Friday, December 19, 2014

Poem for the Weekend: Joseph Brodsky


Born Iosif Alexandrovich Brodsky, persecuted in his native Soviet Union for the spirit of his poetry and for his Jewish heritage, Brodsky spent five years in an Arctic labor camp, where he composed this poem. In 1972, he settled in America and eventually taught at several universities, including Yale and Cambridge. And from 1962 to 1995, virtually the expanse of his writing career, he composed a Christmas poem every year. These "Nativity Poems" often employ Biblical themes, but Brodsky saw the holiday as a metaphor for many things: rebirth, redemption, the ultimate tragedy of life. Still, there's a glimmer at the end of this poem, written when he was only in his mid-twenties and at a time when hope was hard to come by. You can read more about his life and work here.

January 1, 1965

by Joseph Brodsky (1940-1996)

The kings will lose your old address.
No star will flare up to impress.
The ear may yield, under duress,
to blizzards' nagging roar.
The shadows falling off your back,
you'd snuff the candle, hit the sack,
for calendars more nights can pack
than there are candles for.

What is this? Sadness? Yes, perhaps.
A little tune that never stops.
One knows by heart its downs and ups.
May it be played on par
with things to come, with one's eclipse,
as gratefulness of eyes and lips
for what occasionally keeps
them trained on something far.

And staring up where no cloud drifts
because your sock's devoid of gifts
you'll understand this thrift: it fits
your age; it's not a slight.
It is too late for some breakthrough,
for miracles, for Santa's crew.
And suddenly you'll realize that you
yourself are a gift outright.


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"As soon as we express something, we devalue it strangely. We believe ourselves to have dived down into the depths of the abyss, and when we once again reach the surface, the drops of water on our pale fingertips no longer resemble the ocean from which they came...Nevertheless, the treasure shimmers in the darkness unchanged." ---Franz Kafka