The International Literary Quarterly

May 2008

Click to enlarge picture Click to enlarge picture. Two poems by by Geoffrey Hartman  



The Emerald Poet
His hair was grass, an eloquent withering.
“The tall oak, o Menalcus,” he began
seeing us, then balked, his fistula
playing odd notes, and stroked a moot willow.
A sheep snuggled beside him, its moist ode,
whispers of wool and mud, shearing the air.
We recognized his illness, though not him.


Too many holy poets I had known
flexing a straw verse, new age laureates,
the soft admonishments of Nature:
“One thing only do and do again,
really taste, just be, and she is yours.”
Or “you are yours.” I hurried off, yet soon
those shady scents made me remember
Something for which my hate was musical:
meaning to cross with fluid foot a river
of weedy green and strangely undulant,
I stepped, recoiled-–colder than flesh of fish
a snake lay hissing there, its emerald cord
circling the isle. It was, that moment,
my own thought made too visible.
“Admire this genial serpent, and admire
the place whose honored guardian she is,”
said an unseen interpreter, “he holds
her lovingly, for her forsakes all else,
while she, propitiated by his presence
yields him, by day, the milk of paradise
and, all night long, sleep in her bosoms.”
Those words adulterating fear I shuddered,
wriggling like snakes myself, as the voice added:
“He cannot see what nourishes the shrub
whose tears are angel-bread to him, but dreams
it is his food of exile and will keep
the mind apart from her in their embracings:
yet every night, when he is balmed and bedded,
and sees a hero spearing the green love,
she, with crude wings impending, waters it.”


Virgil, Teaching Virgil

My older speech had words
to make men cultivate
the flower for its fruit
the hero for his seed

its charm blew out the winds
destroyed hell’s vaguer power
painting to the mind
what bloodless ghosts suffer

plagued poetry off goats
and gods for liberty
for mankind to foresee
pastoral hands

while ceremony made
each absentee compact
turning the rest to life’s
deliberate act.

Who speak, and not a sound
pebbles evasive eyes
I master of descent
that stole the sibyl’s cry

and ordered matters well
heaven to the pit
tunneled the mouth of hell
tamed Cerberean lip

saw heroes shadow-stunned
to tersest speech, devout
Dido, her immortal

But here no glance nor sign
toward me or away:
they sit, drink up the time,
and dumbly stare at me.

If I could only stir
the tongue of the undead!
but that would need, I fear,
libations fresh, of blood.