters, even
Above the dissolution of the air,
Into the spreading fingers of the Milky Way.

Ithaca
March 12th 2018 by me, Patrick Gillespie

 

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November

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There’s nothing left but overall
Remnants of what had once been fall;
Even where a week before
A leaf or two blew through the door
The dwindling days have turned to soot
The little traveling underfoot.
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Snow will follow soon enough
Careening through the unmown scruff
Of jimson weed and bush clover,
Nothing apt to be covered over
With just a midday’s squall—but soon
Winter will stay the afternoon.
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Then who will afterward remember
The few days readied since September?—
The ghostly sighs of thimbleweed,
The breaking knuckles of the reed,
Whole fields of startled hair turned white
Before the year end’s stricken flight.
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I wouldn’t ask but that I know
It’s not just seasons come and go.
When ice gives way to watercress
And all of April’s loveliness,
Remember, though the days are few,
November has its flowers too.
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Pussy Willow Branch (Reduced)·
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by me | January 8 2018

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    This is my first audio recording using my new YETI microphone. My reading of the poem is just okay, but then I’m never satisfied that way. Best that I never hear myself. The poem itself is one I started not in November of last year but the year before, with a haiku. I finally devoted the time to finishing it.

February 20th 2016

I continued tweaking last night’s haiku this morning, afternoon and evening. I liked the sense switching—the coywolf’s cry being the frost in the window. I liked the imagery of the frostlit moon. But all these seemed too forced. I think I might be satisfied with something much simpler—a quality that I like in Basho’s haiku. They evoke complexity through a simplicity of  observation.
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winds
····in February—the comforter drifting over
········her hips
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The sun begins to wake me, rising a little earlier every morning, but is still cold.
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106 February 20th 2016 | bottlecap

February 17th 2016

Tonight is my one hundredth haiku. I imagine my hundredth as the best so far, but my abilities aren’t equal to my ambitions. That got me thinking about a passage by R.H. Blythe, in A History of Haiku:
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Saikaku, 1643-1693, had a position of importance in the haikai world of his time, but as a novelist he eclipsed himself. Once, when studying under Soin, he made one thousand six hundred verses in a day. hearing of this, another poet made two thousand eight hundred. Not to be outdone Saikaku made four thousand verses during the day-time only…. His style of haiku-writing was criticized not only by the Teimon School but also by the School of Basho as being wretched and dissolute. He wrote very few good hokku… [p. 86]
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Four thousand! Supposing a 12 hour day, that’s one hokku/haiku every 10 seconds or so. But I take some comfort in only having written a hundred haiku in a hundred days. Perhaps not all of them are wretched and dissolute.
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after
····the icy wind—the teakettle’s
········whistle
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Tonight I drank raspberry tea with a spoonful of honey and lemon rinds. I lay my favorite complete Shakespeare to my left. As I work on my longer blank verse poem I occasionally open Shakespeare for the beauty of the language. I also keep a collection of Basho, Issa and Buson close by. Last night I finished a book of haiku by western writers, a collection covering the last hundred years.
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And then I ask myself why I write? As an Indian sage once remarked: The miracle is that despite knowing we must die, we nevertheless choose to live as if we didn’t.
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103 February 17th 2016 | bottlecap

February 16th 2016

The day started with fresh snow, several inches, but by late morning the snow turned to rain and the rain lasted for the rest of the day. I went out for a walk nonetheless and was almost too warm in my raincoat.
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rain—
····snow beneath the crow turning
········black
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There’s something appealing in this bleak landscape. There’s nothing makes noise but the wind in the dry weeds and shimmering trees. Evening arrives and the crow shrugs before folding its wings again.
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102 February 16th 2016 | bottlecap

February 15th 2016

This morning I brought my daughters to school. I traveled over Sharon hill, then Northwest along the White River. The temperature was – 11 F and the deadly waters steamed with a deceptive warmth. Then driving back I saw one of the most spectacular deep-winter visions I’ve ever seen. If only I’d had a camera. With the sun behind it, I saw a ‘steamdevil’ rising from the River’s middle like the barely visible shadow of a towering wraith. Imagine a water funnel made from a river’s icy vapors—a vision out of Dante. It towered two to three hundred feet, slowly twisting but stationary. I’ve never seen anything like it.
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behind
····the wood-stove—the cat’s yellow eyes and then
········the cat
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My cat threads the early shadows of a winter’s evening, the tiger’s yellow still in her eyes. She pauses, motionless, sensing my gaze. Then inscrutably remembers her dark intent. She vanishes in the unlit rumors of another room. What she does and where she goes—unsuspected.
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101 February 15th 2016 | bottlecap

February 13th 2016

Tonight is so far the coldest night of the winter: -14 F as I write this. It’s also a beautifully clear night. I wear my heaviest winter coat, good to 60 below, pull the hood over my head, already wearing a wool cap, and go outside.
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bitter
····cold—stars crackling in the wandering
········trees
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When it becomes this cold, the trees, birches, maples and ash, pop and whine like the hulls of wooden boats. The iron and wooden bridge crossing the brook behind my house pops like a fire cracker. And the snow squeaks underfoot.
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who
····lives there? — looking into my own
········house
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Returning home, the light from inside looks especially warm. There’s steam on the kitchen windows and my own books are on the shelves. My own life, for a little while, is being lived there.
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99 February 13th 2016 | bottlecap