This week a strange but hauntingly lyrical poem by the American poet Dana Gioia (b. 1950), a sturdy defender of such unfashionable values in verse as form and meaning, whose work has steadily grown on me over the years. I think the key to this poem lies in the death of the poet’s firstborn son in infancy (see also week 140). But who or what exactly is being addressed in this prayer of intercession, and being described in the remarkable series of kennings that form the poem’s build-up? Gioia has a Catholic background, but I think readers are to some extent free to make their own interpretation: God if you like, or Death, or whatever mystery lies behind the making and unmaking of this world.
Echo of the clocktower, footstep
in the alleyway, sweep
of the wind sifting the leaves.
Jeweller of the spiderweb, connoisseur
of autumn’s opulence, blade of lightning
harvesting the sky.
Keeper of the small gate, choreographer
of entrances and exits, midnight
whisper travelling the wires.
Seducer, healer, deity or thief,
I will see you soon enough –
in the shadow of the rainfall,
in the brief violet darkening a sunset –
but until then I pray watch over him
as a mountain guards its covert ore
and the harsh falcon its flightless young.
That moved me to tears, on a day when I have just heard of the loss, by their own hand, of two more young people
Yes, those last three lines are stunningly effective, when you suddenly realise what the poem is all about (well, some people might realise a bit earlier than I did!).
I heard the poem in its choral setting by Morten Lauridsen a few minutes ago – on the New Zealand classical music station. I feel moved very deeply with tears flowing and even more so having just read it through. It is the anniversary of my husband’s death and the poem is a beautiful way of honouring those we have loved and lost.
Ah, I didn’t know it had been set to music, will look out for it. Thank you.