A R Ammons |
I have a life that did not become,
that turned aside and stopped,
I hold it in me like a pregnancy or
as on my lap a child
not to grow old but dwell on
it is to his grave I most
frequently return and return
to ask what is wrong, what was
wrong, to see it all by
the light of a different necessity
but the grave will not heal
and the child,
stirring, must share my grave
with me, an old man having
gotten by on what was left
when I go back to my home country in these
fresh far-away days, it’s convenient to visit
everybody, aunts and uncles, those who used to say,
look how he’s shooting up, and the
trinket aunts who always had a little
something in their pocketbooks, cinnamon bark
or a penny or nickel, and uncles who
were the rumored fathers of cousins
who whispered of them as of great, if
troubled, presences, and school
teachers, just about everybody older
(and some younger) collected in one place
waiting, particularly, but not for
me, mother and father there, too, and others
close, close as burrowing
under skin, all in the graveyard
assembled, done for, the world they
used to wield, have trouble and joy
the child in me that could not become
was not ready for others to go,
to go on into change, blessings and
horrors, but stands there by the road
where the mishap occurred, crying out for
help, come and fix this or we
can’t get by, but the great ones who
were to return, they could not or did
not hear and went on in a flurry and
now, I say in the graveyard, here
lies the flurry, now it can’t come
back with help or helpful asides, now
we all buy the bitter
incompletions, pick up the knots of
horror, silently raving, and go on
crashing into empty ends not
completions, not rondures the fullness
has come into and spent itself from
I stand on the stump
of a child, whether myself
or my little brother who died, and
yell as far as I can, I cannot leave this place, for
for me it is the dearest and the worst,
it is life nearest to life which is
life lost: it is my place where
I must stand and fail,
calling attention with tears
to the branches not lofting
boughs into space, to the barren
air that holds the world that was my world
though the incompletions
(& completions) burn out
standing in the flash high-burn
momentary structure of ash, still it
is a picture-book, letter-perfect
Easter morning: I have been for a
walk: the wind is tranquil: the brook
works without flashing in an abundant
tranquility: the birds are lively with
voice: I saw something I had
never seen before: two great birds,
maybe eagles, blackwinged, whitenecked
and –headed, came from the south oaring
the great wings steadily; they went
directly over me, high up, and kept on
due north: but then one bird,
the one behind, veered a little to the
left and the other bird kept on seeming
not to notice for a minute: the first
began to circle as if looking for
something, coasting, resting its wings
on the down side of some of the circles:
the other bird came back and they both
circled, looking perhaps for a draft;
they turned a few more times, possibly
rising—at least, clearly resting—
then flew on falling into distance till
they broke across the local bush and
trees: it was a sight of bountiful
majesty and integrity: the having
patterns and routes, breaking
from them to explore other patterns or
better ways to routes, and then the
return: a dance sacred as the sap in
the trees, permanent in its descriptions
as the ripples round the brook’s
ripplestone: fresh as this particular
flood of burn breaking across us now
from the sun.
Vachel Lindsay |
[In memory of E.
Frazee, Rush County, Indiana]
Into the acres of the newborn state
He poured his strength, and plowed his ancient name,
And, when the traders followed him, he stood
Towering above their furtive souls and tame.
That brow without a stain, that fearless eye
Oft left the passing stranger wondering
To find such knighthood in the sprawling land,
To see a democrat well-nigh a king.
He lived with liberal hand, with guests from far,
With talk and joke and fellowship to spare, —
Watching the wide world's life from sun to sun,
Lining his walls with books from everywhere.
He read by night, he built his world by day.
The farm and house of God to him were one.
For forty years he preached and plowed and wrought —
A statesman in the fields, who bent to none.
His plowmen-neighbors were as lords to him.
His was an ironside, democratic pride.
He served a rigid Christ, but served him well —
And, for a lifetime, saved the countryside.
Here lie the dead, who gave the church their best
Under his fiery preaching of the word.
They sleep with him beneath the ragged grass.
The village withers, by his voice unstirred.
And tho' his tribe be scattered to the wind
From the Atlantic to the China sea,
Yet do they think of that bright lamp he burned
Of family worth and proud integrity.
And many a sturdy grandchild hears his name
In reverence spoken, till he feels akin
To all the lion-eyed who built the world —
And lion-dreams begin to burn within.
Robinson Jeffers |
Then what is the answer?- Not to be deluded by dreams.
To know that great civilizations have broken down into violence,
and their tyrants come, many times before.
When open violence appears, to avoid it with honor or choose
the least ugly faction; these evils are essential.
To keep one's own integrity, be merciful and uncorrupted
and not wish for evil; and not be duped
By dreams of universal justice or happiness.
These dreams will
not be fulfilled.
To know this, and know that however ugly the parts appear
the whole remains beautiful.
A severed hand
Is an ugly thing and man dissevered from the earth and stars
and his history.
for contemplation or in fact.
Often appears atrociously ugly.
Integrity is wholeness,
the greatest beauty is
Organic wholeness, the wholeness of life and things, the divine beauty
of the universe.
Love that, not man
Apart from that, or else you will share man's pitiful confusions,
or drown in despair when his days darken.
Adrienne Rich |
the quality of being complete; unbroken condition; entirety
A wild patience has taken me this far
as if I had to bring to shore
a boat with a spasmodic outboard motor
old sweaters, nets, spray-mottled books
tossed in the prow
some kind of sun burning my shoulder-blades.
Splashing the oarlocks.
Your fore-arms can get scalded, licked with pain
in a sun blotted like unspoken anger
behind a casual mist.
The length of daylight
this far north, in this
forty-ninth year of my life
The light is critical: of me, of this
long-dreamed, involuntary landing
on the arm of an inland sea.
The glitter of the shoal
depleting into shadow
I recognize: the stand of pines
violet-black really, green in the old postcard
but really I have nothing but myself
to go by; nothing
stands in the realm of pure necessity
except what my hands can hold.
Nothing but myself?.
After so long, this answer.
As if I had always known
I steer the boat in, simply.
The motor dying on the pebbles
cicadas taking up the hum
dropped in the silence.
Anger and tenderness: my selves.
And now I can believe they breathe in me
as angels, not polarities.
Anger and tenderness: the spider's genius
to spin and weave in the same action
from her own body, anywhere --
even from a broken web.
The cabin in the stand of pines
is still for sale.
I know this.
Know the print
of the last foot, the hand that slammed and locked the door,
then stopped to wreathe the rain-smashed clematis
back on the trellis
for no one's sake except its own.
I know the chart nailed to the wallboards
the icy kettle squatting on the burner.
The hands that hammered in those nails
emptied that kettle one last time
are these two hands
and they have caught the baby leaping
from between trembling legs
and they have worked the vacuum aspirator
and stroked the sweated temples
and steered the boat there through this hot
misblotted sunlight, critical light
the skin these hands will also salve.
D. H. Lawrence |
I thought he was dumb, said he was dumb,
Yet I've heard him cry.
First faint scream,
Out of life's unfathomable dawn,
Far off, so far, like a madness, under the horizon's dawning rim,
Far, far off, far scream.
Tortoise in extremis.
Why were we crucified into sex?
Why were we not left rounded off, and finished in ourselves,
As we began,
As he certainly began, so perfectly alone?
A far, was-it-audible scream,
Or did it sound on the plasm direct?
Worse than the cry of the new-born,
All tiny, tiny, far away, reptile under the first dawn.
War-cry, triumph, acute-delight, death-scream reptilian,
Why was the veil torn?
The silken shriek of the soul's torn membrane?
The male soul's membrane
Torn with a shriek half music, half horror.
Male tortoise, cleaving behind the hovel-wall of that dense female,
Mounted and tense, spread-eagle, out-reaching out of the shell
Long neck, and long vulnerable limbs extruded, spreadeagle over her house-roof,
And the deep, secret, all-penetrating tail curved beneath her walls,
Reaching and gripping tense, more reaching anguish in uttermost tension
Till suddenly, in the spasm of coition, tupping like a jerking leap, and oh!
Opening its clenched face from his outstretched neck
And giving that fragile yell, that scream,
From his pink, cleft, old-man's mouth,
Giving up the ghost,
Or screaming in Pentecost, receiving the ghost.
His scream, and his moment's subsidence,
The moment of eternal silence,
Yet unreleased, and after the moment, the sudden, startling jerk of coition, and at once
The inexpressible faint yell --
And so on, till the last plasm of my body was melted back
To the primeval rudiments of life, and the secret.
So he tups, and screams
Time after time that frail, torn scream
After each jerk, the longish interval,
The tortoise eternity,
Age-long, reptilian persistence,
Heart-throb, slow heart-throb, persistent for the next spasm.
I remember, when I was a boy,
I heard the scream of a frog, which was caught with his foot in the mouth of an up-starting snake;
I remember when I first heard bull-frogs break into sound in the spring;
I remember hearing a wild goose out of the throat of night
Cry loudly, beyond the lake of waters;
I remember the first time, out of a bush in the darkness, a nightingale's piercing cries and gurgles startled the depths of my soul;
I remember the scream of a rabbit as I went through a wood at midnight;
I remember the heifer in her heat, blorting and blorting through the hours, persistent and irrepressible,
I remember my first terror hearing the howl of weird, amorous cats;
I remember the scream of a terrified, injured horse, the sheet-lightning,
And running away from the sound of a woman in labour, something like an owl whooing,
And listening inwardly to the first bleat of a lamb,
The first wail of an infant,
And my mother singing to herself,
And the first tenor singing of the passionate throat of a young collier, who has long since drunk himself to death,
The first elements of foreign speech
On wild dark lips.
And more than all these,
And less than all these,
Strange, faint coition yell
Of the male tortoise at extremity,
Tiny from under the very edge of the farthest far-off horizon of life.
The wheel on which our silence first is broken,
Sex, which breaks up our integrity, our single inviolability, our deep silence,
Tearing a cry from us.
Sex, which breaks us into voice, sets us calling across the deeps, calling, calling for the complement,
Singing, and calling, and singing again, being answered, having found.
Torn, to become whole again, after long seeking for what is lost,
The same cry from the tortoise as from Christ, the Osiris-cry of abandonment,
That which is whole, torn asunder,
That which is in part, finding its whole again throughout the universe.
Jorie Graham |
All this was written on the next day's list.
On which the busyness unfurled its cursive roots,
pale but effective,
and the long stem of the necessary, the sum of events,
built-up its tiniest cathedral.
(Or is it the sum of what takes place? )
If I lean down, to whisper, to them,
down into their gravitational field, there where they head busily on
into the woods, laying the gifts out one by one, onto the path,
hoping to be on the air,
hoping to please the children --
(and some gifts overwrapped and some not wrapped at all) -- if
I stir the wintered ground-leaves
up from the paths, nimbly, into a sheet of sun,
into an escape-route-width of sun, mildly gelatinous where wet, though mostly
fluffing them up a bit, and up, as if to choke the singularity of sun
with this jubilation of manyness, all through and round these passers-by --
just leaves, nothing that can vaporize into a thought,
no, a burning bush's worth of spidery, up-ratcheting, tender-cling leaves,
oh if -- the list gripped hard by the left hand of one,
the busyness buried so deep into the puffed-up greenish mind of one,
the hurried mind hovering over its rankings,
the heart -- there at the core of the drafting leaves -- wet and warm at the
the bright mock-stairwaying-up of the posthumous leaves -- the heart,
formulating its alleyways of discovery,
fussing about the integrity of the whole,
the heart trying to make time and place seem small,
sliding its slim tears into the deep wallet of each new event
on the list
then checking it off -- oh the satisfaction -- each check a small kiss,
an echo of the previous one, off off it goes the dry high-ceilinged
checked-off by the fingertips, by the small gust called done that swipes
the unfinishable's gold hem aside, revealing
what might have been, peeling away what should .
There are flowerpots at their feet.
There is fortune-telling in the air they breathe.
It filters-in with its flashlight-beam, its holy-water-tinted air,
down into the open eyes, the lampblack open mouth.
Oh listen to these words I'm spitting out for you.
My distance from you makes them louder.
Are we all waiting for the phone to ring?
Who should it be? What fountain is expected to
thrash forth mysteries of morning joy? What quail-like giant tail of
promises, pleiades, psalters, plane-trees,
what parapets petalling-forth the invisible
into the world of things,
turning the list into its spatial-form at last,
into its archival many-headed, many-legged colony .
Oh look at you.
What is it you hold back? What piece of time is it the list
won't cover? You down there, in the theater of
operations -- you, throat of the world -- so diacritical --
(are we all waiting for the phone to ring?) --
(what will you say? are you home? are you expected soon?) --
oh wanderer back from break, all your attention focused
-- as if the thinking were an oar, this ship the last of some
original fleet, the captains gone but some of us
who saw the plan drawn-out
still here -- who saw the thinking clot-up in the bodies of the greater men,
who saw them sit in silence while the voices in the other room
lit-up with passion, itchings, dreams of landings,
while the solitary ones,
heads in their hands, so still,
the idea barely forming
at the base of that stillness,
the idea like a homesickness starting just to fold and pleat and knot-itself
out of the manyness -- the plan -- before it's thought,
before it's a done deal or the name-you're-known-by --
the men of x, the outcomes of y -- before --
the mind still gripped hard by the hands
that would hold the skull even stiller if they could,
that nothing distract, that nothing but the possible be let to filter
the possible and then the finely filamented hope, the filigree,
without the distractions of wonder --
oh tiny golden spore just filtering-in to touch the good idea,
which taking-form begins to twist,
coursing for bottom-footing, palpating for edge-hold, limit,
now finally about to
rise, about to go into the other room -- and yet
not having done so yet, not yet -- the
intake -- before the credo, before the plan --
right at the homesickness -- before this list you hold
in your exhausted hand.
Oh put it down.
Czeslaw Milosz |
I have always aspired to a more spacious form
that would be free from the claims of poetry or prose
and would let us understand each other without exposing
the author or reader to sublime agonies.
In the very essence of poetry there is something indecent:
a thing is brought forth which we didn't know we had in us,
so we blink our eyes, as if a tiger had sprung out
and stood in the light, lashing his tail.
That's why poetry is rightly said to be dictated by a daimonion,
though its an exaggeration to maintain that he must be an angel.
It's hard to guess where that pride of poets comes from,
when so often they're put to shame by the disclosure of their frailty.
What reasonable man would like to be a city of demons,
who behave as if they were at home, speak in many tongues,
and who, not satisfied with stealing his lips or hand,
work at changing his destiny for their convenience?
It's true that what is morbid is highly valued today,
and so you may think that I am only joking
or that I've devised just one more means
of praising Art with thehelp of irony.
There was a time when only wise books were read
helping us to bear our pain and misery.
This, after all, is not quite the same
as leafing through a thousand works fresh from psychiatric clinics.
And yet the world is different from what it seems to be
and we are other than how we see ourselves in our ravings.
People therefore preserve silent integrity
thus earning the respect of their relatives and neighbors.
The purpose of poetry is to remind us
how difficult it is to remain just one person,
for our house is open, there are no keys in the doors,
and invisible guests come in and out at will.
What I'm saying here is not, I agree, poetry,
as poems should be written rarely and reluctantly,
under unbearable duress and only with the hope
that good spirits, not evil ones, choose us for their instrument.
Emily Dickinson |
After all Birds have been investigated and laid aside --
Nature imparts the little Blue-Bird -- assured
Her conscientious Voice will soar unmoved
Above ostensible Vicissitude.
First at the March -- competing with the Wind --
Her panting note exalts us -- like a friend --
Last to adhere when Summer cleaves away --
Elegy of Integrity.
Wilfred Owen |
Head to limp head, the sunk-eyed wounded scanned
Yesterday's Mail; the casualties (typed small)
And (large) Vast Booty from our Latest Haul.
Also, they read of Cheap Homes, not yet planned;
For, said the paper, "When this war is done
The men's first instinct will be making homes.
Meanwhile their foremost need is aerodromes,
It being certain war has just begun.
Peace would do wrong to our undying dead, --
The sons we offered might regret they died
If we got nothing lasting in their stead.
We must be solidly indemnified.
Though all be worthy Victory which all bought,
We rulers sitting in this ancient spot
Would wrong our very selves if we forgot
The greatest glory will be theirs who fought,
Who kept this nation in integrity.
Nation? -- The half-limbed readers did not chafe
But smiled at one another curiously
Like secret men who know their secret safe.
This is the thing they know and never speak,
That England one by one had fled to France
(Not many elsewhere now save under France).
Pictures of these broad smiles appear each week,
And people in whose voice real feeling rings
Say: How they smile! They're happy now, poor things.
23rd September 1918.
Robinson Jeffers |
The heads of strong old age are beautiful
Beyond all grace of youth.
They have strange quiet,
Integrity, health, soundness, to the full
They've dealt with life and been tempered by it.
A young man must not sleep; his years are war,
Civil and foreign but the former's worse;
But the old can breathe in safety now that they are
Forgetting what youth meant, the being perverse,
Running the fool's gauntlet and being cut
By the whips of the five senses.
As for me,
If I should wish to live long it were but
To trade those fevers for tranquillity,
Thinking though that's entire and sweet in the grave
How shall the dead taste the deep treasure they have?