Mosaic of Souls

January 19, 2011

Suppose they really did come from
Byzantium, suppose they did sail
from some antique shore,
and in a moment’s indiscretion
—a sudden flash, as if a hammer blow—
they did become ancient bits
of tile and city, stone and shell.

For nothing will quite hide that tumescent
organ peeking out below  the swan,
as if amidst a pile of blowing feathers,
nor duplicate the effect that a fractured tile
on facing faces must reveal.
Those stains are stains that the stately robes
should not have in their creases…

A memory of the sun can shine
brighter than the sun itself.
You can’t say that syntax failed them. You can’t
say that it’s a metaphor too obvious
for us to use. The seed is spilled.
The tiles have been both broken and restored.
You can’t even say it is the failure
hope has in store for every living thing.
Trauma follows trauma.
Post hoc ergo propter hoc.

Mosaic souls, awake.


3 Responses to “Mosaic of Souls”

  1. John Stevens Says:

    ‘Gall’? What gall? A launch pad! Thanks for recommending Helen Vendler’s book. I can’t get hold of a copy quickly but will try and meanwhile I’ve been reading some reviews which include discussion of her chapter on the Byzantium poems. Hints of an interesting read.

  2. extrasimile Says:

    Thanks again John. I read your poems on Istanbul and I think I do detect a similar deflationary stance. But perhaps I’ll take my thoughts on your poems to your site. As to my own unmitigated gall—poaching on the Yeats’ estate—all that I can say is that it was enormous fun to take the opening from Leda and the Swan—‘A sudden blow’—and turn it into ‘A sudden flash, as if from a hammer blow’. From there it sort of followed to go ahead and smash up the tile. You might be interested in reading Helen Vendler’s second chapter from ‘Our Secret Discipline’ on the Byzantium poems.

  3. John Stevens Says:

    I’ve read this several times now. It caught my eye because I’m part way through writing a few poems prompted by a visit to Istanbul, and have reread the Byzantium poems of Yeats (whom you’ve said you admire) but I kept rereading this with pleasure and finding more layers and greater reward. It’s splendid!

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