Raoul Schrott (trans. Ti­mothy Adès)

Mi­tad del Mundo

The London Magazine - - CONTENTS - Raoul Schrott

The poem is in the form of a let­ter sent from Ecuador to a loved one, far away. Mi­tad del Mundo, Mid­dle of the World, is the name of the im­pos­ing Equa­tor mon­u­ment there. The phrase equally means Half the World (Hemi­sphere) which sug­gests the dis­tance the let­ter will travel.

The poem’s two halves make a mir­ror im­age: in this trans­la­tion, as in the orig­i­nal, the rhymes are per­fect, and each line rhymes with, and is pre­cisely the same length as, its coun­ter­part equally far from the mid­dle.

The mon­u­ment con­sists of a globe mounted on a tall plinth that ta­pers up­wards from its square base. La Con­damine in 1735 took ge­o­desic mea­sure­ments here. Sim­i­lar work in France later set the length of the new in­ter­na­tional unit: a me­tre, de­fined as one fortymil­lionth of the earth’s cir­cum­fer­ence. This pre­vailed over the older idea of the length of a pen­du­lum swing­ing for pre­cisely one sec­ond.

The true po­si­tion of the Equa­tor was found to be a lit­tle dis­tance away. Even the amus­ing un­of­fi­cial mu­seum may not be plumb on the line. Blur­ring and in­ac­cu­racy are a theme of the poem.

Right, well I’m writ­ing to you … a sort of stepped pyra­mid made of stone marks the mid­point of a tourist town whose end-size can’t be reck­oned all round are moun­tains of glassy black and quar­ries and craters wind full of sand · for this the earth has been lev­ered up from its axis here and put on the plinth of a mon­u­ment

as if at high noon it sud­denly suf­fered sus­pended an­i­ma­tion I can­not pro­pose any rea­son at all for my equa­nim­ity it’s as if the to­tal ab­sence of shadow brought ev­ery­thing into true blurred shaky post­card photos in shops of sou­venir tourist tat the girth of the earth the colourised prints of an his­panic for­tuna hold­ing her globe · I’ve a mem­ory it’s that turquoise blue

of pointed shoes dis­played for sale that you found too blue and so didn’t want · phrases heard by chance, like pedir la luna and no­tice­boards of ce­les­tial me­chan­ics, all de­scrib­ing what mock-ups quite sim­ply make ob­vi­ous · a dusty light flares through the void, for noth­ing else is on board the de­serted sky

and in an­swer to your ques­tions I can un­earth no ex­pla­na­tion apart from … but by this sta­sis our cease­less or­bit was sent down from above at last and is at least ma­noeu­vred on to the equable level · in the old days they said the equa­tor’s where they de­fined the me­tre, as far as a pen­du­lum swings in a sec­ond it’s fur­ther away than I’ve been from you, when­ever I’ve upped and gone.

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