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Learn by Heart This Poem of Mine -- George Faludy

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.
-- George Faludy
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.


[Martin adds]

Don't miss the reference to Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451", one of the classics
of dystopic science fiction.

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Anonymous said...

I'm Hungarian so i would like to share you some information about Faludy. Actually he left Hungary before the World War II because of the antisemite regime and went to the USA. He served in the US Army during the WW. II and lived in Boston, New York,San Francisco and later in Canada.
This poet was inspirated by the wasteful and polluted big cities of the USA and written in 1980 at Toronto.

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