The boxer at rest – poem

The Boxer at Rest is one of the most admired ancient works of art. Since it was found – in 1885 on the slopes of the Quirinale, where the Baths of Constantine stood – an intense debate has arisen between scholars that has lasted more than a century and is still continuing. There are those who were initially deceived by the presumed signature “Apollonios Nestoros” found on the left glove by Rhys Carpenter in 1927. There are those who date the work to the end of the 4th century BCE (attributing it to Lysippus and his school – Paolo Moreno) and those who have referred it to late-Hellenist production of the 1st century BCE (so to a later sculptor capable of mixing different styles and sensitivities – Nikolaus Himmelmann, Federico Rausa, Ridgway, Matteo Cadario); those who have identified the boxer as the Mys di Taranto who won at Olympia for the first time in 336 BCE at the end of a gruelling career of continuous defeats, and those who see him as Polidamante (Paolo Moreno), an athlete of legendary strength born in Tessaglia and then called to the court of Persia by Darius II. Some have identified him as a historic figure (Nikolaus Himmelmann) and others as a heroic mythical one (Wilfred Geominy). But whether the sculpture represents a loser who unexpectedly claims victory at the end of his career or a winning athlete, whether it portrays a historic person or a hero, the thing that matters to us – what has always attracted us – is the “transcendent tiredness” (Moreno) that oozes out of him. Shown by the artist in the act of turning his head when something special is happening (Kairós), the boxer is seated, profoundly marked by deep cuts and copious bleeding all over the right side of his body. We do not know what that turn of the head means: has he perhaps just heard the referee’s decision? Another call to fight? Or is it a look at the excited crowd? Or perhaps a mute questioning of Zeus in search of some answer? The numerous controversies unleashed in the attempt to explain that gesture have informed all the mystery and poetry, all the seduction of the work.

In composing the poem it was natural for me to speak of that moment from the point of view of the boxer. I decided to do so without opting for one interpretation or another. On the other hand, every time you want to analyse a work you profane it, an attempt is made on its irreducibility. Poetry should never be reduced to explanation.


everything’s
good
I feel
good
I hit
good
right on
hard

we’re there!
I cross
the limit
I no longer feel
anything
but I see
his grimace
it’s a grimace
of pain
I realize that
he’s hurting
that he feels
like a block
a grip
he seems
a prisoner
of his own body
he sways
seems
to give way
no!
he’s still there
he has that stare
that fixed stare
with it
he crowds me
shadows me
advances
I can again hear
voices now
shouting
I hear
my name
called loudly

here!
we are!
I no longer feel
anything
I cross
the limit
I strike
fast
dance
light
everything’s
good
I feel
good
I hit and move
good
in short skips
small steps
I turn
where I have to
do everything
as I should
he gets under
he hits me
it’s hot
I feel
my body
free
I feel
every fiber in me
that reacts
I keep moving
and hitting

we’re there!
he’s feeling
my blows
I know I have to
hold fast
and carry on
he hits me
in the face
a rush
goes through me pure
unstemmed
pain
I touch myself
the wound
is open
it spurts blood
but it’s
nothing
everything’s
good
it’s only
blood
I stare at him
he stares
back
but I’m
good

we’re there!
I see
nothing now
I feel
I only feel
a great heat
rising
and my body
gasp
gush
it’s my body
yes
my body
that gasps
foams
burns
all I can
sense
is spasm
all I can
feel
is pain
but it lasts
a moment
it lasts
only
a moment

it’s all over
it went
as it had to
as I would
have wanted
it not to
I look at myself
as if from a distance
the open wound
still spurting
blood
but it’s ok
like this
I’ve always lived
like this
in a red
red
sea
of blood
I look at myself
and see myself
a distance
and everything
is splendor
in the place I am
everything
is calm
and rapture
and pleasure
everything
is love
I look at myself
and see a man
just a man.