Monday, November 05, 2012

E.H.R. Altounyan: Ornament of Honour [excerpt]

Ernest Haik Riddall Altounyan (1889-1962) is the author of a book length poem, Ornament of Honour, published in 1937 at Cambridge University Press. It is dedicated to T.E. Lawrence and written within six months of the latter's death. Altounyan, a doctor, had founded a hospital in Aleppo and had met Lawrence there, before moving to England.


You never saw that crooked moon
Behind Aleppo's citadel:
You never saw it shine again
In Dorsetshire.
For you had died a week ago
And I live on, a man disguised,
Thinking our thoughts and gaieties.

Come, curse me for this solemn dirge,
Haltingly fashioned, word on word,
Protesting "Nought is changed at all
In the Universe."
It is a lie! You know it now,
As you sleep rotting, once a man,
Disjointed from our pleasant plan
Of sweet converse.

You smile at last: let us not talk but see
Each other's faces through the emptiness of loss,
Knowing that all is dross,
Save spirit and the vision self-contained.


The sky no longer holds that crooked moon,
A full-orbed light outshines the enfeebled stars,
Peace of a sort now settles, but too soon
To presage the defeat of this dim Mars.
Still from the vapours of the torrid day
Steals a miasma through the clear spread night,
Enfolding in a shroud the spirit's play
Contemplative, serene in dead moonlight.
From birth to death there is no settlement
For all the wars of passionate desire,
Waged for some timeless live embodiment
To crown our forcèd passage through this mire.
O temporal life! Not Christ, not incarnation,
Can ever atone this life and this frustration.


Of what avail, if to the range of man
We add a thousand million years of light?
Of what avail, if in this monstrous span
Our bodies flower passionate and whole?
Now, in this new-born moment of delight
When youthful suns still strut upon a morn,
Tossing aside the flimsy cloak of night,
Now, as I feel the thrusting bud of dawn
And hold the certainty of perfect bloom,
It nought avails, if swirling from the dark
And still imprisoned fount of years unborn
I now can feel the closing púlse of Time:
For pressing backward from the last of man
The tide of doom must filter through our pores
Converting satin sheen to dropsical
Dull pitting mass of one entrangled fear
Of doom to come.

If doom there be no present joy can mask
The secret tremor of the soul at bay;
Therefore uneasily we rise and fall
Upon the surface of our shallow cares...

APP would like to thank Vicken Koundakjian for the information and research of this piece.

No comments: