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April 09, 2009


Thanks for reminding me of Isaiah 38:13. I was just taking a break from looking at this to come here.

Such radiant, stirring verse. Dave King at Pics and Poems - http://picsandpoems.blogspot.com/ - has a fine post about myth in which he makes reference to Wallace Stevens' assertion that poetry has the capacity to supplant religion ('If poetry should address itself to the same needs and aspirations, the same hopes and fears, to which the Bible addresses itself, it might rival it in distribution'). For me, even as I recognise and accept entirely its context, the richness and resonance in the glorious passage above is all in the poetry.

In the prime of my life must I go through the gates of death and be robbed of the rest of my years?... no longer will I look on mankind, or be with those who now dwell in this world.

Beth, I’ve been thinking a lot about the resonances between the old Hebrew poems and the Greek ones. One thing I like a lot about the Iliad is how it switches cameras from the main action of battle to linger, for brief moments, on the sorrow of dying. The story comes, at those moments, from the point of view of the dying one, on whose eyes “the mists of darkness” are closing. Homer might have been cheerfully recording the gore of this same young man’s mortal wound in the preceding line, but we’re now suddenly made to see that he’s human being just like ourselves: reluctant to go, sad at being compelled to do so by “the strong destiny,” the “hateful darkness.”

He spoke, and as he spoke, the end of death closed in on him, and the soul fluttering free of his limbs went down into Death’s house mourning her destiny, leaving youth and manhood behind her.

Often these young men, after taking the mortal wound, weep. It’s terribly moving, these macho men reduced to sobs by the sheer elemental love of life. The thought that flashes through my mind, always, is “I wouldn’t want to go either.”

The Christian overlay I could do without.

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Who was Cassandra?

  • In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.