Glassco, John

Canada, (1909-1981)

The Whole Hog

  1.  
  2. When I was very young my mother told me
  3. That my father was the strongest of men
  4. (Not in words at first, of course – but I knew);
  5. Later I learned he was the best and bravest;
  6. And during my adolescence (a difficult
  7. Time for us all) I had her whispered word for it
  8. He was the wisest parent in the world.
  9.  
  10. Long ago I put aside the question
  11. Of her motive in this matter. . . . Perhaps
  12. A sense of guilt for the disloyalty
  13. Of a too-clear, too-wifely valuation
  14. Of his man’s-worth, was expiated so:
  15. Enough that I too now appreciate
  16. The situation, and appraise the need.
  17.  
  18. For now I wonder about his part only,
  19. Asking myself through just what consciousness
  20. Of his own fragility the man was induced
  21. To accept this grand vocation – as he did –
  22. And dropping all else, set himself to become
  23. Great God to a little child? It is a question
  24. That opens up vistas of personal hell. . . .
  25.  
  26. To be the Absolute to someone else:
  27. Figure the concitations of the demon
  28. That drove him to this! Like a hunted beast,
  29. Like a starving man, like a falling stone,
  30. He followed his blind will to its end in nature,
  31. Projected himself into infinity
  32. And silvered a looking-glass in his son’s eye.
  33.  
  34. I try to guess what image haunted him,
  35. What spectral littleness of man alone:
  36. Paltry Invictus with the head of clay
  37. Jabbered at him from the pools in his mind,
  38. Loomed in the coalsacks of its sky, met him
  39. At flowery turnings in his private garden,
  40. In sleep, in love, at billiards, at the ball;
  41.  
  42. Until he must have realized that the world was
  43. Not only too much with him, but too much for him –
  44. For poor Invictus, the poor gentleman
  45. Who laid claim, simply, to the whole universe,
  46. But brought no vouchers, bore no strawberry mark!
  47. And when lovely woman failed him, womanly,
  48. He built an altar in the sands of my heart.
  49.  
  50. I have not sacrificed there for years . . .
  51. But the altar stands, eternal absolute,
  52. As if its foundations were laid in living rock;
  53. And when I went whoring after strange gods,
  54. Why, they were Gods, and it was whoring still –
  55. With reason, unreason, duality of will,
  56. And many others, masks of Nobodaddy.
  57.  
  58. In my father’s house there were no dissensions,
  59. There, all was unanimity and family:
  60. Now the plates fly in my head night and day;
  61. There, was infallible authority:
  62. Now I am free as a crow to fly or stay;
  63. There, was no check nor doubt nor indecision:
  64. Here I am a dog whistled by many masters,
  65.  
  66. Always obliged to go the whole hog,
  67. And with no hambone even to drop in the water;
  68. Nosing about the world for love and tid-bits
  69. I am still baffled by the faith-breakings
  70. Of flesh in season and sonorous language
  71. That tell me I also am a piece of property
  72. And rouse only my barking rhetoric in answer;
  73.  
  74. For experience only leads me about in a circle,
  75. And learning by heart still leaves my heart rebellious
  76. To the violent patterns, the makeshift morals
  77. Whose insoluble equation leaves me as cold
  78. As the by-blow baby left all night on the doorstep:
  79. – That home with wealthy windows lit; is mine!
  80.  
  81. See the Portland vase before the Venetian mirror
  82. In my father’s house. It is filled with honesty.
  83. The abstraction found its body long ago
  84. In a plant of eternally desiccated leaves,
  85. As my father’s demons spoke of his hold forever
  86. On my heart, and mine of the fragile tenure
  87. Of all things: we have learned the porcine betrayals.

John Glassco. The Deficit Made Flesh. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, (1958).

About the Poet:

John Glassco, (1909-1981), was a Canadian poet, translator and writer. Glassco is best known for his elegant, classical poems, his translations and his brilliant autobiography, Memoirs of Montparnasse.

He was instrumental in laying the foundation of modern translation in Canada. Glassco’s translations of French Canadian poetry are, along with F.R. Scott’s, the finest yet to appear. Notable translations include The Complete Poems of Saint-Denys Garneau (1975) and the anthology The Poetry of French Canada in Translation (1970). [DES-07/13]

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