Walt Whitman |
TO think of time—of all that retrospection!
To think of to-day, and the ages continued henceforward!
Have you guess’d you yourself would not continue?
Have you dreaded these earth-beetles?
Have you fear’d the future would be nothing to you?
Is to-day nothing? Is the beginningless past nothing?
If the future is nothing, they are just as surely nothing.
To think that the sun rose in the east! that men and women were flexible, real, alive!
everything was alive!
To think that you and I did not see, feel, think, nor bear our part!
To think that we are now here, and bear our part!
Not a day passes—not a minute or second, without an accouchement!
Not a day passes—not a minute or second, without a corpse!
The dull nights go over, and the dull days also,
The soreness of lying so much in bed goes over,
The physician, after long putting off, gives the silent and terrible look for an answer,
The children come hurried and weeping, and the brothers and sisters are sent for,
Medicines stand unused on the shelf—(the camphor-smell has long pervaded the rooms,)
The faithful hand of the living does not desert the hand of the dying,
The twitching lips press lightly on the forehead of the dying,
The breath ceases, and the pulse of the heart ceases,
The corpse stretches on the bed, and the living look upon it,
It is palpable as the living are palpable.
The living look upon the corpse with their eye-sight,
But without eye-sight lingers a different living, and looks curiously on the corpse.
To think the thought of Death, merged in the thought of materials!
To think that the rivers will flow, and the snow fall, and fruits ripen, and act upon
upon us now—yet not act upon us!
To think of all these wonders of city and country, and others taking great interest in
them—and we taking no interest in them!
To think how eager we are in building our houses!
To think others shall be just as eager, and we quite indifferent!
(I see one building the house that serves him a few years, or seventy or eighty years at
I see one building the house that serves him longer than that.
Slow-moving and black lines creep over the whole earth—they never cease—they are
He that was President was buried, and he that is now President shall surely be buried.
A reminiscence of the vulgar fate,
A frequent sample of the life and death of workmen,
Each after his kind:
Cold dash of waves at the ferry-wharf—posh and ice in the river, half-frozen mud in
streets, a gray, discouraged sky overhead, the short, last daylight of Twelfth-month,
A hearse and stages—other vehicles give place—the funeral of an old Broadway
stage-driver, the cortege mostly drivers.
Steady the trot to the cemetery, duly rattles the death-bell, the gate is pass’d, the
new-dug grave is halted at, the living alight, the hearse uncloses,
The coffin is pass’d out, lower’d and settled, the whip is laid on the coffin,
earth is swiftly shovel’d in,
The mound above is flatted with the spades—silence,
A minute—no one moves or speaks—it is done,
He is decently put away—is there anything more?
He was a good fellow, free-mouth’d, quick-temper’d, not bad-looking, able to
own part, witty, sensitive to a slight, ready with life or death for a friend, fond of
gambled, ate hearty, drank hearty, had known what it was to be flush, grew low-spirited
the last, sicken’d, was help’d by a contribution, died, aged forty-one
that was his funeral.
Thumb extended, finger uplifted, apron, cape, gloves, strap, wet-weather clothes, whip
carefully chosen, boss, spotter, starter, hostler, somebody loafing on you, you loafing
somebody, headway, man before and man behind, good day’s work, bad day’s work,
stock, mean stock, first out, last out, turning-in at night;
To think that these are so much and so nigh to other drivers—and he there takes no
interest in them!
The markets, the government, the working-man’s wages—to think what account they
through our nights and days!
To think that other working-men will make just as great account of them—yet we make
or no account!
The vulgar and the refined—what you call sin, and what you call goodness—to
wide a difference!
To think the difference will still continue to others, yet we lie beyond the difference.
To think how much pleasure there is!
Have you pleasure from looking at the sky? have you pleasure from poems?
Do you enjoy yourself in the city? or engaged in business? or planning a nomination and
election? or with your wife and family?
Or with your mother and sisters? or in womanly housework? or the beautiful maternal cares?
—These also flow onward to others—you and I flow onward,
But in due time, you and I shall take less interest in them.
Your farm, profits, crops,—to think how engross’d you are!
To think there will still be farms, profits, crops—yet for you, of what avail?
What will be, will be well—for what is, is well,
To take interest is well, and not to take interest shall be well.
The sky continues beautiful,
The pleasure of men with women shall never be sated, nor the pleasure of women with men,
the pleasure from poems,
The domestic joys, the daily housework or business, the building of houses—these are
phantasms—they have weight, form, location;
Farms, profits, crops, markets, wages, government, are none of them phantasms,
The difference between sin and goodness is no delusion,
The earth is not an echo—man and his life, and all the things of his life, are
You are not thrown to the winds—you gather certainly and safely around yourself;
Yourself! Yourself! Yourself, forever and ever!
It is not to diffuse you that you were born of your mother and father—it is to
It is not that you should be undecided, but that you should be decided;
Something long preparing and formless is arrived and form’d in you,
You are henceforth secure, whatever comes or goes.
The threads that were spun are gather’d, the weft crosses the warp, the pattern is
The preparations have every one been justified,
The orchestra have sufficiently tuned their instruments—the baton has given the
The guest that was coming—he waited long, for reasons—he is now housed,
He is one of those who are beautiful and happy—he is one of those that to look upon
with is enough.
The law of the past cannot be eluded,
The law of the present and future cannot be eluded,
The law of the living cannot be eluded—it is eternal,
The law of promotion and transformation cannot be eluded,
The law of heroes and good-doers cannot be eluded,
The law of drunkards, informers, mean persons—not one iota thereof can be eluded.
Slow moving and black lines go ceaselessly over the earth,
Northerner goes carried, and Southerner goes carried, and they on the Atlantic side, and
on the Pacific, and they between, and all through the Mississippi country, and all over
The great masters and kosmos are well as they go—the heroes and good-doers are well,
The known leaders and inventors, and the rich owners and pious and distinguish’d, may
But there is more account than that—there is strict account of all.
The interminable hordes of the ignorant and wicked are not nothing,
The barbarians of Africa and Asia are not nothing,
The common people of Europe are not nothing—the American aborigines are not nothing,
The infected in the immigrant hospital are not nothing—the murderer or mean person is
The perpetual successions of shallow people are not nothing as they go,
The lowest prostitute is not nothing—the mocker of religion is not nothing as he
Of and in all these things,
I have dream’d that we are not to be changed so much, nor the law of us changed,
I have dream’d that heroes and good-doers shall be under the present and past law,
And that murderers, drunkards, liars, shall be under the present and past law,
For I have dream’d that the law they are under now is enough.
If otherwise, all came but to ashes of dung,
If maggots and rats ended us, then Alarum! for we are betray’d!
Then indeed suspicion of death.
Do you suspect death? If I were to suspect death, I should die now,
Do you think I could walk pleasantly and well-suited toward annihilation?
Pleasantly and well-suited I walk,
Whither I walk I cannot define, but I know it is good,
The whole universe indicates that it is good,
The past and the present indicate that it is good.
How beautiful and perfect are the animals!
How perfect the earth, and the minutest thing upon it!
What is called good is perfect, and what is called bad is just as perfect,
The vegetables and minerals are all perfect, and the imponderable fluids are perfect;
Slowly and surely they have pass’d on to this, and slowly and surely they yet pass
I swear I think now that everything without exception has an eternal Soul!
The trees have, rooted in the ground! the weeds of the sea have! the animals!
I swear I think there is nothing but immortality!
That the exquisite scheme is for it, and the nebulous float is for it, and the cohering is
And all preparation is for it! and identity is for it! and life and materials are
T S (Thomas Stearns) Eliot |
In my beginning is my end.
Houses rise and fall, crumble, are extended,
Are removed, destroyed, restored, or in their place
Is an open field, or a factory, or a by-pass.
Old stone to new building, old timber to new fires,
Old fires to ashes, and ashes to the earth
Which is already flesh, fur and faeces,
Bone of man and beast, cornstalk and leaf.
Houses live and die: there is a time for building
And a time for living and for generation
And a time for the wind to break the loosened pane
And to shake the wainscot where the field-mouse trots
And to shake the tattered arras woven with a silent motto.
In my beginning is my end.
Now the light falls
Across the open field, leaving the deep lane
Shuttered with branches, dark in the afternoon,
Where you lean against a bank while a van passes,
And the deep lane insists on the direction
Into the village, in the electric heat
In a warm haze the sultry light
Is absorbed, not refracted, by grey stone.
The dahlias sleep in the empty silence.
Wait for the early owl.
In that open field
If you do not come too close, if you do not come too close,
On a summer midnight, you can hear the music
Of the weak pipe and the little drum
And see them dancing around the bonfire
The association of man and woman
In daunsinge, signifying matrimonie—
A dignified and commodiois sacrament.
Two and two, necessarye coniunction,
Holding eche other by the hand or the arm
Whiche betokeneth concorde.
Round and round the fire
Leaping through the flames, or joined in circles,
Rustically solemn or in rustic laughter
Lifting heavy feet in clumsy shoes,
Earth feet, loam feet, lifted in country mirth
Mirth of those long since under earth
Nourishing the corn.
Keeping the rhythm in their dancing
As in their living in the living seasons
The time of the seasons and the constellations
The time of milking and the time of harvest
The time of the coupling of man and woman
And that of beasts.
Feet rising and falling.
Eating and drinking.
Dung and death.
Dawn points, and another day
Prepares for heat and silence.
Out at sea the dawn wind
Wrinkles and slides.
I am here
Or there, or elsewhere.
In my beginning.
What is the late November doing
With the disturbance of the spring
And creatures of the summer heat,
And snowdrops writhing under feet
And hollyhocks that aim too high
Red into grey and tumble down
Late roses filled with early snow?
Thunder rolled by the rolling stars
Simulates triumphal cars
Deployed in constellated wars
Scorpion fights against the Sun
Until the Sun and Moon go down
Comets weep and Leonids fly
Hunt the heavens and the plains
Whirled in a vortex that shall bring
The world to that destructive fire
Which burns before the ice-cap reigns.
That was a way of putting it—not very satisfactory:
A periphrastic study in a worn-out poetical fashion,
Leaving one still with the intolerable wrestle
With words and meanings.
The poetry does not matter.
It was not (to start again) what one had expected.
What was to be the value of the long looked forward to,
Long hoped for calm, the autumnal serenity
And the wisdom of age? Had they deceived us
Or deceived themselves, the quiet-voiced elders,
Bequeathing us merely a receipt for deceit?
The serenity only a deliberate hebetude,
The wisdom only the knowledge of dead secrets
Useless in the darkness into which they peered
Or from which they turned their eyes.
There is, it seems to us,
At best, only a limited value
In the knowledge derived from experience.
The knowledge imposes a pattern, and falsifies,
For the pattern is new in every moment
And every moment is a new and shocking
Valuation of all we have been.
We are only undeceived
Of that which, deceiving, could no longer harm.
In the middle, not only in the middle of the way
But all the way, in a dark wood, in a bramble,
On the edge of a grimpen, where is no secure foothold,
And menaced by monsters, fancy lights,
Do not let me hear
Of the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly,
Their fear of fear and frenzy, their fear of possession,
Of belonging to another, or to others, or to God.
The only wisdom we can hope to acquire
Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.
The houses are all gone under the sea.
The dancers are all gone under the hill.
O dark dark dark.
They all go into the dark,
The vacant interstellar spaces, the vacant into the vacant,
The captains, merchant bankers, eminent men of letters,
The generous patrons of art, the statesmen and the rulers,
Distinguished civil servants, chairmen of many committees,
Industrial lords and petty contractors, all go into the dark,
And dark the Sun and Moon, and the Almanach de Gotha
And the Stock Exchange Gazette, the Directory of Directors,
And cold the sense and lost the motive of action.
And we all go with them, into the silent funeral,
Nobody's funeral, for there is no one to bury.
I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you
Which shall be the darkness of God.
As, in a theatre,
The lights are extinguished, for the scene to be changed
With a hollow rumble of wings, with a movement of darkness on darkness,
And we know that the hills and the trees, the distant panorama
And the bold imposing façade are all being rolled away—
Or as, when an underground train, in the tube, stops too long between stations
And the conversation rises and slowly fades into silence
And you see behind every face the mental emptiness deepen
Leaving only the growing terror of nothing to think about;
Or when, under ether, the mind is conscious but conscious of nothing—
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
Whisper of running streams, and winter lightning.
The wild thyme unseen and the wild strawberry,
The laughter in the garden, echoed ecstasy
Not lost, but requiring, pointing to the agony
Of death and birth.
You say I am repeating
Something I have said before.
I shall say it again.
Shall I say it again? In order to arrive there,
To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
In order to arrive at what you do not know
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not
You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.
The wounded surgeon plies the steel
That questions the distempered part;
Beneath the bleeding hands we feel
The sharp compassion of the healer's art
Resolving the enigma of the fever chart.
Our only health is the disease
If we obey the dying nurse
Whose constant care is not to please
But to remind of our, and Adam's curse,
And that, to be restored, our sickness must grow worse.
The whole earth is our hospital
Endowed by the ruined millionaire,
Wherein, if we do well, we shall
Die of the absolute paternal care
That will not leave us, but prevents us everywhere.
The chill ascends from feet to knees,
The fever sings in mental wires.
If to be warmed, then I must freeze
And quake in frigid purgatorial fires
Of which the flame is roses, and the smoke is briars.
The dripping blood our only drink,
The bloody flesh our only food:
In spite of which we like to think
That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood—
Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good.
So here I am, in the middle way, having had twenty years—
Twenty years largely wasted, the years of l'entre deux guerres
Trying to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it.
And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
Undisciplined squads of emotion.
And what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate—but there is no competition—
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious.
But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying.
The rest is not our business.
Home is where one starts from.
As we grow older
The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated
Of dead and living.
Not the intense moment
Isolated, with no before and after,
But a lifetime burning in every moment
And not the lifetime of one man only
But of old stones that cannot be deciphered.
There is a time for the evening under starlight,
A time for the evening under lamplight
(The evening with the photograph album).
Love is most nearly itself
When here and now cease to matter.
Old men ought to be explorers
Here or there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and the empty desolation,
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise.
In my end is my beginning.
Allen Ginsberg |
When I die
I don't care what happens to my body
throw ashes in the air, scatter 'em in East River
bury an urn in Elizabeth New Jersey, B'nai Israel Cemetery
But l want a big funeral
Patrick's Cathedral, St.
Mark's Church, the largest synagogue in
First, there's family, brother, nephews, spry aged Edith stepmother
96, Aunt Honey from old Newark,
Doctor Joel, cousin Mindy, brother Gene one eyed one ear'd, sister-
in-law blonde Connie, five nephews, stepbrothers & sisters
companion Peter Orlovsky, caretakers Rosenthal & Hale, Bill Morgan--
Next, teacher Trungpa Vajracharya's ghost mind, Gelek Rinpoche,
there Sakyong Mipham, Dalai Lama alert, chance visiting
America, Satchitananda Swami
Shivananda, Dehorahava Baba, Karmapa XVI, Dudjom Rinpoche,
Katagiri & Suzuki Roshi's phantoms
Baker, Whalen, Daido Loorie, Qwong, Frail White-haired Kapleau
Roshis, Lama Tarchen --
Then, most important, lovers over half-century
Dozens, a hundred, more, older fellows bald & rich
young boys met naked recently in bed, crowds surprised to see each
other, innumerable, intimate, exchanging memories
"He taught me to meditate, now I'm an old veteran of the thousand
day retreat --"
"I played music on subway platforms, I'm straight but loved him he
"I felt more love from him at 19 than ever from anyone"
"We'd lie under covers gossip, read my poetry, hug & kiss belly to belly
arms round each other"
"I'd always get into his bed with underwear on & by morning my
skivvies would be on the floor"
"Japanese, always wanted take it up my bum with a master"
"We'd talk all night about Kerouac & Cassady sit Buddhalike then
sleep in his captain's bed.
"He seemed to need so much affection, a shame not to make him happy"
"I was lonely never in bed nude with anyone before, he was so gentle my
shuddered when he traced his finger along my abdomen nipple to hips-- "
"All I did was lay back eyes closed, he'd bring me to come with mouth
& fingers along my waist"
"He gave great head"
So there be gossip from loves of 1948, ghost of Neal Cassady commin-
gling with flesh and youthful blood of 1997
and surprise -- "You too? But I thought you were straight!"
"I am but Ginsberg an exception, for some reason he pleased me.
"I forgot whether I was straight gay ***** or funny, was myself, tender
and affectionate to be kissed on the top of my head,
my forehead throat heart & solar plexus, mid-belly.
on my prick,
tickled with his tongue my behind"
"I loved the way he'd recite 'But at my back allways hear/ time's winged
chariot hurrying near,' heads together, eye to eye, on a
Among lovers one handsome youth straggling the rear
"I studied his poetry class, 17 year-old kid, ran some errands to his
seduced me didn't want to, made me come, went home, never saw him
again never wanted to.
"He couldn't get it up but loved me," "A clean old man.
" "He made
sure I came first"
This the crowd most surprised proud at ceremonial place of honor--
Then poets & musicians -- college boys' grunge bands -- age-old rock
star Beatles, faithful guitar accompanists, gay classical con-
ductors, unknown high Jazz music composers, funky trum-
peters, bowed bass & french horn black geniuses, folksinger
fiddlers with dobro tamborine harmonica mandolin auto-
harp pennywhistles & kazoos
Next, artist Italian romantic realists schooled in mystic 60's India,
Late fauve Tuscan painter-poets, Classic draftsman Massa-
chusets surreal jackanapes with continental wives, poverty
sketchbook gesso oil watercolor masters from American
Then highschool teachers, lonely Irish librarians, delicate biblio-
philes, sex liberation troops nay armies, ladies of either sex
"I met him dozens of times he never remembered my name I loved
him anyway, true artist"
"Nervous breakdown after menopause, his poetry humor saved me
from suicide hospitals"
"Charmant, genius with modest manners, washed sink, dishes my
studio guest a week in Budapest"
Thousands of readers, "Howl changed my life in Libertyville Illinois"
"I saw him read Montclair State Teachers College decided be a poet-- "
"He turned me on, I started with garage rock sang my songs in Kansas
"Kaddish made me weep for myself & father alive in Nevada City"
"Father Death comforted me when my sister died Boston l982"
"I read what he said in a newsmagazine, blew my mind, realized
others like me out there"
Deaf & Dumb bards with hand signing quick brilliant gestures
Then Journalists, editors's secretaries, agents, portraitists & photo-
graphy aficionados, rock critics, cultured laborors, cultural
historians come to witness the historic funeral
Super-fans, poetasters, aging Beatnicks & Deadheads, autograph-
hunters, distinguished paparazzi, intelligent gawkers
Everyone knew they were part of 'History" except the deceased
who never knew exactly what was happening even when I was alive
February 22, 1997
Ogden Nash |
In Baltimore there lived a boy.
He wasn't anybody's joy.
Although his name was Jabez Dawes,
His character was full of flaws.
In school he never led his classes,
He hid old ladies' reading glasses,
His mouth was open when he chewed,
And elbows to the table glued.
He stole the milk of hungry kittens,
And walked through doors marked NO ADMITTANCE.
He said he acted thus because
There wasn't any Santa Claus.
Another trick that tickled Jabez
Was crying 'Boo' at little babies.
He brushed his teeth, they said in town,
Sideways instead of up and down.
Yet people pardoned every sin,
And viewed his antics with a grin,
Till they were told by Jabez Dawes,
'There isn't any Santa Claus!'
Deploring how he did behave,
His parents swiftly sought their grave.
They hurried through the portals pearly,
And Jabez left the funeral early.
Like whooping cough, from child to child,
He sped to spread the rumor wild:
'Sure as my name is Jabez Dawes
There isn't any Santa Claus!'
Slunk like a weasel of a marten
Through nursery and kindergarten,
Whispering low to every tot,
'There isn't any, no there's not!'
The children wept all Christmas eve
And Jabez chortled up his sleeve.
No infant dared hang up his stocking
For fear of Jabez' ribald mocking.
He sprawled on his untidy bed,
Fresh malice dancing in his head,
When presently with scalp-a-tingling,
Jabez heard a distant jingling;
He heard the crunch of sleigh and hoof
Crisply alighting on the roof.
What good to rise and bar the door?
A shower of soot was on the floor.
What was beheld by Jabez Dawes?
The fireplace full of Santa Claus!
Then Jabez fell upon his knees
With cries of 'Don't,' and 'Pretty Please.
He howled, 'I don't know where you read it,
But anyhow, I never said it!'
'Jabez' replied the angry saint,
'It isn't I, it's you that ain't.
Although there is a Santa Claus,
There isn't any Jabez Dawes!'
Said Jabez then with impudent vim,
'Oh, yes there is, and I am him!
Your magic don't scare me, it doesn't'
And suddenly he found he wasn't!
From grimy feet to grimy locks,
Jabez became a Jack-in-the-box,
An ugly toy with springs unsprung,
Forever sticking out his tongue.
The neighbors heard his mournful squeal;
They searched for him, but not with zeal.
No trace was found of Jabez Dawes,
Which led to thunderous applause,
And people drank a loving cup
And went and hung their stockings up.
All you who sneer at Santa Claus,
Beware the fate of Jabez Dawes,
The saucy boy who mocked the saint.
Donner and Blitzen licked off his paint.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow |
What the Heart of the Young Man Said to the Psalmist
TELL me not in mournful numbers
Life is but an empty dream!¡ª
For the soul is dead that slumbers
And things are not what they seem.
Life is real! Life is earnest! 5
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art to dust returnest
Was not spoken of the soul.
Not enjoyment and not sorrow
Is our destined end or way; 10
But to act that each to-morrow
Find us farther than to-day.
Art is long and Time is fleeting
And our hearts though stout and brave
Still like muffled drums are beating 15
Funeral marches to the grave.
In the world's broad field of battle
In the bivouac of Life
Be not like dumb driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife! 20
Trust no Future howe'er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act ¡ªact in the living Present!
Heart within and God o'erhead!
Lives of great men all remind us 25
We can make our lives sublime
And departing leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;
Footprints that perhaps another
Sailing o'er life's solemn main 30
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother
Seeing shall take heart again.
Let us then be up and doing
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving still pursuing 35
Learn to labor and to wait.
Randall Jarrell |
Moving from Cheer to Joy, from Joy to All,
I take a box
And add it to my wild rice, my Cornish game hens.
The slacked or shorted, basketed, identical
Are selves I overlook.
Wisdom, said William James,
Is learning what to overlook.
And I am wise
If that is wisdom.
Yet somehow, as I buy All from these shelves
And the boy takes it to my station wagon,
What I've become
Troubles me even if I shut my eyes.
When I was young and miserable and pretty
And poor, I'd wish
What all girls wish: to have a husband,
A house and children.
Now that I'm old, my wish
That the boy putting groceries in my car
It bewilders me he doesn't see me.
For so many years
I was good enough to eat: the world looked at me
And its mouth watered.
How often they have undressed me,
The eyes of strangers!
And, holding their flesh within my flesh, their vile
Imaginings within my imagining,
I too have taken
The chance of life.
Now the boy pats my dog
And we start home.
Now I am good.
The last mistaken,
Ecstatic, accidental bliss, the blind
Happiness that, bursting, leaves upon the palm
Some soap and water--
It was so long ago, back in some Gay
Twenties, Nineties, I don't know .
Today I miss
My lovely daughter
Away at school, my sons away at school,
My husband away at work--I wish for them.
The dog, the maid,
And I go through the sure unvarying days
At home in them.
As I look at my life,
I am afraid
Only that it will change, as I am changing:
I am afraid, this morning, of my face.
It looks at me
From the rear-view mirror, with the eyes I hate,
The smile I hate.
Its plain, lined look
Of gray discovery
Repeats to me: "You're old.
" That's all, I'm old.
And yet I'm afraid, as I was at the funeral
I went to yesterday.
My friend's cold made-up face, granite among its flowers,
Her undressed, operated-on, dressed body
Were my face and body.
As I think of her and I hear her telling me
How young I seem; I am exceptional;
I think of all I have.
But really no one is exceptional,
No one has anything, I'm anybody,
I stand beside my grave
Confused with my life, that is commonplace and solitary.
Alfred Lord Tennyson |
ON either side the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye,
That clothe the wold and meet the sky;
And thro' the field the road runs by
To many-tower'd Camelot; 5
And up and down the people go,
Gazing where the lilies blow
Round an island there below,
The island of Shalott.
Willows whiten, aspens quiver, 10
Little breezes dusk and shiver
Thro' the wave that runs for ever
By the island in the river
Flowing down to Camelot.
Four gray walls, and four gray towers, 15
Overlook a space of flowers,
And the silent isle imbowers
The Lady of Shalott.
By the margin, willow-veil'd,
Slide the heavy barges trail'd 20
By slow horses; and unhail'd
The shallop flitteth silken-sail'd
Skimming down to Camelot:
But who hath seen her wave her hand?
Or at the casement seen her stand? 25
Or is she known in all the land,
The Lady of Shalott?
Only reapers, reaping early
In among the bearded barley,
Hear a song that echoes cheerly 30
From the river winding clearly,
Down to tower'd Camelot:
And by the moon the reaper weary,
Piling sheaves in uplands airy,
Listening, whispers ''Tis the fairy 35
Lady of Shalott.
There she weaves by night and day
A magic web with colours gay.
She has heard a whisper say,
A curse is on her if she stay 40
To look down to Camelot.
She knows not what the curse may be,
And so she weaveth steadily,
And little other care hath she,
The Lady of Shalott.
And moving thro' a mirror clear
That hangs before her all the year,
Shadows of the world appear.
There she sees the highway near
Winding down to Camelot: 50
There the river eddy whirls,
And there the surly village-churls,
And the red cloaks of market girls,
Pass onward from Shalott.
Sometimes a troop of damsels glad, 55
An abbot on an ambling pad,
Sometimes a curly shepherd-lad,
Or long-hair'd page in crimson clad,
Goes by to tower'd Camelot;
And sometimes thro' the mirror blue 60
The knights come riding two and two:
She hath no loyal knight and true,
The Lady of Shalott.
But in her web she still delights
To weave the mirror's magic sights, 65
For often thro' the silent nights
A funeral, with plumes and lights,
And music, went to Camelot:
Or when the moon was overhead,
Came two young lovers lately wed; 70
'I am half sick of shadows,' said
The Lady of Shalott.
A bow-shot from her bower-eaves,
He rode between the barley-sheaves,
The sun came dazzling thro' the leaves, 75
And flamed upon the brazen greaves
Of bold Sir Lancelot.
A red-cross knight for ever kneel'd
To a lady in his shield,
That sparkled on the yellow field, 80
Beside remote Shalott.
The gemmy bridle glitter'd free,
Like to some branch of stars we see
Hung in the golden Galaxy.
The bridle bells rang merrily 85
As he rode down to Camelot:
And from his blazon'd baldric slung
A mighty silver bugle hung,
And as he rode his armour rung,
Beside remote Shalott.
All in the blue unclouded weather
Thick-jewell'd shone the saddle-leather,
The helmet and the helmet-feather
Burn'd like one burning flame together,
As he rode down to Camelot.
As often thro' the purple night,
Below the starry clusters bright,
Some bearded meteor, trailing light,
Moves over still Shalott.
His broad clear brow in sunlight glow'd; 100
On burnish'd hooves his war-horse trode;
From underneath his helmet flow'd
His coal-black curls as on he rode,
As he rode down to Camelot.
From the bank and from the river 105
He flash'd into the crystal mirror,
'Tirra lirra,' by the river
Sang Sir Lancelot.
She left the web, she left the loom,
She made three paces thro' the room, 110
She saw the water-lily bloom,
She saw the helmet and the plume,
She look'd down to Camelot.
Out flew the web and floated wide;
The mirror crack'd from side to side; 115
'The curse is come upon me!' cried
The Lady of Shalott.
In the stormy east-wind straining,
The pale yellow woods were waning,
The broad stream in his banks complaining, 120
Heavily the low sky raining
Over tower'd Camelot;
Down she came and found a boat
Beneath a willow left afloat,
And round about the prow she wrote 125
The Lady of Shalott.
And down the river's dim expanse¡ª
Like some bold seer in a trance,
Seeing all his own mischance¡ª
With a glassy countenance 130
Did she look to Camelot.
And at the closing of the day
She loosed the chain, and down she lay;
The broad stream bore her far away,
The Lady of Shalott.
Lying, robed in snowy white
That loosely flew to left and right¡ª
The leaves upon her falling light¡ª
Thro' the noises of the night
She floated down to Camelot: 140
And as the boat-head wound along
The willowy hills and fields among,
They heard her singing her last song,
The Lady of Shalott.
Heard a carol, mournful, holy, 145
Chanted loudly, chanted lowly,
Till her blood was frozen slowly,
And her eyes were darken'd wholly,
Turn'd to tower'd Camelot;
For ere she reach'd upon the tide 150
The first house by the water-side,
Singing in her song she died,
The Lady of Shalott.
Under tower and balcony,
By garden-wall and gallery, 155
A gleaming shape she floated by,
Dead-pale between the houses high,
Silent into Camelot.
Out upon the wharfs they came,
Knight and burgher, lord and dame, 160
And round the prow they read her name,
The Lady of Shalott.
Who is this? and what is here?
And in the lighted palace near
Died the sound of royal cheer; 165
And they cross'd themselves for fear,
All the knights at Camelot:
But Lancelot mused a little space;
He said, 'She has a lovely face;
God in His mercy lend her grace, 170
The Lady of Shalott.
Edgar Allan Poe |
Lo! 't is a gala night
Within the lonesome latter years!
An angel throng bewinged bedight
In veils and drowned in tears
Sit in a theatre to see
A play of hopes and fears
While the orchestra breathes fitfully
The music of the spheres.
Mimes in the form of God on high
Mutter and mumble low
And hither and thither fly -
Mere puppets they who come and go
At bidding of vast formless things
That shift the scenery to and fro
Flapping from out their Condor wings
That motley drama! - oh be sure
It shall not be forgot!
With its Phantom chased for evermore
By a crowd that seize it not
Through a circle that ever returneth in
To the self-same spot
And much of Madness and more of Sin
And Horror the soul of the plot.
But see amid the mimic rout
A crawling shape intrude!
A blood-red thing that writhes from out
The scenic solitude!
It writhes! - it writhes! - with mortal pangs
The mimes become its food
And the seraphs sob at vermin fangs
In human gore imbued.
Out - out are the lights - out all!
And over each quivering form
The curtain a funeral pall
Comes down with the rush of a storm
And the angels all pallid and wan
Uprising unveiling affirm
That the play is the tragedy "Man"
And its hero the Conqueror Worm.
Richard Brautigan |
Sometimes life is merely a matter of coffee and whatever intimacy a cup of coffee
I once read something about coffee.
The thing said that coffee is good for you;
it stimulates all the organs.
I thought at first this was a strange way to put it, and not altogether pleasant, but
as time goes by I have found out that it makes sense in its own limited way.
I'll tell you
what I mean.
Yesterday morning I went over to see a girl.
I like her.
Whatever we had going for us
is gone now.
She does not care for me.
I blew it and wish I hadn't.
I rang the door bell and waited on the stairs.
I could hear her moving around upstairs.
The way she moved I could tell that she was getting up.
I had awakened her.
Then she came down the stairs.
I could feel her approach in my stomach.
Every step she
took stirred my feelings and lead indirectly to her opening the door.
She saw me and it
did not please her.
Once upon a time it pleased her very much, last week.
I wonder where it went,
pretending to be naive.
"I feel strange now," she said.
"I don't want to talk.
"I want a cup of coffee," I said, because it was the last thing in the world
that I wanted.
I said it in such a way that it sounded as if I were reading her a telegram
from somebody else, a person who really wanted a cup of coffee, who cared about nothing
"All right," she said.
I followed her up the stairs.
It was ridiculous.
She had just put some clothes on.
had not quite adjusted themselves to her body.
I could tell you about her ass.
into the kitchen.
She took a jar of instant coffee off the shelf and put it on the table.
She placed a
cup next to it, and a spoon.
I looked at them.
She put a pan full of water on the stove
and turned the gas on under it.
All this time she did not say a word.
Her clothes adjusted themselves to her body.
She left the kitchen.
Then she went down the stairs and outside to see if she had any mail.
I didn't remember
She came back up the stairs and went into another room.
She closed the door
I looked at the pan full of water on the stove.
I knew that it would take a year before the water started to boil.
It was now October
and there was too much water in the pan.
That was the problem.
I threw half of the water
into the sink.
The water would boil faster now.
It would take only six months.
The house was quiet.
I looked out the back porch.
There were sacks of garbage there.
I stared at the garbage
and tried to figure out what she had been eating lately by studying the containers and
peelings and stuff.
I couldn't tell a thing.
It was now March.
The water started to boil.
I was pleased by this.
I looked at the table.
There was the jar of instant coffee, the empty cup and the spoon
all laid out like a funeral service.
These are the things that you need to make a cup of
When I left the house ten minutes later, the cup of coffee safely inside me like a
grave, I said, "Thank you for the cup of coffee.
"You're welcome," she said.
Her voice came from behind a closed door.
voice sounded like another telegram.
It was really time for me to leave.
I spent the rest of the day not making coffee.
It was a comfort.
And evening came, I
had dinner in a restaurant and went to a bar.
I had some drinks and talked to some people.
We were bar people and said bar things.
None of them remembered, and the bar closed.
was two o'clock in the morning.
I had to go outside.
It was foggy and cold in San
I wondered about the fog and felt very human and exposed.
I decided to go visit another girl.
We had not been friends for over a year.
were very close.
I wondered what she was thinking about now.
I went to her house.
She didn't have a door bell.
That was a small victory.
keep track of all the small victories.
I do, anyway.
She answered the door.
She was holding a robe in front of her.
She didn't believe that
she was seeing me.
"What do you want?" she said, believing now that she was
I walked right into the house.
She turned and closed the door in such a way that I could see her profile.
She had not
bothered to wrap the robe completely around herself.
She was just holding the robe in
front of herself.
I could see an unbroken line of body running from her head to her feet.
It looked kind
Perhaps because it was so late at night.
"What do you want?" she said.
"I want a cup of coffee," I said.
What a funny thing to say, to say again for
a cup of coffee was not what I really wanted.
She looked at me and wheeled slightly on the profile.
She was not pleased to see me.
Let the AMA tell us that time heals.
I looked at the unbroken line of her body.
"Why don't you have a cup of coffee with me?" I said.
"I feel like
talking to you.
We haven't talked for a long time.
She looked at me and wheeled slightly on the profile.
I stared at the unbroken line of
This was not good.
"It's too late," she said.
"I have to get up in the morning.
If you want
a cup of coffee, there's instant in the kitchen.
I have to go to bed.
The kitchen light was on.
I looked down the hall into the kitchen.
I didn't feel like
going into the kitchen and having another cup of coffee by myself.
I didn't feel like
going to anybody else's house and asking them for a cup of coffee.
I realized that the day had been committed to a very strange pilgrimage, and I had not
planned it that way.
At least the jar of instant coffee was not on the table, beside an
empty white cup and a spoon.
They say in the spring a young man's fancy turns to thoughts of love.
Perhaps if he has
enough time left over, his fancy can even make room for a cup of coffee.
-from Revenge of the Lawn
Ruth Padel |
Look at the bare wood hand-waxed floor and long
White dressing-gown, the good child's writing-desk
And passionate cold feet
Summoning music of the night - tumbrils, gongs
And gamelans - with one neat pen, one candle
Puttering its life out hour by hour.
Is "Tell Him I love him" never a good idea? You can't wish this
Unlived - this world on fire, on storm
Alert, till the shepherd's song
Outside, some hyper-active yellowhammer, bulbul,
Wren, amplified in hills and woods, tell her to bestow
A spot of notice on the dawn.
"I'm writing to you.
Well, that's it, that's everything.
You'll laugh, but you'll pity me too.
I'm ashamed of this.
I meant to keep it quiet.
You'd never have known, if -
I wish - I could have seen you once a week.
To mull over, day
And night, the things you say, or what we say together.
But word is, you're misogynist.
Who says what he doesn't mean.
(That's not how you come across
) Who couldn't give a toss for domestic peace -
Only for celebrity and showing off -
And won't hang round in a provincial zone
We don't glitter.
Though we do,
Warmly, truly, welcome you.
"Why did you come? I'd never have set eyes
On a star like you, or blundered up against
This crazed not-sleeping, hour after hour
In the dark.
I might have got the better of
My clumsy fury with constraint, my fret
For things I lack all lexica and phrase-book art
I might have been a faithful wife; a mother.
But that's all done with.
This is Fate.
Here I am - yours, to the last breath.
I couldn't give my heart to anyone else.
My life till now has been a theorem, to demonstrate
How right it is to love you.
This love is love to death.
"I knew you anyway.
I loved you, I'm afraid,
In my sleep.
Your eyes, that denim-lapis, grey-sea-
Grey-green blue, that Chinese fold of skin
At the inner corner, that shot look
Bleeping "vulnerable" under the screensaver charm,
Kept me alive.
Every cell, every last gold atom
Of your body, was engraved in me
Don't tell me that was dream! When you came in,
Staring round in your stripey coat and brocade
Vest, I nearly died! I fainted, I was flame! I recognized
The you I'd always listened to alone, when I wrote
Or tried to wrestle my scatty soul into calm.
"Wasn't it you who slipped through the transparent
Darkness to my bed and whispered love? Aren't you
My guardian angel? Or is this arrant
Seeming, hallucination, thrown
Up by that fly engineering a novel does
So beguilingly, or poems? Is this mad?
Are there ways of dreaming I don't know?
My soul has made its home
I'm here and bare before you: shy,
But if I didn't heft my whole self up and hold it there -
A crack-free mirror - loving you, or if I couldn't share
It, set it out in words, I'd die.
"I'll wait to hear from you.
Please let me hope.
Give me one look, from eyes I hardly dare
To look back at.
Or scupper my dream
By scolding me.
I've given you rope
To hang me: tell me I'm mistaken.
You're so much in
The world; while I just live here, bent on jam
And harvest, songs and books.
That's not complaint.
We live such different lives.
So - this is the end.
I'm scared to read it back.
With shame and fear.
But this is what I am.
My crumpled bed,
My words, my open self.
All I can do is trust
The whole damn lot of it to you.
The paper trembles as she presses down
The pink wax seal.
Outside, a milk mist clears
From the shimmering valley.
If I were her guardian
Angel, I'd divide myself.
One half would holler
Don't! Stay on an even keel! Don't dollop over
All you are, to a man who'll go to town
On his next little fling.
If he's entranced today
By the way you finger your silk throat inside your collar,
Tomorrow there'll be Olga, Sally, Jane.
But then I'd whisper
Go for it, petal.
Nothing's as real as what you write.
His funeral, if he's not up to it.
What we feel
Is mortal, and won't come again.
So cut, weeks later, to an outside shot: the same girl
Taking cover ("Dear God, he's here, he's come!")
Under fat red gooseberries, glimmering hairy stars:
The old, rude bushes she has hide-and-seeked in all
Her life, where mother commands the serfs to sing
While picking, so they can't hurl
The odd gog into their mouths.
No one could spy
Her here, not even the sun in its burn-time.
Are simmering fire.
We're talking iridescence, a Red Admiral's last tremble
Before the avid schoolboy plunks his net.
A leveret - like the hare you shot, remember?
Which ran round screaming like a baby?
Only mine is shivering in papery winter corn,
While the hunter (as it might be, you) stomps his Hush
Puppies through dead brush.
She's waited - how long? - ages: stoking pebbly embers
Under the evening samovar, filling
The Chinese teapot, sending coils of Lapsang Suchong
Floating to the ceiling in the shadows, tracing O and E
In the window's black reflection, one finger
Tendrilling her own breath on the glass.
Like putting a shell to your ear to hear the sea
When it's really your own red little sparkle, the echo
Of marching blood.
She's asking a phantom
World of pearled-up mist for proof
That her man exists: that gamelans and tumbrils
Won't evade her.
But now, among
The kitchen garden's rose-haws, mallow, Pernod-
Coloured pears, she unhooks herself thorn by thorn
For the exit aria.
Suddenly there he is
In the avenue, the man she's written to - Charon
Gazing at her with blazing eyes! Darth Vader
From Star Wars.
She's trapped, in a house she didn't realize
Her letter was a gate to the inferno.
(This poem appeared in Pushkin: An Anthology, ed.
Feinstein, Carcanet 1999)