Frost Notes

 


Anthology

Ned Balbo


 Robert Frost once said that the perfect education was classical and in the same breath, the poet alluded to the education he received at Lawrence High School replete with history, classical learning, and lore.  The  classical myths continue to provide a firm grounding for today's poetry.  Ned Balbo uses classical lore to develop his own unique poem of voices-- a form that Frost used often as his  narrative vehicle.  Beneath the surface of Balbo's language, one finds some innovations and expansions of Frost's use of the form.

 

 ARISTAEUS FORGIVEN  

         Eurydice died...  

                               
           That’s where it often begins,
                but remember how she died, the adder’s bite
                as she fled headlong from the lecherous Aristaeus,
                the cause of it all, or, less clear-cut than that, 
                mixed up somehow in the causes, part of them...  

                                --Virgil, Georgics, IV, David R. Slavitt, translator

I’d watched Eurydice, bees edging near

The bouquet as she reached out, shooed them off

And stepped back, laughing, steadied by her bridesmaids,

Meadow in bloom, fierce humming underfoot

And overhead, snake unseen till it struck

--Such grief. Was I the cause? Desire repressed,

I’d watched her from a grove but stood revealed

Only when it was too late, angry swarm

Confusing everyone, those panicked women,

Spirits of wood and water, shrieking out

Despair and accusations as I fled--

Could they be right? I wondered: had I called

The bees to act as I could not, an impulse

Toward destruction--tear the veil away--

Still unacknowledged as I rose to witness--

Cause the tragedy? And when my bees,

Queenless themselves, mere husks, were dying off

In waves, I should have known my luck had turned

Against me for good reason: secretly,

The angry women watched, waiting their turn,

A grief for a grief, while time and fortune brought

Vengeance against the uninvited guest,

Bridesmaids-in-mourning loyal to the end...

What had I done, or not done? I’d forgotten,

Or fought back the thought, till Proteus

Reminded me. I flinched, but let him speak,

Tale garbled in the telling and retelling,

As I heard the rites that would appease

Mistaken enemies, though in my rage

I’m sure in time I would have sought the bulls

And heifers anyway, slaughtered them all,

And left them gutted somewhere, fury quenched

And vision darkened....So this is forgiveness,

I thought bitterly before the altar,

Newly purified....

 

                                    But when I placed                  

My hand inside the carcass where new bees

Had gathered in the wound, and felt the nectar

Oozing at my touch, I had to laugh

At such grotesque fulfillment of my prayers,

False respite, restoration that meant less

Than full forgiveness. No, my guilt would last

As long as flesh--grief, too--and more would follow

In the years to come, stung hand recoiling,

Sticky with gold, defiled, a bridesmaid’s laughter

Almost audible, sun streaming down

On bloodied altar, carcass, living bees

And empty meadow, all the years ahead.

 aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa

 

           

 

Note: Aristaeus Forgiven draws on David R. Slavitt’s translation of Georgica IV in Eclogues & Georgics of Virgil (Johns Hopkins, 1990). Bulfinch’s Mythology (Random House) includes this summary of Proteus’ words to Aristaeus: “You receive the merited award of your deeds, by which Eurydice met her death, for in flying from you she trod upon a serpent, of whose bite she died. To avenge her death, the nymphs, her companions, have sent this destruction to your bees. You have to appease their anger....”

 

  aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa

 

Ned Balbo's collection, GALILEO'S BANQUET, received the 1998 Towson University Prize for Literature. In 2003 he received the Robert Frost Foundation Poetry Award and, in 2002, the John Guyon Literary Nonfiction Prize. Four times a Pushcart Prize nominee in poetry or nonfiction, he was recently Walter E. Dakin fellow in poetry at the Sewanee Writers' Conference and a poetry fellow at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. His poems have appeared in Antioch Review, American Poetry Review, Italian Americana, Notre Dame Review, and elsewhere, and his reviews of current poetry and prose appear regularly in Antioch Review and Pleiades. 




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 Poem copyright 2004 by Ned Balbo.

 

 The Frost Foundation accepts entries for the yearly Robert Frost Poetry Award from April through September.  The current guidelines are published at: http://www.frostfoundation.org/
 

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Page copyright© 2004 by the Robert Frost Foundation.  Frost Notes is a publication of the Robert Frost Foundation of Lawrence, Massachusetts.