"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.