Thursday, July 31, 2014

Gaza by Candlelight

“And what is the use of poets in a mean-spirited time?”
 —Friedrich Hölderlin, “Bread and Wine” 

O enlightened ones, tell me 
Before the first dawn light, 

Of what use is poetry 
To ones that are to be 

Snuffed out during the night. 


  1. Ah, but equally ... of what use are bread and wine? I don't know if you read Tom Montag at The Middlewesterner (, but he had a piquant one today:

    Walking with death—
    familiar steps.

    I think of the Palestinians, personally, every few years walking this same path....

  2. Time was when intelligence possessed its own penumbra and discourse was a sacred table of Presences where everyone with ability and passion would be invited. I fear the insanity of war waged today always (and demonically) along religio-nationalist lines has, as you've sagaciously said, thrown us into a twilight of reason and faith.

    If we're not careful there will quite literally be no poetry left in the world...

    Another superb piece, Vassilis.

  3. I couldn't agree more with Conrad here..There is no valid discourse who would hear anything sensible amidst the noise of explosions and gunshots..Excellent composition as always..

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  5. Here's an interesting article at Bob Arnold's site. I think Cid and Vassilis are on the right page...

  6. There's a question that has to be put. Thank you, Vassilis.

  7. Thanks to all for responding with your thoughts on this piece, which was written primarily because I was feeling angry with myself for being so useless to the Palestinians in Gaza and felt I had to do something, even if that was nothing more than to write a poem.

    As for the question “Does poetry matter?”, I think all of us who write it would agree that it does, but I tend to shy away from statements that seek to elevate both it and the person writing it to a higher realm of consciousness, while playing down the need to stick close to the ground so to speak. In such a context, I like to think of the poet as the man being described in Seferis’ poem “Narration,” which I’ll paste here in its entirety:

    Giorgos Seferis: "Narration"

    That man walks along weeping
    no one can say why
    sometimes they think he's weeping for lost loves
    like those that torture us so much
    on summer beaches with the gramophones.
    Other people go about their business
    endless paper, children growing up, women
    ageing awkardly.
    He has two eyes like poppies
    like cut spring poppies
    and two trickles in the corners of his eyes.
    He walks along the streets, never lies down
    striding small squares on the earth's back
    instrument of a boundless pain
    that's finally lost all significance.
    Some have heard him speak
    to himself as he passed by
    about mirrors broken years ago
    about broken forms in the mirrors
    that no one can ever put together again.
    Others have heard him talk about sleep
    images of horror on the threshold of sleep
    faces unbearable in their tenderness.
    We've grown used to him; he's presentable and quiet
    only that he walks along weeping continually
    like willows on a riverbank you see from the train
    as you wake uncomfortably some clouded dawn.
    We've grown used to him; like everything else you're used to
    he doesn't stand for anything
    and I talk to you about him because I can't find
    anything that you're not used to;
    I pay my respects.

    Translated by E.Keely & P.Sherrard

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  9. Seferis' piece is beautiful and I agree it's the fate of every sensitive person--more often than not the poet--exposed to the brutality of life. I think it is a poet's call to decry the brutality of human behaviour: I think of a young Irving Layton, for example, who spoke (and spoke very passionately) often in public forums on the Middle East. He'd been a fiery passionate advocate of the Arabs in a time when they'd been even more demonized than they are today. Close to his death he'd even described himself as "a quiet madman, never far from tears".

    Only academic poets think of themselves as being elevated to a higher consciousness and so their writings are generally worthless. The real poet suffers with the rest of us and is distinguished merely by the strength and beauty of his verses. The terrible atrocities being committed against the Palestinians in Gaza--the indiscriminate slaughter of the young, old and the helpless--must make us all cry.

    Vassilis, your poem is an elegant and moving part of such a record and I thank you for your courage and integrity.

  10. Respects for being an exception among poets once again, Vassilis.

    And yes, it's been reassuring to know that Canada's plastering the old maple leaf over its trembling subservience to Power once again!.

  11. Thank you, Tom-- and for the link letting me know that Canada's venerable leaders have not forgotten how to kotow.


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