new zealand electronic poetry centre


Robin Hyde

Persephone in Winter

Lines to an Unknown Poet
Write that I knew a river like ripened corn,
A red libation of roses poured by a marble sea,
And above the gray stone wings, wide-spread for morn,
The immemorial musings of Italy.

And the waves beneath Venice were Yesterday in my heart,
And the lion above St. Markís my tawny brother.
I, Giuseppe, poet and nothing more,
Knew from my birth one fear, none other;

Fear of the locked heart, fear of the song forspent
In boasting; fear that less than the fire of Truth,
Kindled far on the mountains, and sought by few,
Temper the blade I would forge for youth.

Yea, many a night the moon cried, "Woe unto thee,
False shepherd! Ill doth thy lagging song requite
My granted beauty!" Under the ilex tree
I lay; loveliness ached in the summer night,

Till the dust in the temples of Time took flesh again
And shone before me. The deep-laid dust found words,
Ancient wisdom and pity, pardon and sacrifice,
Fused with the clear call of the Campagna birds.

Born out of time, in an age untuned for song,
I that was brother to man with restless feet
Sought for my friends ó for the girlís face, matching the dream in bronze,
For the lit window, holy in the lampless street;

And found but few, till the day in the market square
Ten thousand faces were one, lifted; and he
Spoke to the throng, with a voice like a tolling bell,
Two words: "Follow!" and "Italy!"

Taut stretched the drum of the sky. The man at my side
Cried "Leader!" Light, like a pentecost of flames,
Ran over faces. Over hillside and heart
Thudded the fierce pulse of the foreign names.

Addis Ababa, Mareb, Magdala,
Names on the wind, stronger than wine or laughter ó
Mouth to mouth cried them ó Asmara, Addi Caie,
And Adowa, Adowa, the sullen echo after.

(Was she less great, my land, when her music swelled
Pearl and argent over the shores of earth?
Painter and scribe, Godís witnesses, seers of the Saints,
Were they of little worth?)

On our way to the sea we passed a woman in stone,
With a stone babe drawing life from the fount of her breast;
And the name at her feet was Peace. Still-eyed, she looked
As the friend looks on the forth-faring guest.

"Is it well ye go?" I had thought with a thousand tongues
That patient gaze had cried to the human heart.
But the god of war speaks once, in his voice of steel,
And the cleaving minds of men are sundered apart.

Thus by a space of seas we came to a shore
Where the rivers were rods for the back of a rebel land,
Where rearing his sting in fury against the skies
A scorpion wind ran circled by flame-gold sand.

On our way to the hills we passed a woman like bronze,
And a naked babe sucked life from her naked breast;
But the name in her eyes was Fear, and she looked on us
As the doomed look on the unhallowed guest.

Stone named Peace, woman of flesh named Fear,
Did they crouch together, beyond the rampart hill
That pent our gaze? Watchers and watched, beneath
The rocks we lay, waiting the word to kill.

But or ever came glint on steel or the rocketís flare
The dark was filled with the pest-wings, heavy and slow.
I, Giuseppe, poet and nothing more,
Known not nor feared by the men named foe,

Knew pain for a little; and much of quiet since,
And a stinging song of sandgrains, that does not cease.
Being taken into the statelier company
Of the peoples that dwell at peace.


Last updated 21 September, 2003