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March 4, 2010

Hamatreya II

Emerson begins his poem "Hamatreya" with a list of names: Bulkeley, Hunt, Willard, and the other founders of Concord, Mass. They speak, telling how they made the land theirs, divided it into parcels, and left it to their heirs.

In the second stanza, the earth laughs as these men try to transform her. The narrator says, "The hot owner sees not Death, who adds / Him to his land, a lump of mould the more." The earth then sings in her own voice: "Mine and yours; / Mine, not yours, Earth endures." When her song is done, the narrator remarks, "I was no longer brave; / My avarice cooled / Like lust in the chill of the grave."

That is how Emerson ends. Sixteen decades later, we live not far from Concord. The earth says,

Ralph Waldo is dead, turned to grit and mud.
Eight more generations have wriggled out,
Cried, drunk, grown, worked, shrunk, died since his voice stopped.
To me: a few smooth circuits round the sun.
I'll still be turning when they all are gone,
When something new crawls on my skin, and then
When nothing stirs, and dawn means plain white light
On silent stone.

            But they do swarm on me.
Their houses are like dust, but thick dust now.
My hills are hard to notice from their car
Windows as they fly down tarmac ribbons,
Burning carbon they draw from inside me.
I whose motion is endless, effortless
Salute their grim, relentless harvesting.

What are they to me? Just some of my mass,
Quivering briefly on my dry surface.
Yet when I ask what they are, what I am,
What each is for, I find I use their words.
They taught me my Concord was beautiful,
Its misty lowlands and its pale green hills.
If they asphixiate or cook themselves,
Who will remember the Concord they found?
I am no longer brave.

March 4, 2010 8:50 AM | category: verse and worse | Comments



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