Here is the third poem in my 52-poem sequence (one a week) for 2013, followed by some illumination and reflection:
I was a great philosopher once.
On many a long summer evening
I hid in adolescent bedrooms
where the pale light on the plaster ceiling
was the colour of Aegean temples.
I dreamt I wandered in sad colonnades
with Plato and Aristotle.
I was safe but imperfect
like Ulysses tied to the mast.
But you came and destroyed my peace;
your pattering feet and flowing hair
disturbed the quiet labyrinth of my mind.
You made the fallen leaves a tapestry
and confused me with your threads.
My Ariadne: was I the hero or the bull ?
-now I have slain both with my wretched sword.
I am a picturesque ruin in his early twenties
waiting for Caspar David Friedrich to paint me.
I believe I must have been about 20 when I wrote this poem, although it seems to refer back to a an earlier stage when I was about 12 or 13. As mentioned in earlier posts on this poem-chain, I retracted into myself for most of my teenage years before starting at university. As the youngest in a large close-knit family of four sons, I was exposed to such obsessive interests at home as classical mythology and the entire history of European painting, along with a lot of politics and history. The persistence and popularity of the Greek myths across the centuries is doubtless down to their shrewd embodiment of psychological archetypes, and despite being thoroughly screwed-up at the time, I seem to have been self-lucid enough to relate the two of the myths quite directly to my own life: Ulysses and Theseus and Ariadne. Of course, the first of these is arguably not entirely myth, being the work of Homer (The Odyssey) and archaeologists mutter that Knossos shows signs of being the minotaur’s labyrinth, but be that as it may. Storytellers change and improve stories over time until the external facts fit inner truths, universal angsts, that human beings face in each generation.
I’ve been trying to remember If this poem is about any particular girl, problem is I fell in love with everyone back then (now that I know more about human beings, that is harder, fortunately!) Let’s call her KD. I think she wanted to be a close friend but I had to pretend to be unfriendly in order to spare myself the heartache. Ah the sacrifices that the fragile-hearted make to kill the love inside them. *Yawn* let’s spare the world our tiny pain shall we, Douglas? We can laugh at it all now. I usually find self-pity distasteful, especially my own, but in this rare case I’d say I tempered it with enough humour and drama to pull it off.
No difficulty deciding what image to include with this post, since the last line, unusually, cites a particular artist, the great German romantic landscape painter C. D. Friedrich (1774 -1840). We say German, and he is sometimes rather vaguely associated with the Wagnerian vision of Germany later hijacked by the Nazis, but ironically enough the man considered himself closer to Swedish for most of his life. Germany the country is a more recent political project than we stop to consider most of the time, although of course the sphere of influence of the language and culture is ancient and far-reaching.
The image at the top of this post, of the classical temple (The Temple of Juno at Agrigento), is obviously the one of Friedrich’s I had in mind as I visualised myself as a classical ruin! I love all the rest of Friedrich’s paintings for their spirituality and melancholy and mysticism. He sees something in ruin and decay which is beautiful, not sordid, as if it is an essential means by which Man and Nature can interact, the latter reclaiming the former in an act of love. In that of course, there is rebirth and hope, a part for us in the vast scheme of eternity, and thus a solace, not a fear.