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Unread 04-16-2019, 04:37 PM
Daniel Recktenwald's Avatar
Daniel Recktenwald Daniel Recktenwald is offline
Join Date: Mar 2019
Location: Louisville, KY
Posts: 91
Default Lullaby

Tragedy is trying to live well. -- Martha Nussbaum
Jocasta and Laius exposed their child.
She sang up the mountain. They wept back down.
They'd re-gifted Fate to the cold and wild.
The boy would die blameless; they could grow old.
Prudent, considering what was foretold.

Rescued, raised well, backstory still unheard,
Oedipus sued his future and was served
the same indictment his parents received.
He felt their dread, and must have felt aggrieved:
forsaken by all his makers; ill-used
by justice. Something in him yet refused,
while Fate's victim, to be its abettor.
He lived-- and not as if the truth weren't known.
Could truth be changed? He'd flee and be better
than what the Sybil's tongue had carved in stone.
Condemned by vision, he chose that blindness
that swaddles princes in shepherds' kindness.

So parents (exhausted, pacing, humming)
enchant the sleeping ones through sleepless nights--
knowing well the world, knowing what's coming.
They're here, and new: someone has to hold them.
Describe the prizes for winnable fights;
choose a few messages that get told them.
Likewise wakeful, the childless hold and rock
not little lives they've made-- the lives they've got.
They can be new, they say. Can change. Be taught.
And life can still be life, without a why.
These should be the words of a lullaby.

Listen: the strains of it are on the air.
Not hope. A mere objection to despair.
This impertinence gives breath to all song:
to cavil, the oracles could be wrong;
to hold out, every vote the jury takes.
We clutch at doubt. Some call the clutching, "faith."
We sing, "Let's see. Let the Furies' voices
thunder in and drown out all our choices."
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Unread 04-16-2019, 05:08 PM
Aaron Novick's Avatar
Aaron Novick Aaron Novick is offline
Join Date: Sep 2016
Location: Halifax, Nova Scotia
Posts: 1,623

fyi, the one-post-per-seven-days rule covers all three forums together (but not translation), so this will be locked soon
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Unread 04-16-2019, 07:39 PM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is offline
Join Date: May 2016
Location: England
Posts: 2,660

Hi Daniel,

Aaron's right. You got to six days after your last one, but we have to be sticklers or mere anarchy is loosed upon the world (the bad cartoon kind not the nice egalitarian kind ).

I'll unlock it tomorrow!

Edit: unlocked!
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Unread 04-18-2019, 05:27 AM
Daniel Recktenwald's Avatar
Daniel Recktenwald Daniel Recktenwald is offline
Join Date: Mar 2019
Location: Louisville, KY
Posts: 91

Thanks, Mark-- and for the laughs, too.

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Unread 04-18-2019, 06:44 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is online now
Join Date: Mar 2017
Location: TX
Posts: 3,839

Hi Daniel,

I like the second part of this more than the first part, where I'm afraid I keep being distracted by Sophocles. I think you might be able to tell the first part quicker.
My favorite line, at first reading: "These should be the words of a lullaby." It has some of the simplicity and elegance of rhythm that good lullabies have.

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Unread 04-20-2019, 09:16 PM
Daniel Recktenwald's Avatar
Daniel Recktenwald Daniel Recktenwald is offline
Join Date: Mar 2019
Location: Louisville, KY
Posts: 91

Hey, John.

Thanks for reading and replying, man!

Yeah, I bet most Sphereans don't need much of a cue for a poem to take advantage of the Oedipus tale. One quick, allusive brushstroke would get it done. (And the tale is so wonderful, and Sophocles so great a teller of it, dwelling on the plot runs the risk of making a reader say, "Don't it make you want to read the Theban Cycle again? Let's go read that instead!" Who could blame them?)

I had a two-fold intent with the first two strophes:

1. I was treating the Oedipus tale somewhat as a case in prior law. I wanted to exposit some key facts in the backstory of the case that I saw as pertinent to how I applied that precedent to the tragic predicament of modern lives.

2. I don't have a "poet of the people" delusion. I'll avail myself of the incomparable short-hand power of allusions as readily as anyone. But there is a "power-to-weight ratio" to calculate, always. Sometimes, I deliberately play the teacher more than the name- or footnote-dropper. I'm wary of this trajectory of poetry: it is written by poets who are readers of poetry and write for an assumed audience of readers of poetry, the next iteration of poems alluding then to poems that were written by poets who were readers of poetry and wrote for an . . . . . It's an asymptote, on might say (!), progressing toward a limit where the last poem is written and read and understood by only one person. So, for prospective readers who might remember just the gist of the Oedipus tale (if only from high school curriculum) I wanted to take them with me, step by step.

I try to hold in mind this possibility: a poetry that deepens as its audience and its relevance both widen.

Julie Steiner spoke to a similar point, but about epigraphs rather than allusions. She said that she'd rather have the epi than not. If she was a reader who didn't need it, she's pleased and a bit proud to be so. If it clued her in and removed a barrier to accessibility, she's grateful and doesn't feel condescended to. I love and admire that attitude and I like to think I strike that balance for a plurality of readers, most of the time.

Thanks for the praise of that one line. The one previous has more fans among those few who've responded to this poem outside the Sphere. (Naturally, if this poem as a whole functions as a lullaby, I've botched it. Pinned the donkey's tail on the wrong wall in the wrong house!)

Thanks again for reading and replying, John. This poem was lonely.

Warm regards,

Last edited by Daniel Recktenwald; 04-20-2019 at 09:29 PM.
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