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Forest Of Europe Analysis



Author: poem of Derek Walcott Type: poem Views: 5

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The last leaves fell like notes from a piano

and left their ovals echoing in the ear;

with gawky music stands, the winter forest

looks like an empty orchestra, its lines

ruled on these scattered manuscripts of snow.



The inlaid copper laurel of an oak

shines though the brown-bricked glass above your head

as bright as whisky, while the wintry breath

of lines from Mandelstam, which you recite,

uncoils as visibly as cigarette smoke.



"The rustling of ruble notes by the lemon Neva."

Under your exile's tongue, crisp under heel,

the gutturals crackle like decaying leaves,

the phrase from Mandelstam circles with light

in a brown room, in barren Oklahoma.



There is a Gulag Archipelago

under this ice, where the salt, mineral spring

of the long Trail of Tears runnels these plains

as hard and open as a herdsman's face

sun-cracked and stubbled with unshaven snow.



Growing in whispers from the Writers' Congress,

the snow circles like cossacks round the corpse

of a tired Choctaw till it is a blizzard

of treaties and white papers as we lose

sight of the single human through the cause.



So every spring these branches load their shelves,

like libraries with newly published leaves,

till waste recycles them—paper to snow—

but, at zero of suffering, one mind

lasts like this oak with a few brazen leaves.



As the train passed the forest's tortured icons,

ths floes clanging like freight yards, then the spires

of frozen tears, the stations screeching steam,

he drew them in a single winters' breath

whose freezing consonants turned into stone.



He saw the poetry in forlorn stations

under clouds vast as Asia, through districts

that could gulp Oklahoma like a grape,

not these tree-shaded prairie halts but space

so desolate it mocked destinations.



Who is that dark child on the parapets

of Europe, watching the evening river mint

its sovereigns stamped with power, not with poets,

the Thames and the Neva rustling like banknotes,

then, black on gold, the Hudson's silhouettes?



>From frozen Neva to the Hudson pours,

under the airport domes, the echoing stations,

the tributary of emigrants whom exile

has made as classless as the common cold,

citizens of a language that is now yours,



and every February, every "last autumn",

you write far from the threshing harvesters

folding wheat like a girl plaiting her hair,

far from Russia's canals quivering with sunstroke,

a man living with English in one room.



The tourist archipelagoes of my South

are prisons too, corruptible, and though

there is no harder prison than writing verse,

what's poetry, if it is worth its salt,

but a phrase men can pass from hand to mouth?



>From hand to mouth, across the centuries,

the bread that lasts when systems have decayed,

when, in his forest of barbed-wire branches,

a prisoner circles, chewing the one phrase

whose music will last longer than the leaves,



whose condensation is the marble sweat

of angels' foreheads, which will never dry

till Borealis shuts the peacock lights

of its slow fan from L.A. to Archangel,

and memory needs nothing to repeat.



Frightened and starved, with divine fever

Osip Mandelstam shook, and every

metaphor shuddered him with ague,

each vowel heavier than a boundary stone,

"to the rustling of ruble notes by the lemon Neva,"



but now that fever is a fire whose glow

warms our hands, Joseph, as we grunt like primates

exchanging gutturals in this wintry cave

of a brown cottage, while in drifts outside

mastodons force their systems through the snow.





Anonymous submission.






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