Wednesday, May 6, 2009

paltry thing


An aged man’s a paltry thing
(John Butler Yeats, of course),
his legacy divided, king
like Lear, bereft of force,
past master of what’s past and passing,
and of what’s to come
abusive, constantly badassing,
on time’s scales his thumb,
weighing down with Byzantine
analysis the world,
until death’s angel draws the line,
and from it he’s hurled.
From Byzantium we sail,
in a tale that’s told
by idiots, who mostly fail
to understand when old.

Inspired by John Butler Yeats’s poem “Sailing to Byzantium,” below, a poem that not only made me think about the impermanence of my own life but enables me to see Klimt’s rationale in painting Adele Block-Bauer in a Byzantine manner. In “Sailing to Byzantium” he implies that that which is Byzantine is permanent, and by using this style he insinuates that she, too, will become as permanent as “sages standing in God's holy fire/ As in the gold mosaic of a wall”.

That is no country for old men. The youngIn one another's arms, birds in the trees- Those dying generations - at their song,The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer longWhatever is begotten, born, and dies.Caught in that sensual music all neglectMonuments of unageing intellect.An aged man is but a paltry thing,A tattered coat upon a stick, unlessSoul clap its hands and sing, and louder singFor every tatter in its mortal dress,Nor is there singing school but studyingMonuments of its own magnificence;And therefore I have sailed the seas and comeTo the holy city of Byzantium.O sages standing in God's holy fireAs in the gold mosaic of a wall,Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,And be the singing-masters of my soul.Consume my heart away; sick with desireAnd fastened to a dying animalIt knows not what it is; and gather meInto the artifice of eternity.Once out of nature I shall never takeMy bodily form from any natural thing,But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths makeOf hammered gold and gold enamellingTo keep a drowsy Emperor awake;Or set upon a golden bough to singTo lords and ladies of ByzantiumOf what is past, or passing, or to come.

© 2009 Gershon Hepner 5/4/09

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