new zealand electronic poetry centre


Ian Wedde

Epode: a conversation

In these days of late autumn I know the poet only
                                  As the fortunate man who
                                                        Free from cares on cool mornings
Praises the commonplace world.
                      On just such a morning
                                             It’s Quintus Horatius Flaccus I invoke
Whom I know only by the garlands
                       Laid daily upon his tomb, and whose tomb
                                                        I know only as the books I read, hoping
To hear in them, in their different accounts of the work done,
                                         The equitable voice of the poet, winecup in hand,
                                                                          Conversing with his muse
While her green earth sweats to loose its young.
                                  Digesting its dead
           It has better things to do with those words that contain everything 
Than bring them to him in a basket bedecked with laurels. 
                                                        This is his work, the poet, this is where,
                       Like the good husbandman, he must expect no reward
From merely hoping.
           Groaning and bulging with that death 
                              From which nourishment crawls, encumbered by no debt
The nibbled winter ejects itself like birdsong.
                              Written in a language of profane glamour
                                          The lovely world has everything he needs when
He encounters the produce he savours 
                              As night falls. He can’t walk to barbarous tribes
                                                             And not get lost. Nothing else for it. 
Fires of the deep flare along the flank of darkness where
                                          Sediment packs down under time
                    And how can he talk to the gallery of oblivious gods?
The Forum he avoids and lofty doors, preferring
                                  In the quiet of his own company to ask
                                                 How could his father be in the picture when
It is perhaps a mirror? Or postcards of copulating gods,
                                Of sons unborn? The call to prayer startles that solitude
            And so days are driven by his father’s wanderlust.
Again at loaded tables 
            How gravely his weight can remember 
                                            To sit in meeting rooms and taste childhood’s 
Amiable libations, and those who joined him in the shade
                      And in sheltered valleys where he sees his wandering herds.
                                            “You loved life in heaven but I saw everything –
The sad marks of uncountable grains of sand

                                 On your birthday. I, Death, took the pictures
                                           For years now, no longer completely insincere.”
Even the poet’s vanity is like the inspired horizons of cities.
                      His language is a kind of weathered pyramids of Dashoon.
           “But there is one memory when autumn raises in the fields its head
Which is that I’ve been a brother
                                 Stealing through the black spectrum like a thief,
         Like this smoke drifting from the dark, pacing from world-weary eyes,
This subterfuge, this exact picture
                      Poured into mirrors
                                            Seeing it exists and ends.”
Say, do it now, and time shines as if with the light
                                 Of friend and lover, it just lies down 
                                                                   Like a corpse freed of posture.
“But today I have finished a work outlasting bronze.
                                 I’ll go on and on – and is it beautiful
                                       This tawdry world deep in grass too lush to leave?”
The taxis are flushed with dawns of backlit peaks 
                                 And filled with awe or dusk, depending on the time –
                      Time’s music that will make spires aspire to heaven.
Its meaning, too, of cloud-piercing
            Little, laconic tunes, like someone merely whistling
                                 Fades away. And every sound invites to easy sleep
Amid the mitred peaks that pierce through gorges,
                                          Clouds, and time now painting its frothing wake.
                                                                            Eating while he talks
The poet wants to watch how the mall’s ordinary crowd
                                  Surges through a golden city whose terror we sense – 
           How time passes in this bituminous gorge in which the blue sky’s 
Amid these pleasures. 
                      “And is this heaven, shady sofa on the deck
                                                     But also voluptuous? Covered in filth?
The shadow of time pouring, this sentiment, this visual music,
           The sacrificial meats, decanting this year’s wine from its sweet cask?
                                        The simple facts are these: know it’s all dust.”
But he is not in awe, the poet, his muse is inexhaustible, bountiful,
                                                     No views masquerading as art, 
                                                           Gliding through and made free again.
As his lyre goes out of tune it has to have sense made
                                        Of storms of thunder rumbling in the East.
                                                                          Sometimes he was happy.
Fraudulence is an excess he survives 
                      In roguish snapshots pumping out doggerel
                                 Because death has painted remorse on his own face
Who counted it all too much to learn
        The vivid smells that want to go to earth.       
At such a feast what pleasure it would give to see
You, my brother
        Because I’m blind with hope
                             In the yard where we played 
Where you’re always going in the dream chase.
                             Our hearts are true and constant.
                                        We have eaten cheek by cheek under Gemini.
What museum of the gods also sinks
                     And can the sad spirits rise 
                                        If we have forgotten our language? Where
To turn away as time stands still? 
                     To stand by the hearth around its smiling gods?
                                How little benefit has resulted with friends as night falls
Like picnic smoke above the mountain.
                     The sac of earth trembling 
                                Under the poet’s running feet. Running on language,
That great sac, Quintus Horatius, open
                      And bursting like a green dolma
                                        And this awful sadness spilling
Even so from the rapture.
                      “The stars have never sent such heat to brood
              When you lift the hot lid and shake with the effort.
Where are the songs of spring? The arbour’s shade?
                      I heard them at the end. My bursting heart
            Can be without weariness, fever, and fret.
But it gives no joy to me as once it did.”

© Ian Wedde 

Last updated 13 July, 2001