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Poems

Selected Poems (1955)

90 North

At home, in my flannel gown, like a bear to its floe,
I clambered to bed; up the globe's impossible sides
I sailed all nightÑtill at last, with my black beard,
My furs and my dogs, I stood at the northern pole.

There in the childish night my companions lay frozen,
The stiff fur knocked at my starveling throat,
And I gave my great sigh: the flakes came huddling,
Were they really my end? In the darkness I turned to my rest.

ÑHere, the flag snaps in the glare and silence
Of the unbroken ice. I stand here,
The dogs bark, my beard is black, and I stare
At the North Pole . . .
And now what? Why, go back.

Turn as I please, my step is to the south.
The worldÑmy world spins on this final point
Of cold and wretchedness: all lines, all winds
End in this whirlpool I at last discover.

And it is meaningless. In the child's bed
After the night's voyage, in that warm world
Where people work and suffer for the end
That crowns the painÑin that Cloud-Cuckoo-Land

I reached my North and it had meaning.
Here the actual pole of my existence,
Where all that I have done is meaningless,
Where I die or live by accident aloneÑ

Where, living or dying, I am still alone;
Here where North, the night, the berg of death
Crowd me out of the ignorant darkness,
I see at last that all the knowledge

I wrung from the darknessÑthat the darkness flung meÑ
Is worthless as ignorance: nothing comes from nothing,
The darkness from the darkness. Pain comes from the darkness
And we call it wisdom. It is pain.

Children Selecting Books in a Library

With beasts and gods, above, the wall is bright.
The child's head, bent to the book-colored shelves,
Is slow and sidelong and food-gathering,
Moving in blind grace ... yet from the mural, Care
The grey-eyed one, fishing the morning mist,
Seizes the baby hero by the hair
And whispers, in the tongue of gods and children,
Words of a doom as ecumenical as dawn
But blanched like dawn, with dew.
The children's cries
Are to men the cries of crickets, dense with warmth
- But dip a finger into Fafnir1, taste it,
And all their words are plain as chance and pain.
Their tales are full of sorcerers and ogres
Because their lives are: the capricious infinite
That, like parents, no one has yet escaped
Except by luck or magic; and since strength
And wit are useless, be kind or stupid, wait
Some power's gratitude, the tide of things.
Read meanwhile ... hunt among the shelves, as dogs do, grasses,
And find one cure for Everychild's diseases
Beginning: Once upon a time there was
A wolf that fed, a mouse that warned, a bear that rode
A boy. Us men, alas! wolves, mice, bears bore.
And yet wolves, mice, bears, children, gods and men
In slow preambulation up and down the shelves
Of the universe are seeking ... who knows except themselves?
What some escape to, some escape: if we find Swann's
Way better than our own, and trudge on at the back
Of the north wind to Ð to Ð somewhere east
Of the sun, west of the moon, it is because we live
By trading another's sorrow for our own; another's
Impossibilities, still unbelieved in, for our own ...
"I am myself still?" For a little while, forget:
The world's selves cure that short disease, myself,
And we see bending to us, dewy-eyed, the great
CHANGE, dear to all things not to themselves endeared.

The World Is Everything that Is the Case. Selected Poems (1955)

 

1In Norse mythology Fafnir or Favnir was a son of the dwarf king Hreidmar and brother of Regin and Otr. In the Volsunga Saga, Fafnir was a dwarf gifted with a powerful arm and fearless soul. He wore the Aegis helmet and guarded his father's house of glittering gold and flashing gems. He was the strongest and most aggressive of the three brothers. After Otr was killed by Loki, Hreidmar received the cursed gold of Andvari's as repayment for the loss of his son. Fafnir and Regin then killed their father to get the gold, but Fafnir decided he wanted it all, turning into a dragon (symbol of greed). Regin then sent his foster-son, Sigurd, to kill the dragon. Sigurd succeeded, but then killed Regin too, upon learning that he had planned to kill him once he had recovered the gold. As Fafner, he is featured in Richard Wagner's Der Ring Des Nibelungen, although he began life as a giant rather than a dwarf, before once again turning into a dragon to better guard the gold.
Fafnir also is an Aachen-based company, producer of cars and engines.