Friday, October 9, 2015

Exchanging a word

I read in the morning
papers of a proposal
to update the text of
Shakespeare, and saw
the thought dismissed
as a waste of time.

What more horrid oth-
er loss can there be?

Who knew, convenience
would offer sanctuary
to simple immortality?

Yet we find this for-
tunate calculation at
work in the odd tree,
not clear-cut from the
mountaintop, and the
mute, unbothered, for
having nothing to say.

         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 favourite, 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 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 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
The Rest of the Way
  Dedicated to 
    James Merrill
  An Essay on Friendship
Alfred A. Knopf, 1992©
op. cit.

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