Saturday, February 9, 2019

Heroic Simile by Robert Hass

Heroic Simile

When the swordsman fell in Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai 
in the gray rain, 
in Cinemascope and the Tokugawa dynasty, 
he fell straight as a pine, he fell 
as Ajax fell in Homer 
in chanted dactyls and the tree was so huge 
the woodsman returned for two days 
to that lucky place before he was done with the sawing 
and on the third day he brought his uncle. 

They stacked logs in the resinous air, 
hacking the small limbs off,
tying those bundles separately. 
The slabs near the root
were quartered and still they were awkwardly large; 
the logs from midtree they halved:
ten bundles and four great piles of fragrant wood, 
moons and quarter moons and half moons 
ridged by the saw’s tooth. 

The woodsman and the old man his uncle 
are standing in midforest
on a floor of pine silt and spring mud.
They have stopped working 
because they are tired and because 
I have imagined no pack animal 
or primitive wagon. They are too canny 
to call in neighbors and come home 
with a few logs after three days’ work. 
They are waiting for me to do something 
or for the overseer of the Great Lord 
to come and arrest them. 

How patient they are!
The old man smokes a pipe and spits. 
The young man is thinking he would be rich 
if he were already rich and had a mule. 
Ten days of hauling
and on the seventh day they’ll probably 
be caught, go home empty-handed 
or worse. I don’t know 
whether they’re Japanese or Mycenaean
and there’s nothing I can do.
The path from here to that village 
is not translated. A hero, dying, 
gives off stillness to the air. 
A man and a woman walk from the movies 
to the house in the silence of separate fidelities. 
There are limits to imagination.

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