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At a Lecture -- Joseph Brodsky

Guest poem sent in by Aseem
(Poem #1588) At a Lecture
 Since mistakes are inevitable, I can easily be taken
 for a man standing before you in this room filled
 with yourselves. Yet in about an hour
 this will be corrected, at your and at my expense,
 and the place will be reclaimed by elemental particles
 free from the rigidity of a particular human shape
 or type of assembly. Some particles are still free. It's not all dust.

 So my unwillingness to admit it's I
 facing you now, or the other way around,
 has less to do with my modesty or solipsism
 than with my respect for the premises' instant future,
 for those afore-mentioned free-floating particles
 settling upon the shining surface
 of my brain. Inaccessible to a wet cloth eager to wipe them off.

 The most interesting thing about emptiness
 is that it is preceded by fullness.
 The first to understand this were, I believe, the Greek
 gods, whose forte indeed was absence.
 Regard, then, yourselves as rehearsing perhaps for the divine encore,
 with me playing obviously to the gallery.
 We all act out of vanity. But I am in a hurry.

 Once you know the future, you can make it come
 earlier. The way it's done by statues or by one's furniture.
 Self-effacement is not a virtue
 but a necessity, recognised most often
 toward evening. Though numerically it is easier
 not to be me than not to be you. As the swan confessed
 to the lake: I don't like myself. But you are welcome to my reflection.
-- Joseph Brodsky
Gotcha.

It's so rare to find a truly great poet who's not represented on
Minstrels, that discovering that you don't have a single Brodsky poem
was an almost electric shock of opportunity. And so, like water pouring
into a plug suddenly pulled, this poem.

One reason, perhaps, that Brodsky doesn't feature on Minstrels is that
most of his best poems are too long to fit on the site (see for example
'A part of speech' or 'Strophes' or 'Lullaby on Cape Cod' or the
incredible 'Gorbunov and Gorchakov') - finding something short enough
proved quite a task.

This poem, written in English in 1995, will do nicely though. For one
thing, it expresses brilliantly the sense I always have while reading
Brodsky of listening to someone older and infinitely wiser talk - an
urge to just shut up and listen. Not that Brodsky ever talks down or
lectures (self-effacement, as the poem suggests, is a common theme in
his work) but because his words have such an aching yet simple ring of
truth that one wishes one could memorise them forever just as one is
sure one will have forgotten them tomorrow. Brodsky is not a poet who
can be remembered or quoted - his voice is not so easily trapped (In A
Part of Speech he writes: "Hence all rhymes, hence that wan flat voice
/ that ripples between them like hair still moist / if it ripples at
all). And yet to read him is to experience a sense of quiet and
half-cynical longing that stays with you long after the words of the
poem are forgotten.

That's why I think the last line of this poem captures Brodsky exactly.
To read him is to be a mirror to a truly great intellect, holding on to
his images for as long as one can, knowing that once they leave the
world will seem strangely blank.

Aseem.

Biography:
  http://nobelprize.org/literature/laureates/1987/brodsky-bio.html
        Joseph Brodsky died on January 28, 1996.

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