Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature: over 400,000 monthly users

Robert Bernard Hass: Oedipus in Thebes

When he left the palace, the streets were nearly empty

Save for the women wailing at the altar, rending air

With sobs and litanies, the smoke from their incense pots

Thick and fragrant, perfuming the shrouded dead.

Above the city walls, bearded vultures circled

And, one by one, unfurled their talons to drop lamb bones

On the ossuaries. Old men huddled in drystone doorways,

While children, who had not yet fallen ill, clicked their tongues

As they led the oxcarts, heavy with clay pots, to distant wells

Where the water had not yet soured. Dogs dismembered a stillborn child,

While in the temple, the priests of Apollo argued among themselves

Over whom to blame for the night air blown in from Ethiopia.

The affair with the Sphinx declined to afterthought, her broken wings

And shattered body merely an omen for the surge of weltering blood

And unbearable longing for the world that had been: fields lush

With ripening grain, the easy commerce of touch and talk and laughter.

The gods had never been so angry, and though the children

Of Cadmus lit olive branches, filleted with wool, and chanted

Supplications to appease the god of war, nothing would salve

The fever of dying Pericles, drowning in his own blood.

So there the proud man stood beneath the temple columns,

His anger mounting at the sight of so much pain, vowing

To find the cause no matter the cost—just hours from the scene

Of the hanged Jocasta and the truth that would devour him.

Copyright 2021 Robert B. Hass

Robert Bernard Hass (born 1962) is an American poet, literary critic, and professor at Edinboro University in Pennsylvania.

Oedipus and Antigone, or the Plague of Thebes, by Charles Jalabert, 1843, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Marseille

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Enter your email address to follow Vox Populi and receive new posts by email.

Join 12,131 other followers

Blog Stats

  • 4,309,998 hits


%d bloggers like this: