Friday, October 19, 2012

An occasion of happiness and risk

To my sincere (if scarcely 
competent) delight, I dis-
covered this week the exis-
tence of something to celeb-
rate and seize upon spontan-
eously, letting comprehen-
sion's chips scatter in the
pattern it usually permits.

But even in this devil-may-
care enthusiasm, I hear 
contradiction of myself, 
a very sound reason for not 
blogging in the first person. 
I do happen to believe in 
something of a quixotic joust 
at least, with incomprehen-
sion; and like the knight er-
rant, himself, I tend to look 
backward as well as forward, 
to accede to that peaceable 
state of comparatively impreg-
nable cognition, albeit last-
ing no longer than Mr Warhol's 
ration of fame.

Allow one to vouch, straight
off, for the contrarian but
vastly more prevalent ten-
dency of achieving this sort
of cognitive contentment in
the styles Friday has made,
with such thoughtful timeli-
ness, so irresistible. If,
however, your age is lesser
or greater than that of dis-
cretion, I ask you to imagine
or recall an exhaustion aris-
ing from the most happily 
spirited engagement, suffused 
with the most agreable shock.
It is Friday.

The most wonderful and beautiful
virtue of Friday has always been
that of poetry; and the muse has
far from subtly conscripted us to
frame ourselves in the promises
of the day in her terms. Now, it
develops that a translator of the
page's supreme supports in poetry,
Horace and Virgil, has undertaken
a new volume of his own, under the
auspices of Chicago's estimable

Time and again, this brilliant uni-
versity press has accompanied and
stimulated learning in history, 
painting, and letters; and it has
done so again in a brand new text
which I do regard as an occasion of
happiness and risk. It rises keenly
to the demands of Friday, and espe-
cially for readers who feel them
as a kind of call to experience.

Where did you go to, when you went away?
It is as if you step by step were going
Someplace elsewhere into some range
Of speaking, that I had no gift for speaking,
Knowing nothing of the language of that place
To which you went with naked foot at night
Into the wilderness there elsewhere in the bed,
Elsewhere somewhere in the house beyond my seeking.

     I have been so dislanguaged by what happened
     I cannot speak the words that somewhere you
     Maybe were speaking to others where you went.
     Maybe they talk together where they are,
     Restlessly wandering, along the shore,
     Waiting for a way to cross the river.

Mr Ferry, an emeritus professor at 
a place with a pond, Wellesley, 
reminds this reader of how the in-
tensity of Friday's embraces is so 
well distributed between intimacy 
and cognition. Immediately before 
the poem here reproduced, he recalls
his magnificent translation of Virgil's
narrative of Orpheus' loss of Eurydice, 
probably the greatest heartbreak in art.

Then one comes to this contemporary text,
written with mature reflection of a life
in awareness of Orpheus, and instantly it
suits and responds to the virulent dichot-
omies of our instant: the grotesque "polar-
isation" of political parties, not only
here; the alienations in Mr Galassi's glor-
ious poems, cited repeatedly above; in yet
the tendernesses of the blithe and sweet
fellows who made us laugh in the very dark-
est times - Harlan Greene, Peter McGehee,
Joe Keenan, Ethan Mordden, too many to
name by way of limitation - and Mark Doty,
our peer of Cavafy at least, who held us
together by breaking apart for us to see.

The power of what words let us do for each
other is gorgeously sustained in this text.

I take a Friday for its genius
for risk in the exertions of
intimacy. Bang. Superb poetry.

David Ferry

  New Poems and
  That Now Are Wild 
  and Do Not Remember

University of Chicago Press, 2012©

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

This land is your land, this land is my land


   I quarreled with this guy,
   with guile he trained with
   his strength, for twenty
   years. I quarrel with him
   now, for the same reason:
   he is close, and I have
   still not gone so far.

      5 February 1944
      17 October 1969

Honolulu  1967
Yosemite   1950

rights reserved

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

San Gregorio, to the sea


    You know? In moments, the two can-
    didates for our electoral esteem
    will be toying with their talking
    points, and teasing us to treat
    them as anointed for our prefer-

    You and I remember, and we shall
    be safe. The fog, the salt, the 
    fire, the sage, the soil, the 
    dawn. You, and I.

Driving from the ladies' tee

Who can give enough credit to George W. Bush for his discovery of the cut-up doting soccer mom, precursor of what is being called the oppressed waitress in the present election cycle? Notable for not merely voting against interest but redirecting whole dorms of the Electoral College into the counter-intuitive column, the soccer mom's availability to [evidently] any fratbreath demagogue of a cockier future has descended upon the republican consciousness as almost unimaginable in its irony, and certainly unendurable in its effects. But it has become axiomatic: if you wish to outdrive your opponent in a round of politics, tee off from the ladies' tee, set forward enough to corrupt the course.

                   It's enough to make one sen- 
                   timental for poliomyelitis. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

To observe

I am slow to observe our loss of a
superlative and necessary historian,
a writer of texts of a true and trust-
worthy bond between generations in my
own family and, if that can be the case,
in many, many others. Last August saw
the death of Sir John Keegan, OBE, the
first since Homer to take up the char-
acter of The Face of Battle and with 
scrupulous methodology, to substantiate
the poetry of the Iliad.

A distinguished lecturer at Sandhurst,
John Keegan accepted teaching fellow-
ships at my university, at Vassar, and
even here, prefacing one of his histor-
ies with touching affection for our 4-
board fencing. His gift for anatomising
the demands of command on land and on
sea served many hours of conversation
between my father and myself, but his
quite properly legendary genius for the
narrative of the battle experience did
nourish our speculative silence over his
first son, my brother.

Through John Keegan I learned to read
between the lines not only of our great
military historians of the day, Max Has-
tings and Antony Beevor, but also of the
poetry of Housman, Owen, and Brooke.

Now again the Right rises up with its
to sway a fragile republic to delusions
of guaranteed security in bellicosity. 
In the name of fact, I remember John