The Coffee Table

Rafael Zulueta y da Costa
        Analysis on Selected Poems

Today’s Song (1933)

Tomorrow?—It matters not
What it may hold for me.
And yesterday?—I have forgot--
It is enough to be

Brief, and yet the poem conveys a “Come what may” attitude that expresses the speaker’s attempt to forget what had happened in the past, and move on to the future. The meaning behind the title connotes a way of thinking that will get a person past the day. It is the “song” of today because a song, under normal circumstances, is easily recalled for its tune and the melodic rhythm that the message is being delivered in. The poem follows a rhyme scheme of abab and is also considered as a quatrain verse. 

The Soldiers (1940)

I bring no flowers for the dead; my lips
Do not remember them. The weeping world
Makes holiday of death with flags unfurled:
Was not death victory for truth? Wax drips
In generous remembrance; tears eclipse
The run of blood; from pious censers twirled
With solemn dignity, behold: uncurled
The coils, the hate they call Apocalypse.
            Defeated dead, here is a song-bouquet
            I gathered from the slopes of silence. Take
            This pray’r, full of the grace of earth, I lay
            Before your fallen cross. They will forsake
            Your shrine; when ended is grief-holiday,
            Pray’r will, with flags, be neatly tucked away.

The Soldiers piece has a rhyme scheme of abba abba cdcdcc ee, making it a Petrarchan sonnet in which its octave portrays a sorrowful tone in the aftermath of an “Apocalypse”. The speaker asks, “Was not death victory for truth?” to emphasize the idea that truth (and the other virtues that go along with it) is unattainable without sacrifice, and in this case, a battle – hence, the idea of an ‘apocalypse’ as mentioned in the eighth line, as an event that had destroyed the lives of many and the reality that had been once there. But the Sicilian sestet of the poem justifies the deaths of the soldiers as an honorable, unparalleled sacrifice to achieve what is being sought. In continuation of the assumed ceremony taking place to honor the dead soldiers, the speaker offers a prayer which he or she believes would be eternal and would remain with them even if they have been forsaken by those who are still alive.

Eroica (1940)

So now we are alone in this great waste
Of fragments of a lost and vanished world;
In this great vast where we, a million years
Ago, first heard earth-song at cool of dawn;
First felt the brush of godly wings; looked up
And traced the pattern of eternal stars
Full of the grace of mystery; beheld
The dreaming, mist-enchanted wild of earth.
So long ago, we have forgotten how
To weep before the miracle of beauty;
Forgotten how the running of our blood
Was one with running water of all tides,
Of all time.
            You and I, so long ago.
There in the wind-swept sunrise, grass beneath
Our knees, we took the earth for all its glory
And dedicated all our dreams to earth.
We are become inebriate with the grape
Earth-scented with its twice two thousand years:
The taste of death is on our drunken lips.

Written in a free verse style, Da Costa’s Eroica may connote a biblical interpretation that includes Adam and Eve’s exile from the Garden of Eden. The clues which led me to arrive with this kind of interpretation are the images being portrayed by the poem itself, such as that of a deprived and a well-deprived land, and the act of taking for granted wonderful creations of earth. The last line, The taste of death is on our drunken lips, is especially strong in implying the common context found in the connotation of Da Costa’s poem and the Bible – Adam and Eve’s sin born out of their temptation to eat the fruit from the forbidden tree.

On the side note, given that kind of interpretation and besides being obvious with the fact that “Eroica” is not a word commonly used in everyday conversation, it would seem that at initial reading, the relation and meaning of “eroica” and the poem is not clear. But from what I’ve researched, the term “eroica” is the name of Beethoven’s Symphony no. 3 – perhaps this musical piece heavily inspired Da Costa in writing this poem and naming it as such.