||[Nov. 9th, 2016|07:52 pm]
The Greek Way, which I have read several times but not for the last thirty years or so, has crossed my mind today. She says that when the Athenians sought advice from the Delphic Oracle as to how to deal with the approaching Persian army that had already conquered much of Greece, the Oracle said, somewhat unhelpfully, that they should "...fly to the ends of the earth and make their minds familiar with horrors." A line from Edith Hamilton's |
I could leave this entry at that, but it's much too dismal. I'll add that, unsatisfied with the first answer (and who the hell wouldn't be), the Athenians sought a second reading, and the Oracle offered that Athena would give a wooden wall to them. After some disagreement over interpretation, it was decided among the wise of the city that the Oracle had referred to the Athenian fleet, and the population took refuge on board the ships. The ultimate outcome of the crisis was, of course, that the Greeks defeated the massive Persian force at Thermopylae, and the safety and freedom of the Greek city states was secured, and the course of history— our history, ultimately— was set on a very different path than it likely would otherwise have followed.
But this, too, seems inadequate to my mood. I think perhaps I will post something I've posted a couple of times before on occasions inductive of great distress. Richard Wilbur has always made me feel better, even at the worst of times.
by Richard Wilbur
Another cove of shale,
But the beach here is rubbled with strange rock
That is sleek, fluent, and taffy-pale.
I stare, reminded with a little shock
How, by a shore in Spain, George Borrow saw
A hundred women basking in the raw.
They must have looked like this,
That catch of bodies on the sand, that strew
Of rondure, crease, and orifice,
Lap, flank, and knee— a too abundant view
Which, though he'd had the lenses of a fly,
Could not have waked desire in Borrow's eye.
Has the light altered now?
The rocks flush rose and have the melting shape
Of bodies fallen anyhow.
It is a Gericault of blood and rape,
Some desert town despoiled, some caravan
Pillaged, its people murdered to a man,
And those who murdered them
Galloping off, a rumpling line of dust
Like the wave's white, withdrawing hem.
But now the vision of a colder lust
Clears, as the wind goes chill and all is greyed
By a swift cloud that drags a carrion shade.
If these are bodies still,
Theirs is a death too dead to look asleep,
Like that of Auschwitz' final kill,
Poor slaty flesh abandoned in a heap
And then, like sea-rocks buried by a wave,
Bulldozed at last into a common grave.
It is not tricks of sense
But the time's fright within me which distracts
Least fancies into violence
And makes my thought take cover in the facts,
As now it does, remembering how the bed
Of layered rock two miles above my head
Hove ages up and broke
Soundless asunder, when the shrinking skin
Of Earth, blacked out by steam and smoke,
Gave passage to the muddled fire within,
Its crannies flooding with a sweat of quartz,
And lathered magmas out of deep retorts
Welled up, as here, to fill
With tumbled rockmeal, stone-fume, lithic spray,
The dike's brief chasm and the sill.
Weathered until the sixth and human day
By sanding winds and water, scuffed and brayed
By the slow glacier's heel, these forms were made
That now recline and burn
Comely as Eve and Adam, near a sea
Transfigured by the sun's return.
And now three girls lie golden in the lee
Of a great arm or thigh, and are as young
As the bright boulders that they lie among.
Though, high above the shore
On someone's porch, spread wings of newsprint flap
The tidings of some dirty war,
It is a perfect day: the waters clap
Their hands and kindle, and the gull in flight
Loses himself at moments, white in white,
And like a breaking thought
Joy for a moment floods into the mind,
Blurting that all things shall be brought
To the full state and stature of their kind,
By what has found the manhood of this stone.
May that vast motive wash and wash our own.
On the Marginal Way