The Chorus

By Rachel Hadas b. 1948 Rachel Hadas
A Greek I worked for once would always say   
that tragedies which still appall and thrill   
happen daily on a village scale.
Except that he put it the other way:   
dark doings in the sleepiest small town   
loom dire and histrionic as a play.   
Cosmic? Perhaps. Unprecedented? Not   
to the old women sitting in the sun,   
the old men planted in cafes till noon   
or midnight taking in the human scene,   
connoisseurs of past-passing-and-to-come.   
These watchers locate in their repertory   
mythic fragments of some kindred story
and draw them dripping out of memory’s well.   
Incest and adultery; exile
and murder; divine punishment; disgrace:   
the trick is to locate the right-sized piece   
of the vast puzzle-patterned tapestry
from which one ripped-out patch makes tragedy.

This highly skilled and patient process—find
a larger context, match and patch and mend—
is what the chorus in Greek tragedy   
has always done. And to this very day   
spectators comb the tangles of a tale,   
compare, remember, comment—not ideal,   
but middle-aged or older, and alert.   
Beyond the hero’s rashness or the hurt   
heart of the heroine, they’ve reached the age   
when only stars still lust for center stage.   
The chorus, at a point midway between   
the limelight and the audience, is seen   
and unseen. Lady chaperones at balls
once sat on brittle chairs against the walls.   
“My dancing days are over,” they’d both sigh   
and smile. Or take the case of poetry.
Mine used to play the heroine—me me me—
but lately, having had its fill of “I,”
tries to discern, despite its vision’s flaws,   
a shape. A piece of myth. A pattern. Laws.

Rachel Hadas, “The Chorus” from Laws. Copyright © 2004 by Rachel Hadas. Reprinted with the permission of Zoo Press.

Source: Laws (Zoo Press, 2004)

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Poet Rachel Hadas b. 1948

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Subjects Arts & Sciences, Theater & Dance, Poetry & Poets

Poetic Terms Blank Verse, Couplet, Mixed

 Rachel  Hadas


The daughter of renowned classical scholar Moses Hadas, whose early death she has said gave her a “premature sense of the yoking of love and loss,” Rachel Hadas has published numerous collections of poetry, essays, and translations, including most recently the memoir Strange Relation: A Memoir of Marriage, Dementia, and Poetry (2011) and the poetry collections The Ache of Appetite (2010) and The Golden Road (2012). Kevin Walzer, . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Arts & Sciences, Theater & Dance, Poetry & Poets

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Poetic Terms Blank Verse, Couplet, Mixed

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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