Odious and Peculiar

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008
 
Speaking of the Alps, here is some historic Alpine poetry:
To the Matterhorn

Thirty-two years since, up against the sun,
Seven shapes, thin atomies to lower sight,
Labouringly leapt and gained thy gabled height,
And four lives paid for what the seven had won.

They were the first by whom the deed was done,
And when I look at thee, my mind takes flight
To that day's tragic feat of manly might,
As though, till then, of history thou hadst none.

Yet ages ere men topped thee, late and soon
Thou didst behold the planets lift and lower;
Saw'st, maybe, Joshua's pausing sun and moon,
And the betokening sky when Caesar's power
Approached its bloody end; yea, even that Noon
When darkness filled the earth till the ninth hour.

--Thomas Hardy

Hardy likes these grim, elliptical finishes that set you down with a hollow thud. I'm still debating whether this one does anything for me. But mountaineering poems aren't that common, particularly if you don't count free verse in the Telluride Mountain Gazette as legitimately belonging to the genre. (Yes, I know, the lines seldom reach the right edge of the page. Nevertheless...) The four and seven refer to Edward Whymper's first ascent of the peak in 1865, with its four fatalities on the way down. As the saying goes, "The summit is optional, but descent is mandatory."

From John Derbyshire's Readings page, always worthwhile if you crave a spot of verse.

Update: Here's some mighty fine Matterhorn for you.

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