Thursday, April 15, 2010

Poems, Poetry and Discovery

If you haven't heard the rumor yet, it's National Poetry Month.   I thought I was a lover of poetry, but in getting lost while clicking at everyone's blog links, I find I'm such a baby novice beginner.   
I have discovered a few things, or at least made them up.
1.  Good poetry is accessible to the general public, because it addresses the human condition trying to make sense of it all.
2.  My favorite poems make me think, feel and imagine.
3.  I feel more alive after a good poem.
4.  A great poem may not necessarily make me feel better....maybe wiser, though.
5.  I also love ecstatic poetry and poems that reach for the numinous.
6.  If I could have the Magic Wand grant a wish, I would be able to write poetry.

Here is today's offering, which stopped me in my tracks.  To think it was written by C.P. Cavafy (1863-1933) and not yesterday is mind boggling.  Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard, I discovered it in a book I bought yesterday at Borders for $1.98, titled Speaking to the Heart, 100 favorite poems, chosen and introduced by Sister Wendy Beckett.

       Waiting for the Barbarians

What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?
      The barbarians are due here today.
Why isn't anything going on in the senate?
Why are the senators sitting there without legislating?
       Because the barbarians are coming today.
       What's the point of senators making laws now?
       Once the barbarians are here, they'll do the legislating.
Why did our emperor get up so early,
and why is he sitting enthroned at the city's main gate,
in state, wearing the crown?
       Because the barbarians are coming today
       and the emperor's waiting to receive their leader.
       He's even got a scroll to give him,
       loaded with titles, with imposing names.
Why have our two consuls and praetors come out today
wearing their embroidered, their scarlet togas?
Why have they put on bracelets with so many amethysts,
rings sparkling with magnificent emeralds?
Why are they carrying elegant canes
beautifully worked in silver and gold?
       Because the barbarians are coming today
       and things like that dazzle the barbarians.
Why don't our distinguished orators turn up as usual
to make their speeches, say what they have to say?
       Because the barbarians are coming today
       and they're bored by rhetoric and public speaking.
Why this sudden bewilderment, this confusion?
(How serious people's faces have become.)
Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,
everyone going home lost in thought?
       Because night has fallen and the barbarians haven't come.
       And some of our men just in from the border say
       there are no barbarians any longer.
Now what's going to happen to us without barbarians?
Those people were a kind of solution.

3 comments:

Kass said...

Fabulous! I think there is some mighty translation going on. How fortuitous that you found this. And for $1.98! Are there other treasures in this book?

June Calender said...

You're so right about poetry. And many thanks for quoting Cafevy.

Jonathon said...

I love the ending to this poem. I agree. It could have been written yesterday. Thanks for sharing!