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Franciscus_Gysbrechts_Vanitas113 words

When the mind melts in the cave of the skull,
forsaken, alas, like everything else,
will some victorious Socrates crawl—
out of the depths, like a most secret self—

beholding all things as they really are?
Then, apostolic, but shunning the smell,
will he crawl back down inside—to pole-star
and enlighten the blind monkeys in hell?

Fettered to our forefathers’ desires
and at odds with the light, no doubt those apes
won’t listen, for madness never tires,
storming through our eyes and roping our napes.

And our magnanimous clear-sighted Greek,
that spark in the dung, our most secret self,
will he weather the worms of the first week,
forsaken, alas, like everything else?


From Leo Yankevich’s Journey Late at Night: Poems and Translations, forthcoming from Counter-Currents


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  1. Leo Yankevich
    Posted September 8, 2013 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    Raven Gatto,

    That’s a beautiful poem by Lewis. Thank you.

  2. Raven Gatto
    Posted September 6, 2013 at 3:38 am | Permalink

    This is one of my favorite poems of yours, Leo.

    “Fettered to our forefather’s desire” is a very well crafted echo to “fastened to a dying animal”, and is all the more poignant because our forefathers were animals, not just apes but reptiles, too. Our skulls are the reliquaries of all animal (and proto-animal) life heretofore.

    Another line I love is “madness never tires”. No, it does not slacken for a minute. This line reminds me of C.S. Lewis: “the stupid, strong unteachable monsters are certain to be victorious at last/ And every man of decent blood is on the losing side”.

    Harold Bloom says that the only proper response to a great poem is another great poem. Since I can’t write great poetry, I share the following poem by Lewis, Re-adjustment, in that spirit.

    I thought there would be a grave beauty, a sunset splendour
    In being the last of one’s kind: a topmost moment as one watched
    The huge wave curving over Atlantis, the shrouded barge
    Turning away with wounded Arthur, or Ilium burning.
    Now I see that, all along, I was assuming a posterity
    Of gentle hearts: someone, however distant in the depths of time,
    Who could pick up our signal, who could understand a story. There won’t be.

    Between the new Hominidae and us who are dying, already
    There rises a barrier across which no voice can ever carry,
    For devils are unmaking language. We must let that alone forever.
    Uproot your loves, one by one, with care, from the future,
    And trusting to no future, receive the massive thrust
    And surge of the many-dimensional timeless rays converging
    On this small, significant dew drop, the present that mirrors all.

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