Monday, January 2, 2012

Joseph Brodsky

Joseph Brodsky (1940–1996) is a Russian poet who early faced the displeasure of the Soviet government. He was discriminated against for his Jewish background, and when he was just 23 years old was arrested and tried for “parasitism”. This brought him to the attention of the West. Many campaigned for his release until he was eventually expelled from his home country. W.H. Auden was among those who helped him to settle in the United States, where he became poet-in-residence at the University of Michigan, in 1973.

While still in Russia, Brodsky had learned Polish and English so that he could translate such poets as Czeslaw Milosz, and John Donne. Even after having come to the U.S. he wrote his poetry in Russian, and then often translated it into English. In 1987 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, and in 1991 he became poet laureate of the United States.

From 1962 to 1993 Joseph Brodsky wrote a Christmas poem virtually every year. These poems have been collected in his book Nativity Poems. Brodsky called himself a “Christian by correspondence”, since he often felt insecure in his faith; even so, within his verse he acknowledges deep truths.

Christmas Star

In a cold time, in a place more accustomed
To scorching heat, to flat plains than to hills,
A child was born in a cave to save the world.
And it stormed, as only winter’s desert can.

Everything seemed huge to him: his mother’s breast
The yellow steam of the camels’ breath, the Magi,
Balthazar, Caspar, Melchior, their gifts, carried here.
He was all of him just a dot. And the dot was a star.

Attentively and fixedly, through the sparse white clouds
Upon the recumbent child, on the manger, from afar,
From the depths of the universe, from its very end,
A star watched over the cave. And that was the father’s gaze.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca