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A Soliloquy for Cassandra

Felicia Appenteng [1]

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This is quite simply one of the most beautiful and interesting poems that I have ever read.  Since reading Metamorphoses [2] and the Oresteia [3], I have been fascinated with the figure of Cassandra [4], and I find her to be one of the most beautifully complex characters in all of the literature of Antiquity.  I hope that readers enjoy this poem as much as I have.

Happy New Years Eve!

Click here to read this poem in Spanish [5]

A Soliloquy for Cassandra

by Wislawa Szymborska [6]

Here I am, Cassandra.
And this is my city under ashes.
And these are my prophet’s staff and ribbons.
And this is my head full of doubts.

It’s true, I am triumphant.
My prophetic words burn like fire in the sky.
Only unacknowledged prophets
are privy to such prospects.
Only those who got off on the wrong foot,
whose predictions turned to fact so quickly—
it’s as if they’d never lived.

I remember it so clearly—
how people, seeing me, would break off in midword.
Laughter died.
Lovers’ hands unclasped.
Children ran to their mothers.
I didn’t even know their short-lived names.
And that song about a little green leaf—
no one ever finished it near me.

I loved them.
But I loved them haughtily.
From heights beyond life.
From the future. Where it’s always empty
and nothing is easier than seeing death.
I’m sorry that my voice was hard.
Look down on yourselves from the stars, I cried,
look down on yourselves from the stars.
They heard me and lowered their eyes.

They lived within life.
Pierced by that great wind.
Condemned.
Trapped from birth in departing bodies.
But in them they bore a moist hope,
a flame fuelled by its own flickering.
They really knew what a moment means,
oh any moment, any one at all
before—

It turns out I was right.
But nothing has come of it.
And this is my robe, slightly singed.
And this is my prophet’s junk.
And this is my twisted face.
A face that didn’t know it could be beautiful.