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ODYSSEUS TO TELEMACHUS, by         Recitation     Poet Analysis     Poet's Biography


In "Odysseus to Telemachus," Joseph Brodsky presents a poignant rendering of the emotional landscape navigated by Odysseus, the protagonist of Homer's epic, "The Odyssey." This epistolary poem is infused with themes of distance-both physical and emotional-between a father and son separated by war and a seemingly endless journey. Furthermore, it is a meditation on memory, identity, and the often ambiguous nature of heroism and victory.

Odysseus opens with a telling admission: "The Trojan War / is over now; I don't recall who won it." This line reveals the erosion of memory and the dilution of triumph, making us question the value and purpose of war, conquest, and so-called heroism. Brodsky captures the fatigue and disillusionment of a man for whom the battle's outcome has lost meaning. In saying "I don't recall who won it," he adds a layer of tragic irony, for it was ostensibly for victory that so many sacrifices were made.

The image of space stretching "while we were wasting time" evokes the elasticity and subjectivity of time, which slows or quickens based on emotional states. In Odysseus's world, time seems to have expanded, becoming an additional labyrinth from which he struggles to escape. The mention of Poseidon, the god who tormented him throughout his journey, serves as a metaphorical nod to the forces-both divine and human-that seem intent on preventing his return home.

Odysseus finds himself in an unfamiliar setting, "some filthy island," which is depicted as a wasteland overrun with "weeds" and "great grunting pigs." This disorienting vagueness mirrors his internal state. It is not just the physical landscape that confuses him; his own emotional and mental landscapes have become twisted labyrinths. "To a wanderer the faces of all islands / resemble one another," he says, pointing to the tedium and confusion that stem from ceaseless traveling. His senses are overwhelmed, his memory faulty. He admits that he can't remember "even how old you are," suggesting a painful emotional distance has sprouted from the physical separation between him and Telemachus.

Perhaps the most striking section is the final stanza, where Odysseus reflects on his son's growth and the absence that has protected Telemachus from "Oedipal passions." The reference to the Oedipus complex introduces a fresh layer of complexity, hinting at the darker implications of father-son relationships. In Odysseus's eyes, his absence might have been a sort of twisted blessing, shielding his son from the emotional complexities that could arise from their coexistence.

"Your dreams, my Telemachus, are blameless," the poem ends, leaving the reader with a bittersweet taste. Though there is physical and emotional distance, though they are separated by years and experiences that defy easy understanding, the dreams of the young are untainted. In this complex emotional terrain, Brodsky navigates the relationship between a legendary hero and his often-overlooked son, drawing us into their worlds and making us question the nature of heroism, the reliability of memory, and the complex emotional fabric that binds parent and child.


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