‘Waiting for the Barbarians’ and the Government Shutdown : The New Yorker

Inaction, of course, can be as destructive as ill-advised action. This is why the aimless standing around and waiting that Cavafy so brilliantly evokes in “Waiting for the Barbarians” is so contemptible. The vigor of the leaders, the effectiveness of their oratory, the political will of the citizens have been so atrophied by indolence and luxury and complacency that they can only hope for disaster as a means of renewing the state. Depending on your politics, you may be tempted to map the current political crisis onto “Waiting for the Barbarians” in any number of ways: Are the barbarians the Democrats or the Republicans? Is the “emperor” Obama or Boehner—or Reid? To Cavafy, those details would have been of little interest. The point was that these things happen again and again, and that whatever else they may mean, they are always, always tests of character—for individual politicians and for whole nations. It is even—or rather, especially—when the barbarians whoever they are are at the gates, when crisis is inevitable or even imminent, that right action is the only option, whether or not it’s likely to succeed. Even in politics, it’s the journey that counts, not just the destination.

Daniel Mendelsohn, from ‘Waiting for the Barbarians’ and the Government Shutdown : The New Yorker.

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A Journal of Poetry and Place | The American Conservative

Now that the poem is more a means of expressing individualism, it has lost much of its original potency of evoking a particular time and place. Poetry is a cultural heirloom in a way the novel is not. Novels, by design, are narratives subject to the author’s vision. Poetry, even in epic poems that have a narrative, is imbued with historical and cultural ties that are tantamount to identity. Homer’s cultural influence on the Ancient Greeks, for example, was inestimable not only in terms of its artistic contribution, but also in its cultural legacy. In other words, poetry has a rootedness—both in its structure and in the themes it evokes.

Marjorie Romeyn-Sanabria, A Journal of Poetry and Place | The American Conservative.

. . . It’s 1500

in the book of Chinese watercolors: scholar-artist T’ang Yin

is asleep inside his mountain cottage, dreaming that a self of him,

that looks like him, is floating in the air above

the highest peaks, that looks like air we’d have

if lakes of milk gave off a vapor.

. . . From the Everfloating Void

above our world, a human image slowly drifts back down

and joins its earthly body once again, reenters

days and nights of wine shop, scandal, lawyers

– for such (in part) is the life of T’ang Yin.

He’s been dreaming. And now he’s going to set it down

on a wafer of unrolled rice paper. Writing:

Rain on the river. That’s all. That’s his poem.

He’s writing:

Rain on the river.

– Albert Goldbarth

via whiskey river.

LRB · Charles Simic · Some Sort of a Solution

I recall a poem Sachperoglou has done exceedingly well. Such as ‘Ithaca’:

When you set out on the journey to Ithaca,
pray that the road be long,
full of adventures, full of knowledge.
The Laestrygonians and the Cyclopes,
the raging Poseidon do not fear:
you’ll never find the likes of these on your way,
if lofty be your thoughts, if rare emotion
touches your spirit and your body.
The Laestrygonians and the Cyclopes,
the fierce Poseidon you’ll not encounter,
unless you carry them along within your soul,
unless your soul raises them before you.

Pray that the road be long;
that there be many a summer morning,
when with what delight, what joy,
you’ll enter into harbours yet unseen;
that you may stop at Phoenician emporia
and acquire all the fine wares,
mother-of-pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and sensuous perfumes of every kind,
as many sensuous perfumes as you can;
that you may visit many an Egyptian city,
to learn and learn again from lettered men.

Always keep Ithaca in your mind.
To arrive there is your final destination.
But do not rush the voyage in the least.
Better it last for many years;
and once you’re old, cast anchor on the isle,
rich with all you’ve gained along the way,
expecting not that Ithaca will give you wealth.

Ithaca gave you the wondrous voyage:
without her you’d never have set out.
But she has nothing to give you any more.

If then you find her poor, Ithaca has not deceived you.
As wise as you’ve become, with such experience, by now
you will have come to know what Ithacas really mean.

One of my all-time favorite poems, by C. P. Cavafy.

A poem by R. S. Thomas

The Bright Field

I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great prize, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realize now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying

on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.