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.