Saturday, April 4, 2009

"[S]ought for smell for dust for lace"

T's comment about the smell of books made me remember this poem by Gregory Corso:



Corso, like Percy Bysshe Shelley, is a poet of exclamatory, lofty energy. As you might already know, Corso's ashes are buried next to Shelley's in the Cimitero acattolico di Roma, the Non-Catholic Cemetery in Rome.

If you're wondering what a "cypressean skein" is, I am too. Corso's poem "Bomb" mentions "cypressean torches." But a skein? Corso, like Malcolm X, was a dictionary reader in prison.

I do know that I love the adjective steep (high, lofty) modifying book. O book!

A related post
Gregory Corso and words

comments: 6

Tom the Piper's Son said...

Beautiful fiery poem!
I'm thinking "cypressian skein" might have something to do with the Cypress being associated with death and the underworld in Mediterranean cultures.
"
The evergreen character of the tree, and perhaps its flame-like monumental outline, the durability of its timber, and its wholesomely balsamic odor, have no doubt jointly contributed to that symbolism which Spenser summed up by speaking of it as "the Cypresse funerall." As Horace says, whatever was thought worthy to be handed down to the most remote posterity was by the ancients enclosed either in Cypress or in Cedar wood. The Gopher-wood of which the Ark was constructed is supposed by some to have been Cypress, and Herodotus tells us that the Egyptians used Cypress-wood for their mummy-cases; whilst Thucydides mentions that it was specially reserved to contain the ashes of those Greeks who died for their country, and Plato directed that his code of laws should be engraved on Cypress-wood, as being more durable than brass. Theophrastus states that the tree grew wild in the island of Crete on snow-covered mountains, and in Cyprus; and that it would not grow in too warm a situation. He recommends those who wish to grow it successfully to obtain some of its native soil from Cyprus; and says further that it was dedicated to Pluto because, when cut down, it, like other Conifers, never throws up suckers.

This may perhaps be connected with the custom of burying branches of Cypress with the dead, though more probably this, like the modern Turkish practice of planting the tree at either end of their graves, arose from the belief that the aroma of its resin would neutralise the effluvia of the cemetery."

Michael Leddy said...

Thanks, Tom, for sharing that background on the cypress here.

I wonder — if "skein" means, among other things, "A quantity of thread or yarn," perhaps "cypressean skein" is a way of referring to the length of one's life, as measured by the Fates. If that skein "outreaches the recorded age," there might be a suggestion of poetry as triumphing over time.

T. said...

I love this! I'm honored that an idiosyncrasy of mine opened up the opportunity for us, thanks to you, to enjoy such a poem and poet. :)

Michael Leddy said...

T., if you're new to Corso, try "Marriage."

T said...

Just read it. Got a little anxious for the poor speaker! It actually reminded me of George Saunders' short story "The Falls."

Michael Leddy said...

Don't know that writer (but I will). I've always thought of "Marriage" as a comic version of Hamlet: to marry or not to marry.