Poem: Mnemosyne

Another poem by Joe Stickney, following Song.   This is Mnemosyne, which on the surface appears to be a straightforward poem about a country where he had lived in the past (given the title, probably Greece, which Stickney knew well).  However, reading the poem carefully, one sees that it also about that country we have all visited, called The Past.

Quoting this poem allows me to point you to Ljova Zurbin’s wonderful setting of the poem, available here.  What I find particularly powerful in this setting is the repetition of the varying refrains as a final verse, which brings Stickney’s argument into clear focus.

I had the rare chance to see Ljova and the Kontraband perform this song and other great music live at The Stone last weekend.  Ljova played a 6-string viola with a facility and fluency that Paganini would have envied:  the man must have about 20 fingers on his left hand!   Lots of what they played did not make it onto their great CD, so I hope they are able to release a second CD soon.

It’s autumn in the country I remember.
How warm a wind blew here about the ways!
And shadows on the hillside lay to slumber
During the long sun-sweetened summer-days.

It’s cold abroad the country I remember.
The swallows veering skimmed the golden grain
At midday with a wing aslant and limber;
And yellow cattle browsed upon the plain.

It’s empty down the country I remember.
I had a sister lovely in my sight:
Her hair was dark, her eyes were very sombre;
We sang together in the woods at night.

It’s lonely in the country I remember.
The babble of our children fills my ears,
And on our hearth I stare the perished ember
To flames that show all starry thro’ my tears.

It’s dark about the country I remember.
There are the mountains where I lived. The path
Is slushed with cattle-tracks and fallen timber,
The stumps are twisted by the tempests’ wrath.

But that I knew these places are my own,
I ‘d ask how came such wretchedness to cumber
The earth, and I to people it alone.
It rains across the country I remember.

PS (2016-09-09):  Another wonderful song about the invocation of memories, suddenly, is The Bones of You by Elbow, official video here.

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