Ode on the Source of the Clitumnus


   There you are, waiting for me,
Or someone, to praise you. Propertius praised you,
Carducci praised you–it isn't enough.
   There you are, still bubbling away,
Filled with more fish than Nature unassisted
   Could possible contrive, and not three yards
From the highway–in short, a perfect sight.
Walden Pond, which I have never visited,
   Is said to be in the same fix–clogged
With cans and candy wrappers, alive with the jokes
   Of tourists who drive there with no good
      Idea of who this Thoreau
Might have been or why he settled in of all places
   This, but who all certainly must have expected
      Something a little nicer.

But wasn't the world always a mess–especially
   Just off, like this, Via Flaminia?
      Without wanting to lay asphalt
On the last living blade of grass, one may suggest
   That any beauty, over-advertised,
Inevitably perishes. Mont Blanc has not survived
   Unscathed till now: then could
      The Source of the Clitumnus?
No. You will grow uglier year after year
   Until no one will stop to look at you,
No guidebook will mention your name, and poets
      Will have ceased to read
Propertius and Carducci; the Fiats and Peugeots
Will whiz by you in their haste to see St. Mark's
      Subsiding into the lagoon.

   But still you will persist to rise
Miraculously from the earth, and while you do
You must be praised. Every day the world
   Grows poorer as the population
Soars. There doesn't seem to be much time
   Until the likeliest holocaust prevails.
      Billions of us, at least,
Will die, and this fact already begins to seem
A little tiresome. So we are dying–haven't others
   Died before? Yes–and that's exactly why
We must praise the Source of the Clitumnus.
   Not that you are beautiful, not at all–
      But because you have outlived
Temples, highways, and religions, and because
      You are there, waiting for us.


Tom Disch, Yes, Let's: New & Selected Poems, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989.