Robert William Service |
Smith, great writer of stories, drank; found it immortalized his pen;
Fused in his brain-pan, else a blank, heavens of glory now and then;
Gave him the magical genius touch; God-given power to gouge out, fling
Flat in your face a soul-thought -- Bing!
Twiddle your heart-strings in his clutch.
"Bah!" said Smith, "let my body lie
stripped to the buff in swinish shame,
If I can blaze in the radiant sky out of adoring stars my name.
Sober am I nonentitized; drunk am I more than half a god.
Well, let the flesh be sacrificed; spirit shall speak and shame the clod.
Who would not gladly, gladly give Life to do one thing that will live?"
Smith had a friend, we'll call him Brown; dearer than brothers were those two.
When in the wassail Smith would drown, Brown would rescue and pull him through.
When Brown was needful Smith would lend; so it fell as the years went by,
Each on the other would depend: then at the last Smith came to die.
There Brown sat in the sick man's room, still as a stone in his despair;
Smith bent on him his eyes of doom, shook back his lion mane of hair;
Said: "Is there one in my chosen line, writer of forthright tales my peer?
Look in that little desk of mine; there is a package, bring it here.
Story of stories, gem of all; essence and triumph, key and clue;
Tale of a loving woman's fall; soul swept hell-ward, and God! it's true.
I was the man -- Oh, yes, I've paid, paid with mighty and mordant pain.
Look! here's the masterpiece I've made out of my sin, my manhood slain.
Art supreme! yet the world would stare, know my mistress and blaze my shame.
I have a wife and daughter -- there! take it and thrust it in the flame.
Brown answered: "Master, you have dipped pen in your heart, your phrases sear.
Ruthless, unflinching, you have stripped naked your soul and set it here.
Have I not loved you well and true? See! between us the shadows drift;
This bit of blood and tears means You -- oh, let me have it, a parting gift.
Sacred I'll hold it, a trust divine; sacred your honour, her dark despair;
Never shall it see printed line: here, by the living God I swear.
Brown on a Bible laid his hand; Smith, great writer of stories, sighed:
"Comrade, I trust you, and understand.
Keep my secret!" And so he died.
Smith was buried -- up soared his sales; lured you his books in every store;
Exquisite, whimsy, heart-wrung tales; men devoured them and craved for more.
So when it slyly got about Brown had a posthumous manuscript,
Jones, the publisher, sought him out, into his pocket deep he dipped.
"A thousand dollars?" Brown shook his head.
"The story is not for sale, " he said.
Jones went away, then others came.
Tempted and taunted, Brown was true.
Guarded at friendship's shrine the fame of the unpublished story grew and grew.
It's a long, long lane that has no end, but some lanes end in the Potter's field;
Smith to Brown had been more than friend: patron, protector, spur and shield.
Poor, loving-wistful, dreamy Brown, long and lean, with a smile askew,
Friendless he wandered up and down, gaunt as a wolf, as hungry too.
Brown with his lilt of saucy rhyme, Brown with his tilt of tender mirth
Garretless in the gloom and grime, singing his glad, mad songs of earth:
So at last with a faith divine, down and down to the Hunger-line.
There as he stood in a woeful plight, tears a-freeze on his sharp cheek-bones,
Who should chance to behold his plight, but the publisher, the plethoric Jones;
Peered at him for a little while, held out a bill: "NOW, will you sell?"
Brown scanned it with his twisted smile: "A thousand dollars! you go to hell!"
Brown enrolled in the homeless host, sleeping anywhere, anywhen;
Suffered, strove, became a ghost, slave of the lamp for other men;
For What's-his-name and So-and-so in the abyss his soul he stripped,
Yet in his want, his worst of woe, held he fast to the manuscript.
Then one day as he chewed his pen, half in hunger and half despair,
Creaked the door of his garret den; Dick, his brother, was standing there.
Down on the pallet bed he sank, ashen his face, his voice a wail:
"Save me, brother! I've robbed the bank; to-morrow it's ruin, capture, gaol.
Yet there's a chance: I could to-day pay back the money, save our name;
You have a manuscript, they say, worth a thousand -- think, man! the shame.
Brown with his heart pain-pierced the while, with his stern, starved face,
and his lips stone-pale,
Shuddered and smiled his twisted smile: "Brother, I guess you go to gaol.
While poor Brown in the leer of dawn wrestled with God for the sacred fire,
Came there a woman weak and wan, out of the mob, the murk, the mire;
Frail as a reed, a fellow ghost, weary with woe, with sorrowing;
Two pale souls in the legion lost; lo! Love bent with a tender wing,
Taught them a joy so deep, so true, it seemed that the whole-world fabric shook,
Thrilled and dissolved in radiant dew; then Brown made him a golden book,
Full of the faith that Life is good, that the earth is a dream divinely fair,
Lauding his gem of womanhood in many a lyric rich and rare;
Took it to Jones, who shook his head: "I will consider it," he said.
While he considered, Brown's wife lay clutched in the tentacles of pain;
Then came the doctor, grave and grey; spoke of decline, of nervous strain;
Hinted Egypt, the South of France -- Brown with terror was tiger-gripped.
Where was the money? What the chance? Pitiful God! .
A thousand dollars! his only hope! he gazed and gazed at the garret wall.
Reached at last for the envelope, turned to his wife and told her all.
Told of his friend, his promise true; told like his very heart would break:
"Oh, my dearest! what shall I do? shall I not sell it for your sake?"
Ghostlike she lay, as still as doom; turned to the wall her weary head;
Icy-cold in the pallid gloom, silent as death .
at last she said:
"Do! my husband? Keep your vow! Guard his secret and let me die.
Oh, my dear, I must tell you now -- the women he loved and wronged was I;
Darling! I haven't long to live: I never told you -- forgive, forgive!"
For a long, long time Brown did not speak; sat bleak-browed in the wretched room;
Slowly a tear stole down his cheek, and he kissed her hand in the dismal gloom.
To break his oath, to brand her shame; his well-loved friend, his worshipped wife;
To keep his vow, to save her name, yet at the cost of what? Her life!
A moment's space did he hesitate, a moment of pain and dread and doubt,
Then he broke the seals, and, stern as fate, unfolded the sheets and spread them out.
On his knees by her side he limply sank, peering amazed -- each page was blank.
(For oh, the supremest of our art are the stories we do not dare to tell,
Locked in the silence of the heart, for the awful records of Heav'n and Hell.
Yet those two in the silence there, seemed less weariful than before.
Hark! a step on the garret stair, a postman knocks at the flimsy door.
"Registered letter!" Brown thrills with fear; opens, and reads, then bends above:
"Glorious tidings! Egypt, dear! The book is accepted -- life and love.
Marianne Moore |
perhaps one should say enterprise
out of respect for which
one says one need not change one's mind
about a thing one has believed in,
requiring public promises
of one's intention
to fulfill a private obligation:
I wonder what Adam and Eve
think of it by this time,
this firegilt steel
alive with goldenness;
how bright it shows --
"of circular traditions and impostures,
committing many spoils,"
requiring all one's criminal ingenuity
Psychology which explains everything
and we are still in doubt.
Eve: beautiful woman --
I have seen her
when she was so handsome
she gave me a start,
able to write simultaneously
in three languages --
English, German and French
and talk in the meantime;
equally positive in demanding a commotion
and in stipulating quiet:
"I should like to be alone;"
to which the visitor replies,
"I should like to be alone;
why not be alone together?"
Below the incandescent stars
below the incandescent fruit,
the strange experience of beauty;
its existence is too much;
it tears one to pieces
and each fresh wave of consciousness
"See her, see her in this common world,"
the central flaw
in that first crystal-fine experiment,
this amalgamation which can never be more
than an interesting possibility,
as "that strange paradise
unlike flesh, gold, or stately buildings,
the choicest piece of my life:
the heart rising
in its estate of peace
as a boat rises
with the rising of the water;"
constrained in speaking of the serpent --
that shed snakeskin in the history of politeness
not to be returned to again --
that invaluable accident
And he has beauty also;
it's distressing -- the O thou
to whom, from whom,
without whom nothing -- Adam;
something colubrine" -- how true!
a crouching mythological monster
in that Persian miniature of emerald mines,
raw silk -- ivory white, snow white,
oyster white and six others --
that paddock full of leopards and giraffes --
long lemonyellow bodies
sown with trapezoids of blue.
Alive with words,
vibrating like a cymbal
touched before it has been struck,
he has prophesied correctly --
the industrious waterfall,
"the speedy stream
which violently bears all before it,
at one time silent as the air
and now as powerful as the wind.
on the uncertain footing of a spear,"
forgetting that there is in woman
a quality of mind
which is an instinctive manifestation
he goes on speaking
in a formal, customary strain
of "past states," the present state,
the evil one suffered,
the good one enjoys,
to promote one's joy.
There is in him a state of mind
by force of which,
perceiving what it was not
intended that he should,
"he experiences a solemn joy
in seeing that he has become an idol.
Plagued by the nightingale
in the new leaves,
with its silence --
not its silence but its silences,
he says of it:
"It clothes me with a shirt of fire.
"He dares not clap his hands
to make it go on
lest it should fly off;
if he does nothing, it will sleep;
if he cries out, it will not understand.
Unnerved by the nightingale
and dazzled by the apple,
impelled by "the illusion of a fire
effectual to extinguish fire,"
compared with which
the shining of the earth
is but deformity -- a fire
"as high as deep as bright as broad
as long as life itself,"
he stumbles over marriage,
"a very trivial object indeed"
to have destroyed the attitude
in which he stood --
the ease of the philosopher
unfathered by a woman.
"a kind of overgrown cupid"
reduced to insignificance
by the mechanical advertising
parading as involuntary comment,
by that experiment of Adam's
with ways out but no way in --
the ritual of marriage,
augmenting all its lavishness;
its fiddle-head ferns,
lotus flowers, opuntias, white dromedaries,
its hippopotamus --
nose and mouth combined
in one magnificent hopper,
"the crested screamer --
that huge bird almost a lizard,"
its snake and the potent apple.
He tells us
that "for love
that will gaze an eagle blind,
that is like a Hercules
climbing the trees
in the garden of the Hesperides,
from forty-five to seventy
is the best age,"
as a fine art, as an experiment,
a duty or as merely recreation.
One must not call him ruffian
nor friction a calamity --
the fight to be affectionate:
"no truth can be fully known
until it has been tried
by the tooth of disputation.
The blue panther with black eyes,
the basalt panther with blue eyes,
entirely graceful --
one must give them the path --
the black obsidian Diana
who "darkeneth her countenance
as a bear doth,
causing her husband to sigh,"
the spiked hand
that has an affection for one
and proves it to the bone,
impatient to assure you
that impatience is the mark of independence
not of bondage.
"Married people often look that way" --
"seldom and cold, up and down,
mixed and malarial
with a good day and bad.
"When do we feed?"
We occidentals are so unemotional,
we quarrel as we feed;
one's self is quite lost,
the irony preserved
in "the Ahasuerus t?te ? t?te banquet"
with its "good monster, lead the way,"
with little laughter
and munificence of humor
in that quixotic atmosphere of frankness
in which "Four o'clock does not exist
but at five o'clock
the ladies in their imperious humility
are ready to receive you";
in which experience attests
that men have power
and sometimes one is made to feel it.
He says, "what monarch would not blush
to have a wife
with hair like a shaving-brush?
The fact of woman
is not `the sound of the flute
but every poison.
She says, "`Men are monopolists
of stars, garters, buttons
and other shining baubles' --
unfit to be the guardians
of another person's happiness.
He says, "These mummies
must be handled carefully --
`the crumbs from a lion's meal,
a couple of shins and the bit of an ear';
turn to the letter M
and you will find
that `a wife is a coffin,'
that severe object
with the pleasing geometry
stipulating space and not people,
refusing to be buried
and uniquely disappointing,
revengefully wrought in the attitude
of an adoring child
to a distinguished parent.
She says, "This butterfly,
this waterfly, this nomad
that has `proposed
to settle on my hand for life.
What can one do with it?
There must have been more time
in Shakespeare's day
to sit and watch a play.
You know so many artists are fools.
He says, "You know so many fools
who are not artists.
The fact forgot
that "some have merely rights
while some have obligations,"
he loves himself so much,
he can permit himself
no rival in that love.
She loves herself so much,
she cannot see herself enough --
a statuette of ivory on ivory,
the logical last touch
to an expansive splendor
earned as wages for work done:
one is not rich but poor
when one can always seem so right.
What can one do for them --
condemned to disaffect
all those who are not visionaries
alert to undertake the silly task
of making people noble?
This model of petrine fidelity
who "leaves her peaceful husband
only because she has seen enough of him" --
that orator reminding you,
"I am yours to command.
"Everything to do with love is mystery;
it is more than a day's work
to investigate this science.
One sees that it is rare --
that striking grasp of opposites
opposed each to the other, not to unity,
which in cycloid inclusiveness
has dwarfed the demonstration
of Columbus with the egg --
a triumph of simplicity --
that charitive Euroclydon
of frightening disinterestedness
which the world hates,
"I am such a cow,
if I had a sorrow,
I should feel it a long time;
I am not one of those
who have a great sorrow
in the morning
and a great joy at noon;"
which says: "I have encountered it
among those unpretentious
proteg?s of wisdom,
where seeming to parade
as the debater and the Roman,
of an archaic Daniel Webster
persists to their simplicity of temper
as the essence of the matter:
`Liberty and union
now and forever;'
the book on the writing-table;
the hand in the breast-pocket.
Anna Akhmatova |
Not under foreign skies
Nor under foreign wings protected -
I shared all this with my own people
There, where misfortune had abandoned us.
INSTEAD OF A PREFACE
During the frightening years of the Yezhov terror, I
spent seventeen months waiting in prison queues in
One day, somehow, someone 'picked me out'.
On that occasion there was a woman standing behind me,
her lips blue with cold, who, of course, had never in
her life heard my name.
Jolted out of the torpor
characteristic of all of us, she said into my ear
(everyone whispered there) - 'Could one ever describe
this?' And I answered - 'I can.
' It was then that
something like a smile slid across what had previously
been just a face.
[The 1st of April in the year 1957.
Mountains fall before this grief,
A mighty river stops its flow,
But prison doors stay firmly bolted
Shutting off the convict burrows
And an anguish close to death.
Fresh winds softly blow for someone,
Gentle sunsets warm them through; we don't know this,
We are everywhere the same, listening
To the scrape and turn of hateful keys
And the heavy tread of marching soldiers.
Waking early, as if for early mass,
Walking through the capital run wild, gone to seed,
We'd meet - the dead, lifeless; the sun,
Lower every day; the Neva, mistier:
But hope still sings forever in the distance.
Immediately a flood of tears,
Followed by a total isolation,
As if a beating heart is painfully ripped out, or,
Thumped, she lies there brutally laid out,
But she still manages to walk, hesitantly, alone.
Where are you, my unwilling friends,
Captives of my two satanic years?
What miracle do you see in a Siberian blizzard?
What shimmering mirage around the circle of the moon?
I send each one of you my salutation, and farewell.
It happened like this when only the dead
Were smiling, glad of their release,
That Leningrad hung around its prisons
Like a worthless emblem, flapping its piece.
Shrill and sharp, the steam-whistles sang
Short songs of farewell
To the ranks of convicted, demented by suffering,
As they, in regiments, walked along -
Stars of death stood over us
As innocent Russia squirmed
Under the blood-spattered boots and tyres
Of the black marias.
You were taken away at dawn.
I followed you
As one does when a corpse is being removed.
Children were crying in the darkened house.
A candle flared, illuminating the Mother of God.
The cold of an icon was on your lips, a death-cold
On your brow - I will never forget this; I will gather
To wail with the wives of the murdered streltsy (1)
Inconsolably, beneath the Kremlin towers.
Silent flows the river Don
A yellow moon looks quietly on
Swanking about, with cap askew
It sees through the window a shadow of you
Gravely ill, all alone
The moon sees a woman lying at home
Her son is in jail, her husband is dead
Say a prayer for her instead.
It isn't me, someone else is suffering.
Not like this.
Everything that has happened,
Cover it with a black cloth,
Then let the torches be removed.
Giggling, poking fun, everyone's darling,
The carefree sinner of Tsarskoye Selo (2)
If only you could have foreseen
What life would do with you -
That you would stand, parcel in hand,
Beneath the Crosses (3), three hundredth in
Burning the new year's ice
With your hot tears.
Back and forth the prison poplar sways
With not a sound - how many innocent
Blameless lives are being taken away.
For seventeen months I have been screaming,
Calling you home.
I've thrown myself at the feet of butchers
For you, my son and my horror.
Everything has become muddled forever -
I can no longer distinguish
Who is an animal, who a person, and how long
The wait can be for an execution.
There are now only dusty flowers,
The chinking of the thurible,
Tracks from somewhere into nowhere
And, staring me in the face
And threatening me with swift annihilation,
An enormous star.
Weeks fly lightly by.
I cannot understand what has arisen,
How, my son, into your prison
White nights stare so brilliantly.
Now once more they burn,
Eyes that focus like a hawk,
And, upon your cross, the talk
Is again of death.
The word landed with a stony thud
Onto my still-beating breast.
Nevermind, I was prepared,
I will manage with the rest.
I have a lot of work to do today;
I need to slaughter memory,
Turn my living soul to stone
Then teach myself to live again.
The hot summer rustles
Like a carnival outside my window;
I have long had this premonition
Of a bright day and a deserted house.
[22 June 1939.
Fontannyi Dom (4)]
You will come anyway - so why not now?
I wait for you; things have become too hard.
I have turned out the lights and opened the door
For you, so simple and so wonderful.
Assume whatever shape you wish.
Like a shell of noxious gas.
Creep up on me
Like a practised bandit with a heavy weapon.
Poison me, if you want, with a typhoid exhalation,
Or, with a simple tale prepared by you
(And known by all to the point of nausea), take me
Before the commander of the blue caps and let me
The house administrator's terrified white face.
I don't care anymore.
The river Yenisey
The Pole star blazes.
The blue sparks of those much-loved eyes
Close over and cover the final horror.
[19 August 1939.
Madness with its wings
Has covered half my soul
It feeds me fiery wine
And lures me into the abyss.
That's when I understood
While listening to my alien delirium
That I must hand the victory
However much I nag
However much I beg
It will not let me take
One single thing away:
Not my son's frightening eyes -
A suffering set in stone,
Or prison visiting hours
Or days that end in storms
Nor the sweet coolness of a hand
The anxious shade of lime trees
Nor the light distant sound
Of final comforting words.
[14 May 1940.
Weep not for me, mother.
I am alive in my grave.
A choir of angels glorified the greatest hour,
The heavens melted into flames.
To his father he said, 'Why hast thou forsaken me!'
But to his mother, 'Weep not for me.
Magdalena smote herself and wept,
The favourite disciple turned to stone,
But there, where the mother stood silent,
Not one person dared to look.
I have learned how faces fall,
How terror can escape from lowered eyes,
How suffering can etch cruel pages
Of cuneiform-like marks upon the cheeks.
I know how dark or ash-blond strands of hair
Can suddenly turn white.
I've learned to recognise
The fading smiles upon submissive lips,
The trembling fear inside a hollow laugh.
That's why I pray not for myself
But all of you who stood there with me
Through fiercest cold and scorching July heat
Under a towering, completely blind red wall.
The hour has come to remember the dead.
I see you, I hear you, I feel you:
The one who resisted the long drag to the open window;
The one who could no longer feel the kick of familiar
soil beneath her feet;
The one who, with a sudden flick of her head, replied,
'I arrive here as if I've come home!'
I'd like to name you all by name, but the list
Has been removed and there is nowhere else to look.
I have woven you this wide shroud out of the humble
I overheard you use.
Everywhere, forever and always,
I will never forget one single thing.
Even in new
Even if they clamp shut my tormented mouth
Through which one hundred million people scream;
That's how I wish them to remember me when I am dead
On the eve of my remembrance day.
If someone someday in this country
Decides to raise a memorial to me,
I give my consent to this festivity
But only on this condition - do not build it
By the sea where I was born,
I have severed my last ties with the sea;
Nor in the Tsar's Park by the hallowed stump
Where an inconsolable shadow looks for me;
Build it here where I stood for three hundred hours
And no-one slid open the bolt.
Listen, even in blissful death I fear
That I will forget the Black Marias,
Forget how hatefully the door slammed and an old woman
Howled like a wounded beast.
Let the thawing ice flow like tears
From my immovable bronze eyelids
And let the prison dove coo in the distance
While ships sail quietly along the river.
1 An elite guard which rose up in rebellion
against Peter the Great in 1698.
Most were either
executed or exiled.
2 The imperial summer residence outside St
Petersburg where Ahmatova spent her early years.
3 A prison complex in central Leningrad near the
Finland Station, called The Crosses because of the
shape of two of the buildings.
4 The Leningrad house in which Ahmatova lived.
William Butler Yeats |
An old man cocked his car upon a bridge;
He and his friend, their faces to the South,
Had trod the uneven road.
Their hoots were soiled,
Their Connemara cloth worn out of shape;
They had kept a steady pace as though their beds,
Despite a dwindling and late-risen moon,
Were distant still.
An old man cocked his ear.
What made that Sound?
A rat or water-hen
Splashed, or an otter slid into the stream.
We are on the bridge; that shadow is the tower,
And the light proves that he is reading still.
He has found, after the manner of his kind,
Mere images; chosen this place to live in
Because, it may be, of the candle-light
From the far tower where Milton's Platonist
Sat late, or Shelley's visionary prince:
The lonely light that Samuel Palmer engraved,
An image of mysterious wisdom won by toil;
And now he seeks in book or manuscript
What he shall never find.
Why should not you
Who know it all ring at his door, and speak
Just truth enough to show that his whole life
Will scarcely find for him a broken crust
Of all those truths that are your daily bread;
And when you have spoken take the roads again?
He wrote of me in that extravagant style
He had learnt from pater, and to round his tale
Said I was dead; and dead I choose to be.
Sing me the changes of the moon once more;
True song, though speech: "mine author sung it me.
Twenty-and-eight the phases of the moon,
The full and the moon's dark and all the crescents,
Twenty-and-eight, and yet but six-and-twenty
The cradles that a man must needs be rocked in:
For there's no human life at the full or the dark.
From the first crescent to the half, the dream
But summons to adventure and the man
Is always happy like a bird or a beast;
But while the moon is rounding towards the full
He follows whatever whim's most difficult
Among whims not impossible, and though scarred.
As with the cat-o'-nine-tails of the mind,
His body moulded from within his body
Eleven pass, and then
Athene takes Achilles by the hair,
Hector is in the dust, Nietzsche is born,
Because the hero's crescent is the twelfth.
And yet, twice born, twice buried, grow he must,
Before the full moon, helpless as a worm.
The thirteenth moon but sets the soul at war
In its own being, and when that war's begun
There is no muscle in the arm; and after,
Under the frenzy of the fourteenth moon,
The soul begins to tremble into stillness,
To die into the labyrinth of itself!
Sing out the song; sing to the end, and sing
The strange reward of all that discipline.
All thought becomes an image and the soul
Becomes a body: that body and that soul
Too perfect at the full to lie in a cradle,
Too lonely for the traffic of the world:
Body and soul cast out and cast away
Beyond the visible world.
All dreams of the soul
End in a beautiful man's or woman's body.
Robartes, Have you not always known it?
The song will have it
That those that we have loved got their long fingers
From death, and wounds, or on Sinai's top,
Or from some bloody whip in their own hands.
They ran from cradle to cradle till at last
Their beauty dropped out of the loneliness
Of body and soul.
The lover's heart knows that.
It must be that the terror in their eyes
Is memory or foreknowledge of the hour
When all is fed with light and heaven is bare.
When the moon's full those creatures of the
Are met on the waste hills by countrymen
Who shudder and hurry by: body and soul
Estranged amid the strangeness of themselves,
Caught up in contemplation, the mind's eye
Fixed upon images that once were thought;
For separate, perfect, and immovable
Images can break the solitude
Of lovely, satisfied, indifferent eyes.
And thereupon with aged, high-pitched voice
Aherne laughed, thinking of the man within,
His sleepless candle and lahorious pen.
And after that the crumbling of the moon.
The soul remembering its loneliness
Shudders in many cradles; all is changed,
It would be the world's servant, and as it serves,
Choosing whatever task's most difficult
Among tasks not impossible, it takes
Upon the body and upon the soul
The coarseness of the drudge.
Before the full
It sought itself and afterwards the world.
Because you are forgotten, half out of life,
And never wrote a book, your thought is clear.
Reformer, merchant, statesman, learned man,
Dutiful husband, honest wife by turn,
Cradle upon cradle, and all in flight and all
Deformed because there is no deformity
But saves us from a dream.
And what of those
That the last servile crescent has set free?
Because all dark, like those that are all light,
They are cast beyond the verge, and in a cloud,
Crying to one another like the bats;
And having no desire they cannot tell
What's good or bad, or what it is to triumph
At the perfection of one's own obedience;
And yet they speak what's blown into the mind;
Deformed beyond deformity, unformed,
Insipid as the dough before it is baked,
They change their bodies at a word.
When all the dough has been so kneaded up
That it can take what form cook Nature fancies,
The first thin crescent is wheeled round once more.
But the escape; the song's not finished yet.
Hunchback and Saint and Fool are the last
The burning bow that once could shoot an arrow
Out of the up and down, the wagon-wheel
Of beauty's cruelty and wisdom's chatter -
Out of that raving tide - is drawn betwixt
Deformity of body and of mind.
Were not our beds far off I'd ring the bell,
Stand under the rough roof-timbers of the hall
Beside the castle door, where all is stark
Austerity, a place set out for wisdom
That he will never find; I'd play a part;
He would never know me after all these years
But take me for some drunken countryman:
I'd stand and mutter there until he caught
"Hunchback and Sant and Fool,' and that they came
Under the three last crescents of the moon.
And then I'd stagger out.
He'd crack his wits
Day after day, yet never find the meaning.
And then he laughed to think that what seemed hard
Should be so simple - a bat rose from the hazels
And circled round him with its squeaky cry,
The light in the tower window was put out.
Langston Hughes |
Children, I come back today
To tell you a story of the long dark way
That I had to climb, that I had to know
In order that the race might live and grow.
Look at my face -- dark as the night --
Yet shining like the sun with love's true light.
I am the dark girl who crossed the red sea
Carrying in my body the seed of the free.
I am the woman who worked in the field
Bringing the cotton and the corn to yield.
I am the one who labored as a slave,
Beaten and mistreated for the work that I gave --
Children sold away from me, I'm husband sold, too.
No safety , no love, no respect was I due.
Three hundred years in the deepest South:
But God put a song and a prayer in my mouth .
God put a dream like steel in my soul.
Now, through my children, I'm reaching the goal.
Now, through my children, young and free,
I realized the blessing deed to me.
I couldn't read then.
I couldn't write.
I had nothing, back there in the night.
Sometimes, the valley was filled with tears,
But I kept trudging on through the lonely years.
Sometimes, the road was hot with the sun,
But I had to keep on till my work was done:
I had to keep on! No stopping for me --
I was the seed of the coming Free.
I nourished the dream that nothing could smother
Deep in my breast -- the Negro mother.
I had only hope then , but now through you,
Dark ones of today, my dreams must come true:
All you dark children in the world out there,
Remember my sweat, my pain, my despair.
Remember my years, heavy with sorrow --
And make of those years a torch for tomorrow.
Make of my pass a road to the light
Out of the darkness, the ignorance, the night.
Lift high my banner out of the dust.
Stand like free men supporting my trust.
Believe in the right, let none push you back.
Remember the whip and the slaver's track.
Remember how the strong in struggle and strife
Still bar you the way, and deny you life --
But march ever forward, breaking down bars.
Look ever upward at the sun and the stars.
Oh, my dark children, may my dreams and my prayers
Impel you forever up the great stairs --
For I will be with you till no white brother
Dares keep down the children of the Negro Mother.
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.
Walt Whitman |
I SIT and look out upon all the sorrows of the world, and upon all oppression and shame;
I hear secret convulsive sobs from young men, at anguish with themselves, remorseful after
I see, in low life, the mother misused by her children, dying, neglected, gaunt,
I see the wife misused by her husband—I see the treacherous seducer of young women;
I mark the ranklings of jealousy and unrequited love, attempted to be hid—I see these
I see the workings of battle, pestilence, tyranny—I see martyrs and prisoners;
I observe a famine at sea—I observe the sailors casting lots who shall be
preserve the lives of the rest;
I observe the slights and degradations cast by arrogant persons upon laborers, the poor,
negroes, and the like;
All these—All the meanness and agony without end, I sitting, look out upon,
See, hear, and am silent.
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?
Erica Jong |
All the endings in my life
rise up against me
like that sea of troubles
like Vikings in their boats
to my fate.
I know beginnings,
but I do not know
I do not know
the sweet demi-boredom
of life as it lingers,
of man and wife
regarding each other
across a table of shared witnesses,
of the hand-in-hand dreams
of those who have slept
a half-century together
in a bed so used and familiar
it is rutted
I would know that
before this life closes,
a soulmate to share my roses--
I would make a spell
with long grey beard hairs
and powdered rosemary and rue,
with the jacket of a tux
for a tall man
with broad shoulders,
who loves to dance;
with one blue contact lens
for his bluest eyes;
with honey in a jar
for his love of me;
with salt in a dish
for his love of sex and skin;
with crushed rose petals
for our bed;
with tubes of cerulean blue
and vermilion and rose madder
for his artist's eye;
with a dented Land-Rover fender
for his love of travel;
with a poem by Blake
for his love of innocence
revealed by experience;
with soft rain
and a bare head;
with hand-in-hand dreams on Mondays
and the land of ****
with mangoes, papayas
and a house towering
above the sea.
Muse, I surrender
Thy will be done,
If this love spell
send me this lover,
this dancing partner
for my empty bed
and let him fill me
until I die.
I offer my bones,
my luck with roses,
and the secret garden
I have found
walled in my center,
and the sunflower
who raises her head
despite her heavy seeds.
I am ready now, Muse,
to serve you faithfully
a graceful dancing partner--
for I have learned
to stand alone.
Give me your blessing.
Let the next
epithalamion I write
be my own.
And let it last
more than the years
of my life--
and without the least
two lovers bareheaded
in a summer rain.
Phillis Wheatley |
Grim monarch! see, depriv'd of vital breath,
A young physician in the dust of death:
Dost thou go on incessant to destroy,
Our griefs to double, and lay waste our joy?
"Enough" thou never yet wast known to say,
Though millions die, the vassals of thy sway:
Nor youth, nor science, nor the ties of love,
Nor aught on earth thy flinty heart can move.
The friend, the spouse from his dire dart to save,
In vain we ask the sovereign of the grave.
Fair mourner, there see thy lov'd Leonard laid,
And o'er him spread the deep impervious shade;
Clos'd are his eyes, and heavy fetters keep
His senses bound in never-waking sleep,
Till time shall cease, till many a starry world
Shall fall from heav'n, in dire confusion hurl'd,
Till nature in her final wreck shall lie,
And her last groan shall rend the azure sky:
Not, not till then his active soul shall claim
His body, a divine immortal frame.
But see the softly-stealing tears apace
Pursue each other down the mourner's face;
But cease thy tears, bid ev'ry sigh depart,
And cast the load of anguish from thine heart:
From the cold shell of his great soul arise,
And look beyond, thou native of the skies;
There fix thy view, where fleeter than the wind
Thy Leonard mounts, and leaves the earth behind.
Thyself prepare to pass the vale of night
To join for ever on the hills of light:
To thine embrace his joyful sprit moves
To thee, the partner of his earthly loves;
He welcomes thee to pleasures more refin'd,
And better suited to th' immortal mind.