The Giant Yea

By Theodore Weiss 1916–2003 Theodore Weiss

... who can bear the idea of Eternal Recurrence?

I

Even as you went over, Nietzsche,   
in your last letter, as ever, you tried   
to reach him:
                     “Dear Herr Professor,   
When it comes to it I too would very much
prefer a professorial chair in Basel
to being God; but I did not dare to go   
so far in my private egoism as to refrain   
for its sake from the creation of the world.”

The past before him, the hateful present
stifling no end of futures with noisy smoke,
what could the Dear Herr Professor, magnificently   
sober Jacob Burckhardt, do or do for you;
how thrust pitiful hands into what proclaimed   
itself a sacred solitude?
                                       Maybe too at times,
syringa blowing through his classroom (gape-
mouthed angels Paracelsus pressed into his lectures   
in this very room, throwing all Basel
into an uproar and a hatred that finally   
drove him out,
                      familiars also like a rout   
of mornings bickering to swell the retinue   
of Dr. Faustus after breakfast), trumpeting   
through the profundity of his pauses,

maybe he could let that host, with nothing   
to lose in being, be themselves, especially
as there sprang among them heroes out of Raphael   
with everything to gain.
                                     Even now Astorre
the horseman, in the twinkle of that scholar   
eye, spurs quarrying the dark, falcon-plumed,   
plunges, a warrior of Heaven, to the rescue   
of a youth, fallen with copious wounds,   
by this aid exalted.


             II

                              Alas, for all Astorre’s
audacious charging down the margin of the page,   
the Professor’s age, parading with its Sunday   
family-walks and the thundrous drummers of Basel   
in trim, upholstered parks, benumbed him.

What was there for him to do who saw
his begetters, fighting men, furious, mighty   
in their pride, tumbled to such petty end?

That beauty being slain on the high places   
in the midst of its noblest battle, should he,   
exclaiming, dare to tell it, publish it
in the streets so prim and polished, to see   
the daughters of the philistines rejoice?

He let you go, best emparadised,
or so you said, in the sparkling shadow   
of a sword, retiring into frozen heights,   
a terrible loneliness, enhanced by sun.


             III

At the end, rocks breaking their doors for you,   
out poured the shaggy men, hordes of flame   
and drunkenness. Solitude, dressed in winds   
and falcons, rang, a honeycomb of voices   
hailing:
             dancer David; Agamemnon, amethyst   
with proud and deadly twisting; Dr. Faustus;   
Borgia and Astorre, those human hours,   
sowing splendors with their wily wrists.

The peaks, much moved, conscious of the love   
that guides by the same capricious path as stars   
the agony, the maggot’s tooth, hurtling   
to your beloved town, stormed its arcades   
past the drowsiest beds. God was dead,   
long live the gods.
                              In that third-floor room,   
still going about in your academic jacket   
and down at heel, all the heavens rejoicing,   
laughing, lifting up your legs,
into the middle of the rout you leaped,
a satyr’s dance, as always, the conclusion   
of the tragic truth . . .


             IV

                                    You in what we are,
alas, and by your effort that had to fail   
have reached us.
                         And we go, perhaps as the Dear   
Herr Professor did, saddened that we cannot   
give ourselves,
                        the Greeks at last, Paul,
St. Augustine, Luther, Calvin too, surpassed   
by the resolution—not time could tame it,   
not the mob’s indifference—of your fury.

Theodore Weiss, “The Giant Yea” from Selected Poems, published by TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press, 1995. Copyright © 1995 by Theodore Weiss. All rights reserved; reprinted with the permission of Northwestern University Press, www.nupress.northwestern.edu.

Source: Poetry (October 1956).

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This poem originally appeared in the October 1956 issue of Poetry magazine

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October 1956
 Theodore  Weiss

Biography

For the body of his work, poet Theodore Weiss was recognized with the 1997 Oscar Williams-Gene Derwood Award of the New York Community. "Coming to New York in 1938 from a town in Pennsylvania to study literature at Columbia University released in me a spate of what I then believed to be poetry," Weiss wrote in an essay for Poets on Poetry. He described his "rapidly growing admiration for Homer" and eventual attraction to the . . .

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SUBJECT Arts & Sciences, Philosophy

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