When the swordsman fell in Kurosawa's Seven Samurai in the gray rain, in Cinemascope and the Tokugawa dynasty, he fell straight as a pine, he fell as Ajax fell in Homer in chanted dactyls and the tree was so huge the woodsman returned for two days to that lucky place before he was done with the sawing and on the third day he brought his uncle. They stacked logs in the resinous air, hacking the small limbs off, tying those bundles separately. The slabs near the root were quartered and still they were awkwardly large; the logs from midtree they halved: ten bundles and four great piles of fragrant wood, moons and quarter moons and half moons ridged by the saw's tooth. The woodsman and the old man his uncle are standing in midforest on a floor of pine silt and spring mud. They have stopped working because they are tired and because I have imagined no pack animal or primitive wagon. They are too canny to call in neighbors and come home with a few logs after three days' work. They are waiting for me to do something or for the overseer of the Great Lord to come and arrest them. How patient they are! The old man smokes a pipe and spits. The young man is thinking he would be rich if he were already rich and had a mule. Ten days of hauling and on the seventh day they'll probably be caught, go home empty-handed or worse. I don't know whether they're Japanese or Mycenaean and there's nothing I can do. The path from here to that village is not translated. A hero, dying, gives off stillness to the air. A man and a woman walk from the movies to the house in the silence of separate fidelities. There are limits to imagination.
From Praise by Robert Hass, published by the Ecco Press. Copyright © 1978 by Robert Hass. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.
Robert Hass, who won the National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize for his collection Time and Materials, served as poet laureate of the United States from 1995 to 1997 and as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 2001 to 2007.
Date Published: 1978-01-01
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/heroic-simile