Anyone know the significance of the title of this poem, which I found in anthology today?
18 JUNE 1961 by Dag Hammarskjold (1905-61) Tr by Ley Sjoberg
He will come out
Between two warders,
Lean and sunburnt,
A little bent,
As if apologising
For his strength,
His features tense,
But looking quite calm.
He will take off his jacket
And, with shirt torn open.
Stand up against the wall
To be executed.
He has not betrayed us.
He will meet his end.
When I feel anxious,
It is not for him.
Do I fear a compulsion in me
To be so destroyed?
Or is there someone
In the depths of my being,
Waiting for permission
To pull the trigger.
Dag Hammarskjold was the head of the U.N. here in NYC, in fact the U.N. plaza is named Dag Hammarskjold Plaza.
Obviously it is about an execution by firing squad and the conflict he feels about it. "He has not betrayed us" seems to indicate the man was innocent, yet still, possibly because the offense may have been political, he has a conflict which includes an inclination to be among the firing squad. If there were no possibility of guilt, as in a political frame up, likely there would be no conflict, but indignation. Certainly I would be outraged. My opinion is strongly anti-death penalty. Over 100 death row inmates have been released on DNA evidence here in the States in the past several years.
Yahbut Dag died September 18, 1961. The time frame seems too short.
Dag Hammarskjold died in Sept of 1961 so he certainly could have written a poem on (or about events on) that date... but he could also have written a poem about events in 1861.
The man tearing his shirt open in front of the firing squad sounds more Civil War-ish than 1961 (and Civil War conscientious objectorsf were executed by firing squad in that year)... but Hammarskjold was Swedish so I'd be inclined to look for something in Swedish history ...
And the image reminds me of a painting by Goya, but that's too early...
Anyway, I haven't found anything on line about an execution on either date, so I think we need to wait for Marian2 to choose a year before drawing conclusions.
It is 1961 - sorry for the confusion. Must get my fingers properly connected to my brain, one day! The book I got it from is an anthology called Seven Ages collected by David Owen, a British Labour politician who co-founded the SDP. The book is divided into Shakespeare's 7 ages and this poem comes under wisdom. It has no explantory notes or introduction.
I'd never heard of the author, and initially thought it by a revolutionary/guerilla who didn't reveal anything under interrogation ( perhaps a WW2 resistance fighter) . Then, looking at the title, I wondered if the 'he will not betray us' means he won't betray the role model of the strong, silent type of hero - which the writer half admires and half wants to expose as unrealistic - like all the tales of folk joking as they were disembowelled for treason etc. In other words detailing the transition from the macho heros of the mid 20th century to the flawed, damaged and vulnerable ones of the late 20th century, but 1961 seems a bit early for that.
And the image reminds me of a painting by Goya, but that's too early...
The ekphrastic [tinyurl.com] seems perfect, you are right!
Too bad about the date, though: May Third 1808.
I have a copy of the anthology from which marian2 gets this poem. In the Acknowledgements (p412) it thanks Faber and Faber for 'Markings' by Dag Hammarskjold, translated by W H Auden and Leif Sjoberg. (Leif and Ley are presumably variants.)
It seems likely that this was the last poem he wrote before his untimely death in that year, and that the date is simply the date he wrote it. But, I'm guessing.
The book seems readily available, but I do not have it in my collection. Can anyone get hold of a copy?
Post Edited (09-25-03 12:26)
by Dag Hammarskjold
Is available on Amazon ... so probably also in libraries.
I have a copy of Markings.
The book MARKINGS (which the poem comes from) is subtitled "Excerpts From The Diary of Dag Hammarskjold."
Since we're finding NOTHING about a historical execution on June 18 (or 18 June) of 1961, I'm inclined to think that this poem, untitled, was written in Hammarskjold's diary on that date--NOT that it's about anything that happened on that date.
He could have been looking at the Goya painting (unlikely), or a photograph in a magazine, or even scene in a movie.
True, it doesn't necessarily need a real-life reference to stand on its own.
Glenda - is there anything in the book which helps us here?
Nothing specific, Stephen. W.H. Auden wrote in the forward, "A reader of Markings may well be surprised by what it does not contain--that Dag Hammarskjold should not make a single direct reference to his career as an international civil servant, to the persons he met, or the historical events of his time in which he played an important role--..."
Auden states that he feels Hammarskjold made some "retrospective revisions" over the years. "The most plausible guess, I should say, is that Hammarskjold had kept some sort of a diary for a long time and that, after the crucial moment in his life when he said Yes, (*see note at bottom) he went through it, cutting a lot, rewriting many entries, and, perhaps, adding some entirely new ones.
"I don't know Who--or what--put the question. I don't know when it was put, I don't even remember answering. But at some moment I did answer Yes to Someone--or Something--and from that hour I was certain that existence is meaningful and that, therefore, my life, in self-surrender, had a goal."
I once read that Hammarskjold had a premonition of his death.
Here is the last poem Hammarskjold wrote, according to Auden.
August 24, 1961
Is it a new country
In another world of reality
Or did I live there
Before Day was?
To an ordinary morning with gray light
Reflected from the street,
But still remembered
The dark-blue night
Above the tree line.
The open moor in moonlight,
The crest in shadow.
Remembered other dreams
Of the same mountain country:
Twice I stood on its summits,
I stayed by its remotest lake,
And followed the river
Towards its source,
The seasons have changed
And the light
And the weather
And the hour.
But it is the same land.
And I begin to know the map
And to get my bearings.
Markings opens with the following poem and closes with the one above.
It's difficult to believe that almost forty years passed between the two.
Thus it was
I am being driven forward
Into an unknown land.
The pass grows steeper,
The air colder and sharper.
A wind from my unknown goal
Stirs the strings
Still the question:
Shall I ever get there?
There where life resounds,
A clear pure note
In the silence.
Post Edited (09-25-03 15:08)
Thankyou Glenda. I think we will have to leave it there.
Post Edited (09-25-03 14:54)
Yes - thanks very much everyone - it was most interesting, especially Stephen finding the source of the poem and Glenda having a copy. I shall have to read up on the poet's official career. The Goya painting Marian and Hugh found does seem a likely inspiration for the poem, and fits nicely into my set of linked poems and paintings.
fits nicely into my set of linked poems and paintings.
You may find this thread (4 pages long) on Eratosphere of interest:
Yeah, that's where I got the 'ekphrastic' term from, so what? Prolly misused it, though. If ekphrastic is the poetry about the painting, what is the term for the original painting itself, in such a context?