Academic journal article The Hudson Review

The King's Question

Academic journal article The Hudson Review

The King's Question

Article excerpt

Before he put his important question to an oracle,

Croesus planned to test all the famous soothsayers,

Sending runners half around the world, to Delphi,

Dodona, Amphiarius, Branchidae, and Ammon,

So as to determine the accuracy of their words;

His challenge: not to say anything of his future

But rather what he was doing in his capital Sardis,

(Eating an unlikely meal of lamb and tortoise,

Exactly one hundred days after messengers had set out).

This posed a challenge, then, of far space not of time:

Of seeing past dunes and rock fortresses; of flying,

Freighted, above caravans and seas; of sightedness,

As it were, in the present construed as a darkened room.

Croesus of Lydia sought by this means to gauge

The unplumbed limits of what each oracle knew,

Hesitant to entrust his fate to any unable to divine

Lamb and tortoise stewing in a bronze pot.

When only the Pythia of Apollo at Delphi correctly

Answered from her cleft, her tripod just the lens

For seeing into the royal ego, she put his mind to rest,

But not before speaking in her smoke-stung voice:

I count the grains of sand on the beach and the sea's depth;

I know the speech of the dumb and I hear those without voice.

We know this because those present wrote it down.

Of the King's crucial question, however, there is nothing.

We have no word. The histories are silent.

My analyst,

Whose office on Madison was narrow as an anchorite's cave,

Would sit behind me as I stared up at her impassive ceiling,

As the uptown buses slushed all the way to Harlem,

And I would recount, with many hesitations and asides,

The play that I was starring in, whose Acts were as yet

Fluid, though the whole loomed tragically enough. …

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