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Best Famous John Ashbery Poems

Here is a collection of the all-time best famous John Ashbery poems. This is a select list of the best famous John Ashbery poetry. Reading, writing, and enjoying famous John Ashbery poetry (as well as classical and contemporary poems) is a great past time. These top poems are the best examples of John Ashbery poems.

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by David Lehman |

February 23

 Light rain is falling in Central Park
but not on Upper Fifth Avenue or Central Park West
where sun and sky are yellow and blue
Winds are gusting on Washington Square
through the arches and on to LaGuardia Place
but calm is the corner of 8th Street and Second Avenue
which reminds me of something John Ashbery said
about his poem "Crazy Weather" he said
he was in favor of all kinds of weather
just so long as it's genuine weather
which is always unusually bad, unusually
good, or unusually indifferent,
since there isn't really any norm for weather
When he was a boy his mother met a friend
who said, "Isn't this funny weather?"

It was one of his earliest memories

by David Lehman |

July 12

 Wisteria, hysteria is as obvious a rhyme
as Viagra and Niagara there must be a reason
honeymooners traditionally went to the Falls
which were, said the divine Oscar,
an American bride's second biggest disappointment
tell me which do you like better,
the American Falls or the Horseshoe Falls,
I say the Horseshoe Falls, Joe says,
because its magnificence surpasses the American Falls
thank you, Joe, and did you know
when Casey Stengel managed the Yankees
he sat next to Bob Cerv on the bench one day,
put his arm around the big outfielder, and said,
"One of us has just been traded to Kansas City"
I don't know what put that in my mind
except that it backs up Michael Malinowitz's line
about John Ashbery being the Casey Stengel of poetry
meanwhile the Yankees are playing like the Bronx Bombers of old
and though I used to hate the Yankees I'm just enough
of a New York chauvinist to feel gleeful about it
wait a minute I'll be right back I am back that's
another line I've always wanted to put in a poem
what it will say on Johnny Carson's gravestone
"I'll be right back"

by John Ashbery |

Daffy Duck In Hollywood

 Something strange is creeping across me.
La Celestina has only to warble the first few bars Of "I Thought about You" or something mellow from Amadigi di Gaula for everything--a mint-condition can Of Rumford's Baking Powder, a celluloid earring, Speedy Gonzales, the latest from Helen Topping Miller's fertile Escritoire, a sheaf of suggestive pix on greige, deckle-edged Stock--to come clattering through the rainbow trellis Where Pistachio Avenue rams the 2300 block of Highland Fling Terrace.
He promised he'd get me out of this one, That mean old cartoonist, but just look what he's Done to me now! I scarce dare approach me mug's attenuated Reflection in yon hubcap, so jaundiced, so déconfit Are its lineaments--fun, no doubt, for some quack phrenologist's Fern-clogged waiting room, but hardly what you'd call Companionable.
But everything is getting choked to the point of Silence.
Just now a magnetic storm hung in the swatch of sky Over the Fudds' garage, reducing it--drastically-- To the aura of a plumbago-blue log cabin on A Gadsden Purchase commemorative cover.
Suddenly all is Loathing.
I don't want to go back inside any more.
You meet Enough vague people on this emerald traffic-island--no, Not people, comings and goings, more: mutterings, splatterings, The bizarrely but effectively equipped infantries of happy-go-nutty Vegetal jacqueries, plumed, pointed at the little White cardboard castle over the mill run.
"Up The lazy river, how happy we could be?" How will it end? That geranium glow Over Anaheim's had the riot act read to it by the Etna-size firecracker that exploded last minute into A carte du Tendre in whose lower right-hand corner (Hard by the jock-itch sand-trap that skirts The asparagus patch of algolagnic nuits blanches) Amadis Is cozening the Princesse de Cleves into a midnight micturition spree On the Tamigi with the Wallets (Walt, Blossom, and little Sleezix) on a lamé barge "borrowed" from Ollie Of the Movies' dread mistress of the robes.
Wait! I have an announcement! This wide, tepidly meandering, Civilized Lethe (one can barely make out the maypoles And châlets de nécessitê on its sedgy shore) leads to Tophet, that Landfill-haunted, not-so-residential resort from which Some travellers return! This whole moment is the groin Of a borborygmic giant who even now Is rolling over on us in his sleep.
Farewell bocages, Tanneries, water-meadows.
The allegory comes unsnarled Too soon; a shower of pecky acajou harpoons is About all there is to be noted between tornadoes.
I have Only my intermittent life in your thoughts to live Which is like thinking in another language.
Everything Depends on whether somebody reminds you of me.
That this is a fabulation, and that those "other times" Are in fact the silences of the soul, picked out in Diamonds on stygian velvet, matters less than it should.
Prodigies of timing may be arranged to convince them We live in one dimension, they in ours.
While I Abroad through all the coasts of dark destruction seek Deliverance for us all, think in that language: its Grammar, though tortured, offers pavillions At each new parting of the ways.
Pastel Ambulances scoop up the quick and hie them to hospitals.
"It's all bits and pieces, spangles, patches, really; nothing Stands alone.
What happened to creative evolution?" Sighed Aglavaine.
Then to her Sélysette: "If his Achievement is only to end up less boring than the others, What's keeping us here? Why not leave at once? I have to stay here while they sit in there, Laugh, drink, have fine time.
In my day One lay under the tough green leaves, Pretending not to notice how they bled into The sky's aqua, the wafted-away no-color of regions supposed Not to concern us.
And so we too Came where the others came: nights of physical endurance, Or if, by day, our behavior was anarchically Correct, at least by New Brutalism standards, all then Grew taciturn by previous agreement.
We were spirited Away en bateau, under cover of fudge dark.
It's not the incomplete importunes, but the spookiness Of the finished product.
True, to ask less were folly, yet If he is the result of himself, how much the better For him we ought to be! And how little, finally, We take this into account! Is the puckered garance satin Of a case that once held a brace of dueling pistols our Only acknowledging of that color? I like not this, Methinks, yet this disappointing sequel to ourselves Has been applauded in London and St.
Somewhere Ravens pray for us.
" The storm finished brewing.
And thus She questioned all who came in at the great gate, but none She found who ever heard of Amadis, Nor of stern Aureng-Zebe, his first love.
Some They were to whom this mattered not a jot: since all By definition is completeness (so In utter darkness they reasoned), why not Accept it as it pleases to reveal itself? As when Low skyscrapers from lower-hanging clouds reveal A turret there, an art-deco escarpment here, and last perhaps The pattern that may carry the sense, but Stays hidden in the mysteries of pagination.
Not what we see but how we see it matters; all's Alike, the same, and we greet him who announces The change as we would greet the change itself.
All life is but a figment; conversely, the tiny Tome that slips from your hand is not perhaps the Missing link in this invisible picnic whose leverage Shrouds our sense of it.
Therefore bivouac we On this great, blond highway, unimpeded by Veiled scruples, worn conundrums.
Morning is Impermanent.
Grab sex things, swing up Over the horizon like a boy On a fishing expedition.
No one really knows Or cares whether this is the whole of which parts Were vouchsafed--once--but to be ambling on's The tradition more than the safekeeping of it.
This mulch for Play keeps them interested and busy while the big, Vaguer stuff can decide what it wants--what maps, what Model cities, how much waste space.
Life, our Life anyway, is between.
We don't mind Or notice any more that the sky is green, a parrot One, but have our earnest where it chances on us, Disingenuous, intrigued, inviting more, Always invoking the echo, a summer's day.

by John Ashbery |


 Orpheus liked the glad personal quality
Of the things beneath the sky.
Of course, Eurydice was a part Of this.
Then one day, everything changed.
He rends Rocks into fissures with lament.
Gullies, hummocks Can't withstand it.
The sky shudders from one horizon To the other, almost ready to give up wholeness.
Then Apollo quietly told him: "Leave it all on earth.
Your lute, what point? Why pick at a dull pavan few care to Follow, except a few birds of dusty feather, Not vivid performances of the past.
" But why not? All other things must change too.
The seasons are no longer what they once were, But it is the nature of things to be seen only once, As they happen along, bumping into other things, getting along Somehow.
That's where Orpheus made his mistake.
Of course Eurydice vanished into the shade; She would have even if he hadn't turned around.
No use standing there like a gray stone toga as the whole wheel Of recorded history flashes past, struck dumb, unable to utter an intelligent Comment on the most thought-provoking element in its train.
Only love stays on the brain, and something these people, These other ones, call life.
Singing accurately So that the notes mount straight up out of the well of Dim noon and rival the tiny, sparkling yellow flowers Growing around the brink of the quarry, encapsulizes The different weights of the things.
But it isn't enough To just go on singing.
Orpheus realized this And didn't mind so much about his reward being in heaven After the Bacchantes had torn him apart, driven Half out of their minds by his music, what it was doing to them.
Some say it was for his treatment of Eurydice.
But probably the music had more to do with it, and The way music passes, emblematic Of life and how you cannot isolate a note of it And say it is good or bad.
You must Wait till it's over.
"The end crowns all," Meaning also that the "tableau" Is wrong.
For although memories, of a season, for example, Melt into a single snapshot, one cannot guard, treasure That stalled moment.
It too is flowing, fleeting; It is a picture of flowing, scenery, though living, mortal, Over which an abstract action is laid out in blunt, Harsh strokes.
And to ask more than this Is to become the tossing reeds of that slow, Powerful stream, the trailing grasses Playfully tugged at, but to participate in the action No more than this.
Then in the lowering gentian sky Electric twitches are faintly apparent first, then burst forth Into a shower of fixed, cream-colored flares.
The horses Have each seen a share of the truth, though each thinks, "I'm a maverick.
Nothing of this is happening to me, Though I can understand the language of birds, and The itinerary of the lights caught in the storm is fully apparent to me.
Their jousting ends in music much As trees move more easily in the wind after a summer storm And is happening in lacy shadows of shore-trees, now, day after day.
" But how late to be regretting all this, even Bearing in mind that regrets are always late, too late! To which Orpheus, a bluish cloud with white contours, Replies that these are of course not regrets at all, Merely a careful, scholarly setting down of Unquestioned facts, a record of pebbles along the way.
And no matter how all this disappeared, Or got where it was going, it is no longer Material for a poem.
Its subject Matters too much, and not enough, standing there helplessly While the poem streaked by, its tail afire, a bad Comet screaming hate and disaster, but so turned inward That the meaning, good or other, can never Become known.
The singer thinks Constructively, builds up his chant in progressive stages Like a skyscraper, but at the last minute turns away.
The song is engulfed in an instant in blackness Which must in turn flood the whole continent With blackness, for it cannot see.
The singer Must then pass out of sight, not even relieved Of the evil burthen of the words.
Stellification Is for the few, and comes about much later When all record of these people and their lives Has disappeared into libraries, onto microfilm.
A few are still interested in them.
"But what about So-and-so?" is still asked on occasion.
But they lie Frozen and out of touch until an arbitrary chorus Speaks of a totally different incident with a similar name In whose tale are hidden syllables Of what happened so long before that In some small town, one different summer.

by John Ashbery |

Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror

 As Parmigianino did it, the right hand
Bigger than the head, thrust at the viewer
And swerving easily away, as though to protect
What it advertises.
A few leaded panes, old beams, Fur, pleated muslin, a coral ring run together In a movement supporting the face, which swims Toward and away like the hand Except that it is in repose.
It is what is Sequestered.
Vasari says, "Francesco one day set himself To take his own portrait, looking at himself from that purpose In a convex mirror, such as is used by barbers .
He accordingly caused a ball of wood to be made By a turner, and having divided it in half and Brought it to the size of the mirror, he set himself With great art to copy all that he saw in the glass," Chiefly his reflection, of which the portrait Is the reflection, of which the portrait Is the reflection once removed.
The glass chose to reflect only what he saw Which was enough for his purpose: his image Glazed, embalmed, projected at a 180-degree angle.
The time of day or the density of the light Adhering to the face keeps it Lively and intact in a recurring wave Of arrival.
The soul establishes itself.
But how far can it swim out through the eyes And still return safely to its nest? The surface Of the mirror being convex, the distance increases Significantly; that is, enough to make the point That the soul is a captive, treated humanely, kept In suspension, unable to advance much farther Than your look as it intercepts the picture.
Pope Clement and his court were "stupefied" By it, according to Vasari, and promised a commission That never materialized.
The soul has to stay where it is, Even though restless, hearing raindrops at the pane, The sighing of autumn leaves thrashed by the wind, Longing to be free, outside, but it must stay Posing in this place.
It must move As little as possible.
This is what the portrait says.
But there is in that gaze a combination Of tenderness, amusement and regret, so powerful In its restraint that one cannot look for long.
The secret is too plain.
The pity of it smarts, Makes hot tears spurt: that the soul is not a soul, Has no secret, is small, and it fits Its hollow perfectly: its room, our moment of attention.
That is the tune but there are no words.
The words are only speculation (From the Latin speculum, mirror): They seek and cannot find the meaning of the music.
We see only postures of the dream, Riders of the motion that swings the face Into view under evening skies, with no False disarray as proof of authenticity.
But it is life englobed.
One would like to stick one's hand Out of the globe, but its dimension, What carries it, will not allow it.
No doubt it is this, not the reflex To hide something, which makes the hand loom large As it retreats slightly.
There is no way To build it flat like a section of wall: It must join the segment of a circle, Roving back to the body of which it seems So unlikely a part, to fence in and shore up the face On which the effort of this condition reads Like a pinpoint of a smile, a spark Or star one is not sure of having seen As darkness resumes.
A perverse light whose Imperative of subtlety dooms in advance its Conceit to light up: unimportant but meant.
Francesco, your hand is big enough To wreck the sphere, and too big, One would think, to weave delicate meshes That only argue its further detention.
(Big, but not coarse, merely on another scale, Like a dozing whale on the sea bottom In relation to the tiny, self-important ship On the surface.
) But your eyes proclaim That everything is surface.
The surface is what's there And nothing can exist except what's there.
There are no recesses in the room, only alcoves, And the window doesn't matter much, or that Sliver of window or mirror on the right, even As a gauge of the weather, which in French is Le temps, the word for time, and which Follows a course wherein changes are merely Features of the whole.
The whole is stable within Instability, a globe like ours, resting On a pedestal of vacuum, a ping-pong ball Secure on its jet of water.
And just as there are no words for the surface, that is, No words to say what it really is, that it is not Superficial but a visible core, then there is No way out of the problem of pathos vs.
You will stay on, restive, serene in Your gesture which is neither embrace nor warning But which holds something of both in pure Affirmation that doesn't affirm anything.
The balloon pops, the attention Turns dully away.
Clouds In the puddle stir up into sawtoothed fragments.
I think of the friends Who came to see me, of what yesterday Was like.
A peculiar slant Of memory that intrudes on the dreaming model In the silence of the studio as he considers Lifting the pencil to the self-portrait.
How many people came and stayed a certain time, Uttered light or dark speech that became part of you Like light behind windblown fog and sand, Filtered and influenced by it, until no part Remains that is surely you.
Those voices in the dusk Have told you all and still the tale goes on In the form of memories deposited in irregular Clumps of crystals.
Whose curved hand controls, Francesco, the turning seasons and the thoughts That peel off and fly away at breathless speeds Like the last stubborn leaves ripped From wet branches? I see in this only the chaos Of your round mirror which organizes everything Around the polestar of your eyes which are empty, Know nothing, dream but reveal nothing.
I feel the carousel starting slowly And going faster and faster: desk, papers, books, Photographs of friends, the window and the trees Merging in one neutral band that surrounds Me on all sides, everywhere I look.
And I cannot explain the action of leveling, Why it should all boil down to one Uniform substance, a magma of interiors.
My guide in these matters is your self, Firm, oblique, accepting everything with the same Wraith of a smile, and as time speeds up so that it is soon Much later, I can know only the straight way out, The distance between us.
Long ago The strewn evidence meant something, The small accidents and pleasures Of the day as it moved gracelessly on, A housewife doing chores.
Impossible now To restore those properties in the silver blur that is The record of what you accomplished by sitting down "With great art to copy all that you saw in the glass" So as to perfect and rule out the extraneous Forever.
In the circle of your intentions certain spars Remain that perpetuate the enchantment of self with self: Eyebeams, muslin, coral.
It doesn't matter Because these are things as they are today Before one's shadow ever grew Out of the field into thoughts of tomorrow.
Tomorrow is easy, but today is uncharted, Desolate, reluctant as any landscape To yield what are laws of perspective After all only to the painter's deep Mistrust, a weak instrument though Necessary.
Of course some things Are possible, it knows, but it doesn't know Which ones.
Some day we will try To do as many things as are possible And perhaps we shall succeed at a handful Of them, but this will not have anything To do with what is promised today, our Landscape sweeping out from us to disappear On the horizon.
Today enough of a cover burnishes To keep the supposition of promises together In one piece of surface, letting one ramble Back home from them so that these Even stronger possibilities can remain Whole without being tested.
Actually The skin of the bubble-chamber's as tough as Reptile eggs; everything gets "programmed" there In due course: more keeps getting included Without adding to the sum, and just as one Gets accustomed to a noise that Kept one awake but now no longer does, So the room contains this flow like an hourglass Without varying in climate or quality (Except perhaps to brighten bleakly and almost Invisibly, in a focus sharpening toward death--more Of this later).
What should be the vacuum of a dream Becomes continually replete as the source of dreams Is being tapped so that this one dream May wax, flourish like a cabbage rose, Defying sumptuary laws, leaving us To awake and try to begin living in what Has now become a slum.
Sydney Freedberg in his Parmigianino says of it: "Realism in this portrait No longer produces and objective truth, but a bizarria .
However its distortion does not create A feeling of disharmony .
The forms retain A strong measure of ideal beauty," because Fed by our dreams, so inconsequential until one day We notice the hole they left.
Now their importance If not their meaning is plain.
They were to nourish A dream which includes them all, as they are Finally reversed in the accumulating mirror.
They seemed strange because we couldn't actually see them.
And we realize this only at a point where they lapse Like a wave breaking on a rock, giving up Its shape in a gesture which expresses that shape.
The forms retain a strong measure of ideal beauty As they forage in secret on our idea of distortion.
Why be unhappy with this arrangement, since Dreams prolong us as they are absorbed? Something like living occurs, a movement Out of the dream into its codification.
As I start to forget it It presents its stereotype again But it is an unfamiliar stereotype, the face Riding at anchor, issued from hazards, soon To accost others, "rather angel than man" (Vasari).
Perhaps an angel looks like everything We have forgotten, I mean forgotten Things that don't seem familiar when We meet them again, lost beyond telling, Which were ours once.
This would be the point Of invading the privacy of this man who "Dabbled in alchemy, but whose wish Here was not to examine the subtleties of art In a detached, scientific spirit: he wished through them To impart the sense of novelty and amazement to the spectator" (Freedberg).
Later portraits such as the Uffizi "Gentleman," the Borghese "Young Prelate" and The Naples "Antea" issue from Mannerist Tensions, but here, as Freedberg points out, The surprise, the tension are in the concept Rather than its realization.
The consonance of the High Renaissance Is present, though distorted by the mirror.
What is novel is the extreme care in rendering The velleities of the rounded reflecting surface (It is the first mirror portrait), So that you could be fooled for a moment Before you realize the reflection Isn't yours.
You feel then like one of those Hoffmann characters who have been deprived Of a reflection, except that the whole of me Is seen to be supplanted by the strict Otherness of the painter in his Other room.
We have surprised him At work, but no, he has surprised us As he works.
The picture is almost finished, The surprise almost over, as when one looks out, Startled by a snowfall which even now is Ending in specks and sparkles of snow.
It happened while you were inside, asleep, And there is no reason why you should have Been awake for it, except that the day Is ending and it will be hard for you To get to sleep tonight, at least until late.
The shadow of the city injects its own Urgency: Rome where Francesco Was at work during the Sack: his inventions Amazed the soldiers who burst in on him; They decided to spare his life, but he left soon after; Vienna where the painting is today, where I saw it with Pierre in the summer of 1959; New York Where I am now, which is a logarithm Of other cities.
Our landscape Is alive with filiations, shuttlings; Business is carried on by look, gesture, Hearsay.
It is another life to the city, The backing of the looking glass of the Unidentified but precisely sketched studio.
It wants To siphon off the life of the studio, deflate Its mapped space to enactments, island it.
That operation has been temporarily stalled But something new is on the way, a new preciosity In the wind.
Can you stand it, Francesco? Are you strong enough for it? This wind brings what it knows not, is Self--propelled, blind, has no notion Of itself.
It is inertia that once Acknowledged saps all activity, secret or public: Whispers of the word that can't be understood But can be felt, a chill, a blight Moving outward along the capes and peninsulas Of your nervures and so to the archipelagoes And to the bathed, aired secrecy of the open sea.
This is its negative side.
Its positive side is Making you notice life and the stresses That only seemed to go away, but now, As this new mode questions, are seen to be Hastening out of style.
If they are to become classics They must decide which side they are on.
Their reticence has undermined The urban scenery, made its ambiguities Look willful and tired, the games of an old man.
What we need now is this unlikely Challenger pounding on the gates of an amazed Castle.
Your argument, Francesco, Had begun to grow stale as no answer Or answers were forthcoming.
If it dissolves now Into dust, that only means its time had come Some time ago, but look now, and listen: It may be that another life is stocked there In recesses no one knew of; that it, Not we, are the change; that we are in fact it If we could get back to it, relive some of the way It looked, turn our faces to the globe as it sets And still be coming out all right: Nerves normal, breath normal.
Since it is a metaphor Made to include us, we are a part of it and Can live in it as in fact we have done, Only leaving our minds bare for questioning We now see will not take place at random But in an orderly way that means to menace Nobody--the normal way things are done, Like the concentric growing up of days Around a life: correctly, if you think about it.
A breeze like the turning of a page Brings back your face: the moment Takes such a big bite out of the haze Of pleasant intuition it comes after.
The locking into place is "death itself," As Berg said of a phrase in Mahler's Ninth; Or, to quote Imogen in Cymbeline, "There cannot Be a pinch in death more sharp than this," for, Though only exercise or tactic, it carries The momentum of a conviction that had been building.
Mere forgetfulness cannot remove it Nor wishing bring it back, as long as it remains The white precipitate of its dream In the climate of sighs flung across our world, A cloth over a birdcage.
But it is certain that What is beautiful seems so only in relation to a specific Life, experienced or not, channeled into some form Steeped in the nostalgia of a collective past.
The light sinks today with an enthusiasm I have known elsewhere, and known why It seemed meaningful, that others felt this way Years ago.
I go on consulting This mirror that is no longer mine For as much brisk vacancy as is to be My portion this time.
And the vase is always full Because there is only just so much room And it accommodates everything.
The sample One sees is not to be taken as Merely that, but as everything as it May be imagined outside time--not as a gesture But as all, in the refined, assimilable state.
But what is this universe the porch of As it veers in and out, back and forth, Refusing to surround us and still the only Thing we can see? Love once Tipped the scales but now is shadowed, invisible, Though mysteriously present, around somewhere.
But we know it cannot be sandwiched Between two adjacent moments, that its windings Lead nowhere except to further tributaries And that these empty themselves into a vague Sense of something that can never be known Even though it seems likely that each of us Knows what it is and is capable of Communicating it to the other.
But the look Some wear as a sign makes one want to Push forward ignoring the apparent NaÏveté of the attempt, not caring That no one is listening, since the light Has been lit once and for all in their eyes And is present, unimpaired, a permanent anomaly, Awake and silent.
On the surface of it There seems no special reason why that light Should be focused by love, or why The city falling with its beautiful suburbs Into space always less clear, less defined, Should read as the support of its progress, The easel upon which the drama unfolded To its own satisfaction and to the end Of our dreaming, as we had never imagined It would end, in worn daylight with the painted Promise showing through as a gage, a bond.
This nondescript, never-to-be defined daytime is The secret of where it takes place And we can no longer return to the various Conflicting statements gathered, lapses of memory Of the principal witnesses.
All we know Is that we are a little early, that Today has that special, lapidary Todayness that the sunlight reproduces Faithfully in casting twig-shadows on blithe Sidewalks.
No previous day would have been like this.
I used to think they were all alike, That the present always looked the same to everybody But this confusion drains away as one Is always cresting into one's present.
Yet the "poetic," straw-colored space Of the long corridor that leads back to the painting, Its darkening opposite--is this Some figment of "art," not to be imagined As real, let alone special? Hasn't it too its lair In the present we are always escaping from And falling back into, as the waterwheel of days Pursues its uneventful, even serene course? I think it is trying to say it is today And we must get out of it even as the public Is pushing through the museum now so as to Be out by closing time.
You can't live there.
The gray glaze of the past attacks all know-how: Secrets of wash and finish that took a lifetime To learn and are reduced to the status of Black-and-white illustrations in a book where colorplates Are rare.
That is, all time Reduces to no special time.
No one Alludes to the change; to do so might Involve calling attention to oneself Which would augment the dread of not getting out Before having seen the whole collection (Except for the sculptures in the basement: They are where they belong).
Our time gets to be veiled, compromised By the portrait's will to endure.
It hints at Our own, which we were hoping to keep hidden.
We don't need paintings or Doggerel written by mature poets when The explosion is so precise, so fine.
Is there any point even in acknowledging The existence of all that? Does it Exist? Certainly the leisure to Indulge stately pastimes doesn't, Any more.
Today has no margins, the event arrives Flush with its edges, is of the same substance, Indistinguishable.
"Play" is something else; It exists, in a society specifically Organized as a demonstration of itself.
There is no other way, and those assholes Who would confuse everything with their mirror games Which seem to multiply stakes and possibilities, or At least confuse issues by means of an investing Aura that would corrode the architecture Of the whole in a haze of suppressed mockery, Are beside the point.
They are out of the game, Which doesn't exist until they are out of it.
It seems like a very hostile universe But as the principle of each individual thing is Hostile to, exists at the expense of all the others As philosophers have often pointed out, at least This thing, the mute, undivided present, Has the justification of logic, which In this instance isn't a bad thing Or wouldn't be, if the way of telling Didn't somehow intrude, twisting the end result Into a caricature of itself.
This always Happens, as in the game where A whispered phrase passed around the room Ends up as something completely different.
It is the principle that makes works of art so unlike What the artist intended.
Often he finds He has omitted the thing he started out to say In the first place.
Seduced by flowers, Explicit pleasures, he blames himself (though Secretly satisfied with the result), imagining He had a say in the matter and exercised An option of which he was hardly conscious, Unaware that necessity circumvents such resolutions.
So as to create something new For itself, that there is no other way, That the history of creation proceeds according to Stringent laws, and that things Do get done in this way, but never the things We set out to accomplish and wanted so desperately To see come into being.
Parmigianino Must have realized this as he worked at his Life-obstructing task.
One is forced to read The perfectly plausible accomplishment of a purpose Into the smooth, perhaps even bland (but so Enigmatic) finish.
Is there anything To be serious about beyond this otherness That gets included in the most ordinary Forms of daily activity, changing everything Slightly and profoundly, and tearing the matter Of creation, any creation, not just artistic creation Out of our hands, to install it on some monstrous, near Peak, too close to ignore, too far For one to intervene? This otherness, this "Not-being-us" is all there is to look at In the mirror, though no one can say How it came to be this way.
A ship Flying unknown colors has entered the harbor.
You are allowing extraneous matters To break up your day, cloud the focus Of the crystal ball.
Its scene drifts away Like vapor scattered on the wind.
The fertile Thought-associations that until now came So easily, appear no more, or rarely.
Their Colorings are less intense, washed out By autumn rains and winds, spoiled, muddied, Given back to you because they are worthless.
Yet we are such creatures of habit that their Implications are still around en permanence, confusing Issues.
To be serious only about sex Is perhaps one way, but the sands are hissing As they approach the beginning of the big slide Into what happened.
This past Is now here: the painter's Reflected face, in which we linger, receiving Dreams and inspirations on an unassigned Frequency, but the hues have turned metallic, The curves and edges are not so rich.
Each person Has one big theory to explain the universe But it doesn't tell the whole story And in the end it is what is outside him That matters, to him and especially to us Who have been given no help whatever In decoding our own man-size quotient and must rely On second-hand knowledge.
Yet I know That no one else's taste is going to be Any help, and might as well be ignored.
Once it seemed so perfect--gloss on the fine Freckled skin, lips moistened as though about to part Releasing speech, and the familiar look Of clothes and furniture that one forgets.
This could have been our paradise: exotic Refuge within an exhausted world, but that wasn't In the cards, because it couldn't have been The point.
Aping naturalness may be the first step Toward achieving an inner calm But it is the first step only, and often Remains a frozen gesture of welcome etched On the air materializing behind it, A convention.
And we have really No time for these, except to use them For kindling.
The sooner they are burnt up The better for the roles we have to play.
Therefore I beseech you, withdraw that hand, Offer it no longer as shield or greeting, The shield of a greeting, Francesco: There is room for one bullet in the chamber: Our looking through the wrong end Of the telescope as you fall back at a speed Faster than that of light to flatten ultimately Among the features of the room, an invitation Never mailed, the "it was all a dream" Syndrome, though the "all" tells tersely Enough how it wasn't.
Its existence Was real, though troubled, and the ache Of this waking dream can never drown out The diagram still sketched on the wind, Chosen, meant for me and materialized In the disguising radiance of my room.
We have seen the city; it is the gibbous Mirrored eye of an insect.
All things happen On its balcony and are resumed within, But the action is the cold, syrupy flow Of a pageant.
One feels too confined, Sifting the April sunlight for clues, In the mere stillness of the ease of its Parameter.
The hand holds no chalk And each part of the whole falls off And cannot know it knew, except Here and there, in cold pockets Of remembrance, whispers out of time.

by John Ashbery |

My Philosophy of Life

 Just when I thought there wasn't room enough
for another thought in my head, I had this great idea--
call it a philosophy of life, if you will.
Briefly, it involved living the way philosophers live, according to a set of principles.
OK, but which ones? That was the hardest part, I admit, but I had a kind of dark foreknowledge of what it would be like.
Everything, from eating watermelon or going to the bathroom or just standing on a subway platform, lost in thought for a few minutes, or worrying about rain forests, would be affected, or more precisely, inflected by my new attitude.
I wouldn't be preachy, or worry about children and old people, except in the general way prescribed by our clockwork universe.
Instead I'd sort of let things be what they are while injecting them with the serum of the new moral climate I thought I'd stumbled into, as a stranger accidentally presses against a panel and a bookcase slides back, revealing a winding staircase with greenish light somewhere down below, and he automatically steps inside and the bookcase slides shut, as is customary on such occasions.
At once a fragrance overwhelms him--not saffron, not lavender, but something in between.
He thinks of cushions, like the one his uncle's Boston bull terrier used to lie on watching him quizzically, pointed ear-tips folded over.
And then the great rush is on.
Not a single idea emerges from it.
It's enough to disgust you with thought.
But then you remember something William James wrote in some book of his you never read--it was fine, it had the fineness, the powder of life dusted over it, by chance, of course, yet still looking for evidence of fingerprints.
Someone had handled it even before he formulated it, though the thought was his and his alone.
It's fine, in summer, to visit the seashore.
There are lots of little trips to be made.
A grove of fledgling aspens welcomes the traveler.
Nearby are the public toilets where weary pilgrims have carved their names and addresses, and perhaps messages as well, messages to the world, as they sat and thought about what they'd do after using the toilet and washing their hands at the sink, prior to stepping out into the open again.
Had they been coaxed in by principles, and were their words philosophy, of however crude a sort? I confess I can move no farther along this train of thought-- something's blocking it.
Something I'm not big enough to see over.
Or maybe I'm frankly scared.
What was the matter with how I acted before? But maybe I can come up with a compromise--I'll let things be what they are, sort of.
In the autumn I'll put up jellies and preserves, against the winter cold and futility, and that will be a human thing, and intelligent as well.
I won't be embarrassed by my friends' dumb remarks, or even my own, though admittedly that's the hardest part, as when you are in a crowded theater and something you say riles the spectator in front of you, who doesn't even like the idea of two people near him talking together.
Well he's got to be flushed out so the hunters can have a crack at him-- this thing works both ways, you know.
You can't always be worrying about others and keeping track of yourself at the same time.
That would be abusive, and about as much fun as attending the wedding of two people you don't know.
Still, there's a lot of fun to be had in the gaps between ideas.
That's what they're made for!Now I want you to go out there and enjoy yourself, and yes, enjoy your philosophy of life, too.
They don't come along every day.
Look out!There's a big one.

by John Ashbery |

Just Walking Around

 What name do I have for you? 
Certainly there is not name for you
In the sense that the stars have names
That somehow fit them.
Just walking around, An object of curiosity to some, But you are too preoccupied By the secret smudge in the back of your soul To say much and wander around, Smiling to yourself and others.
It gets to be kind of lonely But at the same time off-putting.
Counterproductive, as you realize once again That the longest way is the most efficient way, The one that looped among islands, and You always seemed to be traveling in a circle.
And now that the end is near The segments of the trip swing open like an orange.
There is light in there and mystery and food.
Come see it.
Come not for me but it.
But if I am still there, grant that we may see each other.

by John Ashbery |

Into the Dusk-Charged Air

 Far from the Rappahannock, the silent
Danube moves along toward the sea.
The brown and green Nile rolls slowly Like the Niagara's welling descent.
Tractors stood on the green banks of the Loire Near where it joined the Cher.
The St.
Lawrence prods among black stones And mud.
But the Arno is all stones.
Wind ruffles the Hudson's Surface.
The Irawaddy is overflowing.
But the yellowish, gray Tiber Is contained within steep banks.
The Isar Flows too fast to swim in, the Jordan's water Courses over the flat land.
The Allegheny and its boats Were dark blue.
The Moskowa is Gray boats.
The Amstel flows slowly.
Leaves fall into the Connecticut as it passes Underneath.
The Liffey is full of sewage, Like the Seine, but unlike The brownish-yellow Dordogne.
Mountains hem in the Colorado And the Oder is very deep, almost As deep as the Congo is wide.
The plain banks of the Neva are Gray.
The dark Saône flows silently.
And the Volga is long and wide As it flows across the brownish land.
The Ebro Is blue, and slow.
The Shannon flows Swiftly between its banks.
The Mississippi Is one of the world's longest rivers, like the Amazon.
It has the Missouri for a tributary.
The Harlem flows amid factories And buildings.
The Nelson is in Canada, Flowing.
Through hard banks the Dubawnt Forces its way.
People walk near the Trent.
The landscape around the Mohawk stretches away; The Rubicon is merely a brook.
In winter the Main Surges; the Rhine sings its eternal song.
The Rhône slogs along through whitish banks And the Rio Grande spins tales of the past.
The Loir bursts its frozen shackles But the Moldau's wet mud ensnares it.
The East catches the light.
Near the Escaut the noise of factories echoes And the sinuous Humboldt gurgles wildly.
The Po too flows, and the many-colored Thames.
Into the Atlantic Ocean Pours the Garonne.
Few ships navigate On the Housatonic, but quite a few can be seen On the Elbe.
For centuries The Afton has flowed.
If the Rio Negro Could abandon its song, and the Magdalena The jungle flowers, the Tagus Would still flow serenely, and the Ohio Abrade its slate banks.
The tan Euphrates would Sidle silently across the world.
The Yukon Was choked with ice, but the Susquehanna still pushed Bravely along.
The Dee caught the day's last flares Like the Pilcomayo's carrion rose.
The Peace offered eternal fragrance Perhaps, but the Mackenzie churned livid mud Like tan chalk-marks.
Near where The Brahmaputra slapped swollen dikes And the Pechora? The São Francisco Skulks amid gray, rubbery nettles.
The Liard's Reflexes are slow, and the Arkansas erodes Anthracite hummocks.
The Paraná stinks.
The Ottawa is light emerald green Among grays.
Better that the Indus fade In steaming sands! Let the Brazos Freeze solid! And the Wabash turn to a leaden Cinder of ice! The Marañón is too tepid, we must Find a way to freeze it hard.
The Ural Is freezing slowly in the blasts.
The black Yonne Congeals nicely.
And the Petit-Morin Curls up on the solid earth.
The Inn Does not remember better times, and the Merrimack's Galvanized.
The Ganges is liquid snow by now; The Vyatka's ice-gray.
The once-molten Tennessee s Curdled.
The Japurá is a pack of ice.
Gelid The Columbia's gray loam banks.
The Don's merely A giant icicle.
The Niger freezes, slowly.
The interminable Lena plods on But the Purus' mercurial waters are icy, grim With cold.
The Loing is choked with fragments of ice.
The Weser is frozen, like liquid air.
And so is the Kama.
And the beige, thickly flowing Tocantins.
The rivers bask in the cold.
The stern Uruguay chafes its banks, A mass of ice.
The Hooghly is solid Ice.
The Adour is silent, motionless.
The lovely Tigris is nothing but scratchy ice Like the Yellowstone, with its osier-clustered banks.
The Mekong is beginning to thaw out a little And the Donets gurgles beneath the Huge blocks of ice.
The Manzanares gushes free.
The Illinois darts through the sunny air again.
But the Dnieper is still ice-bound.
Somewhere The Salado propels irs floes, but the Roosevelt's Frozen.
The Oka is frozen solider Than the Somme.
The Minho slumbers In winter, nor does the Snake Remember August.
Hilarious, the Canadian Is solid ice.
The Madeira slavers Across the thawing fields, and the Plata laughs.
The Dvina soaks up the snow.
The Sava's Temperature is above freezing.
The Avon Carols noiselessly.
The Drôme presses Grass banks; the Adige's frozen Surface is like gray pebbles.
Birds circle the Ticino.
In winter The Var was dark blue, unfrozen.
The Thwaite, cold, is choked with sandy ice; The Ardèche glistens feebly through the freezing rain.

by John Ashbery |


 The man with the red hat
And the polar bear, is he here too? 
The window giving on shade, 
Is that here too? 
And all the little helps, 
My initials in the sky, 
The hay of an arctic summer night? 

The bear
Drops dead in sight of the window.
Lovely tribes have just moved to the north.
In the flickering evening the martins grow denser.
Rivers of wings surround us and vast tribulation.

by John Ashbery |

For John Clare

 Kind of empty in the way it sees everything, the earth gets to its feet andsalutes the sky.
More of a success at it this time than most others it is.
The feeling that the sky might be in the back of someone's mind.
Then there is no telling how many there are.
They grace everything--bush and tree--to take the roisterer's mind off his caroling--so it's like a smooth switch back.
To what was aired in their previous conniption fit.
There is so much to be seen everywhere that it's like not getting used to it, only there is so much it never feels new, never any different.
You are standing looking at that building and you cannot take it all in, certain details are already hazy and the mind boggles.
What will it all be like in five years' time when you try to remember? Will there have been boards in between the grass part and the edge of the street? As long as that couple is stopping to look in that window over there we cannot go.
We feel like they have to tell us we can, but they never look our way and they are already gone, gone far into the future--the night of time.
If we could look at a photograph of it and say there they are, they never really stopped but there they are.
There is so much to be said, and on the surface of it very little gets said.
There ought to be room for more things, for a spreading out, like.
Being immersed in the details of rock and field and slope --letting them come to you for once, and then meeting them halfway would be so much easier--if they took an ingenuous pride in being in one's blood.
Alas, we perceive them if at all as those things that were meant to be put aside-- costumes of the supporting actors or voice trilling at the end of a narrow enclosed street.
You can do nothing with them.
Not even offer to pay.
It is possible that finally, like coming to the end of a long, barely perceptible rise, there is mutual cohesion and interaction.
The whole scene is fixed in your mind, the music all present, as though you could see each note as well as hear it.
I say this because there is an uneasiness in things just now.
Waiting for something to be over before you are forced to notice it.
The pollarded trees scarcely bucking the wind--and yet it's keen, it makes you fall over.
Clabbered sky.
Seasons that pass with a rush.
After all it's their time too--nothing says they aren't to make something of it.
As for Jenny Wren, she cares, hopping about on her little twig like she was tryin' to tell us somethin', but that's just it, she couldn't even if she wanted to--dumb bird.
But the others--and they in some way must know too--it would never occur to them to want to, even if they could take the first step of the terrible journey toward feeling somebody should act, that ends in utter confusion and hopelessness, east of the sun and west of the moon.
So their comment is: "No comment.
" Meanwhile the whole history of probabilities is coming to life, starting in the upper left-hand corner, like a sail.