Thursday, October 23, 2008

Claus von Stauffenberg

Thom Gunn (1929-2004)

[I met the poet Thom Gunn in the late 1960s on Eighth Street in the Village. He introduced me to my first NYC leather bar and many years later while I was bartending at TY's, I introduced him to his last lover. The recent brouhaha about the new Tom Cruise film Valkyrie reminded me of one my favorite poems by him. I post it below plus two more from Thom’s collection My Sad Captains.]

Claus von Stauffenberg
—of the bomb plot on Hitler, 1944

What made the place a landscape of despair,
History stunned beneath, the emblems cracked?
Smell of approaching snow hangs on the air;
The frost meanwhile can be the only fact.

They chose the unknown, and the bounded terror,
As a corrective, who corrected live
Surveying without choice the bounding error:
An unsanctioned present must be primitive.

A few still have the vigor to deny
Fear is a natural state; their motives neither
Of doctrinaire, of turncoat, nor of spy.
Lucidity of thought draws them together.

The maimed young Colonel who can calculate
On two remaining fingers and a will,
Takes lessons from the past, to detonate
A bomb that Brutus rendered possible.

Over the maps a moment, face to face:
Across from Hitler, whose grey eyes have filled
A nation with the illogic of their gaze,
The rational man is poised, to break, to build.

And though he fails, honor personified
In a cold time where honor cannot grow,
He stiffens, like a statue, in mid-stride
—Falling toward history, and under snow.

Innocence —for Tony White

by Thom Gunn

He ran the course and as he ran he grew,
And smelt his fragrance in the field. Already,
Running he knew the most he ever knew,
The egotism of a healthy body.

Ran into manhood, ignorant of the past:
Culture of guilt and guilt's vague heritage,
Self-pity and the soul; what he possessed
Was rich, potential, like the bud's tipped rage.

The Corps developed, it was plain to see,
Courage, endurance, loyalty and skill
To a morale firm as morality,
Hardening him to an instrument, until

The finitude of virtues that were there
Bodied within the swarthy uniform
A compact innocence, childlike and clear,
No doubt could penetrate, no act could harm.

When he stood near the Russian partisan
Being burned alive, he therefore could behold
The ribs wear gently through the darkening skin
And sicken only at the Northern cold,

Could watch the fat burn with a violet flame
And feel disgusted only at the smell,
And judge that all pain finishes the same
As melting quietly by his boots it fell.

[I post the last Thom Gunn poem for a writer friend of mine at Sarah Lawrence Collage]

Readings in French - 2

Nothing Unusual about Marcel Proust
All are unmasked as perverts sooner or later,
With a notable exception—the narrator.