Stephen Dunn |
He climbed toward the blinding light
and when his eyes adjusted
he looked down and could see
his fellow prisoners captivated
by shadows; everything he had believed
And he was suddenly
in the 20th century, in the sunlight
and violence of history, encumbered
Only a hero
would dare return with the truth.
So from the cave's upper reaches,
removed from harm, he called out
the disturbing news.
What lovely echoes, the prisoners said,
what a fine musical place to live.
He spelled it out, then, in clear prose
on paper scraps, which he floated down.
But in the semi-dark they read his words
with the indulgence of those who seldom read:
It's about my father's death, one of them said.
No, said the others, it's a joke.
By this time he no longer was sure
of what he'd seen.
Wasn't sunlight a shadow too?
Wasn't there always a source
behind a source? He just stood there,
confused, a man who had moved
to larger errors, without a prayer.
Robert Pinsky |
Dire one and desired one,
In an old allegory you would carry
A chained alphabet of tokens:
Ankh Badge Cross.
Engraved figure guarding a hallowed intaglio,
Jasper kinema of legendary Mind,
Naked omphalos pierced
By quills of rhyme or sense, torah-like: unborn
Vein of will, xenophile
Yearning out of Zero.
Untrusting I court you.
I seek your face, I read
That Crusoe's knife
Reeked of you, that to defile you
The soldier makes the rabbi spit on the torah.
"I'll drown my book" says Shakespeare.
Drowned walker, revenant.
After my mother fell on her head, she became
More than ever your sworn enemy.
Sometimes like a poet or critic of forty years later.
Or she spoke of the world as Thersites spoke of the heroes,
"I think they have swallowed one another.
Would laugh at that miracle.
You also in the laughter, warrior angel:
Your helmet the zodiac, rocket-plumed
Your spear the beggar's finger pointing to the mouth
Your heel planted on the serpent Formulation
Your face a vapor, the wreath of cigarette smoke crowning
Bogart as he winces through it.
You not in the words, not even
Between the words, but a torsion,
A cleavage, a stirring.
You stirring even in the arctic ice,
Even at the dark ocean floor, even
In the cellular flesh of a stone.
My poker friends
Question your presence
In a poem by me, passing the magazine
One to another.
Not the stone and not the words, you
Like a veil over Arthur's headstone,
The passage from Proverbs he chose
While he was too ill to teach
And still well enough to read, I was
Beside the master craftsman
Delighting him day after day, ever
At play in his presence--you
A soothing veil of distraction playing over
Dying Arthur playing in the hospital,
Thumbing the Bible, fuzzy from medication,
Ever courting your presence,
And you the prognosis,
You in the cough.
Gesturer, when is your spur, your cloud?
You in the airport rituals of greeting and parting.
Indicter, who is your claimant?
Bell at the gate.
Spiderweb iron bridge.
Cloak, video, aroma, rue, what is your
Elected silence, where was your seed?
What is Imagination
But your lost child born to give birth to you?
Or presence ever at play:
Let those scorn you who never
Starved in your dearth.
Dare to disparage
Your harp of shadows I taste
Wormwood and motor oil, I pour
Ashes on my head.
You are the wound.
Be the medicine.
John Ashbery |
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
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
But everything is getting choked to the point of
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
I don't want to go back inside any more.
Enough vague people on this emerald traffic-island--no,
Not people, comings and goings, more: mutterings, splatterings,
The bizarrely but effectively equipped infantries of
Vegetal jacqueries, plumed, pointed at the little
White cardboard castle over the mill run.
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
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.
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.
The allegory comes unsnarled
Too soon; a shower of pecky acajou harpoons is
About all there is to be noted between tornadoes.
Only my intermittent life in your thoughts to live
Which is like thinking in another language.
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.
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.
Ambulances scoop up the quick and hie them to hospitals.
"It's all bits and pieces, spangles, patches, really; nothing
What happened to creative evolution?"
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.
Ravens pray for us.
" The storm finished brewing.
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.
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.
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 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.
Helen Hunt Jackson |
"O bees, sweet bees!" I said, "that nearest field
Is shining white with fragrant immortelles.
Fly swiftly there and drain those honey wells.
Then, spicy pines the sunny hive to shield,
I set, and patient for the autumn's yield
Of sweet I waited.
When the village bells
Rang frosty clear, and from their satin cells
The chestnuts leaped, rejoicing, I unsealed
Alas! no snowy honey there
My wicked bees had borne away
Their queen and left no trace.
That very day,
An idle drone who sauntered through the air
I tracked and followed, and he led me where
My truant bees and stolen honey lay.
Twice faithless bees! They had sought out to eat
Rank, bitter herbs.
The honey was not sweet.
Andrew Barton Paterson |
'Twas on the famous Empire run,
Whose sun does never set,
Whose grass and water, so they say,
Have never failed them yet --
They carry many million sheep,
Through seasons dry and wet.
They call the homestead Albion House,
And then, along with that,
There's Welshman's Gully, Scotchman's Hill,
And Paddymelon Flat:
And all these places are renowned
For making jumbacks fat.
And the out-paddocks -- holy frost!
There wouldn't be no sense
For me to try and tell you half --
They really are immense;
A man might ride for days and weeks
And never strike a fence.
But still for years they never had
Been known a sheep to lose;
Old Billy Gladstone managed it,
And you can bet your shoes
He'd scores of supers under him,
And droves of jackaroos.
Old Billy had an eagle eye,
And kept his wits about --
If any chaps got trespassing
He quickly cleared 'em out;
And coves that used to "work a cross",
They hated him, no doubt.
But still he managed it in style,
Until the times got dry,
And Billy gave the supers word
To see and mind their eye --
"If any paddocks gets a-fire
I'll know the reason why.
Now on this point old Bill was sure,
Because, for many a year,
Whenever times got dry at all,
As sure as you are here,
The Paddymelon Flat got burnt
Which Bill thought rather *****.
He sent his smartest supers there
To try and keep things right.
No use! The grass was always dry --
They'd go to sleep at night,
And when they woke they'd go and find
The whole concern alight.
One morning it was very hot --
The sun rose in a haze;
Old Bill was cutting down some trees
(One of his little ways);
A black boy came hot-foot to say
The Flat was in a blaze.
Old Bill he swears a fearful oath
And lets the tommy fall --
Says he: "'ll take this business up,
And fix it once for all;
If this goes on the cursed run
Will send us to the wall.
So he withdrew his trespass suits,
He'd one with Dutchy's boss --
In prosecutions criminal
He entered nolle pros.
But these were neither here nor there --
They always meant a loss.
And off to Paddymelon Flat
He started double quick
Drayloads of men with lots of grog
Lest heat should make them sick,
And all the strangers came around
To see him do the trick.
And there the fire was flaming bright,
For miles and miles it spread,
And many a sheep and horse and cow
Were numbered with the dead --
The super came to meet Old Bill,
And this is what he said:
"No use, to try to beat it out,
'Twill dry you up like toast,
I've done as much as man can do,
Although I never boast;
I think you'd better chuck it up,
And let the jumbucks roast.
Then Bill said just two words: "You're sacked,"
And pitches off his coat,
And wrenches down a blue gum bough
And clears his manly throat,
And into it like threshing wheat
Right sturdily he smote.
And beat the blazing grass until
His shirt was dripping wet;
And all the people watched him there
To see what luck he'd get,
"Gosh! don't he make the cinders fly,"
And, Golly, don't he sweat!"
But though they worked like Trojans all,
The fire still went ahead
So far as you could see around,
The very skies were red,
Sometimes the flames would start afresh,
Just where they thought it dead.
His men, too, quarreled 'mongst themselves
And some coves gave it best
And some said, "Light a fire in front,
And burn from east to west" --
But Bill he still kept sloggin' in,
And never took no rest.
Then through the crowd a cornstalk kid
Come ridin' to the spot
Says he to Bill, "Now take a spell,
You're lookin' very 'ot,
And if you'll only listen, why,
I'll tell you what is what.
"These coves as set your grass on fire,
There ain't no mortal doubt,
I've seen 'em ridin' here and there,
And pokin' round about;
It ain't no use your workin' here,
Until you finds them out.
"See yonder, where you beat the fire --
It's blazin' up again,
And fires are starting right and left
On Tipperary Plain,
Beating them out is useless quite,
Unless Heaven sends the rain.
Then Bill, he turns upon the boy,
"Oh, hold your tongue, you pup!"
But a cinder blew across the creek
While Bill stopped for a sup,
And fired the Albion paddocks, too --
It was a bitter cup;
Old Bill's heart was broke at last,
He had to chuck it up.
The run is England's Empire great,
The fire is the distress
That burns the stock they represent --
Prosperity you'll guess.
And the blue gum bough is the Home Rule Bill
That's making such a mess.
And Ireland green, of course I mean
By Paddymelon Flat;
All men can see the fire, of course,
Spreads on at such a bat,
But who are setting it alight,
I cannot tell you that.
But this I think all men will see,
And hold it very true --
"Don't quarrel with effects until
The cause is brought to view.
What is the cause? That cornstalk boy --
He seemed to think he knew.
Thomas Hood |
I had a gig-horse, and I called him Pleasure
Because on Sundays for a little jaunt
He was so fast and showy, quite a treasure;
Although he sometimes kicked and shied aslant.
I had a chaise, and christened it Enjoyment,
With yellow body and the wheels of red,
Because it was only used for one employment,
Namely, to go wherever Pleasure led.
I had a wife, her nickname was Delight:
A son called Frolic, who was never still:
Alas! how often dark succeeds to bright!
Delight was thrown, and Frolic had a spill,
Enjoyment was upset and shattered quite,
And Pleasure fell a splitter on Paine's Hill.
Percy Bysshe Shelley |
O thou, who plum'd with strong desire
Wouldst float above the earth, beware!
A Shadow tracks thy flight of fire--
Night is coming!
Bright are the regions of the air,
And among the winds and beams
It were delight to wander there--
Night is coming!SECOND SPIRIT
The deathless stars are bright above;
If I would cross the shade of night,
Within my heart is the lamp of love,
And that is day!
And the moon will smile with gentle light
On my golden plumes where'er they move;
The meteors will linger round my flight,
And make night day.
But if the whirlwinds of darkness waken
Hail, and lightning, and stormy rain;
See, the bounds of the air are shaken--
Night is coming!
The red swift clouds of the hurricane
Yon declining sun have overtaken,
The clash of the hail sweeps over the plain--
Night is coming!SECOND SPIRIT
I see the light, and I hear the sound;
I'll sail on the flood of the tempest dark,
With the calm within and the light around
Which makes night day:
And thou, when the gloom is deep and stark,
Look from thy dull earth, slumber-bound,
My moon-like flight thou then mayst mark
On high, far away.
Some say there is a precipice
Where one vast pine is frozen to ruin
O'er piles of snow and chasms of ice
Mid Alpine mountains;
And that the languid storm pursuing
That winged shape, for ever flies
Round those hoar branches, aye renewing
Its aëry fountains.
Some say when nights are dry and dear,
And the death-dews sleep on the morass,
Sweet whispers are heard by the traveller,
Which make night day:
And a silver shape like his early love doth pass
Upborne by her wild and glittering hair,
And when he awakes on the fragrant grass,
He finds night day.
Francesco Petrarch |
Al cader d' una pianta che si svelse.
UNDER THE ALLEGORY OF A LAUREL HE AGAIN DEPLORES HER DEATH.
As a fair plant, uprooted by oft blows
Of trenchant spade, or which the blast upheaves,
Scatters on earth its green and lofty leaves,
And its bare roots to the broad sunlight shows;
Love such another for my object chose,
Of whom for me the Muse a subject weaves,
Who in my captured heart her home achieves,
As on some wall or tree the ivy grows
That living laurel—where their chosen nest
My high thoughts made, where sigh'd mine ardent grief,
Yet never stirr'd of its fair boughs a leaf—
To heaven translated, in my heart, her rest,
Left deep its roots, whence ever with sad cry
I call on her, who ne'er vouchsafes reply.
T Wignesan |
Remorseful, the noonday sun
Frizzles with the stealthy wind
Under the rubbery mountain green.
A calmness has come to rest
From having tossed in its sleep.
The forest has taken leave
Of the hunted horn and drum.
No more the tapper late of nap
Scurries to the haven of a nest.
No more the rattle whisper fades
To nothingness in a lonesome rest.
No more, no more, for the heavens
Sleep and all the troops sleep too.
The sinewy python stretched past
Clumsily the ragged rock and branch.
The Owl has called its reveille at last.
And the forest sleeps with the wind
Gently fanning some whisper closer
And closer, every wave, a venomous flick
Of a serpent, a kiss of rest.