A block is laid — Se coloca un bloque — Un bloc est posé

Poem drafted in San José, Costa Rica in January, perhaps with some odd premontion que un colapso va a venir ? English original, then versions en Español et en Français.

A block is laid

Après Christian Rohlfs, Akrobaten (Acrobats), by William Eaton (oil pastel and brush pen), 2020A block is laid, a pillar raised,
Which may support a beam across,
A few walls here and windows there,
A little dome with gold perhaps,
Until somehow that must collapse,
And from the rubble more is raised –
So much better, the new is praised,
Catacombs, spires, electric doors,
Secured somehow to what before,
Or a future pile of debris,
In which artists, writers, soon will find
Order, beauty, mystery,
While carpenters keep on hammering,
Since idleness rarely pays;
And in between the collapses . . .
While some must worry; most are amazed.

Español

Se coloca un bloque

Se coloca un bloque, se levanta un pilar,
sobre ello una viga se puede apoyar,
aquí unas paredes, mientras ventanas allá,
una cúpula pequeñita con oro quizás,
hasta que -¡cómo no!- el colapso va a venir,
sobre restos llorados algo nuevo construir,
que siempre se ve más y más extraordinario,
con gárgolas, sarcófagos y lo demás, todo,
menos vinculados a los trozos del pasado,
más a la brillantez de residuos de punta,
al fulgor de escritores y de las artistas
que siempre encontrarán misterio, orden, belleza,
mientras que los carpinteros siguen martillando,
ya que por construir reciben sus salarios.

Entre los colapsos, se preocupan hay quienes,
pero le gusta asombrarse a la gran mayoría.

Français

Un bloc est posé

Un bloc est posé, un pilier soulevé,
Et une poutre en travers peuvent-ils supporter ?
Quelques murs ici, quelques fenêtres là-bas,
Un petit dôme muni de feuilles bien dorées,
Jusqu’au moment où le tout va s’effondre,
Et on pourra refaire sur les décombres,
Et tellement mieux – comme le new est loué !
Quels marbres, quelles flèches, quelles portes électroniques,
De moins en moins liés à l’ignare archaïque,
Et plus à l’espoir d’un futur fantasmé,
Avec les artistes, les écrivains pour y trouver
De l’ordre, du mystère et de la beauté !
Au rythme des marteaux des charpentiers –
Faut toujours construire pour être payé ;
Construire, écrouler et patin-couffin.

Certains faibles vont toujours s’inquiéter.
Mais la plupart – heureusement ? – restent stupéfaits.

— Poem(s) and drawing by William Eaton. Drawing is after a tempera painting by Christian Rohlfs, Acrobaten (Acrobats), 1916, which is in the collection of the Museum Folkwang in Essen, Germany.

∩ Some months after I wrote this poem I came across Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s rather more optimistic, nineteenth-century take on the subject: The Builders. Three of the stanzas here:

For the structure that we raise,
Time is with materials filled;
Our to-days and yesterdays
Are the blocks with which we build. . . .

Build to-day, then, strong and sure,
With a firm and ample base;
And ascending and secure
Shall to-morrow find its place.

Thus alone can we attain
To those turrets, where the eye
Sees the world as one vast plain,
And one boundless reach of sky.

This, we may say, is centuries from the present —

 . . . from the rubble more is raised –
So much better, the new is praised,
Catacombs, spires, electric doors,
Secured somehow to what before,
Or a future pile of debris, . . .

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