(after Horace Ode 1:28 Te maris et terrae)
Your metre was meticulous, dear Horace;
as fine as sand, and yet you trickle through
the minds of a just a sprinkling of scholars.
What did verse gain you?
With brilliance you read the universe,
showed how we are, but yet your tongue is stilled.
And Ovid’s too, despite his god-like skill
and metamorphic hands.
Poor Sappho died before her thirst for verse
was quenched, so she’s in bits. Lucilius’ fresh
eleven hundred unconnected lines
are distant trails.
The words of Alcaeus used to crash and bang
like thunder and lightning in the public ear.
He penned ten Hellenistic scrolls; so what?
they’re sound bites now.
In my own time dear Brendan, man of rain,
whose heart stopped once and yet came back to beat
the shadowlands of life and death – he too
will die one day.
One writer’s lost in conflict; while another
drowns in slush piles. Others briefly shine
before they burn. Our poets too will dim.
Death catches all,
including me! When breath fades and my flesh
is eaten up by worms, then I’ll be speechless.
So grant me shelf-space, please, since there are many
ways of dying.
You up-and-coming writers, thrown around
on crashing poetry waves, best play it safe.
Prosper and grow famous in the hands
that guard the canon.
But don’t forget that by ignoring me
you’re robbing those who might admire my words.
Be fair, or I may haunt you when I turn
my final page.
I know how busy literary folk can be
but how long would it take you, honestly,
to read me one more time before I’m laid
gently in the archive.
(Note: Brendan is the Irish poet Brendan Kennelly, who following quadruple bypass surgery, wrote a collection called ‘The Man Made of Rain’ which tells of the shadowlands between life and death.)