POETRY: From The Second Chapter Of A Verse History Of The World, by Thomas Merton

minotaur thomas merton

Minotaur

There was a time when the young girls
of this city
had to put on their pink dresses and
take arms full of flowers and go up the gangplank
on to a ship, and that
ship carried them away to an island
from which they never returned. For at that time we were
ruled from the
throne where Aegean Minos sat in-
extricate in the midst of
his house. He was the king of the monsters.

Your shoes untie, your mantle you untwitch
Your stocking is all runs, you gaudy bitch
Sang to his muse some poet, but I don’t know which.
And thus begin upon the precious page
To spread the holiday feast of grief once more,
To shed the policy vest of life, and wear,
Unweft, unbuckled and unstrung,
Starspeckled sweaters in the sun so brave
Their flap flap pleasure on the air to wave
And take their jolly sport upon the hero’s grave.

Last Monday the Colonial boss proclaim
The little dames is shot to kingdom come:
Missee no likee, but lobbylinth allee same
Is waiting in the Isle of Crete where Byron was a bum.
Then fires went out, on each Athenian hearth
And patriotism swept the strings of mostly Spartan harps.

Thus grief constricted many a Greekish tongue
And wits that day were lean as starving cats
Which found no words at all to fit the most unhappy facts.

The official poems read over
the loudspeakers
were particularly mediocre. Art
was confounded no end;
verse, for the moment, was hushed.
Rhetoric had gone dead.
Logic had failed.
Music was without speech.
Painting stood inarticulate,
history amazed,
tragedy taken aback,
mimes all tied up,
comedy mum.
Politics struck a couple of
hasty attitudes,
science wore itself to
a shadow
explaining to
boyscouts
no new mistakes
in burying
of the dead,
first aid to old antiques,
and to new bones
immediate assistance,
and here and there
a marble tomb.

Then up went the ropes, down came the planks:
The custom officers sent in their reports,
The dock officials swept the air with speeches,
At which the national guard would often fire
A feu de joie upon their modern guns.
A band of raw recruits from nearby barracks
Sounded the notes of no civilian march
With too many bugles, too few harps and lyres,
Too few flutes, but oh, what a wealth of the worst
Drums, and drums, and (some of them broken) drums.
There was a farewell host of diplomats,
Of presidents, past presidents, vice gerents,
pro consuls, delegates and governors,
Few simple legates, many classy mayors.
Right at the edge of the fancy crowd I saw
The blind Homer discuss with little truth
The target on the black-as-monday gunwales
Of this expensive ship: Explosive shape
Which even now would bear our daisy daughters
To the cow-president in his Cretan cage!

See how they chop the vessel from the wharf!
She lurches through the tugs into the harbor,
Lists above the launches draped in black
So full of official grief.
She heels and jibes among the motor boats
Upon the winey harbor of Piraeus,
And heads into the cruel, dazzling south
Bearing the pride of all our private schools.

Arms full of cornflowers, grouped in their sororities,
With honor students slightly to one side
The fairest wights of all our wienie roasts
Are off to picnic with the Cretan brute.
So screech of whistles crowns the city’s gates,
Combining with the sorry shriek of fifes,
And the great row of a kitchen of kettledrums.
Bugles, immune from preciosity,
Protest against the sad trombone’s lament,
Commend the shrill and bullying cornet,
For at this moment orchestras assume
The air and swagger of some drunk police.
See, see our sisters’ overloaded boat.
O see the little jailbait dames are carried off to Crete!

The jaunty ship shall hop to Crete where all the monsters are.
The roaring poet sun shall play the hot sea like a lyre,
And twang the copper coastal ridge like any vocal wire:
And then our exile daughters lift their voices in a choir: (song)

Those were the days when the little dames
Of our city went up into the ships with a pile of
Flowers, to take away to Crete:
For from the center of Crete we were ruled, from the
Center of Minos’ impenetrable house.

Whose teeth shearing away with a sidewise
Motion devoured the white bread of our land.
Unto these last upon the precious pane
Unwarp the scarf of holiday love once more
Unweave the garb of polity judge unswear
Unweft unbothered and unswung
Starspeckled bonnet in the sun to have
Her flap flap sport upon the soldier’s grave.
The shoestring burst, the mantle is untwitch
Your stocking is unlace, you gaudy bitch,
Yell to muse your writer, but I scarce remember which.

Last Monday when the curious boss proclaim
Them bonny girls was shot to kingdom come
(Missee no likee lobbylinth allee same)
The isles of Crete, the isles of Crete where Byron was a bum.
The fires went out on the Athenian hearth
And patriotism swept the string on mostly Spartan harps.

Up went the ropes, down went the planks
The custom officers sent in their reports.

The dock officials swept the air with speeches of farewell
At which the military police would fire
A feu de joie upon their ultramodern rifles.
A band of raw recruits from some marine barracks
Sounded the notes of no civilian march
With too few bugles, too few trumps and timbals
Too few lyres but a wealth of the worst
Drum playing since the defeat of the Marne.
There was a farewell host of diplomats
Of residents, vice regents, post gerents
Proper-bailiffs, Paene-manciples,
Almost presidents, and many classy mayors.

Standing at the edge of the crowd I saw a subaltern
Discuss with little acumen a target
Painted upon the red-as-welcome gunwales
Of this expensive vessel, (or, explosive shape),
Which soon should take our daisy daughters to their Cretan fate.
Bend, bend my pretty boughs
And throw my sighs away like leaves.
Scatter upon the land my tears like rain,
Soften the hard earth where no pity lives.
Bend, bend my pretty boughs,
And throw away my sighs like leaves.

When summer with a herd of heifer clouds
Did rain gold rain of blossoms on our woods,
And stocked the wheatfields with young ears, and green ungarnered goods,
Then was prepared no bridal veil,
Was taught no epithalamium.
Spring had been kind to no avail,
Our winter was already come.
Bend, bend, my pretty boughs,
And throw away my sighs like leaves;
Scatter upon the land my tears like rain,
And soften the hard earth where no pity lives.
Bend, bend, my pretty boughs,
And throw away my sighs like leaves.

Once there was laughter in the house at Athens
And songs at evening on Hymettus hill,
The roll of childish skate upon the concrete
And clatter of childish hoop upon the earth,
Or gentler cadences where some played house upon the hearth.
Once there was laughter in the house at Athens
And songs at evening on Hymettus hill,
While soon shot up this brave and innocent childhood
Into longlegged, gentle gangling girl.
She combed and combed her cornsilk hair
And stared into her glass.

With blue shoebutton eyes
And ran less awkward to the Hi-Y dance.
But all the while at home mama made good
Fatal and most political intentions,
The sergeant’s Cretan plan: so cruel a term
To all the hopes of Athens olive-crowned,
To all the speechless loves of kids
So desperate and kind.
For while to one another younglings laughed
Nodded and pointed like flowers in a field in a wind
Across the floor of the disinfected Gym,
And danced an untaught dance to the tune
Of a untaught violin,
In the separate homes of each particular girl
Mothers wrapped up and put in trunks some smocks.

Junipers and simple linens, camping clothes
All coarse and proper for the labyrinth,
All grey and pleasing to the minotaur,
All colorless to show the tones of grief!

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