The Revenant

A new poem

Hamish Robinson

i.m. Robert Woof
“It waves me forth again.”

“So tell me, briefly, what have you achieved
Since last we spoke?”
                              ”You sound as if you knew
And, like the goddess to Odysseus
The time she hounded Ajax to his death,
Ask questions you could answer.”
Speak up: have you, like Owen, travelled far
And found yourself rich funding in New York
And mingled with the Brooklyn literati,
Or, as broad rumour flies, approached within
A hair’s breadth of the sofa coveted
By all?”
          “Richard’s, you mean, and Judy’s?”
“Not yet.”
             ”Have you, like Helen, plumbed the depths
Of women’s lives, those dark recesses where
The self itself folds in upon itself
Voluptuously and loses all distinction,
And taught a class at Sheffield?”
                                              “No. At least,
Far less than I should like.”
                                       “Then have you nursed
And shepherded young poets to the page,
Bringing the works of others to fruition,
Like Matthew, as you yourself were shepherded
In times gone by, and in another life,
In rainy Grasmere?”
                                   “Then day and night,
Some mighty work in progress, I assume,
Sings in the forge.”
                           “Well, not exactly, no.”
“No mighty work in metre?”
                                      “Sadly none.”
“And what of those vague promises of verse,
An elegy or tribute of some kind,
Composed for grieving Pamela?”
                                              “Not kept.”
“Then what have you been doing in the years
Since my departure? Speak.”
                                         “Three meals a day
Has been my constant rule, though rather less
In quantity at supper-time — not least
Of wine — than once sufficed; I rest; I make
The odd excursion — gladly dining out
To husband my resources — less and less
To bookshops or museums, more and more
Just walking through the streets.”
                                               “What idleness
Is this?”
            “Then, night and day, I flex the spines
Of classic texts, as Horace says one should,
If one is to imbibe their deeper points
And be imbued with craft.”
                                     “What earthly use
Is preparation without practice? O
Monstrous passivity — unless perchance,
It keeps you from worse crimes!”
                                              “I would not call
A hasty publication criminal,
Just ill-advised.”
                       “O horrible conceit!
Your mother must now curse her very womb
To see her son so slack and uninvolved.
Know this: though now a shade, I still rejoice
That those whom I held close, my dearest ones,
Stand in the very thick of life and fight,
Not without fear or mishap or, at times,
Discouragement — for who can so engage
And not know there? — but with no weak submission,
No shallow satisfaction in themselves,
Not dull and unproductive like poor ghosts
Whether of children, chief delight, or works
Ancillary to growth of mind in man,
Whether performed or written.”
                                           ”Hence it is
That one expects no praise for this, the life
Rabbinical.  But tell me, you seem changed,
Have you conversed with Milton?”
                                              “But not you.
Withdrawn within your self-appointed pale
Of borrowed books (though books not thus abused
Our great resource, our mainstay and our prop),
What joy or sweetness could you thence extract?
What honied words or music or delight
From all the fretful hours and wasted days
Of this ambivalence?  What taste of triumph
Without adventure?”
                            “Wordsworth, too?”
                                                      ”Seek not
To know the secrets of Elysium
On earth, but mark my admonition, sign
Importing grace.”
                         “Then we could put ourselves 
To school with Aristophanes?”
                                         “O list!”
“A list, well-said.  Let’s see: Callimachus,
Homer, of course, a good ten years, then Horace,
Then Malherbe for a term or two perhaps…”
“Have you gone mad?”
                                “And then, in time, the man
Himself will no doubt have arrived…”
                                                    ”O shameless!”
“And I shall learn to scale that high pinnacle
Of art, the use of farm-fresh adjectives,
That crunchy, breakfast-cereal style.”
                                                    ”No more!”
“Is whole roast ox still purchased for an obol?”
“No more!”
               “Frugality shall be our friend.”
“The man is raving!”
                             “Just wait here.  I’ll fetch
A rope. We’ll feast our eyes on Helen.”
“Old ‘topless towers’ Helen. Where’s a stool?” 

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