To a Poet a Thousand Years Hence

james_elroy_flecker

I who am dead a thousand years,
And wrote this sweet archaic song,
Send you my words for messengers
The way I shall not pass along.

I care not if you bridge the seas,
Or ride secure the cruel sky,
Or build consummate palaces
Of metal or of masonry.

But have you wine and music still,
And statues and a bright-eyed love,
And foolish thoughts of good and ill,
And prayers to them who sit above?

How shall we conquer? Like a wind
That falls at eve our fancies blow,
And old Mæonides the blind
Said it three thousand years ago.

O friend unseen, unborn, unknown,
Student of our sweet English tongue,
Read out my words at night, alone:
I was a poet, I was young.

Since I can never see your face,
And never shake you by the hand,
I send my soul through time and space
To greet you. You will understand.

James Elroy Flecker (1884-1915)

Commentary

Oh yes, I understand.  Flecker’s poem appeals to me not only for its reach in connecting poets across time, but also throughout cyberspace.  It’s one I love to revisit when I’m feeling nostalgic for those golden “olden days” of the WWW.

In the beginning was the ether
and the Spirit of Altruism fluttered
across the innovative
captivating
World Wide Web.
Human bonds flourished
as universities joined strands
breathing new life into the poet.

And it was good.

Growing up in a household where rhyming verse was read aloud regularly had in no way prepared me for, or educated me on,  the creative upheaval sparked by Ezra Pound and his contemporaries in the mid 20th century.  Until coming online in 1994 (on a 2400-baud modem, no less) I thought poetry was dead.   On my first stop at  gutenberg.com, still in its early stages of scanning the world’s great books into text files for free download, I was like a K-mart shopper at a blue light special. Here were entire collections  of Kipling and Longfellow, rekindling the excitement of my youth, along with a host of names previously unknown to me, such as the  Australian bush poets, Paterson & Lawson.  And ah … the indescribable pleasure of chance encounters with like-minded rhymers via Usenet and the burgeoning search giant, Lycos, at the height of its pre-Google reign.

That heady rush of discovery awakened in me a passion to carry the standard of traditional poetry into the 21st century, which set the direction for a course of study that would soon have me staying up nights writing raw html for thousands of web pages to serve as a beacon to peers.   It was in this arena, probably 1997,  that a Canadian poet friend introduced “To a Poet a Thousand Years Hence” into the mix.  It struck a chord in my heart that continues to sustain that universal soul connection I feel with poets through time and space.  I have often wondered how writers of the past fared without a supportive community to provide instant feedback, but some of them seemed to know that their work would endure.

James Elroy Flecker (1884-1915) was an international poet a century before the first Usenet post traveled the waves. Born and educated in England, he worked for the consular service in the Mediterranean where he met his Greek wife, and resided in Switzerland at the time of his death from tuberculosis. The fact that he was diagnosed four years earlier, just one year before his marriage, adds poignancy to the short story of his 30 year span on this earth, and could well have been the inspiration for this poem, which appeared in a collection published in 1911.   It is the best known piece from his impressive body of work for one so young, which included five books of poetry, two plays and a novel. Flecker’s literary style was influenced by the French Parnassian movement,  which favored disciplined craftsmanship in a more philosophical approach than the excessive sentimentality of the romanticism era.

What might he have given the world in a normal lifespan?

Mary Boren, 2012

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