Elegy, for the Poet’s Father, Dr. Anthony Signorelli


by Mark Anthony Signorelli (Feburary 2010)

After your rites of mourning had been fulfilled,

My father, and the reluctant fact instilled

Of your enduring absence within my heart,

I took a volume of yours, and sat apart,

To stare at the vacant, petrified remains –

The robust thrones of inaccessible brains –

From what were men, or such as seemed like men;

And I considered how time and its discipline

Joined you forever to those unthought durations,

The vast eons of death, and the oblivious nations

That have arisen, reveled in the mirth

Of their momentary being, then passed from the earth:

The proto-humans of Afar, whose pithecine eyes

Might have adumbrated the first and the faintest surmise

Of their brutal end, as they traipsed an upright course

Through the smoldering fields of Laetoli, and those masters of force,

Pounding their natural tools in a flake-strewn forge,

Where they preyed and were preyed upon in the heart of the gorge

At flowering Olduvai, and the first of our kind,

Who washed in the Omo’s dark waters, with fledgling mind

Perturbed by what lay in the shapes of the firmament,

And what lay beyond, and that tribe of arcane descent

Who dwelt among the surety of sullen caves

In the quiet vale of Neander, adorning the graves

Of fostered kin with the yarrow flowers they culled,

The initial testament of grief in a world

That afterwards would moan with its profligacy,

And the Clovis folk, with elated savagery

Hurling chert-lances against their monstrous game,

Driven as much by the rivalry and the fame

Of the notable conquest as any compulsion to feed,

And those who reigned in Cahokia, so proud of their breed

That they raised the sod above their forbears’ remains

To heights which dominated the neighboring plains,

Convinced that the death of a king was a circumstance

Which nature, for all her usual indifference,

Should note and lament. And when all the millions of years

Have dissipated again which ushered those peers

In the aimless pageant – indeed, when tenfold a span

Has come and gone by in the tenebrous passage of man –

You’ll come not again; your lesser universe,

Annihilated by life’s abiding curse,

No epoch will heal, no generations restore

To integrity, so long as this frame perdure

Beneath the dominion of time and longing. Still I,

Irreconciled to a fate I could not defy,

Contend with death in the only manner I may

By preserving the memory of what you were from decay,

As I could not your body, and amid long ruination

Erecting an everlasting protestation

Against your perishing, certain of this,

That whatever else the loathsome metastasis

Of mutinous nature could violate and confound,

It ought not have done so to you, who was so sound,

So moderate in judgment, so generous a friend,

Such a lover of lovely things, who could apprehend

In the least of beauty’s fugitive visitations

Among your quiet days, the sufficient occasion

For perfect delight, whose lifelong study it was

To comprehend the genuine springs and the laws

Of human striving, with ever unbittered mind

Considering what baseness was there to find

In the welter of motivation, behind the mask

Of our custom and proper speech – a difficult task.

Little the waning age could spare such a man.

Now you have returned to that void from which you began,

Oblivious to all the goodness that thrives

In our sweet world – to the elemental joy that revives

At the rise of each day, the inscrutable ecstasy

Of embodied being that births the melody

Of a thousand songs, such as you loved to hear.

Nor will the mass of our delirious sphere

Fail to repay that very indifference,

But he who has laughed, will laugh; who has danced, will dance,

And he who has been consumed by some veiled ambition

Will struggle still to bring it at length to fruition,

Quite as if there was never such a catastrophe

As the dignified person you were, ceasing to be.

But what is most sad is that I, your only son,

Having wept the appointed season, must carry on

And live henceforth as though you had not been,

Taking a hand in marriage, watching the scene

Of the novel soul stir in my child’s first motions,

While you remain like the earth. Nor can my devotions

Alter the merest moment of the iron past

When we quarelled, and the greater part of the blame was cast

On myself, as I know, or how I failed to attain

Any prominence in life and affairs, and gain

Your valued esteem, such as every son aspires

To have of his father, and every father desires

To bear towards his son, since I was born with the art

Of fashioning language after the pulse of the heart,

And regarded the work of its perfect consumation

A glorious endeavor, since never an eminent nation

But revered the skill of matching wisdom to rhymes –

But a poet gets no honor in these times.

For these things there is no adequate remedy,

No truth of our realm that soothes the cruelty,

Or helps us to understand it after our ways,

But the evil of it persists till the end of days;

And God forbid I insult your memory

By taking comfort in easy falsity

When all should be sorrow, protest, and lamentation.

Still, I think I have cause for honest consolation

When I reflect on all you have left to me-

Not merely the pattern of flesh, but the legacy

Of intellectual fervor that was the prime thing

In your earthly character, that famishing

After the knowledge of full and final truth

Which I caught of your emulation in my youth,

And from which I trust I will never suffer divorce

Till the last and the feeblest hour of my physical course,

But keep with me, in spite of age and despair

This treasure, and finest fruit of a father’s care.

And so I perceive this marvel of human existence,

Which but for its transient state, and the helpless persistence

Of parasitical woe, we might be deceived

To take for the paradise so long bereaved –

A fragile garden, abounding and crystalline –

We know it not in itself, not its origin

In the pre-material deliberation,

Nor what is the last fruition of creation

To be in the harvest of eternity,

But each of us lives an incorrigible mystery,

Forever mired in final ignorance

Of our experience authentic significance,

Forever disturbed by hopes of transcendent worth.

And as obscure as the moment of our birth

Is the moment of our death -I cannot declare

With the least assurance what truly happened there

In the darkness before morning, when the distress

Of your affliction that raged beneath my caress

Conquered the vital springs, and the ashen tone

Invaded your limbs, and in the room alone

I wept tears as violent as ineffectual;

Nor can I guess in what shadow lands you dwell,

Nor in what form or mode incorporal

You continue your wonted being, or if at all.

But like all men here, I catch fleeting auguries

Of unearthly ends, and changeless verities

In the human constitution, and also I sense,

With the perfect warrant of normal sapience,

How insufficient is matter, and all of these things

Bear an intimation of different reckonings,

And suggest that what transpired in that hideous night

Awaits its proper account, that one may requite

Our souls for what they endure in our mortal day,

That nothing good is wholly thrown away,

That the judgment together shall time and death remove,

And life’s last word shall be accorded to love.

So much we have for wisdom in this world,

So much I am content with – from nothingness hurled

Into this state of startling contingency,

Where the best of things to our minds is charity,

I cast my lot with the more illustrious hope.

Henceforth I live as one whose aims have scope

Beyond the evident realm, and the imperfect merits

That crown the common labor; one who inherits

A patrimony in death, thus satisfied

To know my rueful impermanence, and abide

The ineluctable moment when it appears;

And one who will hold, till the last of my unknown years,

Your memory in reverence and gratitude,

And harbor the faith, however much it elude

The adequacy of thought, that I’ve not said

The last of farewells to you, but that it is laid

In the fullness of time to sit by you again-

After the vanity and the passions of men-

When we wake together beneath ineffable skies

To see ourselves at last with altered eyes,

But hearts with all the accustomed love astir,

And weep for the sorrows of our lives that were.

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