“Naked We Stand on the Naked Ground”

I have been cleaning out my office and found this item among some papers I had inherited when I became chair.  It is poem about Statius’ Thebaid by my former colleague and well-loved Sewanee Classics professor, Bill Bonds.  It is scrawled on the torn-off corner of an old mimeographed quiz.

Naked we stand on the naked ground
Under the naked sky.
Shining with naked sword in hand,
No one but you and I.

Naked they lie on the naked earth;
The heavens are naked of gods.
Naked at last, their armor gone
Clutching the naked clods.

If you don’t know the Thebaid, let me just say it is a rhetorically sophisticated and completely bleak epic from the time of the tyrannical emperor Domitian.  Bill spelled out his thoughts more fully in a scholarly article (“Two Combats in the Thebaid,” Transactions of the American Philological Association, Vol. 115 [1985], pp. 225-235).  In fact, I found Bill’s poem among his notes for this article.  If you knew Bill, you will understand why this brilliant and unsentimental work appealed to him.

About Uncomely and Broken

I am a classicist in Sewanee, Tennessee.
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6 Responses to “Naked We Stand on the Naked Ground”

  1. Nick says:

    Amazing. It brings Bill back in every respect, and in others that I never knew. As good as some good and memorable twentieth century poems.

    Chris, a slip of the cranium: you transcribed “ground” for “earth.”

    Also, although I can’t see any alternative to “shining,” it doesn’t look quite right on the MS. Are those last two letters really N and G? Maybe, but the N doesn’t look like Bill’s other Ns. Of course your reading makes sense, since “Shining” is provoking as an epithet proper to swords, but transferred to us – and strangely suggestive once transferred. And yet…

  2. Hi Nick– Yes, I was astounded to come across this. I presume the poem was written in the 80s, maybe earlier, when the rest of the papers date to, I think. When did mimeographs cease being used? It dates to a time when Bill was in better health, at any rate.

    Thanks for catching the mis-transcription of “earth,” and I’ve changed it. As to “shining,” I think that’s it. The “-ing” looks somewhat like the “-ing” of “clutching” in the last line, don’t you think? I’ll have another look at the original this afternoon to double-check.

  3. Mark says:

    Super cool! Faculty meetings were always surprisingly funny because of Bill.

  4. Yeah, it’s “shining.” The N is written sort of crookedly, but it’s legible enough on the original document.

  5. Nick says:

    Shining we stand, then…. Thanks for bringing us to light.

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