Saturday, October 8, 2011

How I won the raffle

Dannie Abse is a deservedly celebrated Welsh poet -- and before his retirement he was also  a physician.  I first saw "How I Won the Raffle" in Poetry  in 1992 -- now it also is included in his collection Be Seated Thou (Sheep Meadow Press, 2000).

   How I Won the Raffle     by Dannie Abse

   After I won the raffle with the number
   the Master of Ceremonies asked me why,
   ‘Why did you select that particular number?’

  ‘A man’s character is his fate,’ I replied,
   leaning lazily on a quote as usual.

   And suddenly I thought of Schopenhauer’s
   two last men in the world, two gaunt hermits,
   meeting each other in the wilderness,

   how an amiable man like Pufendorf
   might postulate they’d shake hands;
   a Hobbes they’d kill each other;
   a Rousseau they’d pass each other by
   in terrible silence.

   ‘In short,’ said the Master of Ceremonies
   ‘you chose 1079 because you had to.’

  ‘In short, I chose 10 because in the old days
  ten men used to walk around a new grave.

   ‘I chose 7 because those ten men used to walk
   around the new grave seven times.’

   Also because of they pyramids of Egypt;
   the hanging gardens of Babylon;
   Diana’s Temple at Ephesus;
   the great statue of Zeus at Athens,
   the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus;
   the Colossus of Rhodes;
   and the lighthouse of Alexandria.

   ‘I chose 9 because among all numbers
   it looks most like a musical note;
   nine because of the nine orders of Angels;
   nine because of the nine rivers of Hell.’

   Also because of Clio with her backward look;
   Calliope, stern, staring at her scroll;
   Erato, nude, except for her brassiere;
   Euterpe, eyes closed, flute in her mouth;
   Terpsichore dancing away, silly one;
   Melpomene, arms raised, dagger in hand,
   Thalia, mirthless, behind her laughing mask;
   Polyhymnia, in sacred robes, orating;
   and Urania, dreamy, head amid the stars.

   ‘Sir,’ I said,
   to the scowling Master of Ceremonies,
   ‘that’s why I chose the winning number

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