The third of Vikram Doctor's guest poems inspired by Poem #1225
(Poem #1228) Learn by Heart This Poem of Mine
Learn by heart this poem of mine; books only last a little time and this one will be borrowed, scarred, burned by Hungarian border guards, lost by the library, broken-backed, its paper dried up, crisped and cracked, worm-eaten, crumbling into dust, or slowly brown and self-combust when climbing Fahrenheit has got to 451, for that's how hot your town will be when it burns down. Learn by heart this poem of mine. Learn by heart this poem of mine. Soon books will vanish and you'll find there won't be any poets or verse or gas for car or bus - or hearse - no beer to cheer you till you're crocked, the liquor stores torn down or locked, cash only fit to throw away, as you come closer to that day when TV steadily transmits death-rays instead of movie hits and not a soul to lend a hand and everything is at an end but what you hold within your mind, so find a space there for these lines and learn by heart this poem of mine. Learn by heart this poem of mine; recite it when the putrid tides that stink of lye break from their beds, when industry's rank vomit spreads and covers every patch of ground, when they've killed every lake and pond, Destruction humped upon its crutch, black rotting leaves on every branch; when gargling plague chokes Springtime's throat and twilight's breeze is poison, put your rubber gasmask on and line by line declaim this poem of mine. Learn by heart this poem of mine so, dead, I still will share the time when you cannot endure a house deprived of water, light, or gas, and, stumbling out to find a cave, roots, berries, nuts to stay alive, get you a cudgel, find a well, a bit of land, and, if it's held, kill the owner, eat the corpse. I'll trudge beside your faltering steps between the ruins' broken stones, whispering "You are dead; you're done! Where would you go? That soul you own froze solid when you left your town." Learn by heart this poem of mine. Maybe above you, on the earth, there's nothing left and you, beneath, deep in your bunker, ask how soon before the poisoned air leaks down through layers of lead and concrete. Can there have been any point to Man if this is how the thing must end? What words of comfort can I send? Shall I admit you've filled my mind for countless years, through the blind oppressive dark, the bitter light, and, though long dead and gone, my hurt and ancient eyes observe you still? What else is there for me to tell to you, who, facing time's design, will find no use for life or time? You must forget this poem of mine.
Note: from 'Poems of George Faludy', edited and translated by Robin Skelton The last poem is very different and very dark. The only link is the form, of a poem talking to another generation very deliberately through means of his poem. Faludy is a poet I don't know much about. I think he was a Hungarian exile after World War Two and his experiences have clearly coloured his almost apocalyptic vision. At times I felt the poem goes over the top and yet the refrain stays with you, corrosively powerful: "Learn by heart this poem of mine." Its an appeal from the poet that is both desperate and yet, as the last line shows, despairing. Vikram [Martin adds] Don't miss the reference to Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451", one of the classics of dystopic science fiction.