Friday 30 November 2012

'Gifted, even in November'

The sap of Spring in the young wood a-stir
Will celebrate with green the Mother,
And every song-bird shout awhile for her;
But we are gifted, even in November
Rawest of seasons, with so huge a sense
Of her nakedly worn magnificence
We forget cruelty and past betrayal,
Heedless of where the next bright bolt may fall.

Robert Graves (1948), The White Goddess: a historical grammar of poetic myth

Wednesday 28 November 2012

'the power is yours, but not the sight'

I heard one who said: "Verily,
What word have I for children here?
Your Dollar is your only Word,
The wrath of it your only fear.

"You build it altars tall enough
To make you see but you are blind;
You cannot leave it long enough
To look before you or behind.

"When Reason beckons you to pause,
You laugh and say that you know best;
But what it is you know, you keep
As dark as ingots in a chest.

"You laugh and answer, 'We are young;
Oh, leave us now, and let us grow:'
Not asking how much more of this
Will Time endure or Fate bestow.

"Because a few complacent years
Have made your peril of your pride,
Think you that you are to go on
Forever pampered and untried?

"What lost eclipse of history,
What bivouac of the marching stars,
Has given the sign for you to see
Milleniums and last great wars?

"What unrecorded overthrow
Of all the world has ever known,
Or ever been, has made itself
So plain to you, and you alone?

"Your Dollar, Dove, and Eagle make
A Trinity that even you
Rate higher than you rate yourselves;
It pays, it flatters, and it's new.

"And though your very flesh and blood
Be what the Eagle eats and drinks,
You'll praise him for the best of birds,
Not knowing what the eagle thinks.

"The power is yours, but not the sight;
You see not upon what you tread;
You have the ages for your guide,
But not the wisdom to be led.

"Think you to tread forever down
The merciless old verities?
And are you never to have eyes
To see the world for what it is?

"Are you to pay for what you have
With all you are?"--No other word
We caught, but with a laughing crowd
Moved on. None heeded, and few heard.

Tuesday 27 November 2012

no wild bird

'So I am going in, and mourning as I go my death and Agamemnon's. 
Let my life be done. Ah friends, truly this is no wild bird fluttering in a bush, 
nor vain my speech.   
Bear witness to me when I die, when falls for me, a woman slain, 
another woman and when a man dies for this wickedly mated man. 
Here in my death I claim this stranger's grace of you.'
Agamemnon by Aeschylus 

Sunday 25 November 2012

'but the wise perceive things about to happen'

“For the gods perceive future things,
                                ordinary people things in the present, but
                                the wise perceive things about to happen.”
                                Philostratos, Life of Apollonios of Tyana, viii, 7.

Ordinary people know what’s happening now,
the gods know future things
because they alone are totally enlightened.
Of what’s to come the wise perceive
things about to happen.

Sometimes during moments of intense study
their hearing’s troubled: the hidden sound
of things approaching reaches them,
and they listen reverently, while in the street outside
the people hear nothing whatsoever.  

C.P. Cavafy, Collected Poems. Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Edited by George Savidis. Revised Edition. Princeton University Press, 1992

Friday 23 November 2012

Alexandra lost

Alexandra Leaving
written by Leonhard Cohen in Hydra, Greece, September 1999

based on the poem 'The God forsakes Antony' by Constantine P. Cavafy (1911)

Thursday 22 November 2012

Honey pot tree



The mad girl with the staring eyes and long white fingers
Hooked in the stones of the wall,
The storm-wrack hair and screeching mouth: does it matter, Cassandra,
Whether the people believe
Your bitter fountain? Truly men hate the truth, they'd liefer
Meet a tiger on the road.
Therefore the poets honey their truth with lying; but religion—
Vendors and political men
Pour from the barrel, new lies on the old, and are praised for kind
Wisdom. Poor bitch be wise.
No: you'll still mumble in a corner a crust of truth, to men
And gods disgusting—you and I, Cassandra.

Robinson Jeffers (1948)

Wednesday 21 November 2012


'Death cannot be what Life is, Child; the cup
Of Death is empty, and Life hath always hope.'
Euripides (480 – 406 BC) 
The Trojan Women

Tuesday 20 November 2012


'All language is a set of symbols whose use among its speakers assumes a shared past. How, then, can I translate into words the limitless Aleph, which my floundering mind can scarcely encompass? Mystics, faced with the same problem, fall back on symbols: to signify the godhead, one Persian speaks of a bird that somehow is all birds; Alanus de Insulis, of a sphere whose center is everywhere and circumference is nowhere; Ezekiel, of a four-faced angel who at one and the same time moves east and west, north and south. [...] Perhaps the gods might grant me a similar metaphor, but then this account would become contaminated by literature, by fiction. Really, what I want to do is impossible, for any listing of an endless series is doomed to be infinitesimal. In that single gigantic instant I saw millions of acts both delightful and awful; not one of them occupied the same point in space, without overlapping or transparency. What my eyes beheld was simultaneous, but what I shall now write down will be successive, because language is successive.'

Jorge Luis Borges, El Aleph, 1945. Translation by Norman Thomas Di Giovanni in collaboration with the author.  

Monday 19 November 2012


'What I mean by alive - not to shrink from what is most difficult: to change one's image of oneself. "Words," said Panthous in the days when he was still my fencing partner. "Nothing but words, Cassandra. A human being changes nothing, so why himself of all things, why of all things his image of himself?"'

Wolf, Christa, 1984.  Conditions of a narrative. in Wolf, Christa, 1984. Cassandra: a novel and four essays.  Translated from the German by Jan van Heurck. London: Virago, p.21

Sunday 18 November 2012


'I willingly accept Cassandra's fate
To speak the truth, although believed too late.'

Anne Killigrew (1686):
Upon the saying that my verses were made by another


More about Anne Killigrew

Thursday 15 November 2012


'Do not be afraid; our fate
Cannot be taken from us; it is a gift.'
Dante Alighieri (1308), Divina Commedia: Inferno

Tuesday 13 November 2012

'remembering, hapless ones, their former way of life.'

'... seeing the bitter fate of his comrades turned to winged birds, who shall accept a sea life, after the manner of fishermen, like in form to bright-eyed swans. Seizing in their bills the spawn of fishes they shall dwell in an island which bears their leader’s name, on a theatre-shaped rising ground, building in rows their close-set nests with firm bits of wood, after the manner of Zethus. And together they shall betake them to the chase and by night to rest in the dell, avoiding all the alien crowd of men, but in folds of Grecian robes seeking their accustomed resting-place they shall eat crumbs from the hand and fragments of cake from the table, murmuring pleasantly, remembering, hapless ones, their former way of life.'


Callimachus, Hymns and Epigrams. Lycophron. Aratus. Translated by Mair, A. W. & G. R. Loeb Classical Library Volume 129. London: William Heinemann, 1921.

Monday 12 November 2012

'Nur der Irrtum ist das Leben, und das Wissen ist der Tod.'




Friedrich von Schiller (1802):


- for English translation click here -

Freude war in Trojas Hallen,
Eh die hohe Feste fiel;
Jubelhymnen hört man schallen
In der Saiten goldnes Spiel;
Alle Hände ruhen müde
Von dem thränenvollen Streit,
Weil der herrliche Pelide
Priams schöne Tochter freit.

Und geschmückt mit Lorberreisern,
Festlich wallet Schaar auf Schaar
Nach der Götter heil'gen Häusern,
Zu des Thymbriers Altar.
Dumpf erbrausend durch die Gassen
Wälzt sich die bacchant'sche Lust,
Und in ihrem Schmerz verlassen
War nur eine traur'ge Brust.

Freudlos in der Freude Fülle,
Ungesellig und allein,
Wandelte Kassandra stille
In Apollos Lorbeerhain.
In des Waldes tiefste Gründe
Flüchtete die Seherin,
Und sie warf die Priesterbinde
Zu der Erde zürnend hin:

Alles ist der Freude offen,
Alle Herzen sind beglückt,
Und die alten Eltern hoffen,
Und die Schwester steht geschmückt.
Ich allein muß einsam trauern,
Denn mich flieht der süße Wahn,
Und geflügelt diesen Mauern
Seh' ich das Verderben an.

Eine Fackel seh' ich glühen,
Aber nicht in Hymens Hand;
Nach den Wolken seh' ich ziehen,
Aber nicht wie Opferbrand.
Feste seh' ich froh bereiten,
Doch im ahnungsvollen Geist
Hör' ich schon des Gottes Schreiten,
Der sie jammervoll zerreißt.

Und sie schelten meine Klagen,
Und sie höhnen meinen Schmerz.
Einsam in die Wüste tragen
Muß ich mein gequältes Herz,
Von den Glücklichen gemieden
Und den Fröhlichen ein Spott!
Schweres hast du mir beschieden,
Pythischer, du arger Gott!

Dein Orakel zu verkünden,
Warum warfest du mich hin
In die Stadt der ewig Blinden
Mit dem aufgeschloßnen Sinn?
Warum gabst du mir zu sehen,
Was ich doch nicht wenden kann?
Das Verhängte muß geschehen,
Das Gefürchtete muß nahn.

Frommt's, den Schleier aufzuheben,
Wo das nahe Schreckniß droht?
Nur der Irrthum ist das Leben,
Und das Wissen ist der Tod.
Nimm, o nimm die traur'ge Klarheit,
Mir vom Aug den blut'gen Schein!
Schrecklich ist es, deiner Wahrheit
Sterbliches Gefäß zu sein.

Meine Blindheit gib mir wieder
Und den fröhlich dunklen Sinn!
Nimmer sang ich freud'ge Lieder,
Seit ich deine Stimme bin.
Zukunft hast du mir gegeben,
Doch du nahmst den Augenblick,
Nahmst der Stunde fröhlich Leben -
Nimm dein falsch Geschenk zurück!

Nimmer mit dem Schmuck der Bräute,
Kränzt' ich mir das duft'ge Haar,
Seit ich deinem Dienst mich weihte
An dem traurigen Altar.
Meine Jugend war nur Weinen,
Und ich kannte nur den Schmerz,
Jede herbe Noth der Meinen
Schlug an mein empfindend Herz.

Fröhlich seh' ich die Gespielen,
Alles um mich lebt und liebt
In der Jugend Lustgefühlen,
Mir nur ist das Herz getrübt.
Mir erscheint der Lenz vergebens,
Der die Erde festlich schmückt;
Wer erfreute sich des Lebens,
Der in seine Tiefen blickt!

Selig preis' ich Polyxenen
In des Herzens trunknem Wahn,
Denn den Besten der Hellenen
Hofft sie bräutlich zu umfahn.
Stolz ist ihre Brust gehoben,
Ihre Wonne faßt sie kaum,
Nicht euch, Himmlische dort oben,
Neidet sie in ihrem Traum.

Und auch ich hab' ihn gesehen,
Den das Herz verlangend wählt!
Seine schönen Blicke flehen,
Von der Liebe Gluth beseelt.
Gerne möcht' ich mit dem Gatten
In die heim'sche Wohnung ziehn;
Doch es tritt ein styg'scher Schatten
Nächtlich zwischen mich und ihn.

Ihre bleichen Larven alle
Sendet mir Proserpina;
Wo ich wandre, wo ich walle,
Stehen mir die Geister da.
In der Jugend frohe Spiele
Drängen sie sich grausend ein,
Ein entsetzliches Gewühle!
Nimmer kann ich fröhlich sein.

Und den Mordstahl seh' ich blinken
Und das Mörderauge glühn;
Nicht zur Rechten, nicht zur Linken
Kann ich vor dem Schreckniß fliehn;
Nicht die Blicke darf ich wenden,
Wissend, schauend, unverwandt
Muß ich mein Geschick vollenden
Fallend in dem fremden Land -

Und noch hallen ihre Worte -
Horch! da dringt verworrner Ton
Fernher aus des Tempels Pforte,
Todt lag Thetis' großer Sohn!
Eris schüttelt ihre Schlangen,
Alle Götter fliehn davon,
Und des Donners Wolken hangen
Schwer herab auf Ilion.

Sunday 11 November 2012


Louise Bogan:  

To me, one silly task is like another.
I bare the shambling tricks of lust and pride.
This flesh will never give a child its mother,—
Song, like a wing, tears through my breast, my side,
And madness chooses out my voice again,
Again. I am the chosen no hand saves:
The shrieking heaven lifted over men,
Not the dumb earth, wherein they set their graves.


Friday 9 November 2012

The oracle

Cassandra bracelet

'And when girls wish to escape the yoke of maidens, refusing for bridegrooms men adorned with locks such as Hector wore, but with defect of form or reproach of birth, they will embrace my image with their arms, winning of mighty shield against marriage, having clothed them in the garb of the Erinyes and dyed their faces with magic simples. By those staff-carrying women I shall long be called an immortal goddess.'

LYCOPHRON of Chalcis was a Greek poet and scholar of the Library of Alexandria who flourished in the C3rd BC. His cryptic poem, the Alexandra, tells the stories of the heroes of the Trojan War in the riddling, prophetic words of the Trojan princess Cassandra.

Callimachus, Hymns and Epigrams. Lycophron. Aratus. Translated by Mair, A. W. & G. R. Loeb Classical Library Volume 129. London: William Heinemann, 1921.[1122]  


The speaker is a slave appointed to watch Cassandra and report her prophecies. He addresses Priam.

Tuesday 6 November 2012


"Cry, Trojans, cry! lend me ten thousand eyes
And I will fill them with prophetic tears."

sc.ii Act II

Monday 5 November 2012

Bees wax & feathers

‘At Delphi it is said that the first shrine was made of bees-wax and feathers; the second, of fern-stalks twisted together; the third, of laurel-boughs; that Hephaestus built the fourth of  bronze, with golden song-birds perched on the roof, but one day the earth engulfed it; and that the fifth, built of dressed stone, burned down in the year of the fifty-eighth Olympiad, and was replaced by the present shrine.’

Robert Graves – The Greek Myths, 1955, revised 1960  (108)

Saturday 3 November 2012


'And now Ares, the dancer, fires the land, with his conch leading the chant of blood. And all the land lies ravaged before my eyes and, as it were fields of corn, bristle the fields of the gleaming spears. And in my ears seems a voice of lamentation from the tower tops reaching to the windless seats of air, with groaning women and rending of robes, awaiting sorrow upon sorrow.'




Callimachus, Hymns and Epigrams. Lycophron. Aratus. Translated by Mair, A. W. & G. R. Loeb Classical Library Volume 129. London: William Heinemann, 1921. 

Thursday 1 November 2012

Cassandra, Iraq



Cassandra, Iraq

C K Williams

She’s magnificent, as we imagine women must be
who foresee and foretell and are right and disdained.
This is the difference between we who are like her
in having been right and disdained, and we as we are.
Because we, in our foreseeings, our having been right,
are repulsive to ourselves, fat and immobile, like toads.
Not toads in the garden, who after all are what they are,
but toads in the tale of death in the desert of sludge.
In this tale of lies, of treachery, of superfluous dead,
were there ever so many who were right and disdained?
With no notion of what to do next? If we were true seers,
as prescient as she, as frenzied, we’d know what to do next.
We’d twitter, as she did, like birds; we’d warble, we’d trill.
But what would it be really, to twitter, to warble, to trill?
Is it ee-ee-ee, like having a child? Is it uh-uh-uh, like a wound?
Or is it inside, like a blow, silent to everyone but yourself?
Yes, inside, I remember, oh-oh-oh: it’s where grief
is just about to be spoken, but all at once can’t be: oh.
When you no longer can “think” of what things like lies,
like superfluous dead, so many, might mean: oh.
Cassandra will be abducted at the end of her tale, and die.
Even she can’t predict how. Stabbed? Shot? Blown to bits?
Her abductor dies, too, though, in a gush of gore, in a net.
That we know; she foresaw that – in a gush of gore, in a net.
(From the April 3, 2006 issue of the New Yorker)