The Sailings of the Homer

A poem by William Mullen


For Ami de Grazia

Train your eye on the blue ridge of the distant island,
think of a Homer, blind and old, who is dying there.
That was his last sailing.  There they received him well.

Like a cosmos shaped by gods from dismemberment of a monster,
a Hellas was shaped from the prime moments of the Homer's life,
meted each in turn to island or littoral city.

He is weaver of places and tales into a net cast on the sea--
a net cast by a blind man, and the sea takes it.
He wanders from host to host and the net is always with him.

He is marshaller of the speech of men to a single measure,
like the sea's table, same for Baltic as for Mediterranean.
Table for chiefs and bards.  Table for gods and men.

At his first sailing, with his first song, when he came to the god,
the oracle said he would die on his mother's native island.
He went elsewhere, in a great circle of littoral cities.

And finally came to the god again, to the altar of horn
where the god had been born, island center of a circle of islands.
Blind at the center, he sang the birth of the god of the center,
cast for the last time his net of place and tale--
how the god's mother had roamed in labor to give him birth,
how only the Bright Island, humble, had taken her in.

He sat by the tomb of the god's girls, from beyond the north
(god of the center and god of the north were one and the same).
Sat and sang, encircled by girls who sang and danced,

amazing mimics of the dialects of the tribes of men.
Pleaded, teasing, with the vivid girls, to say one thing:
should a much-suffering man, wandering, come their way

and ask them who it was whose song had pleased them most,
to mention a blind man, who came from a rocky island,
and say his song would be the best forever after.

Then said goodbye to the girls.  And sailed to his mother's island,
on the south rim of the islands that dance around Bright Island.
Train your eye on its blue lines, its invisible harbor.

The wind billows the sail, and the tiller sets the course.
Suffering luffs the mind, and the song steers it to comfort.
The heart harbors a Homer.  The Homer comes into harbor.