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Friday, October 28, 2011

The Odyssey

Each Friday we provide the link to the blogger who is hosting a celebration of poetry around the blogosphere. At that site you can find the links to the many other blogs that are posting poems (new and old), discussions of poems, and reviews of poetry books. It’s also a great way to explore the internet.

Enjoy the festivities!

The host this week is Diane Mayr.

You can visit her here at Random Noodling.

(Penelope by John Roddham Spencer-Stanhope,
1829-1908, English artist)

The poet Homer is thought to have lived in the ninth century B. C. in Ancient Greece. He is believed to be the writer of two of the greatest works of Western literature.

His two epic poems recount the legend of the Trojan War and its aftermath.

The first,
The Iliad, is a vivid tale of warfare, revealing how wrath and pride and a desire for vengeance lead the hero, Achilles, to tragedy and destruction. He has the heart of a warrior.

There are scenes of fighting in
The Odyssey, too, but this is more the story of Odysseus, a man with the heart of a husband, father, and builder.

Having helped to lead the Greeks to victory in the ten-year war, Odysseus is now determined, at all costs, to return home to his wife, Penelope, and to his son. That journey will take another ten years, during which he will have to defeat the monsters and dangers the gods throw in his way before he can be reunited with his beloved.

Over the long course of those twenty years, Penelope remains faithful and true. Everyone thinks she has been widowed. It is a lonely time for her, and difficult, for she is surrounded in her house by aggressive suitors for whom, because of custom, she has to provide food and shelter. She has resorted to ruses to ward off their demands. For three years, for example, she promised to announce her choice after she had finished weaving a burial cloth for her father-in-law. Each night she would unravel her day’s work.

In the excerpt below, Odysseus finally arrives home. He has slain the suitors who had menaced his wife. Penelope knows the man sitting before her is her husband — he bears a distinctive scar on his foot — but after twenty years away from her, is he the same man?


Odysseus came from the bath
Like a god, and sat down on the chair again
Opposite his wife, and spoke to her and said:

“You’re a mysterious woman.
The gods
Have given to you, more than to any
Other woman, an unyielding heart.
No other woman would be able to endure
Standing off from her husband, come back
After twenty hard years to his country and home.
Nurse, make up a bed for me so I can lie down
Alone, since her heart is a cold lump of iron.”

And Penelope, cautious and wary:

“You’re a mysterious man.
I am not being proud
Or scornful, nor am I bewildered — not at all.
I know very well what you looked like
When you left Ithaca on your long-oared ship.
Nurse, bring the bed out from the master bedroom,
The bedstead he made himself, and spread it for him
With fleeces and blankets and silky coverlets.”

She was testing her husband.

Could bear no more, and he cried out to his wife:

“By God, woman, now you’ve cut deep.
Who moved my bed? It would be hard
For anyone, no matter how skilled, to move it.
A god could come down and move it easily,
But not a man alive, however young and strong,
Could ever pry it up. There’s something telling
About how that bed’s built, and no one else
Built it but me.

“There was an olive tree
Growing on the site, long-leaved and full,
Its trunk thick as a post. I built my bedroom
Around that tree, and when I had finished
The masonry walls and done the roofing
And set in the jointed, close-fitting doors,
I lopped off all of the olive’s branches,
Trimmed the trunk from the root on up,
And rounded it and trued it with an adze until
I had myself a bedpost. I bored it with an auger,
And starting from this I framed up the whole bed,
Inlaying it with gold and silver and ivory
And stretching across it oxhide thongs dyed purple.
So there’s our secret. But I do not know, woman,
Whether my bed is still firmly in place, or if
Some other man has cut through the olive’s trunk.”

At this, Penelope finally let go.
Odysseus had shown he knew their old secret.
In tears, she ran straight to him, threw her arms
Around him, kissed his face, and said:

“Don’t be angry with me, Odysseus. You,
Of all men, know how the world goes.
It is the gods who gave us sorrow, the gods
Who begrudged us a life together, enjoying
Our youth and arriving side by side
To the threshold of old age. Don’t hold it against me
That when I first saw you I didn’t welcome you
As I do now. My heart has been cold with fear
That an imposter would come and deceive me.
There are many who scheme for ill-gotten gains.”


Diane Mayr said...

Maria, I admire your long stretch of posting art and poetry--it is an amazing output!

Anonymous said...

Hello. And Bye.

teacherdance said...

It's wonderful to see what you've done. I just discovered your site. Thank you for this small piece of a love story of long ago. I have had my students write from pictures of great art, always inspiring.

maria horvath said...

Thank you both for your kind words.

Dear Diane,

I marvel at your work -- you have five blogs and you write poetry as well. Wonderful, just wonderful.

Dear Teacherdance,

Please take a look at the month of October 2010, when the poems are part of an on-going conversation among poets and painters. Many of the verses are examples of ekphrasis or literary commentary on a visual work of art.


Tara said... of my favorite passages! Faithful, wise Penelope - and I am so glad I found your site. What a treasure trove for poetry.

jama said...

What a great love story. Had not laid eyes on the Odyssey in decades! I always feel so much smarter after coming here, reading the glorious poems and drinking in the gorgeous art. Thanks so much!! :)

Myra Garces-Bacsal from GatheringBooks said...

I have to catch up on my classics. Would be good to rediscover this along with my nine year old daughter. The wisdom of women like Penelope has no boundaries. Such strength of character indeed.

Mary Lee said...

I love that part -- both how she gets him to reveal their secret AND the bed itself!!