The Blacksmith

The Tuileries Palace,
about  August 10, 1792

One hand on a giant hammer, frightening,
Enormous, drunk, a massive face, and laughing
With all his strength, like a great bronze trombone,
Fixing the fat man with a threatening look:
A Blacksmith spoke to King Louis the Sixteenth, once,
When the People were present, shoving their way in,
Dragging their dirty clothes across the golden floor.
King Louis, standing behind his stomach, grew pale
As a convict on his way to be hanged,
And like a beaten dog he never moved,
For the blacksmith with the enormous shoulders
Kept talking, using old words, saying funny things
That hit him hard, like a fist in the face!

“Well, King, you know we used to sing tra la
And drive our teams in someone else’s field:
The Pastor said his Paternoster in the sun,
On bright beads strung top to bottom with gold,
The Lord of the Manor rode by us with his hounds,
And between the noose and the riding crop they beat us
Down, into the ground. Our eyes grew dull as cows’ eyes
And forgot how to cry. We kept on, and on,
And when we had furrowed up the land of France,
When we had sown our flesh in that black earth,
We got a little present in return:
They burned our rotten houses down at night—
Our kids were roasted to a turn. Oh, look,
I’m not complaining. I say what I have to;
Just tell me I’m wrong if you think so, go ahead.
Look now, isn’t it nice, in June, to see
The haywagons drive into the enormous barns?
To smell the smell of growing things, of the new grass?
The odor of orchards after the rain?
To watch the wheat, the ripe wheat full of grain,
And think of all the bread that it will make?
Oh, We’d go off more surely to the glowing forge
And sing our heads off, hammering the anvil,
If we were sure we’d get a bit—we’re only men,
After all!—of the stuff that God provides!
But you know, it is always the same routine!
I know what’s happening now! No one has the right
When I’ve got two hands, my head, and my hammer,
To come up to me with a weapon in his hand
And tell me: Boy, go out and plant my field;
Or come up where there’s a war on and grab
My only son from right before my eyes!
All right! So I’m a man; all right, so you’re a king;
You say to me: I WANT … You see how dumb that is …
You think I like to see your golden dump, Versailles,
Your gilded officers, your fat officials,
Your goddamn bastards parading like peacocks?
Your nest was filled with the smell of our daughters,
Your little tickets locked us up in the Bastille—
And we should say, all right! We’ll all bow down!
We’ll drown your Louvre in gold, we’ll give you our last cent,
And you’ll get drunk and have a big old time,
And your nobles will laugh and step all over us!

“No. That was the shit our fathers had to take.
Oh, the people are no longer whores. One, two, three,
And your stinking Bastille came tumbling down!
That stones sweat blood, it made us sick to see it
Hiding in the sky: its rotten walls said everything
And always kept us cowering in the dark!
Citizens! That was what the shadowy past that fell,
That screamed and fell the day we took the tower!
We felt within our hearts something like love.
We embraced our sons, and one another, that day.
And just like your horses, flaring our nostrils,
We walked around, strong and proud, and felt good right here!
We walked in sunshine, heads held high, like this,
Across Paris! They bowed before our dirty clothes!
Well, we were finally men that day! We were pale,
King, we were drunk with terrible hope:
And when we gathered before the black towers
Waving our bugles and branches of oak,
Pikes in our hands, we felt no hate, we felt ourselves
So strong, we wanted only to be gentle!

And ever since that day, we’ve been like madmen!
The hordes of workers grew, down in the streets,
And those black hordes wandered, swollen always
With dark apparitions, to howl at rich men’s gates,
And I went with them, beating up your spies;
I went to Paris, black from work, with my hammer
On my shoulder, killing a rat at every step!
And if you’d laughed at me I’d have killed you.
And then, believe me, you made yourself well liked
And your men in black, who took our petitions
And tossed them back and forth, and underneath
Their breath, the bastards! smiled and said: ‘What fools!’
To brew up laws, to plaster all the walls
With pretty pink edicts and trash like that,
To get their kicks by cutting people down to size
And then to hold their noses when they pass us by!
Our great representatives think we’re filthy!
And not afraid of anything—but bayonets…
That’s wonderful. The hell with all their speeches.
We’ve had enough of that, those empty heads
And god-bellies. Oh, That’s the stuff to feed us,
You bourgeois, when we’re already running wild
And croziers and scepters have already been smashed!”

He takes him by the arm, and tears the curtain
Back, and shows him the courtyard down below
Where the mob mills about, seething beneath them,
The awful mob that makes a roaring like the surf,
A howling like a bitch, a howling like the sea,
With their heavy stick and iron pikes,
Their drums, their cries from markets and from slums,
A dark heap of rags bleeding with Liberty caps:
The Man from the open window shows it all
To the pale-faced king who sweats and can barely stand,
Sick to his stomach at the sight!
“That’s Shit,
King, out there. It slobbers over the walls,
It boild, it moved about. They’re hungry, King,
So they’re beggars. I’m a blacksmith; my wife’s down there,
Crazy-mad. She thinks the palace is full of bread.
We aren’t exactly welcome in the bakeries.
I’ve got three kids. I’m shit. I know old women
who cry beneath their funny faded hats
Because they’ve had a son or daughter taken off:
They’re shit. One man was in the Bastille, another
In the galleys: they were both of them citizens,
And honest. Freed, they were worse than dogs.
People used to laugh at them! Well, there’s something there,
Inside them, and it hurts! It’s a terrible thing,
They feel put down, they feel their lives have been destroyed,
And that’s why they’re out there screaming at you!
They’re shit! There are women out there, dishonored
Because—well, women, they’re weak, you knew that,
You Gentlemen from Court—they always want to please—
You spit into their souls, and laughed at it!
Your pretty tricks are all down there today. They’re shit.

“Oh, all the Poor, the ones whose backs are burned
By the angry sun, the ones who do your work,
Who feel their bones begin to crack as they work—
Take off your hats, all you rich people! These are Men!
We are Workers, King! Workers! We are the ones
made for the time to come, the New Day dawning,
When Man will work his forge from dawn to dusk,
—Seeker after great causes, great effects—
When he will finally bend all things to his will
And mount Existence as he mounts a horse!
Oh! the gleam of fires in forges! Evil destroyed,
Forever! The Unknown may be terrible:
Still we will know it! Let us examine
All that we know: then onward, Brothers, onward!
We sometimes dream a moving dream
Of living simply, fervently, without a word
Of evil spoken, laboring beneath the smile
Of a wife we love with an elevated love:
Then we would labor proudly all day long,
With duty like a trumpet ringing in our ear!
Then we would think ourselves happy, and no one,
No one, ever, could make us bend a knee!
For a rifle would hang above the hearth…

“Oh, The air is full of the smell of battle!
What was I saying? I’m part of the rabble!
We still have your informers, sneaks, and profiteers—
But we are free! There are terrible moments
When we feel ourselves tower over all! I told you
Back a bit about tranquil duty, and a home…
Just look at the sky! It’s too small for us,
We’d suffocate, we’d live forever on our knees!
Just look at the sky! I’m going back to the mob,
To the endless rabble, the dirt, the ones who roll
Your cannons, King, across the slimy cobblestones;
Oh! When we’re dead, then we’ll have washed them clean!
And if in the face of our howling vengeance
The claws of bronzed old kings across our France
Push their regiments in their fancy dress-up clothes,
Well, then, all you out there, what then? We’ll give them shit!”

He swung his hammer over his shoulder.
The crowd
In that man’s presence felt their souls catch fire,
And in the palace courtyard, through the palace halls,
Where Paris panted, howling all the while,
A shiver ran through the enormous mob.
And then he clapped his hand, his splendid Blacksmith’s hand,
Upon the shaken, sweating, fat king’s head,
And crowned him with the cap of Revolution!

– Arthur Rimbaud. Arthur Rimbaud: Complete Works (Paul Schmidt, Trans.). Harper Perennial Modern Classics. 2008.

William Blake's 1794 "Holy Thursday". Songs of Innocence and of Experience, copy F, object 38.

Holy Thursday

Is this a holy thing to see,
In a rich and fruitful land,
Babes reduced to misery,
Fed with cold and usurous hand?

Is that trembling cry a song?
Can it be a song of joy?
And so many children poor?
It is a land of poverty!

And their sun does never shine,
And their fields are bleak & bare,
And their ways are fill’d with thorns
It is eternal winter there.

For where-‘er the sun does shine,
And where-‘er the rain does fall:
Babe can never hunger there,
Nor poverty the mind appall.

William Blake, Songs of Innocence and of Experience, Oxford University Press, 1977.

O sun, you who heal all troubled sight,
you so content me by resolving doubts
it pleases me no less to question than to know.

Dante Alighieri, Inferno, Canto XI 91-93. Translated by Robert Hollander and Jean Hollander. Random House, 2003.

 

O sol che sani ogne vista turbata,
tu mi contenti sì quando ti solvi,
che, non men che saver, dubbiar m’aggrata.

Dante Alighieri, Inferno, Canto XI 91-93.

Trojans

Our efforts are those of men prone to disaster;
our efforts are like those of the Trojans.
We just begin to get somewhere,
gain a little confidence,
grow almost bold and hopeful,

when something always comes up to stop us:
Achilles leaps out of the trench in front of us
and terrifies us with his violent shouting.

Our efforts are like those of the Trojans.
We think we’ll change our luck
by being resolute and daring,
so we move outside ready to fight.

But when the great crisis comes,
our boldness and resolution vanish;
our spirit falters, paralyzed,
and we scurry around the walls
trying to save ourselves by running away.

Yet we’re sure to fail. Up there,
high on the walls, the dirge has already begun.
They’re mourning the memory, the aura of our days.
Priam and Hecuba mourn for us bitterly.

C.P. Cavafy, Collected Poems. Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Edited by George Savidis. Revised Edition. Princeton University Press, 1992.

 

Troianos

São nossos esforços, os dos infortunados;
são nossos esforços como os dos troianos.
conseguimos um pouco; um pouco
levantamos a cabeça; e começamos
a ter coragem e boas esperanças.

Mas sempre surge alguma coisa que nos pára.
Aquiles junto do fosso à nossa frente
surge e com grandes gritos assusta-nos. —

São nossos esforços como os dos troianos.
Cuidamos que mudaremos com resolução
e valor a contrariedade da sorte,
e estamos cá fora para lutar.

Mas quando vier o momento decisivo,
o nosso valor e a nossa resolução perdem-se;
a nossa alma fica alterada, paralisa;
e em redor das muralhas corremos
à procura de nos salvarmos pela fura.

Porém a nossa queda é certa. Em cima,
nas muralhas já começou o pranto.
Choram pelas memórias e os sentimentos dos nossos dias.
Amargamente choram por nós Príamo e Hécuba.

C.P. Cavafy, Poemas e Prosas. Tradução de Joaquim Manuel Magalhães e Nikos Pratsinis. Relógio de Água, 1994.

 

Τρώες

Είν’ η προσπάθειές μας, των συφοριασμένων·
είν’ η προσπάθειές μας σαν των Τρώων.
Κομμάτι κατορθώνουμε· κομμάτι
παίρνουμ’ επάνω μας· κι αρχίζουμε
νάχουμε θάρρος και καλές ελπίδες.

Μα πάντα κάτι βγαίνει και μας σταματά.
Ο Aχιλλεύς στην τάφρον εμπροστά μας
βγαίνει και με φωνές μεγάλες μάς τρομάζει.—

Είν’ η προσπάθειές μας σαν των Τρώων.
Θαρρούμε πως με απόφασι και τόλμη
θ’ αλλάξουμε της τύχης την καταφορά,
κ’ έξω στεκόμεθα ν’ αγωνισθούμε.

Aλλ’ όταν η μεγάλη κρίσις έλθει,
η τόλμη κι η απόφασίς μας χάνονται·
ταράττεται η ψυχή μας, παραλύει·
κι ολόγυρα απ’ τα τείχη τρέχουμε
ζητώντας να γλυτώσουμε με την φυγή.

Όμως η πτώσις μας είναι βεβαία. Επάνω,
στα τείχη, άρχισεν ήδη ο θρήνος.
Των ημερών μας αναμνήσεις κλαιν κ’ αισθήματα.
Πικρά για μας ο Πρίαμος κ’ η Εκάβη κλαίνε.

K.Π. Kαβάφη, τα Ποιήματα 1897-1933, Ίκαρος 1984.

"Fuga di Ulisse da Polifemo" / "Odysseus Escape from Polyphemus", Catania sea port area, Sicily, by AEC, 2015

So he declared. I poured him another fiery bowl—
three bowls I brimmed and three he drank to the last drop,
the fool, and then, when the wine was swirling round his brain, I approached my host with a cordial, winning word:
‘So, you ask me the name I’m known by, Cyclops?

I will tell you. But you must give me a guest-gift
as you’ve promised. Nobody—that’s my name. Nobody—
so my mother and father call me, all my friends.’

But he boomed back at me from his ruthless heart,
‘Nobody? I’ll eat Nobody last of all his friends—
I’ll eat the others first! That’s my gift to you!’

With that
he toppled over, sprawled full-length, flat on his back
and lay there, his massive neck slumping to one side,
and sleep that conquers all overwhelmed him now
as wine came spurting, flooding up from his gullet
with chunks of human flesh—he vomited, blind drunk.
Now, at last, I thrust our stake in a bed of embers
to get it red-hot and rallied all my comrades:
‘Courage—no panic, no one hang back now!’
And green as it was, just as the olive stake
was about to catch fire—the glow terrific, yes—
I dragged it from the flames, my men clustering round
as some god breathed enormous courage through us all.
Hoisting high that olive stake with its stabbing point,
straight into the monster’s eye they rammed it hard—
I drove my weight on it from above and bored it home
as a shipwright bores his beam with a shipwright’s drill
that men below, whipping the strap back and forth, whirl
and the drill keeps twisting faster, never stopping—
So we seized our stake with its fiery tip
and bored it round and round in the giant’s eye
till blood came boiling up around that smoking shaft
and the hot blast singed his brow and eyelids round the core
and the broiling eyeball burst—
its crackling roots blazed

and hissed—
as a blacksmith plunges a glowing ax or adze
in an ice-cold bath and the metal screeches steam
and its temper hardens—that’s the iron’s strength—
so the eye of the Cyclops sizzled round that stake!
He loosed a hideous roar, the rock walls echoed round
and we scuttled back in terror. The monster wrenched the spike
from his eye and out it came with a red geyser of blood—
he flung it aside with frantic hands, and mad with pain
he bellowed out for help from his neighbor Cyclops
living round about in caves on windswept crags.
Hearing his cries, they lumbered up from every side
and hulking round his cavern, asked what ailed him:
‘What, Polyphemus, what in the world’s the trouble?
Roaring out in the godsent night to rob us of our sleep.
Surely no one’s rustling your flocks against your will—
surely no one’s trying to kill you now by fraud or force!’

‘Nobody, friends’—Polyphemus bellowed back from his cave—
‘Nobody’s killing me now by fraud and not by force.’‘

‘If you’re alone,’ his friends boomed back at once,
‘and nobody’s trying to overpower you now—look,
it must be a plague sent here by mighty Zeus
and there’s no escape from that.
You’d better pray to your father, Lord Poseidon.’

They lumbered off, but laughter filled my heart
to think how nobody’s name—my great cunning stroke—
had duped them one and all. But the Cyclops there,
still groaning, racked with agony, groped around
for the huge slab, and heaving it from the doorway,
down he sat in the cave’s mouth, his arms spread wide,
hoping to catch a comrade stealing out with sheep—
such a blithering fool he took me for!
But I was already plotting …
what was the best way out? how could I find
escape from death for my crew, myself as well?
My wits kept weaving, weaving cunning schemes—
life at stake, monstrous death staring us in the face—
till this plan struck my mind as best. That flock,
those well-fed rams with their splendid thick fleece,
sturdy, handsome beasts sporting their dark weight of wool:

I lashed them abreast, quietly, twisting the willow-twigs
the Cyclops slept on—giant, lawless brute—I took them
three by three; each ram in the middle bore a man
while the two rams either side would shield him well.

So three beasts to bear each man, but as for myself?
There was one bellwether ram, the prize of all the flock,
and clutching him by his back, tucked up under
his shaggy belly, there I hung, face upward,
both hands locked in his marvelous deep fleece,
clinging for dear life, my spirit steeled, enduring …
So we held on, desperate, waiting Dawn’s first light.

As soon
as young Dawn with her rose-red fingers shone once more
the rams went rumbling out of the cave toward pasture,
the ewes kept bleating round the pens, unmilked,
their udders about to burst. Their master now,
heaving in torment, felt the back of each animal
halting before him here, but the idiot never sensed
my men were trussed up under their thick fleecy ribs.
And last of them all came my great ram now, striding out,
weighed down with his dense wool and my deep plots.
Stroking him gently, powerful Polyphemus murmured,
‘Dear old ram, why last of the flock to quit the cave?
In the good old days you’d never lag behind the rest—
you with your long marching strides, first by far
of the flock to graze the fresh young grasses,
first by far to reach the rippling streams,
first to turn back home, keen for your fold
when night comes on—but now you’re last of all.
And why? Sick at heart for your master’s eye
that coward gouged out with his wicked crew?—
only after he’d stunned my wits with wine—
that, that Nobody …
who’s not escaped his death, I swear, not yet.
Oh if only you thought like me, had words like me
to tell me where that scoundrel is cringing from my rage!
I’d smash him against the ground, I’d spill his brains—
flooding across my cave—and that would ease my heart
of the pains that good-for-nothing Nobody made me suffer!’

Homer. Odyssey IX 360-460 (Robert Fagles translation).

Charley Parker Looked like Buddha
Charley Parker, who recently died
Laughing at a juggler on the TV
after weeks of strain and sickness,
was called the Perfect Musician.
And his expression on his face
Was as calm, beautiful, and profound
As the image of the Buddha
Represented in the East, the lidded eyes,
The expression that says “All is Well”
—This was what Charley Parker
Said when he played, All is Well.
You had the feeling of early-in-the-morning
Like a hermit’s joy, or like
the perfect cry
Of some wild gang at a jam session
“Wail, Wop”—Charley burst
His lungs to reach the speed
Of what the speedsters wanted
Was his Eternal Slowdown.
A great musician and a great
creator of forms
That ultimately find expression
In mores and what have you.

Mexico City Blues, Jack Kerouac

I opened this poem with a yawn
thinking how tired I am of revolution
the way it’s presented on television
isn’t exactly poetry
You could use some more methedrine
if you ask me personally

People should be treated personally
there’s another yawn
here’s some more methedrine
Thanks!  Now about this revolution
What do you think? What is poetry?
Is it like television?

Now I get up and turn off the television
Whew! It was getting to me personally
I think it is like poetry
Yawn it’s 4 A.M. yawn    yawn
This new record is one big revolution
if you were listening you’d understand methedrine

isn’t the greatest drug no not methedrine
it’s no fun for watching television
You want to jump up have a revolution
about something that affects you personally
When you’re busy and involved you never yawn
it’s more like feeling, like energy, like poetry

I really like to write poetry
it’s more fun than grass, acid, THC, methedrine
If I can’t write I start to yawn
and it’s time to sit back, watch television
see what’s happening to me personally:
war, strike, starvation, revolution

This is a sample of my own revolution
taking the easy way out of poetry
I want it to hit you all personally
like a shot of extra-strong methedrine
so you’ll become your own television
Become your own yawn!

O giant yawn, violent revolution
silent television, beautiful poetry
most deadly methedrine
                I choose all of you for my poem personally

– Anne Waldman –