Poetry Corner: Glory by Robert Pinsky

Pindar, poet of the victories, fitted names 

And legends into verses for the chorus to sing: 

Names recalled now only in the poems of Pindar: 

O nearly unpronounceable immortals, 

In the dash, Oionos was champion: 

Oionos, Likmynios’s son, who came from Midea. 

In wrestling, Echemos won—the name 

Of his home city, Tegea, proclaimed to the crowds. 

Doryklos of Tiryns won the prize in boxing, 

And the record for a four-horse team was set 

By Samos from Mantinea, Halirothios’s son. 

And Pindar, poet of the Olympian and Isthmian 

And Pythian games, wrote also of the boundless 

And forgetful savannas of time. What is someone?

The chorus sing in a victory ode—What is a nobody?

Creatures of a day, they chant in answer, Creatures 

Of a day. So where is the godgiven glory Pindar says 

Settles on mortals?—Bright as gold among the substances, 

Say the chorus, paramount as water among the elements. 

Not in the victory itself, petty or great, 

Of rich young Greeks contending in games. 

Not in the poetry itself, with its forgotten dances 

And Pindar spinning among tiresome or stirring 

Myths and genealogies, the chanted names 

Of cities and invoked gods and dignitaries— 

Striving, O nearly unpronounceable athletes, 

To animate the air with dancing feet raising 

A golden pollen of dust: a pervasive blur 

Of seedlets in the sunlight, whirling—beyond mere 

Victory or applause or performance, 

As victory is beyond defeat. 

The one who threw the javelin furthest 

Sang the chorus, chanting Pindar’s incantation 

Against envy and oblivion, was Phrastor. 

And when Nikeus grunting whirled the stone 

Into the air and it flew past the marks 

Of all the competitors, Nikeus’s countrymen 

Shouted his name after it, Nikeus, 

Nikeus, and the syllables so say the lines Pindar 

Composed for the sweating chorus to chant—radiated 

For a spell like the silvery mirror of the moon.

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