Monday, January 10, 2011

Off the Shelf Archive-January #1

Yes, it's that time again. The archivist is finally bestirring herself to get up off her dyin' rear and provide some fresh fare for the Off the Shelf page.  

Off the Shelf features poems by my Favorite (Usually) Dead Poets, unless someone else requests a selection from one of their own favorite authors. Margaret Atwood's Sekhmet the Lion Headed Goddess of War will be dusted off and moved here, being replaced by 
As I Walked Out One Evening,   a long but rather quick read from W.H. Auden (1907-1973), Anglo-American poet known for a wide use of forms and techniques over a long and eventful career. As I Walked Out begins in a very cheery and almost commonplace manner, but read on, my friends, read on.

As always, feel free to make a suggestion for next time or to comment on either poem here, as comments are disabled off the main page. Older selections can be accessed by clicking here: 
Off the Shelf Archive     or on the label under Tags in the sidebar.

And now, Sekhmet makes her final appearance before retiring to the Archives:

Sekhmet, the Lion-Headed Goddess of War

He was the sort of man
who wouldn't hurt a fly.
Many flies are now alive
while he is not.
He was not my patron.
He preferred full granaries, I battle.
My roar meant slaughter.
Yet here we are together
in the same museum.
That's not what I see, though, the fitful
crowds of staring children
learning the lesson of multi-
cultural obliteration, sic transit
and so on.

I see the temple where I was born
or built, where I held power.
I see the desert beyond,
where the hot conical tombs, that look
from a distance, frankly, like dunces' hats,
hide my jokes: the dried-out flesh
and bones, the wooden boats
in which the dead sail endlessly
in no direction.

What did you expect from gods
with animal heads?
Though come to think of it
the ones made later, who were fully human
were not such good news either.
Favour me and give me riches,
destroy my enemies.
That seems to be the gist.
Oh yes: And save me from death.
In return we're given blood
and bread, flowers and prayer,
and lip service.

Maybe there's something in all of this
I missed. But if it's selfless
love you're looking for,
you've got the wrong goddess.

I just sit where I'm put, composed
of stone and wishful thinking:
that the deity who kills for pleasure
will also heal,
that in the midst of your nightmare,
the final one, a kind lion
will come with bandages in her mouth
and the soft body of a woman,
and lick you clean of fever,
and pick your soul up gently by the nape of the neck
and caress you into darkness and paradise
Margeret Atwood
Photo courtesy of wikimedia commons source link


  1. This is a new piece to me. I am quite taken through the thinking and pondering Goddess and the words placed upon her by Atwood here.

    I particularly liked her middle line rhymes. Her looseness with "rules" presented with such an easy going rhythm.

    That final is a wonderfully tuned twist.

    Have you ever seen "Desert" by Stephen Crane or what I personally consider to be the finest love poem ever crafted. "Confession" by Bukowski?

  2. I read this when you first put it up on Off The Shelf, and LOVED it! (curse the arid and commentless lands!)

    Like WM, I didn't know this poem, or about Sekhmet. Do I really need to go into how much the idea of a lion-headed Goddess of war appeals to me? Do I??? And, er, the poem is marvelous, too. She skewers religion quite nicely, and the twist (I can't use that word anymore without snickering) at the end is masterful. Beautiful choice.

  3. Atwood! Most excellent piece to select from here...and Auden as well. "As I walked out one evening" has always had a way of burrowing right down into my heart - always touched me. I'm grinning as I say: very nice archive.

  4. @twm: do you mean the one about the dance of the whispering snakes? one of my favorites of Crane. I'll look up the Bukowski.

    @FB: Do I really need to say who popped into my brain when I read this poem? And I agree with your every word--she leaves religion naked and puling like a baby throughout and especially the end.

    @Chris--Thank you. I like to see poetry getting read. Atwood can be both bitter and pointlessly obscure, but when she is good, she's very good indeed. I'm so glad you like the Auden poem as well. I've always liked the way it seems to be a totally different kind of poem than what it actually is.

  5. Thanks for this one. New to me. Enjoyed much.

    On the run,but will be back.

    Wonderful site.

  6. Thanks, Jamie. Glad to see you stop by.


"We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, out of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry." ~William Butler Yeats

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