The thirteenth of December, 2010: you think malaria makes me delirious?

“Now I am quietly waiting for
the catastrophe of my personality
to seem beautiful again,
and interesting, and modern.

The country is grey and
brown and white in trees,
snows and skies of laughter
always diminishing, less funny
not just darker, not just grey.

It may be the coldest day of
the year, what does he think of
that? I mean, what do I? And if I do,
perhaps I am myself again.”

From Frank O’Hara’s poem ‘Mayakovsky‘ (from Meditations In An Emergency, 1957).

All I’ve read of O’Hara are his more widely-anthologised poems (e.g. ‘Why I Am Not A Painter’, and ‘To The Film Industry In Crisis‘). I will remedy this failing.

I know more about the subject of the above poem, Vladimir Vladimirovich Mayakovsky (1893-1030). He was an ardent supporter of the Bolsheviks in Russia, and a propagandist as much as a poet (“Above all, his poetry is declamatory, for mass audiences,” Britannica tells us).

Predictably enough, his elegy on Lenin and his Stalinist children’s books aren’t now considered his best works. His modern reputation rests on his poetic responses to unrequited love. This is from the poem of his that I like best.

“… if you like –
I’ll be extraordinary gentle,
not a man, but – a cloud in trousers!”

Later:

“I, who praised the machine and England,
I am perhaps quite simply
the thirteenth apostle
in an ordinary gospel.

And whenever my voice
rumbles bawdily
then, from hour to hour,
around the clock,
Jesus Christ may be sniffing
the forget-me-nots of my soul.”

He was too keen on exclamation-marks but I can forgive him that. Most of the full poem, ‘A Cloud In Trousers’, can be found here.

Mayakovsky, it’s thought, killed himself in Moscow in 1930, refused by the girl he loved and at odds with the Soviet authorities.

Back to O’Hara, and a little something just in case anyone still thinks real men don’t read poetry.

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