For the first time since about 1994, I think, my name is no longer mentioned anywhere on the Sydney Star Observer masthead. I've been reviewer, columnist, staff journalist and board member almost continuously since that time, for nearly ten years. I'll still be doing the odd film review but no longer consistently enough to rate a regular mention. An era has passed for me.

Reading the Star this week, Thursday 18 MArch, SSO 705, I came upon this article about texts commissioned for a new orchestral work, Seven Last Words, by George Lenz for the Australian Chamber Orchestra. The writers include poets David Malouf (he will always be a poet to me), Dorothy Porter and Peter Goldsworthy. And maybe cartoonist Michael Leunig also is doing poetry for this one as well.

Here's what Malouf said to Star editor, Marcus O'Donnell:

"Malouf offers seven short poems, all versions of the Emperor Hadrian’s short poem to his departing soul.

Soul, small wandering one,
My lifelong companion,
Where will you go
– numb, pale, undefended –
now the jest we shared is ended?

"Many people have tried to translate the original Latin but in fact no translation is possible because the Latin words are so precise yet have so many gestures that you can’t get across in a very short poem in English," Malouf says.

"So what I’ve done is seven versions of it … they are teasing out the associations that are in the poem. It is a sort of love poem in the original but I’ve also certainly teased out that aspect of it.

"I thought it would be interesting to put a serious poem in the program that was about death and about the body and the soul but that didn’t necessarily belong to the Christian tradition but belonged in fact to a pre-Christian tradition. That’s the other half of our inherited world and the classical world often speaks as movingly as the Judaeo-Christian world does about these serious matters."

There is also a love story behind the poems. Hadrian had a male lover Antinous who tragically drowned in the Nile at the age of nineteen. The distraught Hadrian commanded the priests to declare Antinous a god and as a god the face of the golden youth haunts the statues and engravings of late classical culture.

"Antinous is probably one of – if not – the most recognisable face in classical art. It’s a well recorded and very famous relationship and the poem must reflect that," Malouf says."

The last hours of Christ seem to be taken over by Hollywood mega-hype at the moment but these 'seven last words' seem much more imaginative. The texts are to be read by legendary Australian actor, Jack Thompson, but unfortunately for me, the concert will be on Sunday 21 March, when I will be doing a poetry reading in Canberra.


Popular Posts

Questions, but no answers: while editing a manuscript

Viva the Real - shortlisted!

‘The fast fold of fret lines’: Intimacy, ecopoetics, and the local