Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Looking Back from Exile

Collected Poems in English 


Collected Poems in EnglishJoseph Brodsky was born on May 24th in Leningrad in 1940. He was arrested at age twenty-three and sentenced to five years on a prison farm for “having a worldview damaging to the state, decadence and modernism, failure to finish school, and social parasitism … except for the writing of awful poems.” He then was expelled ("strongly advised" to emigrate) from the Soviet Union in 1972, settling in the United States with the help of W. H. Auden and other supporters. Brodsky was awarded the 1987 Nobel Prize in Literature "for an all-embracing authorship, imbued with clarity of thought and poetic intensity". He was appointed United States Poet Laureate in 1991.

The lines below are from “May 24, 1980,” Brodsky’s poem looking back from exile in America on his fortieth birthday:



…I have waded the steppes that saw yelling Huns in saddles,
worn the clothes nowadays back in fashion in every quarter,
planted rye, tarred the roofs of pigsties and stables,
guzzled everything save dry water.
I've admitted the sentries' third eye into my wet and foul
dreams. Munched the bread of exile; it's stale and warty.
Granted my lungs all sounds except the howl;
switched to a whisper. Now I am forty.
What should I say about my life? That it's long and abhors transparence.
Broken eggs make me grieve; the omelette, though, makes me vomit.
Yet until brown clay has been rammed down my larynx,
only gratitude will be gushing from it.


My previous commentaries on his essays and poetry can be found at Poetic Essays and What is Poetry?

4 comments:

Brian Joseph said...

It is such a shame that so many Soviet Era writers were persecuted by their government.

I do not think that I have read Brodsky before but I like the verse that you posted. I would like to read more of his work.

Nancy Burns said...

I read one essay by Brodsky and I was very disappointed.
I will have to give this Nobel Prize winner another chance!
ps blog Ipsofactodotme is ended. I started a new blog:
https://nancyelin.wordpress.com/

James said...

Brian,

He left a treasure trove of thought-provoking verse and prose.

James said...

Nancy,

I am sorry you were disappointed by the essay you read. He has two essay collections in addition to his poetry. I hope you try him again.