Poem: For Mercury

I have it in mind to write seven planetary odes— hymns for the seven classical planets of the ancient world, and the principal divine forces of the “seven heavens” as laid out in classical Hellenistic/Roman philosophy, and as later used by Medieval Christians, and as later used by Renaissance humanists.

Today being Wednesday, the hymn in question is for Mercury:

Hermes, approach, and sweet communion lend,
Lord of intellect, most keenly applied:
Increase of prudence and memory lend;
Make my knowledge and talents deified.
For you are like the “flying squads” of old—
Joining memory and foresight as one,
And harnessing reason enyoked with will.
With such tricks, you defeated Argus bold,
And wooed sacred cows away from the Sun.

Son of Maia, with wingéd feet you fly —
Observing markets and studying games;
Thou source of gain, by means both fair and sly;
Lover of all peoples, shaper of names —
physicians call your wisdom to their wards;
Bankers grow rich by your interested gaze;
While politicians speak sweet oration
When you assist them. Happy sing the bards
And alchemists, also, explain your praise—
For you put words to imagination.

Knowledge and intellect, like twining snakes
Circled ’round the staff of the well-trained mind,
Combined, speak wisdom in human phrases;
And thus, the quicksilver power awakes:
The skillful use of symbols men defined—
Inventor of tongues, we sing your praises!
Angel of Jove and pyschopomp of peace,
Bringer of celestial arts to earth,
Bless your converts with intellect’s increase,
Graceful speech, and true knowledge of our worth.

I can’t even begin to explain how hard it was to write this. Three drafts. Usually it’s one, and done. First, I wrote a draft on the way to the airport. I was dissatisfied. Ugly in places. Hard to revise. Have to fix. That was draft one.

Second draft, in the air from Quito to Miami. What if I took these lines at the end and put them first? That means rewriting the whole middle verse, though. What if I rewrite this quartet of lines here, and cut and paste some of the other sections? That’s better. And that was draft two.

Draft three, here in the airport, waiting for the flight to New York. Gaah. I don’t like the way these pieces stack together. What if I put this sextet of lines with this quartet? What if I move this quartet to the end? No, what if I delete this whole quatrain, and rewrite these four lines, and move them to this place…? And this completes draft three.

Mister Mercury, you are a lot harsher and more annoying about rewrites than most of the others. I hope you’re satisfied, at least for now.

3 comments

  1. That’s very *tough* writing. It’s interesting you choose a little bit of an archaic way of writing, as opposed to a more modern style. Also, you have me wondering now, what types of modern images we can add to the mix of these ancient themes.

    What you’ve done here is really good!

    • Dear Tom,

      I suppose the writing is tough… But the themes are best expressed in a formal style — it’s a way to conjoin the tradition with my own labors.

      I have two more to write in this series, namely Jupiter and Saturn. And I’ll likely do some revisions of the others. And Sunday’s hymn is written, and revised. But not yet published. So that will be Sunday, in all likelihood.

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