Tuesday, October 26, 2010

From "The Rest of the Way," poems for James Merrill

Subtle Plato, patron saint of friendship,
Scolded those nurslings of the myrtle-bed
Whose tender souls, first seized by love's madness,

Then stirred to rapturous frenzies, overnight
Turn sour, their eyes narrowed with suspicions,
Sleepless, feverishly refusing company.

The soul, in constant motion because immortal, 
Again and again is "deeply moved" and flies
To a new favorite, patrolling the upper air

To settle briefly on this or that heart-
Stopping beauty, or flutters vainly around
The flame of its own image, light of its life.

Better the friend to whom we're drawn by choice
And not by instinct or the glass threads of passion.
Better the friend with whom we fall in step

Behind our proper god, or sit beside
At the riverbend, idly running a finger
Along his forearm when the conversation turns

To whether everything craves its opposite, 
As cold its warmth and bitter its honeydrop, 
Or whether like desires like - agreed? - 

Its object akin to the good, recognizing
In another what is necessary for the self,
As one may be a friend without knowing how

To define friendship, which itself so often slips 
Through our hands because... but he's asleep
On your shoulder by now and probably dreaming

Of a face he'd glimpsed on the street yesterday,
The stranger he has no idea will grow irreplaceable
And with whom he hasn't yet exchanged a word.

J.D. McClatchy, An Essay on Friendship, 6th canto
The Rest of the Way, Knopf, 1990©

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