Monday, January 13, 2020

Jack Harvey writes

From the Greek Anthology

Palinurus’ stallion
was a blessed five
years old when
it floated
under the springs of
the hothouse.

Its master lies ashore
among ungentle folk;
no hope at all,
no help.
From that treacherous boat
the foam runs aft,
the wake of the wake,
taking the captain to hell.

For you, Palinurus,
cold stones
make a cap
on the cape;
your name,
your shroud
awake forever.
Awake the black-eyed birds,
the sea waves
press round
your headlands;
no blessing save
the wind and
the sailor’s cry.
Your stallion sails by,
springing unhindered from
wave to wave.

A blessed steed
casts no eye on
a chastened ghost. 

 Palinurus Falls overboard -- Georg Christoph Eimmart

1 comment:

  1. In the "Aeneid," after the Trojans left Sicilia, the navigator Palinurus was leading the fleet at the helm of Aeneas's ship. The poet Publius Vergilius Maro indicated that he would be the one whom Neptune would sacrifice to guarantee safe passage to Italia for the Trojans: "one single life shall be offered to save many." Drugged by Somnos the god of sleep, he fell overboard. According to the C. Day Lewis translation:

    Just then did Sleep come feathering down from the stars above,
    Lightly displacing the shadowy air, parting the darkness,
    In search of you, Palinurus, carrying death in a dream
    To your staunch heart. Now, taking the shape of Phorbas, the Sleep-god
    Perched up there in the stern-sheets and rapidly spoke these words–
    Palinurus, son of Iasus, the seas are bearing the ships on,
    Steadily blows the breeze, and you have a chance to rest.
    Lay your head down, and take a nap; your eyes are tired with
    Watching. I will stand your trick at the helm for a little.
    Palinurus could hardly raise his heavy eyes, but he answered–
    Are you asking me to forget what lies behind the pacific
    Face of the sea and its sleeping waves? to trust this devil?
    What? Shall I leave Aeneas to the mercy of tricky winds–
    I who, time and again, have been taken in by a clear sky?
    While he spoke, Palinurus kept a good grip on the tiller–
    By no means would he release it–and a steadfast gaze on the stars.
    But look! Over his temples the god is shaking a bough
    That drips with the dew of Lethe, the drowsy spell of Stygian
    Waters. And now, though he struggles, his swimming eyes are closing.
    As soon as, taken off guard, he was relaxed in unconsciousness,
    The god, leaning down over him, hurled him into the sea
    Still gripping the tiller; a part of the taffrail was torn away:
    As he fell, he kept calling out to his friends, but they did not hear him.

    Aeneas took over the helm and falsely accused him of complacency: "O Palinurus, too easily trusting clear sky and calm sea." Later the poet Marcus Valerius Martialis turned the sailor's name into an obscene pun:

    Minxisti currente semel, Pauline, carina.
    Meiere vis iterum? Iam Palinurus eris.

    ("You pissed one time, Paulinus, as the ship hurried along. / Do you want to piss again? Then you'll be Palinurus.")

    However, Palinurus actually survived and was washed ashore near Velia off western Italia, on the coast of the Tyrrhenian sea, where the Lucani mistook him for a sea monster and killed him. Eventually he was buried at Capo Palinuro, 40 mi (64 km) southwest of Salerno. People still claim they can see his spirit roaming the area and hear his desperate screams.


    —te, Palinure, petens

    Sleep is a god, attending when he wills—
    He holds dominion over man and brute.
    He rises up like headlights over hills

    With all the sea of darkness in pursuit.
    Invoke him in the shipwreck of a bed,
    Yet he is ablative and absolute,

    Indifferent to your sentence. Sleep may shed
    His mercy on you, or he may deny
    The living what he floods down on the dead;

    But when you stiffen your back to him and try
    To hold on with both hands to what is real,
    That's when the black wave falls, that's when the eye

    Swims off the twisting road, the tires peal.
    The world slips out from under you like ice.
    Sometimes you lose your tight grip on the wheel;
    Sometimes he demands a sacrifice.

    --A. E. Stallings


Join the conversation! What is your reaction to the post?