From Shakespeare’s Coriolanus 1.1: Coriolanus (Martius) to the citizens – “Go get you home, you fragments.”
Is that what we are – fragments? Incomplete wholes. Scraps.
So much of the ancient world comes to us in fragments, even in a great poet’s work. Think of Anne Carson’s translations of Sappho and all the ancient Greek poet’s missing words and lines. Think of all the missing plays by Aeschylus, Euripides and Sophocles. Of scores of plays by Sophocles, for instance, only seven have come forward to us.
What do we remember of the dead? The quality of their laugh, their smile, maybe the texture of their voice, a keepsake if we received one, a shared experience, a word or two they dropped in our ear. Maybe how they walked or held their head. Fragments, in any case.
So much of our own lives are fragmented and fragmentary and so much of our memory consists of fragments. Time eats you, beats you up, rips you apart—pick your verb.
Jeanette Winterson: “Life is layers, fluid, unfixed, fragments.” Virginia Woolf: “We’re splinters & mosaics; not…immaculate, monolithic, consistent wholes.”
We’re Stephen De Staebler’s bronze and ceramic sculptures – patchworks of stuck-on parts, fitting together awkwardly, incongruously.
Cavafy, the 20th century Greek poet from Alexandria, memorably re-enacts the fragmentariness of life in a poem published in 1917, translated by Daniel Mendelsohn:
In the Month of Athyr
With difficulty I read upon this ancient stone
“LO[R]D JESUS CHRIST”. I can just make out a “SO[U]L”.
“IN THE MON[TH] OF ATHYR” “LEFKIO[S] WENT TO HIS RE[S]T.”
Where they record his age “THE SPAN OF YEARS HE LI[VE]D”
the Two and Seven are proof that he went to his rest a youth.
Amidst the erosion I see “HI[M]…AN ALEXANDRIAN.”
Then there are three radically amputated lines;
but some words I can make out ― like “OUR T[E]ARS,” “THE PAIN,”
further down there’s “TEARS” again, and “GRIEF FOR [U]S, HIS [F]RIENDS.”
When it came to love, it seems to me that Lefkios was greatly blessed.
In the month of Athyr Lefkios went to his rest.
As the late Kurt Vonnegut liked to say, “Don’t take life too seriously. No one gets out alive.”