The opening line in most obituaries of Robert Conquest, who died on August the third, described him as a “historian and poet.” That would be a capacious enough description for most men of letters. In Tom Stoppard’s The Invention of Love, Charon keeps A. E. Housman waiting on the banks of the River Styx for a second arrival since he is expecting two people, “a poet and a scholar,” until Housman says shyly: “I think that must be me.” In Bob’s case Charon would have been waiting for a historian, a poet, a novelist, a satirist, a critic, a diplomat, a strategist, a soldier, a social and political theorist, a limerickist, and of course a scholar—and I have almost certainly left out some of Bob’s other professional identities. Charon probably brought along a second boat.
by Robert Conquest
Into one’s ninetieth year.
Memory? Yes, but the sheer
Seethe as the half-woken brain’s
Great gray search-engine gains
Traction on all one’s dreamt, seen, felt, read,
. . And on one’s dead.
-Which makes one’s World, one’s Age, appear
Faint wrinkles on the biosphere
Itself the merest speck in some
Corner of the continuum.