Monday, April 29, 2013

Juxtapositions: Archilochus, Gustave le Gray, and Adrienne Rich

Gustave le Gray: "La grande vague" (1856/58)
A fragment of Archilochus (early 7th century B.C.)

γλαῦχ', ὅρα, βαθὺς γὰρ ἤδη κύμασιν ταράσσεται
πόντος, ἀμφὶ δ' ἄκρα Γυρέων ὀρθὸν ἵσταται νέφος,
σῆμα χειμῶνος· κιχάνει δ' ἐξ ἀελπτίης φόβος 

Greek (transliterated):
glaûch', hóra, bathys gàr édē kúmasin tarássetai
póntos, amphì d' ácra Gyréōn orthòn hístatai néphos,
sêma cheimônos: kichánei d' ex aelptíēs phóbos

grayman, look, for now the deep sea is troubled with waves,
and about the heights of Gyres a cloud looms upright, 
sign of winter—and fear unexpectedly overcomes you 

Storm Warnings (1951)
Adrienne Rich 

The glass has been falling all the afternoon, 

And knowing better than the instrument 

What winds are walking overhead, what zone 

Of grey unrest is moving across the land, 

I leave the book upon a pillowed chair 

And walk from window to closed window, watching 

Boughs strain against the sky

And think again, as often when the air 

Moves inward toward a silent core of waiting, 

How with a single purpose time has traveled

By secret currents of the undiscerned 

Into this polar realm. Weather abroad 

And weather in the heart alike come on 

Regardless of prediction.

Between foreseeing and averting change 

Lies all the mastery of elements 

Which clocks and weatherglasses cannot alter. 

Time in the hand is not control of time, 

Nor shattered fragments of an instrument 

A proof against the wind; the wind will rise, 

We can only close the shutters.

I draw the curtains as the sky goes black 

And set a match to candles sheathed in glass 

Against the keyhole draught, the insistent whine 

Of weather through the unsealed aperture. 

This is our sole defense against the season; 

These are the things we have learned to do 

Who live in troubled regions.


  1. I wonder who the "grayman" is in the Archilochus poem. Do you think it's the sea?

    And as always Adrienne Rich makes me shiver. I love "the air/moves inward towards a silent core of waiting."

  2. In this case, I think the strong suggestion is that it's an old man whose hair has turned gray with age. The Greek literally just means "gray" in the vocative, so it's "O, gray one!" But it's hard to compress "old man gray with age" into an eloquent English phrase. Thus my slight neologism, "grayman."