Sunday, March 30, 2008

Two Poems for the World-Weary

Here are two short poems, both entitled "On the Precariousness of Human Nature," by St Gregory the Theologian (or, Gregory of Nazianzus, as he's also known):

I. Poem 1.2.12, De naturae humanae fragilitate (PG 37, 754).
Dear world, though not so very dear, why like a rolling wheel
do you bear down on me, who trudge wheezing
like a tiny ant distressed at his sore burden?
But you who are so huge, on the other hand, bear so much.
I know, in fact, that you are from God, proclaiming Him. But likewise, formed
by Christ's own hand, you were woven of things
both heavenly and earthly. The body was fashioned down here,
while soul, again, is a breath of the great Mind.
Nevertheless, like all the others, I am driven to and fro
by my miseries, miseries from an enemy.
And like a seagoing dolphin upon a land, in the thin air I die.
World, my time is done; bring the people on unwounded.
II. Poem 1.2.13, De naturae humanae fragilitate (PG 37, 764-755).
Myself and time, like birds
or ships at sea, slip past each other,
with nothing that stays put;
but what I've done amiss does not skip by,
but stays: this is life's cruelest pain.
Nor can I tell what to pray for, to live on, or be done:
it's fearful either way. Come, think with me.
Through sins my life's become an aching mess. But if I die,
ai! ai! there's no cure then for your old passions!
It this is what life appoints for you, its anguish is so great
that even when ended it holds no end of troubles,
but on both sides there's a precipice. What's there to say?
This then is what's best,
to look towards You along, and Your kindheartedness.
Everyone should own this little volume, translated by Peter Gilbert (St John's College, Santa Fe). And if the people in our various Orthodox youth committees had any sense, they'd use this little book in their work with adolescents.


Anonymous said...

Beautiful. Now I have ordered another book, thanks to you! :-)

Felix Culpa said...

Kevin, I'm sure you'll love it. It's pocket sized, so perfect for carrying around with one, and then pulling it out when stuck in traffic, standing in line, or doing any of those mundane things when one wishes one had something more to read than the tabloid headlines in the supermarket!

Who could not love a poet (and translator!) who renders lines like these:

Therefore there springs from them evil beings on earth,

demons, minions to the murderous king of evil:

languors, shades, ill-boding phantasms of the night,

liars and revilers, instructors in sin,

bamboozlers, souses, seducers, party-animals,

soothsayers, riddler, warmongers, the bloody,

the hellish, the lurking, the shameless, the high imposters,

who beckon on approaching, but hate when hauling off.

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