Saturday, December 29, 2007

"Beethoven" and "Christmas Eve Under Hooker's Statue," by Robert Lowell

"Beethoven," from History

Our cookbook is bound like Whitman's Leaves of Grass
gold title on green. I have escaped its death,
take two eggs with butter, drink and smoke;
I live past prudence, not possibility—
who can banquet on the shifting cloud,
lie to friends and tell the truth in print,
be Othello offstage, or Lincoln retired from office?
The vogue of the vague, what can it teach an artist?
Beethoven was a Romantic, but too good;
did kings, republics, or Napoleon teach him?
He was his own Napoleon. Did even deafness?
Does the painted soldier in the painting bleed?
Is the captive chorus of Fidelio bound?
For a good voice hearing is a torture.

"Christmas Eve Under Hooker's Statue," from Lord Weary's Castle

Tonight a blackout. Twenty years ago
I hung my stocking on the tree, and hell's
Serpent entwined the apple in the toe
To sting the child with knowledge. Hooker's heels
Kicking at nothing in the shifting snow,
A cannon and a cairn of cannon balls
Rusting before the blackened Statehouse, know
How the long horn of plenty broke like glass
In Hooker's gauntlets. Once I came from Mass;

Now storm-clouds shelter Christmas, once again
Mars meets his fruitless star with open arms,
His heavy saber flashes with the rime,
The war-god's bronzed and empty forehead forms
Anonymous machinery from raw men;
The cannon on the Common cannot stun
The blundering butcher as he rides on Time—
The barrel clinks with holly. I am cold:
I ask for bread, my father gives me mould;

His stocking is full of stones. Santa in red
Is crowned with wizened berries. Man of war,
Where is the summer's garden? In its bed
The ancient speckled serpent will appear,
And black-eyed susan with her frizzled head.
When Chancellorsville mowed down the volunteer,
"All wars are boyish," Herman Melville said;
But we are old, our fields are running wild:
Till Christ again turn wanderer and child.

[I am told that I am in some not entirely direct way related to General Joseph Hooker, the man referred to in the second poem. Lowell's forebears were poets and notables; mine, it seems, were hookers. Or rather Hookers, but it's funnier the other way.]

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