From the Antigone of Sophokles, a version in memory of Martin Heidegger, 1889-1977
Strangeness is frequent enough, but nothing
is ever as strange as a man is.
riding the grey-maned water,
heavy weather on the southwest quarter,
jarred by the sea’s thunder,
tacking through the bruise-blue waves.
Or he paws at the eldest of goddesses,
earth, as though she were made
out of gifts and forgiveness,
driving his plough in its circle year after year
with what used to be horses.
Birds’ minds climb the air, yet he snares them,
and creatures of the field.
and the flocks
of the deep sea. He unfurls
his folded nets for their funeral shrouds.
Man the tactician.
So, as you see, by his sly
inventions he masters
his betters: the deep-throated
goats of the mountain,
and horses. His yokes ride the necks
of the tireless bulls who once haunted these hills.
And the sounds in his throat
gather the breezes that rise in his mind.
He has learned how to sit on committees
and learned to build houses and barns
against blizzards and gales.
He manages all and yet manages
nothing. Nothing is closed to the reach of his will,
and yet he has found no road out of hell.
His fate, we all know, is precisely
what he has never outwitted.
Wise, yes – or ingenious.
More knowledge than hope in his hand,
and evil comes out of it sometimes,
and sometimes he creeps toward nobility.
Warped on the earth’s loom
and dyed in the thought of the gods,
a man should add beauty and strength to his city.
But he is no citizen whatsoever
if he is tied to the ugly by fear or by pride
or by greed or by love of disorder or order.
May no one who does not wonder
what he is and what he does
suddenly arrive at my fireside.
Robert Bringhurst, “Of the Snaring of Birds” in Selected Poems (Port Townsend, Washington: Copper Canyon Press, 2011)