Vol. 16 No. 5 · 10 March 1994

From: The Advice of Proteus Orpheus Dies, and the God Seeks Out Silenus

Peter Redgrove

877 words

In memoriam H.S.

It is sweet and decorous
To light the fire in the hearth and dream
Of the death of poets. The boulders
Follow him, scoring huge trenches
To where he sits on a hill, letting the wind
Play his lyre; it was Aeolus who played it
And Orpheus fitted words to the improvised music,
As I do now, to the jumping figures in the fire
That rends and heals, my spliff
Balsamic among the books
Which wear their animal skins, calves
That have followed the music of the books
To my pungent study.

She made the mistake of not stripping
Her spear of its foliage; still,
It marked his lip. Then the women
Brought out their Brenton Drum
And their squeeze-boxes so that nobody
Could hear the words of his last song, and soon
The pursuing stones got their drink of blood.
The birds flew off, having memorised from him
Their versions of song. The ground rippled
With snakes learning to sing. The lions assembled
In the music school, but they feared the women,
The women who ripped the oxen to get the bone-harrows
To reduce the poet. Decorous it is to read
From between the skins of calves
The stories of the deaths of poets.
My roach crackles in my hand.

This is where they left his face
Hanging in this bush; now the world
Will look at us with his face always; this line
Of hedge, this singing tree, this furrowed
Rock, they join to make a landscape-face
Out of the side of the mountain, improvised.

They threw the pieces into the water,
The river took them, the lyre continued
Its extemporisation in the flowing water,
The meaty head tried out a note without lungs,
The river rushing through his gory neck
Invented waterspeech. I saw the head washed up and there
Was a snake stretching its jaws ready to devour it,
But somebody turned that snake to stone; I have
That hearthstone still; see how the firelight
Wriggles it. His head still gongs like fire, his
Electrical shade weds Eurydice’s earth-electricity;
The mine galleries are charged with it, become
The corridors of their palace which
Improvises music on their draughty corners;
Look into my smoke, see there
The rout of women snatching birds out of the air,
Trampling their songs as the snakes in one enormous
Undulation leave; the boulders heave themselves
Down on the poet.

It was the songs of the spirit of drink
That the Bard extemporised, I say, drawing on my smoke,
It was a drunken misunderstanding. His first drink
Rested in him, and spoke, and that’s where
Today’s songs came from, he was accustomed
To tipple to get his solo songs, pure poetry
Clear as gin; that was an intolerable
Breach of security of Bacchus’s mysteries; the drink
Had not by then destroyed his body
In fact he looked good until that moment
The good women harrowed him.
They had drunk enough to kill him,
And he had drunk enough to be killed.
I could see the large images of blood
Soaking into the sand, and the rosy
Billows of the river, and I saw the large print
Of his countenance unrolling over the landscape
So that he glanced at me across the river
With that wood, but where had the women gone?

I noticed a fresh grove of young oaks
Arranged in a dancing-pattern; I entered and saw
That the trees creaked wooden speech, having made
That formulation I detected an unconsumed eyelid
Beating like a butterfly on a branch, fluttering
As the breeze moved into the coppice
And gave it improvisatory speech; I could hear
One of the wood-voices asking
Where her fingers had gone, and another
Crying for her hair: ‘Mummy feels like shit!’
‘A serious wipeout ...’ ‘A mega-hangover!’;
The reddened mump in a fold of the rosy river.
Striking her thighs with grief, she struck oak.

Now the Bard drinks the whole river
And they drink the showers from their leaves:
‘flebile nescio, quid queriter lyra, flebile lingua
Murmurat exanimis, respondent flebile ripae’ –
And they quaff the subterranean waters through
Their gigantic roots, still growing downwards;

And the god says: ‘I have promoted you women
To serious drinking, take it if you will
As punishment by Bard; or promotion,
As you please; meanwhile I will look
For another Druid, and find out
By trial whether any are serious enough
About drinking to risk transformation,’
Says Bacchus, glad to see his companion Silenus,
For they had beauty between them once, and only
The god was able to keep it; Silenus, as he aged,
Drowned in himself, wallowed
In the sea he had drunk, his own personal sea
Cum shipwreck, his own skiff
Entangled with vines and gradually sinking
Under the weight of the clustering grapes; the god saw
How he erased into a hulk, into a voluble
Reminiscence of all the inns hereabouts, could
Reiterate every jest and cup of wine like a library
Of potterybooks, of alcohol
Bound in human skin, that would be wiped when
His brain burst at last; meanwhile he leaked
Through his ever-open penis a subsidiary wine
The fauns tasted and rejoiced in. Or so I calculate,
Sucking on my end of the godlike weed.

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