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
Langston Hughes |
Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.
(America never was America to me.
Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed--
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.
(It never was America to me.
O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.
(There's never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.
Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?
I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek--
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.
I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed!
I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean--
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today--O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.
Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That's made America the land it has become.
O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home--
For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore,
And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa's strand I came
To build a "homeland of the free.
Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we've dreamed
And all the songs we've sung
And all the hopes we've held
And all the flags we've hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay--
Except the dream that's almost dead today.
O, let America be America again--
The land that never has been yet--
And yet must be--the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine--the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME--
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.
Sure, call me any ugly name you choose--
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath--
America will be!
Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain--
All, all the stretch of these great green states--
And make America again!
Amy Clampitt |
In memory of Father Flye, 1884-1985
The strange and wonderful are too much with us.
The protea of the antipodes—a great,
globed, blazing honeybee of a bloom—
for sale in the supermarket! We are in
our decadence, we are not entitled.
What have we done to deserve
all the produce of the tropics—
this fiery trove, the largesse of it
heaped up like cannonballs, these pineapples, bossed
and crested, standing like troops at attention,
these tiers, these balconies of green, festoons
grown sumptuous with stoop labor?
The exotic is everywhere, it comes to us
before there is a yen or a need for it.
grocers, uptown and down, are from South Korea.
Orchids, opulence by the pailful, just slightly
fatigued by the plane trip from Hawaii, are
disposed on the sidewalks; alstroemerias, freesias
fattened a bit in translation from overseas; gladioli
likewise estranged from their piercing ancestral crimson;
as well as, less altered from the original blue cornflower
of the roadsides and railway embankments of Europe, these
But it isn't the railway embankments
their featherweight wheels of cobalt remind me of, it's
a row of them among prim colonnades of cosmos,
snapdragon, nasturtium, bloodsilk red poppies,
in my grandmother's garden: a prairie childhood,
the grassland shorn, overlaid with a grid,
unsealed, furrowed, harrowed and sown with immigrant grasses,
their massive corduroy, their wavering feltings embroidered
here and there by the scarlet shoulder patch of cannas
on a courthouse lawn, by a love knot, a cross stitch
of living matter, sown and tended by women,
nurturers everywhere of the strange and wonderful,
beneath whose hands what had been alien begins,
as it alters, to grow as though it were indigenous.
But at this remove what I think of as
strange and wonderful, strolling the side streets of Manhattan
on an April afternoon, seeing hybrid pear trees in blossom,
a tossing, vertiginous colonnade of foam, up above—
is the white petalfall, the warm snowdrift
of the indigenous wild plum of my childhood.
Nothing stays put.
The world is a wheel.
All that we know, that we're
made of, is motion.
Barry Tebb |
( I )
for ‘JC’ of the TLS
Nightmare of metropolitan amalgam
Grand Hotel and myself as a guest there
Lost with my room rifled, my belongings scattered,
Purse, diary and vital list of numbers gone –
Vague sad memories of mam n’dad
Leeds 1942 back-to-back with shared outside lav.
Hosannas of sweet May mornings
Whitsun glory of lilac blooming
Sixty years on I run and run
From death, from loss, from everyone.
Which are the paths I never ventured down,
Or would they, too, be vain?
O for the secret anima of Leeds girlhood
A thousand times better than snide attacks in the TLS
Fuck you, Jock, you should be ashamed,
Attacking Brenda Williams, who had a background
Worse than yours, an alcoholic schizophrenic father
And an Irish immigrant mother who died when Brenda was fifteen
But still she managed to read Proust on her day off
As a library girl, turned down by David Jenkins,
‘As rising star of the left’ for a place at Leeds
To read theology started her as a protest poet
Sitting out on the English lawn, mistaken for a snow sculpture
In the depths of winter.
Her sit-in protest lasted seven months,
Months, eight hours a day, her libellous verse scorching
The academic groves of Leeds in sheets by the thousand,
Mailed through the university's internal post.
The VC 'a mouse from the mountain'; Bishop of Durham to-be
David Jenkins a wimp and worse and all in colourful verse
And 'Guntrip's Ghost' went to every VC in England in a
When she sat on the English lawn Park Honan
Flew paper aeroplanes with messages down and
And when she was in Classics they took away her chair
So she sat on the floor reading Virgil and the Chairman of the
Department sent her an official Christmas card
'For six weeks on the university lawn, learning the
And that was just the beginning: in Oxford Magdalen College
School turned our son away for the Leeds protest so she
Started again, in Magdalen Quad, sitting through Oxford's
Worst ever winter and finally they arrested her on the
Eve of the May Ball so she wrote 'Oxford from a Prison
Cell' her most famous poem and her protest letter went in
A single day to every MP and House of Lords Member and
It was remembered years after and when nobody nominated
Her for the Oxford Chair she took her own and sat there
In the cold for almost a year, well-wishers pinning messages
To the tree she sat under - "Tityre, tu patulae recubans
Sub tegmine fagi" and twelve hundred and forty dons had
"The Pain Clinic" in a single day and she was fourteen
Times in the national press, a column in "The Guardian"
And a whole page with a picture in the 'Times Higher' -
"A Well Versed Protester"
JC, if you call Myslexia’s editor a ‘kick-arse virago’
You’ve got to expect a few kicks back.
All this is but the dust
We must shake from our feet
Purple heather still with blossom
In Haworth and I shall gather armfuls
To toss them skywards and you,
Madonna mia, I shall bed you there
In blazing summer by High Wythens,
Artist unbroken from the highest peak
I raise my hands to heaven.
( II )
Sweet Anna, I do not know you from Eve
But your zany zine in the post
Is the best I’ve ever seen, inspiring this rant
Against the cant of stuck-up cunts currying favour
I name no name but if the Dutch cap fits
Then wear it and share it.
Who thought at sixty one
I’d have owned a watch
Like this one, chased silver cased
Quartz reflex Japanese movement
And all for a fiver at the back of Leeds Market
Where I wander in search of oil pastels
Irish folk and cheap socks.
The TLS mocks our magazine
With its sixties Cadillac pink
Psychedelic cover and every page crimson
Orange or mauve, revolutionary sonnets
By Brenda Williams from her epic ‘Pain Clinic’
And my lacerating attacks on boring Bloodaxe
Neil Ghastly and Anvil’s preciosity and all the
Stuck-up arse-holes in their cubby-holes sending out
Rejection slip by rote – LPW
Marilyn Hacker |
After Joseph Roth
Parce que c'était lui; parce que c'était moi.
Montaigne, De L'amitië
The dream's forfeit was a night in jail
and now the slant light is crepuscular.
Papers or not, you are a foreigner
whose name is always difficult to spell.
You pack your one valise.
You ring the bell.
Might it not be prudent to disappear
beneath that mauve-blue sky above the square
fronting your cosmopolitan hotel?
You know two short-cuts to the train station
which could get you there, on foot, in time.
The person who's apprised of your intention
and seems to be your traveling companion
is merely the detritus of a dream.
You cross the lobby and go out alone.
You crossed the lobby and went out alone
through the square, where two red-headed girls played
hopscotch on a chalk grid, now in the shade,
of a broad-leafed plane tree, now in the sun.
The lively, lovely, widowed afternoon
disarmed, uncoupled, shuffled and disarrayed
itself; despite itself, dismayed
you with your certainties, your visa, gone
from your breast-pocket, or perhaps expired.
At the reception desk, no one inquired
if you'd be returning.
Now you wonder why.
When the stout conductor comes down the aisle
mustached, red-faced, at first jovial,
and asks for your passport, what will you say?
When they ask for your passport, will you say
that town's name they'd find unpronounceable
which resonates, when uttered, like a bell
in your mind's tower, as it did the day
you carried your green schoolbag down the gray
fog-cobbled street, past church, bakery, shul
past farm women setting up market stalls
it was so early.
"I am on my way
to school in .
" You were part of the town
now, not the furnished rooms you shared
with Mutti, since the others disappeared.
Your knees were red with cold; your itchy wool
socks had inched down, so you stooped to pull
them up, a student and a citizen.
You are a student and a citizen
of whatever state is transient.
You are no more or less the resident
of a hotel than you were of that town
whose borders were disputed and redrawn.
A prince conceded to a president.
Another language became relevant
to merchants on that street a child walked down
whom you remember, in the corridors
of cities you inhabit, polyglot
as the distinguished scholar you were not
A slight accent sets you apart,
but it would mark you on that peddlers'-cart
Which language, after all, is yours?
Which language, after all these streets, is yours,
and why are you here, waiting for a train?
You could have run a hot bath, read Montaigne.
But would footsteps beyond the bathroom door's
bolt have disturbed the nondescript interior's
familiarity, shadowed the plain
blue draperies? You reflect, you know no one
who would, of you, echo your author's
"Because it was he; because it was I,"
as a unique friendship's non sequitur.
No footsteps and no friend: that makes you free.
The train approaches, wreathed in smoke like fur
around the shoulders of a dowager
with no time for sentimentality.
With no time for sentimentality,
mulling a twice-postponed book-review,
you take an empty seat.
a voluble immigrant family
is already unwrapping garlicky
sausages—an unshaven man and his two
You once wrote: it is true,
awful, and unimportant, finally
that if the opportunity occurs
some of the exiles become storm-troopers;
and you try, culpably, to project these three
into some torch-lit future, filtering out
their wrangling (one of your languages) about
the next canto in their short odyssey.
The next canto in your short odyssey
will open, you know this, in yet another
They have become your mother
country: benevolent anonymity
of rough starched sheets, dim lamp, rickety
escritoire, one window.
Your neighbors gather
up their crusts and rinds.
Out of a leather
satchel, the man takes their frayed identity
cards, examines them.
The sons watch, pale
and less talkative.
A border, passport control,
draw near: rubber stamp or interrogation?
You hope the customs officer lunched well;
reflect on the recurrent implication
of the dream's forfeit.
One night in jail?