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 andÂ 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]