portents of death

Cheerful, isn’t it? I’m off shortly to stand in for Annie Freud (as if it were possible!) at her poetry group at City University, and the unofficial theme for the evening seems to be portents of death. Hurrah! I’m giving them some James Merrill, and the poems I’ve chosen are funny as well as sobering. Well: one is sobering. The other is the delicious A Narrow Escape, for any of you who feel like looking it up.

Exquisite, of course. He was a very subtle man.

Signs are that I am both on the mend from whatever it is that has laid me up all week – whether “piglet flu” or “a cold” or “life” – and not quite there yet. In short, not really. I’m behind with absolutely everything and feeling quite drained. Most depressing of all was a job description sent through by some well-meaning agency this morning, in relation to the fact that my job ends in two weeks (yes, and I’m not getting paid for being sick, either), which looked both a) “desirable” and b) like a living death.

So that’s me, then.

So here’s some Rilke for you. For me, I mean. It’s the recession, though, so maybe it’s for you too.

Archaic Torso of Apollo

We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,

gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.

Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast’s fur:

would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.

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