By Robert Pinsky b. 1940 Robert Pinsky
Pindar, poet of the victories, fitted names   
And legends into verses for the chorus to sing:   
Names recalled now only in the poems of Pindar:   

O nearly unpronounceable immortals,   
In the dash, Oionos was champion:   
Oionos, Likmynios's son, who came from Midea.   
In wrestling, Echemos won—the name   
Of his home city, Tegea, proclaimed to the crowds.   
Doryklos of Tiryns won the prize in boxing,   
And the record for a four-horse team was set   
By Samos from Mantinea, Halirothios's son.   

And Pindar, poet of the Olympian and Isthmian   
And Pythian games, wrote also of the boundless   
And forgetful savannas of time. What is someone?
The chorus sing in a victory ode—What is a nobody?

Creatures of a day, they chant in answer, Creatures   
Of a day. So where is the godgiven glory Pindar says   
Settles on mortals?—Bright as gold among the substances,   
Say the chorus, paramount as water among the elements.   

Not in the victory itself, petty or great,   
Of rich young Greeks contending in games.   
Not in the poetry itself, with its forgotten dances   
And Pindar spinning among tiresome or stirring   
Myths and genealogies, the chanted names   
Of cities and invoked gods and dignitaries—   

Striving, O nearly unpronounceable athletes,   
To animate the air with dancing feet raising   
A golden pollen of dust: a pervasive blur   
Of seedlets in the sunlight, whirling—beyond mere   
Victory or applause or performance,   
As victory is beyond defeat.   

The one who threw the javelin furthest   
Sang the chorus, chanting Pindar's incantation   
Against envy and oblivion, was Phrastor.   
And when Nikeus grunting whirled the stone   
Into the air and it flew past the marks   
Of all the competitors, Nikeus's countrymen   
Shouted his name after it, Nikeus,   
Nikeus, and the syllables so say the lines Pindar   
Composed for the sweating chorus to chant—radiated   
For a spell like the silvery mirror of the moon.

Source: Poetry (March 2003).


This poem originally appeared in the March 2003 issue of Poetry magazine

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March 2003
 Robert  Pinsky


Robert Pinsky is one of America’s foremost poet-critics. Often called the last of the “civic” or public poets, Pinsky’s criticism and verse reflect his concern for a contemporary poetic diction that nonetheless speaks of a wider experience. Elected Poet Laureate of the United States in 1997, his tenure was marked by ambitious efforts to prove the power of poetry—not just as an intellectual pursuit in the ivory tower, but as a . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Activities, Sports & Outdoor Activities, Arts & Sciences, Poetry & Poets, Mythology & Folklore

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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