Thursday 23 November 2023

'Only the next room of the dream'

 In 1961 there was a bit of a scandal at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York when three of their most prized Etruscan antiquities turned out to be modern fakes. Among them was a fearsome eight-foot-high figure of a warrior (whose armour did not extend to his genitals) that was one of the Met's most popular and striking exhibits. Its exposure as a forgery inspired Howard Nemerov to write this lament: 

To Clio, Muse of History

One more casualty,
One more screen memory penetrated at last
To be destroyed in the endless anamnesis
Always progressing, never arriving at a cure.
My childhood in the glare of that giant form
Corrupts with history, for I too fought in the War.

He, great male beauty
That stood for the sexual thrust of power,
His target eyes inviting the universal victim
To fatal seduction, the crested and greaved 
Survivor long after shield and sword are dust,
Has now become another lie about our life.

Smash the idol, of course.
Bury the pieces deep as the interest of truth
Requires. And you may in time compose the future
Smoothly without him, though it is too late
To disinfect the past of his huge effigy
By any further imposition of your hands.

But tell us no more
Enchantments, Clio. History has given
And taken away; murders become memories,
And memories become the beautiful obligations: 
As with a dream interpreted by one still sleeping,
The interpretation is only the next room of the dream.

For I remember how
We children stared, learning from him
Unspeakable things about war that weren't in the books;
And how the Museum store offered for sale
His photographic reproductions in full colour
With the ancient genitals blacked out. 

[I found this in The Winter Lightning: Selected Poems, published in the UK by Rapp & Whiting. A volume in the Poetry USA Series, it looks exactly like a Grove Press Evergreen Original. I don't think I've come across any of this series before.]

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