Wednesday, February 22, 2006

February Poem

I did a report once in high school about Robert Conquest, so I decided this month, I should find one of his poems. Unfortunately very few are online. I found one I hadn't seen before, but in order to enjoy it I first had to google a few words: "Phlegrean Fields" -- turns out it's the region of ash, cones, and craters "formed about 35,000 years ago with the eruption of 80 cubic km of ash (the Campanian Tuff)" from Mount Vesuvius.) And "mephytic" (the person in that link quotes from a book I really like: "Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader" by Anne Fadiman. The subject of one of her essays was a word quiz she put together. One word was "mephitic. "The English professor said, 'Mephitic! That must mean foul-smelling. I've seen it in 'Paradise Lost,' describing the smell of hell.' My brother, a mountain guide and natural history teacher who lives in Wyoming, said 'Mephitic, hmm, yes. The scientific name for the striped skunk is 'Mephitis mephitis,' which means 'Stinky stinky.'.")

So now that I'm clear on those words, I can feel more confident in presenting the poem:


The Arts that sensuously address
The raising of the consciousness
Bloom in a spread of themes and tones
—Geology of various zones

Some scale the great volcano—sky,
Flame, precipice, immensity.
While some tread, in the charming vale,
The villages–and–vineyards trail.

The grandeur group (though kindly) tends
To mock at its more modest friends,
While they, in turn, are quick to spot
Pretension in the peak–proud lot.

But both despise one who resigns
The glorious vistas, the green vines
For Phlegrean Fields that gall each sense
With flat glooms round mephytic vents,
A matter of tastes and temperaments.

—Robert Conquest

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