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.

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