Philip Larkin |
Coming up England by a different line
For once, early in the cold new year,
We stopped, and, watching men with number plates
Sprint down the platform to familiar gates,
'Why, Coventry!' I exclaimed.
'I was born here.
I leant far out, and squinnied for a sign
That this was still the town that had been 'mine'
So long, but found I wasn't even clear
Which side was which.
From where those cycle-crates
Were standing, had we annually departed
For all those family hols? .
A whistle went:
I sat back, staring at my boots.
'Was that,' my friend smiled, 'where you "have your roots"?'
No, only where my childhood was unspent,
I wanted to retort, just where I started:
By now I've got the whole place clearly charted.
Our garden, first: where I did not invent
Blinding theologies of flowers and fruits,
And wasn't spoken to by an old hat.
And here we have that splendid family
I never ran to when I got depressed,
The boys all biceps and the girls all chest,
Their comic Ford, their farm where I could be
I'll show you, come to that,
The bracken where I never trembling sat,
Determined to go through with it; where she
Lay back, and 'all became a burning mist'.
And, in those offices, my doggerel
Was not set up in blunt ten-point, nor read
By a distinguished cousin of the mayor,
Who didn't call and tell my father There
Before us, had we the gift to see ahead -
'You look as though you wished the place in Hell,'
My friend said, 'judging from your face.
' 'Oh well,
I suppose it's not the place's fault,' I said.
'Nothing, like something, happens anywhere.
Frank Bidart |
The only thing I miss about Los Angeles
is the Hollywood Freeway at midnight, windows down and
bearing right into the center of the city, the Capitol Tower
on the right, and beyond it, Hollywood Boulevard
--pimps, surplus stores, footprints of the stars
--descending through the city
fast as the law would allow
through the lights, then rising to the stack
out of the city
to the stack where lanes are stacked six deep
and you on top; the air
now clean, for a moment weightless
without memories, or
need for a past.
The need for the past
is so much at the center of my life
I write this poem to record my discovery of it,
It was in Bishop, the room was done
in California plush: we had gone into the coffee shop, were told
you could only get a steak in the bar:
not wanting to be an occasion of temptation for my father
but he wanted to, so we entered
a dark room, with amber water glasses, walnut
tables, captain's chairs,
plastic doilies, papier-mâché bas-relief wall ballerinas,
German memorial plates "bought on a trip to Europe,"
Puritan crosshatch green-yellow wallpaper,
frilly shades, cowhide
I thought of Cambridge:
the lovely congruent elegance
of Revolutionary architecture, even of
ersatz thirties Georgian
seemed alien, a threat, sign
of all I was not--
to bode order and lucidity
as an ideal, if not reality--
not this California plush, which
I was not.
And so I made myself an Easterner,
finding it, after all, more like me
than I had let myself hope.
And now, staring into the embittered face of
again, for two weeks, as twice a year,
I was back.
The waitress asked us if we wanted a drink.
Grimly, I waited until he said no.
Before the tribunal of the world I submit the following
Nancy showed it to us,
in her apartment at the model,
as she waited month by month
for the property settlement, her children grown
and working for their father,
at fifty-three now alone,
a drink in her hand:
as my father said,
"They keep a drink in her hand":
Name Wallace du Bois
Box No 128 Chino, Calif.
Date July 25 ,19 54
Mr Howard Arturian
I am writing a letter to you this afternoon while I'm in the
mood of writing.
How is everything getting along with you these
fine days, as for me everything is just fine and I feel great except for
the heat I think its lot warmer then it is up there but I don't mind
it so much.
I work at the dairy half day and I go to trade school the
other half day Body & Fender, now I am learning how to spray
paint cars I've already painted one and now I got another car to
So now I think I've learned all I want after I have learned all
I know how to straighten metals and all that.
I forgot to say
"Hello" to you.
The reason why I am writing to you is about a job,
my Parole Officer told me that he got letter from and that you want
me to go to work for you.
So I wanted to know if its truth.
I go to the Board in Feb.
I'll tell them what I want to do and where
I would like to go, so if you want me to work for you I'd rather have
you sent me to your brother John in Tonapah and place to stay for
The Old Lady says the same thing in her last letter that
she would be some place else then in Bishop, thats the way I feel
and another thing is my drinking problem.
I made up my mind
to quit my drinking, after all what it did to me and what happen.
This is one thing I'll never forget as longs as I live I never want
to go through all this mess again.
This sure did teach me lot of things
that I never knew before.
So Howard you can let me know soon
I sure would appreciate it.
S From Your Friend
I hope you can read my Wally Du Bois
I am a little nervous yet
--He and his wife had given a party, and
one of the guests was walking away
just as Wallace started backing up his car.
He hit him, so put the body in the back seat
and drove to a deserted road.
There he put it before the tires, and
ran back and forth over it several times.
When he got out of Chino, he did,
indeed, never do that again:
but one child was dead, his only son,
found with the rest of the family
immobile in their beds with typhoid,
next to the mother, the child having been
dead two days:
he continued to drink, and as if it were the Old West
shot up the town a couple of Saturday nights.
"So now I think I've learned all I want
after I have learned all this: this sure did teach me a lot of things
that I never knew before.
I am a little nervous yet.
It seems to me
an emblem of Bishop--
For watching the room, as the waitresses in their
back-combed, Parisian, peroxided, bouffant hairdos,
and plastic belts,
moved back and forth
I thought of Wallace, and
the room suddenly seemed to me
not uninteresting at all:
they were the same.
Every plate and chair
had its congruence with
all the choices creating
these people, created
by them--by me,
for this is my father's chosen country, my origin.
Before, I had merely been anxious, bored; now,
I began to ask a thousand questions.
He was, of course, mistrustful, knowing I was bored,
knowing he had dragged me up here from Bakersfield
after five years
of almost managing to forget Bishop existed.
But he soon became loquacious, ordered a drink,
and settled down for
an afternoon of talk.
He liked Bishop: somehow, it was to his taste, this
hard-drinking, loud, visited-by-movie-stars town.
"Better to be a big fish in a little pond.
And he was: when they came to shoot a film,
he entertained them; Miss A--, who wore
nothing at all under her mink coat; Mr.
good horseman, good shot.
"But when your mother
let me down" (for alcoholism and
infidelity, she divorced him)
"and Los Angeles wouldn't give us water any more,
I had to leave.
We were the first people to grow potatoes in this valley.
When he began to tell me
that he lost control of the business
because of the settlement he gave my mother,
because I had heard it
in revenge, I asked why people up here drank so much.
"Bored, I guess.
--Not much to do.
And why had Nancy's husband left her?
In bitterness, all he said was:
"People up here drink too damn much.
And that was how experience
had informed his life.
"So now I think I've learned all I want
after I have learned all this: this sure did teach me a lot of things
that I never knew before.
I am a little nervous yet.
Yet, as my mother said,
returning, as always, to the past,
"I wouldn't change any of it.
It taught me so much.
is such an innocent creature: you look into her face
and somehow it's empty, all she worries about
are sales and the baby.
her husband's too good!"
It's quite pointless to call this rationalization:
my mother, for uncertain reasons, has had her
bout with insanity, but she's right:
the past in maiming us,
I think of Proust, dying
in a cork-linked room, because he refuses to eat
because he thinks that he cannot write if he eats
because he wills to write, to finish his novel
--his novel which recaptures the past, and
with a kind of joy, because
in the debris
of the past, he has found the sources of the necessities
which have led him to this room, writing
--in this strange harmony, does he will
for it to have been different?
And I can't not think of the remorse of Oedipus,
who tries to escape, to expiate the past
by blinding himself, and
then, when he is dying, sees that he has become a Daimon
--does he, discovering, at last, this cruel
coherence created by
"the order of the universe"
--does he will
I look at my father:
as he drinks his way into garrulous, shaky
defensiveness, the debris of the past
is just debris--; whatever I reason, it is a desolation
must I watch?
He will not change; he does not want to change;
every defeated gesture implies
the past is useless, irretrievable.
--I want to change: I want to stop fear's subtle
guidance of my life--; but, how can I do that
if I am still
afraid of its source?
Robert William Service |
Have you gazed on naked grandeur where there's nothing else to gaze on,
Set pieces and drop-curtain scenes galore,
Big mountains heaved to heaven, which the blinding sunsets blazon,
Black canyons where the rapids rip and roar?
Have you swept the visioned valley with the green stream streaking through it,
Searched the Vastness for a something you have lost?
Have you strung your soul to silence? Then for God's sake go and do it;
Hear the challenge, learn the lesson, pay the cost.
Have you wandered in the wilderness, the sagebrush desolation,
The bunch-grass levels where the cattle graze?
Have you whistled bits of rag-time at the end of all creation,
And learned to know the desert's little ways?
Have you camped upon the foothills, have you galloped o'er the ranges,
Have you roamed the arid sun-lands through and through?
Have you chummed up with the mesa? Do you know its moods and changes?
Then listen to the Wild -- it's calling you.
Have you known the Great White Silence, not a snow-gemmed twig aquiver?
(Eternal truths that shame our soothing lies.
Have you broken trail on snowshoes? mushed your huskies up the river,
Dared the unknown, led the way, and clutched the prize?
Have you marked the map's void spaces, mingled with the mongrel races,
Felt the savage strength of brute in every thew?
And though grim as hell the worst is, can you round it off with curses?
Then hearken to the Wild -- it's wanting you.
Have you suffered, starved and triumphed, groveled down, yet grasped at glory,
Grown bigger in the bigness of the whole?
"Done things" just for the doing, letting babblers tell the story,
Seeing through the nice veneer the naked soul?
Have you seen God in His splendors, heard the text that nature renders?
(You'll never hear it in the family pew.
The simple things, the true things, the silent men who do things --
Then listen to the Wild -- it's calling you.
They have cradled you in custom, they have primed you with their preaching,
They have soaked you in convention through and through;
They have put you in a showcase; you're a credit to their teaching --
But can't you hear the Wild? -- it's calling you.
Let us probe the silent places, let us seek what luck betide us;
Let us journey to a lonely land I know.
There's a whisper on the night-wind, there's a star agleam to guide us,
And the Wild is calling, calling .
let us go.
Charles Bukowski |
call it the greenhouse effect or whatever
but it just doesn't rain like it used to.
I particularly remember the rains of the
there wasn't any money but there was
plenty of rain.
it wouldn't rain for just a night or
it would RAIN for 7 days and 7
and in Los Angeles the storm drains
weren't built to carry off taht much
and the rain came down THICK and
and you HEARD it banging against
the roofs and into the ground
waterfalls of it came down
and there was HAIL
big ROCKS OF ICE
exploding smashing into things
and the rain
and all the roofs leaked-
were placed all about;
they dripped loudly
and had to be emptied
the rain came up over the street curbings,
across the lawns, climbed up the steps and
entered the houses.
there were mops and bathroom towels,
and the rain often came up through the
toilets:bubbling, brown, crazy,whirling,
and all the old cars stood in the streets,
cars that had problems starting on a
and the jobless men stood
looking out the windows
at the old machines dying
like living things out there.
the jobless men,
failures in a failing time
were imprisoned in their houses with their
wives and children
the pets refused to go out
and left their waste in
the jobless men went mad
their once beautiful wives.
there were terrible arguments
as notices of foreclosure
fell into the mailbox.
rain and hail, cans of beans,
bread without butter;fried
eggs, boiled eggs, poached
eggs; peanut butter
sandwiches, and an invisible
chicken in every pot.
my father, never a good man
at best, beat my mother
when it rained
as I threw myself
the legs, the knees, the
"I'll kill you," I screamed
"You hit her again
and I'll kill you!"
"Get that son-of-a-bitching
kid out of here!"
"no, Henry, you stay with
all the households were under
seige but I believe that ours
held more terror than the
and at night
as we attempted to sleep
the rains still came down
and it was in bed
in the dark
watching the moon against
the scarred window
most of the rain,
I thought of Noah and the
and I thought, it has come
we all thought
and then, at once, it would
and it always seemed to
around 5 or 6 a.
but not an exact silence
because things continued to
and there was no smog then
and by 8 a.
there was a
blazing yellow sunlight,
Van Gogh yellow-
the roof drains
relieved of the rush of
began to expand in the warmth:
and everybody got up and looked outside
and there were all the lawns
greener than green will ever
and there were birds
on the lawn
CHIRPING like mad,
they hadn't eaten decently
for 7 days and 7 nights
and they were weary of
they waited as the worms
rose to the top,
half drowned worms.
the birds plucked them
and gobbled them
blackbirds and sparrows.
the blackbirds tried to
drive the sparrows off
but the sparrows,
maddened with hunger,
smaller and quicker,
the men stood on their porches
they'd have to go out
to look for that job
that probably wasn't
there, to start that car
that probably wouldn't
and the once beautiful
stood in their bathrooms
combing their hair,
trying to put their world back
trying to forget that
awful sadness that
wondering what they could
and on the radio
we were told that
school was now
there I was
on the way to school,
massive puddles in the
the sun like a new
my parents back in that
I arrived at my classroom
Sorenson greeted us
with, "we won't have our
usual recess, the grounds
are too wet.
"AW!" most of the boys
"but we are going to do
something special at
recess," she went on,
"and it will be
well, we all wondered
what that would
and the two hour wait
seemed a long time
I looked at the little
girls, they looked so
pretty and clean and
they sat still and
and their hair was
in the California
the the recess bells rang
and we all waited for the
Sorenson told us:
"now, what we are going to
do is we are going to tell
each other what we did
during the rainstorm!
we'll begin in the front row
and go right around!
now, Michael, you're first!.
well, we all began to tell
our stories, Michael began
and it went on and on,
and soon we realized that
we were all lying, not
exactly lying but mostly
lying and some of the boys
began to snicker and some
of the girls began to give
them dirty looks and
"all right! I demand a
modicum of silence
I am interested in what
during the rainstorm
even if you
so we had to tell our
stories and they were
one girl said that
when the rainbow first
she saw God's face
at the end of it.
only she didn't say which end.
one boy said he stuck
his fishing pole
out the window
and caught a little
and fed it to his
almost everybody told
the truth was just
too awful and
embarassing to tell.
then the bell rang
and recess was
"thank you," said Mrs.
Sorenson, "that was very
and tomorrow the grounds
will be dry
and we will put them
most of the boys
and the little girls
sat very straight and
looking so pretty and
their hair beautiful in a sunshine that
the world might never see
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.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning |
WHAT was he doing the great god Pan
Down in the reeds by the river?
Spreading ruin and scattering ban
Splashing and paddling with hoofs of a goat
And breaking the golden lilies afloat 5
With the dragon-fly on the river.
He tore out a reed the great god Pan
From the deep cool bed of the river;
The limpid water turbidly ran
And the broken lilies a-dying lay 10
And the dragon-fly had fled away
Ere he brought it out of the river.
High on the shore sat the great god Pan
While turbidly flow'd the river;
And hack'd and hew'd as a great god can 15
With his hard bleak steel at the patient reed
Till there was not a sign of the leaf indeed
To prove it fresh from the river.
He cut it short did the great god Pan
(How tall it stood in the river!) 20
Then drew the pith like the heart of a man
Steadily from the outside ring
And notch'd the poor dry empty thing
In holes as he sat by the river.
'This is the way ' laugh'd the great god Pan 25
(Laugh'd while he sat by the river)
'The only way since gods began
To make sweet music they could succeed.
Then dropping his mouth to a hole in the reed
He blew in power by the river.
Sweet sweet sweet O Pan!
Piercing sweet by the river!
Blinding sweet O great god Pan!
The sun on the hill forgot to die
And the lilies revived and the dragon-fly 35
Came back to dream on the river.
Yet half a beast is the great god Pan
To laugh as he sits by the river
Making a poet out of a man:
The true gods sigh for the cost and pain¡ª 40
For the reed which grows nevermore again
As a reed with the reeds of the river.
Muhammad Ali |
This is the legend of Cassius Clay,
The most beautiful fighter in the world today.
He talks a great deal, and brags indeed-y,
Of a muscular punch that's incredibly speed-y.
The fistic world was dull and weary,
but with a champ like Liston, things had to be dreary.
Then someone with color and someone with dash,
brought fight fans are runnin' with Cash.
This brash young boxer is something to see
and the heavyweight championship is his destiny.
This kid's got a left, this kid's got a right,
if he hit you once, you're asleep for the night.
This is the legend of Muhammad Ali,
The greatest fighter that ever will be.
He talks a great deal and brags, indeed.
Of a powerful punch and blinding speed.
Ali fights great, he's got speed and endurance.
If you sign to fight him, increase your insurance.
Ali's got a left, Ali's got a right;
If he hits you once, you're asleep for the night
Siegfried Sassoon |
I’ve never ceased to curse the day I signed
A seven years’ bargain for the Golden Fleece.
’Twas a bad deal all round; and dear enough
It cost me, what with my daft management,
And the mean folk as owed and never paid me,
And backing losers; and the local bucks
Egging me on with whiskys while I bragged
The man I was when huntsman to the Squire.
I’d have been prosperous if I’d took a farm
Of fifty acres, drove my gig and haggled
At Monday markets; now I’ve squandered all
My savings; nigh three hundred pound I got
As testimonial when I’d grown too stiff
And slow to press a beaten fox.
’Twas the damned Fleece that wore my Emily out,
The wife of thirty years who served me well;
(Not like this beldam clattering in the kitchen,
That never trims a lamp nor sweeps the floor,
And brings me greasy soup in a foul crock.
Blast the old harridan! What’s fetched her now,
Leaving me in the dark, and short of fire?
And where’s my pipe? ’Tis lucky I’ve a turn
For thinking, and remembering all that’s past.
And now’s my hour, before I hobble to bed,
To set the works a-wheezing, wind the clock
That keeps the time of life with feeble tick
Behind my bleared old face that stares and wonders.
It’s ***** how, in the dark, comes back to mind
Some morning of September.
We’ve been digging
In a steep sandy warren, riddled with holes,
And I’ve just pulled the terrier out and left
A sharp-nosed cub-face blinking there and snapping,
Then in a moment seen him mobbed and torn
To strips in the baying hurly of the pack.
I picture it so clear: the dusty sunshine
On bracken, and the men with spades, that wipe
Red faces: one tilts up a mug of ale.
And, having stopped to clean my gory hands,
I whistle the jostling beauties out of the wood.
I’m but a daft old fool! I often wish
The Squire were back again—ah! he was a man!
They don’t breed men like him these days; he’d come
For sure, and sit and talk and suck his briar
Till the old wife brings up a dish of tea.
Ay, those were days, when I was serving Squire!
I never knowed such sport as ’85,
The winter afore the one that snowed us silly.
Once in a way the parson will drop in
And read a bit o’ the Bible, if I’m bad,
And pray the Lord to make my spirit whole
In faith: he leaves some ’baccy on the shelf,
And wonders I don’t keep a dog to cheer me
Because he knows I’m mortal fond of dogs!
I ask you, what’s a gent like that to me
As wouldn’t know Elijah if I saw him,
Nor have the wit to keep him on the talk?
’Tis kind of parson to be troubling still
With such as me; but he’s a town-bred chap,
Full of his college notions and Christmas hymns.
Religion beats me.
I’m amazed at folk
Drinking the gospels in and never scratching
Their heads for questions.
When I was a lad
I learned a bit from mother, and never thought
To educate myself for prayers and psalms.
But now I’m old and bald and serious-minded,
With days to sit and ponder.
I’d no chance
When young and gay to get the hang of all
This Hell and Heaven: and when the clergy hoick
And holloa from their pulpits, I’m asleep,
However hard I listen; and when they pray
It seems we’re all like children sucking sweets
In school, and wondering whether master sees.
I used to dream of Hell when I was first
Promoted to a huntsman’s job, and scent
Was rotten, and all the foxes disappeared,
And hounds were short of blood; and officers
From barracks over-rode ’em all day long
On weedy, whistling nags that knocked a hole
In every fence; good sportsmen to a man
And brigadiers by now, but dreadful hard
On a young huntsman keen to show some sport.
Ay, Hell was thick with captains, and I rode
The lumbering brute that’s beat in half a mile,
And blunders into every blind old ditch.
Hell was the coldest scenting land I’ve known,
And both my whips were always lost, and hounds
Would never get their heads down; and a man
On a great yawing chestnut trying to cast ’em
While I was in a corner pounded by
The ugliest hog-backed stile you’ve clapped your eyes on.
There was an iron-spiked fence round all the coverts,
And civil-spoken keepers I couldn’t trust,
And the main earth unstopp’d.
The fox I found
Was always a three-legged ’un from a bag,
Who reeked of aniseed and wouldn’t run.
The farmers were all ploughing their old pasture
And bellowing at me when I rode their beans
To cast for beaten fox, or galloped on
With hounds to a lucky view.
I’d lost my voice
Although I shouted fit to burst my guts,
And couldn’t blow my horn.
And when I woke,
Emily snored, and barn-cocks started crowing,
And morn was at the window; and I was glad
To be alive because I heard the cry
Of hounds like church-bells chiming on a Sunday.
Ay, that’s the song I’d wish to hear in Heaven!
The cry of hounds was Heaven for me: I know
Parson would call me crazed and wrong to say it,
But where’s the use of life and being glad
If God’s not in your gladness?
I’ve no brains
For book-learned studies; but I’ve heard men say
There’s much in print that clergy have to wink at:
Though many I’ve met were jolly chaps, and rode
To hounds, and walked me puppies; and could pick
Good legs and loins and necks and shoulders, ay,
And feet—’twas necks and feet I looked at first.
Some hounds I’ve known were wise as half your saints,
And better hunters.
That old dog of the Duke’s,
Harlequin; what a dog he was to draw!
And what a note he had, and what a nose
When foxes ran down wind and scent was catchy!
And that light lemon ***** of the Squire’s, old Dorcas—
She were a marvellous hunter, were old Dorcas!
Ay, oft I’ve thought, ‘If there were hounds in Heaven,
With God as master, taking no subscription;
And all His bless?d country farmed by tenants,
And a straight-necked old fox in every gorse!’
But when I came to work it out, I found
There’d be too many huntsmen wanting places,
Though some I’ve known might get a job with Nick!
I’ve come to think of God as something like
The figure of a man the old Duke was
When I was turning hounds to Nimrod King,
Before his Grace was took so bad with gout
And had to quit the saddle.
Tall and spare,
Clean-shaved and grey, with shrewd, kind eyes, that twinkled,
And easy walk; who, when he gave good words,
Gave them whole-hearted; and would never blame
Without just cause.
Lord God might be like that,
Sitting alone in a great room of books
Some evening after hunting.
Now I’m tired
With hearkening to the tick-tack on the shelf;
And pondering makes me doubtful.
On a moonless night of cloud that feels like frost
Though stars are hidden (hold your feet up, horse!)
And thinking what a task I had to draw
A pack with all those lame ’uns, and the lot
Wanting a rest from all this open weather;
That’s what I’m doing now.
And likely, too,
The frost’ll be a long ’un, and the night
The parsons say we’ll wake to find
A country blinding-white with dazzle of snow.
The naked stars make men feel lonely, wheeling
And glinting on the puddles in the road.
And then you listen to the wind, and wonder
If folk are quite such bucks as they appear
When dressed by London tailors, looking down
Their boots at covert side, and thinking big.
This world’s a funny place to live in.
I’ll need to change my country; but I know
’Tis little enough I’ve understood my life,
And a power of sights I’ve missed, and foreign marvels.
I used to feel it, riding on spring days
In meadows pied with sun and chasing clouds,
And half forget how I was there to catch
The foxes; lose the angry, eager feeling
A huntsman ought to have, that’s out for blood,
And means his hounds to get it!
Now I know
It’s God that speaks to us when we’re bewitched,
Smelling the hay in June and smiling quiet;
Or when there’s been a spell of summer drought,
Lying awake and listening to the rain.
I’d like to be the simpleton I was
In the old days when I was whipping-in
To a little harrier-pack in Worcestershire,
And loved a dairymaid, but never knew it
Until she’d wed another.
So I’ve loved
My life; and when the good years are gone down,
Discover what I’ve lost.
I never broke
Out of my blundering self into the world,
But let it all go past me, like a man
Half asleep in a land that’s full of wars.
What a grand thing ’twould be if I could go
Back to the kennels now and take my hounds
For summer exercise; be riding out
With forty couple when the quiet skies
Are streaked with sunrise, and the silly birds
Grown hoarse with singing; cobwebs on the furze
Up on the hill, and all the country strange,
With no one stirring; and the horses fresh,
Sniffing the air I’ll never breathe again.
You’ve brought the lamp, then, Martha? I’ve no mind
For newspaper to-night, nor bread and cheese.
Give me the candle, and I’ll get to bed.
Billy Collins |
In most self-portraits it is the face that dominates:
Cezanne is a pair of eyes swimming in brushstrokes,
Van Gogh stares out of a halo of swirling darkness,
Rembrant looks relieved as if he were taking a breather
from painting The Blinding of Sampson.
But in this one Goya stands well back from the mirror
and is seen posed in the clutter of his studio
addressing a canvas tilted back on a tall easel.
He appears to be smiling out at us as if he knew
we would be amused by the extraordinary hat on his head
which is fitted around the brim with candle holders,
a device that allowed him to work into the night.
You can only wonder what it would be like
to be wearing such a chandelier on your head
as if you were a walking dining room or concert hall.
But once you see this hat there is no need to read
any biography of Goya or to memorize his dates.
To understand Goya you only have to imagine him
lighting the candles one by one, then placing
the hat on his head, ready for a night of work.
Imagine him surprising his wife with his new invention,
the laughing like a birthday cake when she saw the glow.
Imagine him flickering through the rooms of his house
with all the shadows flying across the walls.
Imagine a lost traveler knocking on his door
one dark night in the hill country of Spain.
"Come in, " he would say, "I was just painting myself,"
as he stood in the doorway holding up the wand of a brush,
illuminated in the blaze of his famous candle hat.
Weldon Kees |
To Ernest Brace
"And when the seven thunders had uttered their voices, I was
about to write: and I heard a voice from heaven saying unto
me, Seal up those things which the seven thunders uttered, and
write them not.
" --REVELATIONS, x, 4.
That raft we rigged up, under the water,
Was just the item: when he walked,
With his robes blowing, dark against the sky,
It was as though the unsubstantial waves held up
His slender and inviolate feet.
The gulls flew over,
Dropping, crying alone; thin ragged lengths of cloud
Drifted in bars across the sun.
There on the shore
The crowd's response was instantaneous.
Handled it well, I thought--the gait, the tilt of the head, just right.
Long streaks of light were blinding on the waves.
And then we knew our work well worth the time:
The days of sawing, fitting, all those nails,
The tiresome rehearsals, considerations of execution.
But if you want a miracle, you have to work for it,
Lay your plans carefully and keep one jump
Ahead of the crowd.
To report a miracle
Is a pleasure unalloyed; but staging one requires
Tact, imagination, a special knack for the job
Not everyone possesses.
A miracle, in fact, means work.
--And now there are those who have come saying
That miracles were not what we were after.
But what else
Is there? What other hope does life hold out
But the miraculous, the skilled and patient
Execution, the teamwork, all the pain and worry every miracle involves?
Visionaries tossing in their beds, haunted and racked
By questions of Messiahship and eschatology,
Are like the mist rising at nightfall, and come,
Perhaps to even less.
Grave supernaturalists, devoted worshippers
Experience the ecstasy (such as it is), but not
It was our making.
When the torrent of that time
Comes pouring back, I wonder at our courage
And our enterprise.
It was as though the world
Had been one darkening, abandoned hall
Where rows of unlit candles stood; and we
Not out of love, so much, or hope, or even worship, but
Out of the fear of death, came with our lights
And watched the candles, one by one, take fire, flames
Against the long night of our fear.
That we could never die.
Now I am less convinced.
--The traveller on the plain makes out the mountains
At a distance; then he loses sight.
Winds through the valleys; then, at a sudden turning of a path,
The peaks stand nakedly before him: they are something else
Than what he saw below.
I think now of the raft
(For me, somehow, the summit of the whole experience)
And all the expectations of that day, but also of the cave
We stocked with bread, the secret meetings
In the hills, the fake assassins hired for the last pursuit,
The careful staging of the cures, the bribed officials,
The angels' garments, tailored faultlessly,
The medicines administered behind the stone,
That ultimate cloud, so perfect, and so opportune.
Who managed all that blood I never knew.
The days get longer.
It was a long time ago.
And I have come to that point in the turning of the path
Where peaks are infinite--horn-shaped and scaly, choked with
But even here, I know our work was worth the cost.
What we have brought to pass, no one can take away.
Life offers up no miracles, unfortunately, and needs assistance.
Nothing will be the same as once it was,
I tell myself.
--It's dark here on the peak, and keeps on getting
It seems I am experiencing a kind of ecstasy.
Was it sunlight on the waves that day? The night comes down.
And now the water seems remote, unreal, and perhaps it is.