Monday, May 30, 2011

Lethe’s Icy Fen

“All claim to special righteousness awakens in me that scorn and danger from which a philosophical mind should be free. . . .” (Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski, A Personal Record). He read it a second, third and fourth time, emphasising the ‘ousness’ in righteousness on each successive occasion. Wiping his brow with his shirt sleeve he read on, exacting a style that ensured he didn’t misread or mispronounce a single word. “I have never been very well acquainted with the art of conversation--that art which, I understand, is supposed to be lost now. My young days, the days when one’s habits and character are formed, have been rather familiar with long silences. Such voices as broke into them were anything but conversational. No. I haven’t got the habit.” (Ibid). Whisking crumbs off the front of his shirt, his breast pocket serving as a silage trap, bits and bobs of what he’d eaten that week collecting in folds and crevasses, he laid the book on the bedstead table next to his eyeglasses and closed his eyes, the sun trickling in through a crack in the oilcloth. He reached for his copy of William Percivall’s, Hippopathology: A Treatise on the Disorders and Lameness’s of the Horse, a gift from his father on completion of his A-Levels, and began reading indiscriminately. “...time--supposing the foot to be in a state to admit it--enables the horse to perform more or less work. For canker-footed horses, especially of the heavy or agricultural class, are much better kept at work than remaining at rest: they maintain better health, and from this cause, as well as from the motion and pressure given to the foot by exercise, it is found that their cure proceeds with more rapidity and certainty: added to which, the shoe enables the practitioner to confine his dressings to the foot, and make the requisite compression with very little comparative trouble. Sometimes a plain shoe, sometimes a three-quartered shoe, sometimes a bar-shoe, is the one best suited for the case. But a shoe which possesses peculiar advantages in canker is what is called the box-shoe; since it not only serves for protection, but is a great defence against injury and dirt and wet, during the time the horse is at work. And of box-shoes, I know of no better description that those recommended by Mr. Wells, V.S., of Norwich, woodcuts of which are subjoined*”.

With all that had happened, the madness and mayhem, the carious irreverence for Master and Slave, it was a wonder that he’d made it through the day unscathed. Scrawled in an unsteady hand on the box top he used as a bookmark, torn from a box of soup or sachet of Beans & Gravy, was a poem; where it came from or why he had kept it he had no idea.

Brothers, let us glorify freedom’s twilight –
the great, darkening year.
Into the seething waters of the night
heavy forests of nets disappear.
O Sun, judge, people, your light
is rising over sombre years

Let us glorify the deadly weight
the people’s leader lifts with tears.
Let us glorify the dark burden of fate,
power’s unbearable yoke of fears.
How your ship is sinking, straight,
he who has a heart, Time, hears.

We have bound swallows
into battle legions - and we,
we cannot see the sun: nature’s boughs
are living, twittering, moving, totally:
through the nets –the thick twilight - now
we cannot see the sun, and Earth floats free.

Let’s try: a huge, clumsy, turn then
of the creaking helm, and, see -
Earth floats free. Take heart, O men.
Slicing like a plough through the sea,
Earth, to us, we know, even in Lethe’s icy fen,
has been worth a dozen heavens’ eternity.
(Osip Emilyevich Mandelstam, Brothers, let us glorify freedom’s twilight)

He could hear the dogmen howling pretending to be wolves, the littlest playing his ribcage like a xylophone, the others, their necks stretched like hanged men trying to reach that perfect wolfish pitch. Though decisively odd, given that he was lead to believe that the bottommost stratum of Dante’s was a fiery Inferno, he couldn’t get “Lethe’s icy fen” out of his thoughts; it dogged him like a caribous hound, goring him with its antlers and stomping him into the brown leafy earth.

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"Poetry is the short-circuiting of meaning between words, the impetuous regeneration of primordial myth". Bruno Schulz

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