20 April 2012

National Poetry Month: 20

A poem by Charles Simic, born in 1938 in what was then Yugoslavia and is now Serbia. His family emigrated to the United States when he was 16. The geography and the time period will give you the cultural and political setting of his mind. Though he has spent most of his life in the United States, even serving as its Poet Laureate, he retains what I think of as an Eastern European sense of tragic absurdity. This poem, from the collection The Book of Gods and Devils, reminds me of Ligeti's great opera, Le Grand Macabre.

Marching Music

Our history is both tragic and comic.
Beat the big drum, fellows!
Horsemen of the Apocalypse,
What fun it was to pull your horses’ tails!
The earth trembled.

Mighty towers collapsed.
Towers of chairs still warm
With backsides of kings and queens,
Towers of pisspots, too,
Where our philosophers sat thinking.

We stood with our mouths open
Admiring the fashionable black hoods
The horses and the coachmen wore
As they hauled off the trash to the infinite.

Beat the big drum, fellows!
On the Square of Eternal Happiness
A woman ran by shrieking,
Hugging a blood-stained shirt.

– Charles Simic

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