TWO ODES

Whoever labours to be Pindars’ equal,

Iulus, mounts on wings that are fastened with wax,

Daedalus-fashion, and will give his name to

glittering water.

Horace, Ode IV.2

 

It demands guts to write a companion verse to a renowned poem. The notion of competition does not come into the bargain. It is an essay in writing, as both reading and criticism.

Each poem – an island of meaning. Perhaps, one may create another isle, next to it, adding as it were one more speck to the immense archipelago of language which, seen from a cosmic perspective, will remain almost invisible.

Keats – the Novalis of English verse, the man who in his Ode to a Grecian Urn realized Romantic Sehnsucht to perfection, that wistful, intellectualized longing for a a thing, a state never reached. The song of an ever dissatisfied desire.

My Turn of the Urn is an endeavour in responding – if one poem might answer another poem. It is reflection, a mirror always turning what is reflected around.

Here we go: first Keats’ poem, then mine.

 

GreekUrn

I

ODE ON A GRECIAN URN

Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness,
Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fring’d legend haunts about thy shape
Of deities or mortals, or of both,
In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d,
Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!

Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu;
And, happy melodist, unwearied,
For ever piping songs for ever new;
More happy love! more happy, happy love!
For ever warm and still to be enjoy’d,
For ever panting, and for ever young;
All breathing human passion far above,
That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy’d,
A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.

Who are these coming to the sacrifice?
To what green altar, O mysterious priest,
Lead’st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,
And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?
What little town by river or sea shore,
Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,
Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn?
And, little town, thy streets for evermore
Will silent be; and not a soul to tell
Why thou art desolate, can e’er return.

O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede
Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,–that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

Keats, 1819

II

TURN OF THE URN

A companion verse to Keats’ Ode

No songs I sing of love eternal,
of loved ones longing, taciturn and never fading,
of those who never touched a man.
Not Love Eternal, with its silly capitals sublime,
high up there on its plinth supine.

I sing of love and lovers consummate,
the  truly living, in the flesh their dying.
And yet a Phoenix she; a Phoenix he.
With time their time will come again.
Hunting goes on, the chase eternal never lying.

Fair she may be – and even blue.
I like her rouge, in labour lost,
blushed and excited in her countenance,
turned by a screw.
Never forget, and I say never,
the swift in flight,
that stylish connotation of the sky,
seducing gravitation while courting its disasters.

Sorrow, then, the source of true delight,
quite often casually slighted.

My ode to urns only contains the ashes,
no ode sung to mere artifice and effigy.
Staying unravish’d
– something that other poet praised –
means life denying death, a lie.
Rather the modest morsels of a little truth,
and now and then the blessings of some carnal splendour,
than Truth the Beautiful – the Evergreen.

Sierksma, La Roche 24.5.2016

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Author: rjsiersk

contact: rjsiersk@xs4all.nl Sierksma was born in Friesland, a 'county' in the northern part of the Netherlands with its own language which he does not speak and with an obstinate population to which he both belongs and does not belong. A retired Professor of Social Philosophy and Aesthetics, as a Harkness fellow he taught at Rutgers and Berkeley Universities in the USA, and at GUAmsterdam and TUDelft in the Netherlands. In 1991 he was awarded his PhD from Leiden University on the subject of 'Surveillance and Task: Labour Discipline between Utilitarianism and Pragmatism'. His books include Minima Memoria (1993), Lost View (2002 with Jan van Geest), and Litter Scent (2013). He has published poems and articles in Te Elfder Ure, Nynade, Oasis and the Architectural Annual. Half the year he lives in Haarlem, the other half he spends in la France Profonde, living ‘in his own words’ as the house out there was bought with the winnings from his essay Eternal Sin, written for the ECI Essay Prize (1993). In this blog, Sierksma's Sequences, written in English, he is peeping round his own and other people’s perspectives. Not easily satisfied with answers nor with questions, he turns his wry wit to a number of philosophical and historical issues. His aim in writing: to make parts of the world light up in his perspective - not my will, thine! Not being a thief, he has no cook, one wife, some children, one lover and three cats. He would not ind being a cat.

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