The Poets

May 16, 2009

Perseus (by Robert Hayden)

I had to post this poem by Robert Hayden- absolutely incredible, the imagery accomplished in a mere 14 lines! If anyone reads this, you've got to let me know what you think.


Her sleeping head with its great gelid mass
of serpents torpidly astir
burned into the mirroring shield--
a scathing image dire
as hated truth the mind accepts at last
and festers on.
I struck. The shield flashed bare.

Yet even as I lifted up the head
and started from that place
of gazing silences and terrored stone,
I thirsted to destroy.
None could have passed me then--
no garland-bearing girl, no priest
or staring boy--and lived.

The first time I read this poem I was completely pulled outside of myself by awe. What Robert Hayden accomplishes within a mere 14 (incomplete) lines of poetry is something that is seldom seen. It astonishes the imagination that a whole story, a whole world and realm can be conveyed by so simple a thing as a poem.

In fact, what completely did it for me, the thing that pushed over in me that which was merely in tilt, was John Milton's description of the Garden of Eden. There were no extravagant words employed, and as far as I can remember, Milton almost never even mentioned the Garden. But within 8 lines, and by means of images taken from mythology, Milton expresses what in other words would simply require pages to attain.

Here are those 8 lines below (again, what do you think):

Not that fair field
Of Enna, where Proserpine gathering flowers,
Herself a fairer flower by gloomy Dis
Was gathered, which cost Ceres all that pain
To seek her through the world; nor that sweet grove
Of Daphne by Orontes, and the inspired
Castalian spring, might with this Paradise
Of Eden strive...

Paradise Lost, Book IV 268 - 275

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Robert Hayden was a man of insight and reflection. He himself witnessed two world wars and several smaller ones. Throughout his life he saw the cruelty and bloodlust power could bring, this has been inserted into his poem Perseus.
In the first stanza he uses phrases like gelid mass and torpidly astir to make the head sound disgusting yet powerful. This could have been made to represent the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, especially because his father and the evil king both died.

As of April 9th, 2010