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From the Book of Byzantium -- Parts 1 and 2

by seanfarragher 

Posted: 10 March 2005
Word Count: 302
Summary: The Poetry Seminar Group looked at this several months ago. How about Poetry IV. What do you think? Argument Byzantium: As children are abused by adults, terror grows. As horror expands, intellect diminishes and lives are wasted in the pursuit of apparent gods, forgotten nightmares and natural greed. That wound reminded me of my own face when I was beated and raped as a child. In the mirror now I am more blank than before terror was tasted as air failed and sulfuric smoke was rising.
Related Works: From the Book of Byzantium -- Parts 5 and 6 -- By Laurie Fallon, A Virtual Person Dead 9/11/01 • From the Book of Byzantium -- Parts 3 and 4 • Living Will – Ecclesiastes 12 • Narratives of New Netherland: 1611-1621 • Poems with Anais Nin • 

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The Book of Byzantium (September 11, 2001)
© Sean Farragher (work-in-progress)

by William Butler Yeats

“...The unpurged images of day recede;
The Emperor's drunken soldiery are abed;
Night resonance recedes, night walkers' song
After great cathedral gong;
A starlit or a moonlit dome disdains
All that man is,
All mere complexities,
The fury and the mire of human veins.”

From the Book of Byzantium
By Sean Farragher


Consider Byzantine cross, bare sky,
icon, Juden Star, lapis lazuli.

Worship oak branch, bronze
statues guard the banks
of Hudson; bathe in gray ash
of its shallows; list in
fallout of repeated terror.

In witness skim World Trade debris
for nacreous shell; load barges
with magic flutes while weapons
bang out terrified signs and
mad butchers, meat grinders
poised, screwed, locked and loaded,
delivered hamburger with applause.


Late Spring 1953 -Age ten.
Part 2

You are on the edge of Byzantium and I pull you
inside or you pull outside. I have been speaking
recursion for a week. There was a time in my past
when my father slashed death with a butcher's knife.

He did not cut, but I bled. What's the measure
of criminal intent? My mother stood in his path
and saved her son but later that night molested
the boy while her husband slept off drink.

I should know what happened.
I did not. Many years blind.
Life went blank out of wet dream.

Dad had promised Yankee Stadium
but cancelled. "I'm drunk," he said.
I left on my own.
followed the bus to 168th,
D train, I would not miss my life.

My Angels warned:

"Go to the Yankee stadium," --
Marilyn Monroe will spray
sex in your eyes."


more to come

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Comments by other Members

Elsie at 20:36 on 10 March 2005  Report this post
Hi Sean
These were comments for the first piece you posted in this group, whipped away as I was writing!

I have to admit I am still puzzled by some of the links you make, and I’d love to know what certain lines mean:

Greece rained as dark summers in a fields of blood
when Axis and Nazi rained in the text of Sumerians
written in cuneiform on mud and straw now by America.

All poems begin in the flight of that war
of self and soul that Yeats made the
bounty of his last years in Sligo churchyard.

Who has said:
“the passage of oil or the destruction
of skyscrapers” is more important than childhood?

where Parnassus, a lovely place for lovely gods

Is there a word missing here?

I have noticed from the link to your ‘Byzantium’ work that you link 9/11 to sex, you say sex ‘caused’ the tsunami. “Sex began the wave and recovery too.”

I’d like to hear your thinking behind this.

seanfarragher at 21:19 on 10 March 2005  Report this post
Sex and death are part of the Dionysian cycle. Read Lawrence, Henry Miller, Baudelaire, Joyce and many others

A good reference for this is Camile Pagalia's Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson (1990)

Sex, death, metamorphosis are part of the whole of literature as fully as celibacy and aestheticism.

I do not say ever that sex caused this or that in human terms. Sex and death are part of the rocks, part of that movement of millions of years of mountain building and erosion. It is part of the formation of stars, nebulae and galaxies. It is as much a part of the unknown dark matter of the universe as the big bang the greatest sexual act of all known time.

In some ways an earthquake is a sexual act as the planet's plates grow, twist, and continents change.

This process of constant change (sex and death) makes us human in the actual sense of creating life and in its necessary destruction.

We are sex and we go to death. You can create life without sex today, but what a horrible situation.

I do not follow, moreover, the Torah of the Bible as it comes to sex, its diminishment or its control. Sex is dynamic. It is part of every force in nature. If I follow any religion on sex, it would be the Hindu experience, and its larger pantheon.

I am asking a question when I ask about childhood, terrorism and the distribution of oil to favor the present economic and political status quo. The world is changing as sex again with the billions of Chinese and Asians who will inherit this culture in the future.

"Greece rained as dark summers in fields of blood
when Axis and Nazi rained in the text of Sumerians
written in cuneiform on mud and straw now by America."

Consider the long history of the Middle East. Summer existed before Babylonia. The city of Uhr was Baghdad. Cuneiform was their lexicon. Mud and straw were used for writing tablets. And America is obvious. Today the US act as the Egyptians did or Alexander the Great later did in his movement through present day Iraq and Iran.

"All poems begin in the flight of that war
of self and soul that Yeats made the
bounty of his last years in Sligo churchyard."

I believe poetry is created in that war between the conscious and unconscious minds. Read his poetry after 1919.

“the passage of oil or the destruction
of skyscrapers” is more important than childhood?"

I have said it. As a human being of 62 years the question of how we treat children and how terror is used to abuse them relate to the general scheme of terror in the world. I say it. I am my own source, and my own force.

No words are missing in that passage. In some post modern poetry words are cut that interrupt the flow of the poem.

Nell at 09:36 on 12 March 2005  Report this post
Sean, it seems, even without your explanation above that your work is based on huge ideas coupled with classical references, some of which are immediately accessible, others less so, and to appreciate fully most readers would need at least a little research. (I'm Referring here to the missing poem as well as to the two above.) For me these poems need time for absorbtion; I'm drawn to the couplet at the beginning of Lapis Lazuli for its poetic quality but the rest seems deliberately clipped in language and uninviting. It's certainly as dark as one would expect from the subject with undertones of chaos and madness. I'm intrigued by the Marilyn poem - was the event Jack Kennedy's birthday? Again the clipped style and dark subject matter, which seems so personal that it's like watching someone bleed and doing nothing about it. Uncomfortable, which is not to say that poems should make us feel good, but....


seanfarragher at 16:48 on 12 March 2005  Report this post
No, in 1953 Marilyn was with Joe DiMaggio. He had retired from the Yankees in 1951. He eventually married Marilyn Monroe much to the consternation of the Roman Church. I, a lapsed Roman, remember the Priest saying that Joe D was not a good ball player anymore. How silly I thought. My mom was beaten every day by my father, and I remember the Priest saying to my mother, "have patience."

Marilyn was an abused child. I was a physically and sexually abused child by both parents.

Marilyn became as you know an icon of her time.

At ten years of age I visited Yankee stadium (getting there by myself) and briefly watched Joe and Marilyn.

When I saw the movie "Some Like it Hot" and other movies I was struck by her comedic intensity and developed a dark fascination with her. More will appear in the poem about it. She resembled my mother.

Interesting comment: clipped style. My strength as a poet is my lyricism and image making. Perhaps I have taken too much out of the poem.

I will be posting the poem Byzantium here every two days two sections at a time. I would appreciate your reaction to the poem.

It is a dark poem about child abuse, sexual predators and the horror of 9/11.

I realize much of the world is somewhat bored by 9/11 considering the policy the US has followed in Iraq. I have mixed feelings about the war. On one hand I do see it as necessary and moral to protect Israel by showing the horror of hell (allusion to the line from the Gladiator when the Gladiator says at the opening.... "Unleash hell.") How can I defend that aggression? I think of the power and influence of Islam, and how it evolved as THE RELIGION, allowing no others. I also have an adult daughter who has benefited from the shift from out and out sexism to a co-opted sexism in our culture. How can any western person support an aggrandizing culture that would make half of its people slaves to the other half? Many mixed thoughts lead to many incomplete questions.

By the way, isn’t the missing poem in the archives here?

Thanks so much




Of course, Isalm and the world of the Middle East, Indonesia and other parts of the world would say America is the aggrandizing culture. It is a no win situation. Perhaps, that is the horror of it. Are we in a pre WW1 situation? Actually, the issues of WW1 were never resolved in the Middle East, Ireland and what became Yugoslavia. We forget the name of that culture. Byzantium was also a forgotten name, but it was the name of the ancient culture.

Nell at 17:48 on 12 March 2005  Report this post
Sean, I somehow missed the date at the top of the poem or I wouldn't have asked that question, but the image that came instantly to mind was Marilyn singing Happy Birthday Mr President... Would she have become/remained an icon if she hadn't died when she did? It's her air of vulnerability I remember most, and yes, she was/is fascinating to men and women alike, and not necessarily from a sexual perspective.

You clearly have a powerful story to tell that seems to be haunting you even after all these years. Have you considered writing it as prose? And does writing about your experiences, whether as poetry or prose, help with moving past them or does it intensify their power over you? Feel free to ignore that question if you'd rather, and incidentally, we have an excellent memoirs group here on WW that might interest you.

I did find the original poem again; Elsie's comments made me think you'd replaced it with these two. Re. images - they're strong in both poems, but it's possible that a certain bluntness suits the content better than obvious lyricism.

Re. war, I can only say that I'm glad those decisions are not mine to make.


seanfarragher at 17:53 on 12 March 2005  Report this post
Actually, as the whole poem of Byzantium appears there are sections of prose-poetry mixed with some less lyric (than usual) poems. Yes, I have to be blunt. I am preparing the next two sections to post today. Thank you for your interest. Yes, I too am glad I dont have to decide about war. Elections prove nothing, and I doubt given the reasonable fear of terrorism no protest by citizens will change the path of the President. As much as I personally dislike him, I have to hope his misguided policies turn out differently than he expects and somehow we will find a resolution to this horror show that shows a more peaceful face.

fevvers at 14:09 on 14 March 2005  Report this post
Hello Sean

Just a quick query - are you wanting feedback on the poem? It's just that by posting up a section every two days you're not giving members enough time to read the poems and comment on them, bearing in mind this is a poem rich in complexity. If you'd like feedback, then I'd suggest you post sections once a week to give us time to read and comment on it.


seanfarragher at 14:14 on 14 March 2005  Report this post
I agree -- That was my perspective. One week sounds ideal. I can post work to other sections in between. I appreciate your suggestions.

Cornelia at 09:51 on 07 June 2005  Report this post
Hi Sean!

I agree we need time to read the poem several times before commenting. I can make very little of it at first reading, although I can recognise the original experience that started the urge to expression. There are similar things from my own childhood that I have not yet written about partly because my perpective is different, and partly because I wouldn't know where to start. You are ery brave to attempt it, I think, or perhaps you have no choice. I recognise the Yeats quote but I am tangled up in the lack of grammar continuity from verse one, and this this may be a drawback or disability on my part. Even apart from this, the imagery is hard to sort out, so yes, it definitely needs time. If commentary is needed it should be included in the text, rather than added on as explanation.There were two Byzantium poems by Yeats, as I remember one called 'Sailing to Byzantium'. Which is most relevant to yours? A re-read might help, is what I'm thinking.


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