Upon a Foreign Verse
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UPON A FOREIGN VERSE For ElIi, Christmas 1931 Fortunate he who's made the voyage of Odysseus.* Fortunate if on setting out he's felt the rigging of a love strong in his body, spreading there like veins where the blood throbs. A love of indissoluble rhythm, unconquerable like music and endless because it was born when we were born and when it dies, if it does die, neither we know nor does anyone else. I ask God to help me say, at some moment of great happi­ ness, what that love is; sometimes when I sit surrounded by exile I hear its distant murmur like the sound of sea struck by an inexplicable hurricane. And again and again the shade of Odysseus appears before me, his eyes red from the waves' salt, from his ripe longing to see once more the smoke ascend­ ing from his warm hearth and the dog grown old waiting by the door. Φ A large man, whispering through his whitened beard words in our language spoken as it was three thousand years ago. He extends a palm calloused by the ropes and the tiller, his skin weathered by the dry north wind, by heat and snow. It's as if he wants to expel from among us the superhuman one-eyed Cyclops, the Sirens who make you forget with their song, Scylla and Charybdis: so many complex monsters that prevent us from remembering that he too was a man struggling in the world with soul and body. He is the mighty Odysseus: he who proposed the wooden horse with which the Achaeans captured Troy. I imagine he's coming to tell me how I too may build a wooden horse to capture my own Troy. Because he speaks humbly and calmly, without effort, as though he were my father or certain old sailors of my childhood who, leaning on their nets with winter coming on and the wind angering, used to recite, with tears in their eyes, the song of Erotocritos ;* 47 it was then I would shudder in my sleep at the unjust fate of Aretousa descending the marble steps. He tells me of the harsh pain you feel when the ship's sails swell with memory and your soul becomes a rudder; of being alone, dark in the night, and helpless as chaff on the threshing floor; of the bitterness of seeing your companions one by one pulled down into the elements and scattered; and of how strangely you gain strength conversing with the dead when the living who remain are no longer enough. He speaks . . . I still see his hands that knew how to judge the carving of the mermaid at the prow presenting me the waveless blue sea in the heart of winter. 48 ...



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