Not A Hymn to Venus

Among my suppressed poems from the 1970s, I found a draft of this poem, which was inspired by my reading of the crackpot book, "Worlds in Collision," by Immanuel Velikovsky, who claimed that Venus and Mars had a near collision within human memory before Venus settled into its current orbit. Velikovsky claimed that the Biblical Flood occurred because of this planetary catastrophe. Under the bizarre spell of this book I encountered Lucretius's great scientific poem, De Rerum Naturum ("The Way Things Are," or "Concerning the Nature of Things,") which begins with a hymn to Venus the goddess. I never published the poem, as any reader would assume that I subscribed to Velikovsky's theories, even though it was more a whimsical piece asking "How would you address the goddess/planet if it really had done us that much harm?"

This revision includes an epigraphic opening verse that recounts the Velikovksy ideas so that the poem pretty much self-explicates, and then the mock-hymn commences. I think it's fun now, and I am happy to welcome this poem into my garden of little monsters and blasphemies. Lord knows, Venus has never done me any favors, anyway.

Unfair to Luna to call mad Velikovsky a lunatic,
so let us call him merely a madman. In Worlds
In Collision this self-taught astronomer declared fair Venus
a cosmic interloper, whose gravity-war with Mars
and brush with Earth produced the Biblical Great Flood
and a race memory of planetary dread. Nonsense
of course, but argued with passion and the paste-pot
of history and art, psycho- and anthro- pology:
Planets as billiard balls; humans remembering
the cataclysm as a universal shriek of “Ia!”.
Under its spell, I rewrote the hymn of old Lucretius
who commenced The Way Things Are with Aphrodite-praise.

Not to you, o shining ascendant world,
morning and evening the brightest of all
in the cold night sky, not to you, Venus,
do I bring my praise and supplication.
I know from what dark nebula you came,
an apple of discord sent hurtling on
by One resenting our sweet yellow sun.
I know that man’s love is not your care
for does not loveless marriage fill the earth
with more than enough starving progeny?
Young men befooled, and maidens, may worship
and make offerings at your temple door,
while in the sad garden out back, old maids
sit in a line for whoever takes them,
the last and least bargain you offer them
before they’re only fit for winding sheets.
Seen from far off, so close to horizon,
your distance blinds us to your jagged teeth
which once unskinned the rock-strewn globe and sent
men howling back into ancestral caves;
nor can we see your fiery white tresses
which once ripped through our virgin atmosphere,
your poison breath of naphtha upon us,
oceans ripped into a tidal tumult,
a watery death that spared no lovers.
Your palpitations were not welcome then,
fair Venus, and even less welcome now.
Mars kicked you sunward; Earth lay in ruins
from just one passing toss of your girdle.

Meanwhile, we humans have outgrown panic.
Outward we look to the far suns, the blackness
nearly infinite between the galaxies.
We yearn to find our place of origin,
the place from which the oldest life blew down
athwart the wind between worlds, as we yearn
to endlessly invent new poems and songs,
vast fugues and operas and symphonies,
inwardly big as the outwardly vast.
We no longer backward-looking, blinded
no more by the sun we orbit, are winged.
That we yet live, upon a bleeding earth,
and dream such wide-eyed dreams, I do rejoice.
And you, Cytherean Venus — stay put!


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