Things I have been able to do because of my blog: Part 2

It’s happened again.

Over twenty years ago, I heard a poem at a poetry reading in London. Loved the poem. But had no idea what it was called, what the first line was, who wrote it. You’ve probably been in rooms like the one I was in, all smoky and echo-ey and dim and  dingy, with “announcements” as incoherent as the ones you hear at airports and railway stations. Sound, yes. Fury, occasionally. But ultimately signifying less than nothing.

But there was something about the poem I really liked, and for years I’ve been looking randomly for it. Needle: meet haystack.

So you can imagine my delight when I found the entire poem at a site called Kitabkhana. How did I come by the site? Well, Devangshu, an old friend, schoolmate, trivia team partner and chess teacher (yes Devangshu, you taught me more than you may remember; my thanks to you), visited ConfusedofCalcutta and left a comment. And soon we were in contact, I found out what he was doing and where he lived. And it transpired that Nilanjana, his wife, blogged. I went to take a look, liked what I saw, and linked to her.

And today, while looking through what’s new on the blog, I found the poem. Thank you Nilanjana. I reproduce it in its entirety here:

Learn by heart this poem of mine;
books only last a little time
and this one will be borrowed, scarred,
burned by Hungarian border guards,
lost by the library, broken-backed,
its paper dried up, crisped and cracked,
worm-eaten, crumbling into dust,
or slowly brown and self-combust
when climbing Fahrenheit has got
to 451, for that's how hot
your town will be when it burns down.
Learn by heart this poem of mine.

Learn by heart this poem of mine.
Soon books will vanish and you'll find
there won't be any poets or verse
or gas for car or bus - or hearse -
no beer to cheer you till you're crocked,
the liquor stores torn down or locked,
cash only fit to throw away,
as you come closer to that day
when TV steadily transmits
death-rays instead of movie hits
and not a soul to lend a hand
and everything is at an end
but what you hold within your mind,
so find a space there for these lines
and learn by heart this poem of mine.

Learn by heart this poem of mine;
recite it when the putrid tides
that stink of lye break from their beds,
when industry's rank vomit spreads
and covers every patch of ground,
when they've killed every lake and pond,
Destruction humped upon its crutch,
black rotting leaves on every branch;
when gargling plague chokes Springtime's throat
and twilight's breeze is poison, put
your rubber gasmask on and line
by line declaim this poem of mine.

Learn by heart this poem of mine
so, dead, I still will share the time
when you cannot endure a house
deprived of water, light, or gas,
and, stumbling out to find a cave,
roots, berries, nuts to stay alive,
get you a cudgel, find a well,
a bit of land, and, if it's held,
kill the owner, eat the corpse.
I'll trudge beside your faltering steps
between the ruins' broken stones,
whispering "You are dead; you're done!
Where would you go? That soul you own
froze solid when you left your town."
Learn by heart this poem of mine.

Maybe above you, on the earth,
there's nothing left and you, beneath,
deep in your bunker, ask how soon
before the poisoned air leaks down
through layers of lead and concrete. Can
there have been any point to Man
if this is how the thing must end?
What words of comfort can I send?
Shall I admit you've filled my mind
for countless years, through the blind
oppressive dark, the bitter light,
and, though long dead and gone, my hurt
and ancient eyes observe you still?
What else is there for me to tell
to you, who, facing time's design,
will find no use for life or time?
You must forget this poem of mine.

-- Gyorgy Faludy

There’s something haunting yet lyrical about the poem that stayed with me even though I could not remember much else about it. And the serendipity of finding it still amazes me. Can you imagine googling for a poem without knowing author, title, first line, in fact any line, date, and so on?

It feels even weirder to know that I read Faludy’s obituary only recently, and still didn’t make the connect.

[Note re copyright: I understand that openDemocracy are the publishers and copyright holders, and that I am able to share excerpts from the article on a Fair Use non-commercial basis with attribution. Thanks are therefore due to openDemocracy]

3 thoughts on “Things I have been able to do because of my blog: Part 2”

  1. It’s incredible; thanks for sharing. You could read in this an anti-war screed; a criticism of ‘mutually assured destruction”. But it’s really beautiful. The “Shall I admit you’ve filled my mind…” part ties past/future, hope in the face of loss, and meaning. Reminds me so of Yeats, ‘When You are Old” [0].


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