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Best Famous John Ashbery Poems

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Written by John Ashbery | Create an image from this poem

Just Walking Around

 What name do I have for you? 
Certainly there is not name for you
In the sense that the stars have names
That somehow fit them.
Just walking around, An object of curiosity to some, But you are too preoccupied By the secret smudge in the back of your soul To say much and wander around, Smiling to yourself and others.
It gets to be kind of lonely But at the same time off-putting.
Counterproductive, as you realize once again That the longest way is the most efficient way, The one that looped among islands, and You always seemed to be traveling in a circle.
And now that the end is near The segments of the trip swing open like an orange.
There is light in there and mystery and food.
Come see it.
Come not for me but it.
But if I am still there, grant that we may see each other.

Written by John Ashbery | Create an image from this poem

Daffy Duck In Hollywood

 Something strange is creeping across me.
La Celestina has only to warble the first few bars Of "I Thought about You" or something mellow from Amadigi di Gaula for everything--a mint-condition can Of Rumford's Baking Powder, a celluloid earring, Speedy Gonzales, the latest from Helen Topping Miller's fertile Escritoire, a sheaf of suggestive pix on greige, deckle-edged Stock--to come clattering through the rainbow trellis Where Pistachio Avenue rams the 2300 block of Highland Fling Terrace.
He promised he'd get me out of this one, That mean old cartoonist, but just look what he's Done to me now! I scarce dare approach me mug's attenuated Reflection in yon hubcap, so jaundiced, so déconfit Are its lineaments--fun, no doubt, for some quack phrenologist's Fern-clogged waiting room, but hardly what you'd call Companionable.
But everything is getting choked to the point of Silence.
Just now a magnetic storm hung in the swatch of sky Over the Fudds' garage, reducing it--drastically-- To the aura of a plumbago-blue log cabin on A Gadsden Purchase commemorative cover.
Suddenly all is Loathing.
I don't want to go back inside any more.
You meet Enough vague people on this emerald traffic-island--no, Not people, comings and goings, more: mutterings, splatterings, The bizarrely but effectively equipped infantries of happy-go-nutty Vegetal jacqueries, plumed, pointed at the little White cardboard castle over the mill run.
"Up The lazy river, how happy we could be?" How will it end? That geranium glow Over Anaheim's had the riot act read to it by the Etna-size firecracker that exploded last minute into A carte du Tendre in whose lower right-hand corner (Hard by the jock-itch sand-trap that skirts The asparagus patch of algolagnic nuits blanches) Amadis Is cozening the Princesse de Cleves into a midnight micturition spree On the Tamigi with the Wallets (Walt, Blossom, and little Sleezix) on a lamé barge "borrowed" from Ollie Of the Movies' dread mistress of the robes.
Wait! I have an announcement! This wide, tepidly meandering, Civilized Lethe (one can barely make out the maypoles And châlets de nécessitê on its sedgy shore) leads to Tophet, that Landfill-haunted, not-so-residential resort from which Some travellers return! This whole moment is the groin Of a borborygmic giant who even now Is rolling over on us in his sleep.
Farewell bocages, Tanneries, water-meadows.
The allegory comes unsnarled Too soon; a shower of pecky acajou harpoons is About all there is to be noted between tornadoes.
I have Only my intermittent life in your thoughts to live Which is like thinking in another language.
Everything Depends on whether somebody reminds you of me.
That this is a fabulation, and that those "other times" Are in fact the silences of the soul, picked out in Diamonds on stygian velvet, matters less than it should.
Prodigies of timing may be arranged to convince them We live in one dimension, they in ours.
While I Abroad through all the coasts of dark destruction seek Deliverance for us all, think in that language: its Grammar, though tortured, offers pavillions At each new parting of the ways.
Pastel Ambulances scoop up the quick and hie them to hospitals.
"It's all bits and pieces, spangles, patches, really; nothing Stands alone.
What happened to creative evolution?" Sighed Aglavaine.
Then to her Sélysette: "If his Achievement is only to end up less boring than the others, What's keeping us here? Why not leave at once? I have to stay here while they sit in there, Laugh, drink, have fine time.
In my day One lay under the tough green leaves, Pretending not to notice how they bled into The sky's aqua, the wafted-away no-color of regions supposed Not to concern us.
And so we too Came where the others came: nights of physical endurance, Or if, by day, our behavior was anarchically Correct, at least by New Brutalism standards, all then Grew taciturn by previous agreement.
We were spirited Away en bateau, under cover of fudge dark.
It's not the incomplete importunes, but the spookiness Of the finished product.
True, to ask less were folly, yet If he is the result of himself, how much the better For him we ought to be! And how little, finally, We take this into account! Is the puckered garance satin Of a case that once held a brace of dueling pistols our Only acknowledging of that color? I like not this, Methinks, yet this disappointing sequel to ourselves Has been applauded in London and St.
Somewhere Ravens pray for us.
" The storm finished brewing.
And thus She questioned all who came in at the great gate, but none She found who ever heard of Amadis, Nor of stern Aureng-Zebe, his first love.
Some They were to whom this mattered not a jot: since all By definition is completeness (so In utter darkness they reasoned), why not Accept it as it pleases to reveal itself? As when Low skyscrapers from lower-hanging clouds reveal A turret there, an art-deco escarpment here, and last perhaps The pattern that may carry the sense, but Stays hidden in the mysteries of pagination.
Not what we see but how we see it matters; all's Alike, the same, and we greet him who announces The change as we would greet the change itself.
All life is but a figment; conversely, the tiny Tome that slips from your hand is not perhaps the Missing link in this invisible picnic whose leverage Shrouds our sense of it.
Therefore bivouac we On this great, blond highway, unimpeded by Veiled scruples, worn conundrums.
Morning is Impermanent.
Grab sex things, swing up Over the horizon like a boy On a fishing expedition.
No one really knows Or cares whether this is the whole of which parts Were vouchsafed--once--but to be ambling on's The tradition more than the safekeeping of it.
This mulch for Play keeps them interested and busy while the big, Vaguer stuff can decide what it wants--what maps, what Model cities, how much waste space.
Life, our Life anyway, is between.
We don't mind Or notice any more that the sky is green, a parrot One, but have our earnest where it chances on us, Disingenuous, intrigued, inviting more, Always invoking the echo, a summer's day.
Written by John Ashbery | Create an image from this poem

My Philosophy of Life

 Just when I thought there wasn't room enough
for another thought in my head, I had this great idea--
call it a philosophy of life, if you will.
Briefly, it involved living the way philosophers live, according to a set of principles.
OK, but which ones? That was the hardest part, I admit, but I had a kind of dark foreknowledge of what it would be like.
Everything, from eating watermelon or going to the bathroom or just standing on a subway platform, lost in thought for a few minutes, or worrying about rain forests, would be affected, or more precisely, inflected by my new attitude.
I wouldn't be preachy, or worry about children and old people, except in the general way prescribed by our clockwork universe.
Instead I'd sort of let things be what they are while injecting them with the serum of the new moral climate I thought I'd stumbled into, as a stranger accidentally presses against a panel and a bookcase slides back, revealing a winding staircase with greenish light somewhere down below, and he automatically steps inside and the bookcase slides shut, as is customary on such occasions.
At once a fragrance overwhelms him--not saffron, not lavender, but something in between.
He thinks of cushions, like the one his uncle's Boston bull terrier used to lie on watching him quizzically, pointed ear-tips folded over.
And then the great rush is on.
Not a single idea emerges from it.
It's enough to disgust you with thought.
But then you remember something William James wrote in some book of his you never read--it was fine, it had the fineness, the powder of life dusted over it, by chance, of course, yet still looking for evidence of fingerprints.
Someone had handled it even before he formulated it, though the thought was his and his alone.
It's fine, in summer, to visit the seashore.
There are lots of little trips to be made.
A grove of fledgling aspens welcomes the traveler.
Nearby are the public toilets where weary pilgrims have carved their names and addresses, and perhaps messages as well, messages to the world, as they sat and thought about what they'd do after using the toilet and washing their hands at the sink, prior to stepping out into the open again.
Had they been coaxed in by principles, and were their words philosophy, of however crude a sort? I confess I can move no farther along this train of thought-- something's blocking it.
Something I'm not big enough to see over.
Or maybe I'm frankly scared.
What was the matter with how I acted before? But maybe I can come up with a compromise--I'll let things be what they are, sort of.
In the autumn I'll put up jellies and preserves, against the winter cold and futility, and that will be a human thing, and intelligent as well.
I won't be embarrassed by my friends' dumb remarks, or even my own, though admittedly that's the hardest part, as when you are in a crowded theater and something you say riles the spectator in front of you, who doesn't even like the idea of two people near him talking together.
Well he's got to be flushed out so the hunters can have a crack at him-- this thing works both ways, you know.
You can't always be worrying about others and keeping track of yourself at the same time.
That would be abusive, and about as much fun as attending the wedding of two people you don't know.
Still, there's a lot of fun to be had in the gaps between ideas.
That's what they're made for!Now I want you to go out there and enjoy yourself, and yes, enjoy your philosophy of life, too.
They don't come along every day.
Look out!There's a big one.
Written by John Ashbery | Create an image from this poem

Into the Dusk-Charged Air

 Far from the Rappahannock, the silent
Danube moves along toward the sea.
The brown and green Nile rolls slowly Like the Niagara's welling descent.
Tractors stood on the green banks of the Loire Near where it joined the Cher.
The St.
Lawrence prods among black stones And mud.
But the Arno is all stones.
Wind ruffles the Hudson's Surface.
The Irawaddy is overflowing.
But the yellowish, gray Tiber Is contained within steep banks.
The Isar Flows too fast to swim in, the Jordan's water Courses over the flat land.
The Allegheny and its boats Were dark blue.
The Moskowa is Gray boats.
The Amstel flows slowly.
Leaves fall into the Connecticut as it passes Underneath.
The Liffey is full of sewage, Like the Seine, but unlike The brownish-yellow Dordogne.
Mountains hem in the Colorado And the Oder is very deep, almost As deep as the Congo is wide.
The plain banks of the Neva are Gray.
The dark Saône flows silently.
And the Volga is long and wide As it flows across the brownish land.
The Ebro Is blue, and slow.
The Shannon flows Swiftly between its banks.
The Mississippi Is one of the world's longest rivers, like the Amazon.
It has the Missouri for a tributary.
The Harlem flows amid factories And buildings.
The Nelson is in Canada, Flowing.
Through hard banks the Dubawnt Forces its way.
People walk near the Trent.
The landscape around the Mohawk stretches away; The Rubicon is merely a brook.
In winter the Main Surges; the Rhine sings its eternal song.
The Rhône slogs along through whitish banks And the Rio Grande spins tales of the past.
The Loir bursts its frozen shackles But the Moldau's wet mud ensnares it.
The East catches the light.
Near the Escaut the noise of factories echoes And the sinuous Humboldt gurgles wildly.
The Po too flows, and the many-colored Thames.
Into the Atlantic Ocean Pours the Garonne.
Few ships navigate On the Housatonic, but quite a few can be seen On the Elbe.
For centuries The Afton has flowed.
If the Rio ***** Could abandon its song, and the Magdalena The jungle flowers, the Tagus Would still flow serenely, and the Ohio Abrade its slate banks.
The tan Euphrates would Sidle silently across the world.
The Yukon Was choked with ice, but the Susquehanna still pushed Bravely along.
The Dee caught the day's last flares Like the Pilcomayo's carrion rose.
The Peace offered eternal fragrance Perhaps, but the Mackenzie churned livid mud Like tan chalk-marks.
Near where The Brahmaputra slapped swollen dikes And the Pechora? The São Francisco Skulks amid gray, rubbery nettles.
The Liard's Reflexes are slow, and the Arkansas erodes Anthracite hummocks.
The Paraná stinks.
The Ottawa is light emerald green Among grays.
Better that the Indus fade In steaming sands! Let the Brazos Freeze solid! And the Wabash turn to a leaden Cinder of ice! The Marañón is too tepid, we must Find a way to freeze it hard.
The Ural Is freezing slowly in the blasts.
The black Yonne Congeals nicely.
And the Petit-Morin Curls up on the solid earth.
The Inn Does not remember better times, and the Merrimack's Galvanized.
The Ganges is liquid snow by now; The Vyatka's ice-gray.
The once-molten Tennessee s Curdled.
The Japurá is a pack of ice.
Gelid The Columbia's gray loam banks.
The Don's merely A giant icicle.
The Niger freezes, slowly.
The interminable Lena plods on But the Purus' mercurial waters are icy, grim With cold.
The Loing is choked with fragments of ice.
The Weser is frozen, like liquid air.
And so is the Kama.
And the beige, thickly flowing Tocantins.
The rivers bask in the cold.
The stern Uruguay chafes its banks, A mass of ice.
The Hooghly is solid Ice.
The Adour is silent, motionless.
The lovely Tigris is nothing but scratchy ice Like the Yellowstone, with its osier-clustered banks.
The Mekong is beginning to thaw out a little And the Donets gurgles beneath the Huge blocks of ice.
The Manzanares gushes free.
The Illinois darts through the sunny air again.
But the Dnieper is still ice-bound.
Somewhere The Salado propels irs floes, but the Roosevelt's Frozen.
The Oka is frozen solider Than the Somme.
The Minho slumbers In winter, nor does the Snake Remember August.
Hilarious, the Canadian Is solid ice.
The Madeira slavers Across the thawing fields, and the Plata laughs.
The Dvina soaks up the snow.
The Sava's Temperature is above freezing.
The Avon Carols noiselessly.
The Drôme presses Grass banks; the Adige's frozen Surface is like gray pebbles.
Birds circle the Ticino.
In winter The Var was dark blue, unfrozen.
The Thwaite, cold, is choked with sandy ice; The Ardèche glistens feebly through the freezing rain.
Written by John Ashbery | Create an image from this poem


 Orpheus liked the glad personal quality
Of the things beneath the sky.
Of course, Eurydice was a part Of this.
Then one day, everything changed.
He rends Rocks into fissures with lament.
Gullies, hummocks Can't withstand it.
The sky shudders from one horizon To the other, almost ready to give up wholeness.
Then Apollo quietly told him: "Leave it all on earth.
Your lute, what point? Why pick at a dull pavan few care to Follow, except a few birds of dusty feather, Not vivid performances of the past.
" But why not? All other things must change too.
The seasons are no longer what they once were, But it is the nature of things to be seen only once, As they happen along, bumping into other things, getting along Somehow.
That's where Orpheus made his mistake.
Of course Eurydice vanished into the shade; She would have even if he hadn't turned around.
No use standing there like a gray stone toga as the whole wheel Of recorded history flashes past, struck dumb, unable to utter an intelligent Comment on the most thought-provoking element in its train.
Only love stays on the brain, and something these people, These other ones, call life.
Singing accurately So that the notes mount straight up out of the well of Dim noon and rival the tiny, sparkling yellow flowers Growing around the brink of the quarry, encapsulizes The different weights of the things.
But it isn't enough To just go on singing.
Orpheus realized this And didn't mind so much about his reward being in heaven After the Bacchantes had torn him apart, driven Half out of their minds by his music, what it was doing to them.
Some say it was for his treatment of Eurydice.
But probably the music had more to do with it, and The way music passes, emblematic Of life and how you cannot isolate a note of it And say it is good or bad.
You must Wait till it's over.
"The end crowns all," Meaning also that the "tableau" Is wrong.
For although memories, of a season, for example, Melt into a single snapshot, one cannot guard, treasure That stalled moment.
It too is flowing, fleeting; It is a picture of flowing, scenery, though living, mortal, Over which an abstract action is laid out in blunt, Harsh strokes.
And to ask more than this Is to become the tossing reeds of that slow, Powerful stream, the trailing grasses Playfully tugged at, but to participate in the action No more than this.
Then in the lowering gentian sky Electric twitches are faintly apparent first, then burst forth Into a shower of fixed, cream-colored flares.
The horses Have each seen a share of the truth, though each thinks, "I'm a maverick.
Nothing of this is happening to me, Though I can understand the language of birds, and The itinerary of the lights caught in the storm is fully apparent to me.
Their jousting ends in music much As trees move more easily in the wind after a summer storm And is happening in lacy shadows of shore-trees, now, day after day.
" But how late to be regretting all this, even Bearing in mind that regrets are always late, too late! To which Orpheus, a bluish cloud with white contours, Replies that these are of course not regrets at all, Merely a careful, scholarly setting down of Unquestioned facts, a record of pebbles along the way.
And no matter how all this disappeared, Or got where it was going, it is no longer Material for a poem.
Its subject Matters too much, and not enough, standing there helplessly While the poem streaked by, its tail afire, a bad Comet screaming hate and disaster, but so turned inward That the meaning, good or other, can never Become known.
The singer thinks Constructively, builds up his chant in progressive stages Like a skyscraper, but at the last minute turns away.
The song is engulfed in an instant in blackness Which must in turn flood the whole continent With blackness, for it cannot see.
The singer Must then pass out of sight, not even relieved Of the evil burthen of the words.
Stellification Is for the few, and comes about much later When all record of these people and their lives Has disappeared into libraries, onto microfilm.
A few are still interested in them.
"But what about So-and-so?" is still asked on occasion.
But they lie Frozen and out of touch until an arbitrary chorus Speaks of a totally different incident with a similar name In whose tale are hidden syllables Of what happened so long before that In some small town, one different summer.

Written by John Ashbery | Create an image from this poem

Farm Implements and Rutabagas in a Landscape

 The first of the undecoded messages read: "Popeye sits 
in thunder,
Unthought of.
From that shoebox of an apartment, From livid curtain's hue, a tangram emerges: a country.
" Meanwhile the Sea Hag was relaxing on a green couch: "How pleasant To spend one's vacation en la casa de Popeye," she scratched Her cleft chin's solitary hair.
She remembered spinach And was going to ask Wimpy if he had bought any spinach.
"M'love," he intercepted, "the plains are decked out in thunder Today, and it shall be as you wish.
" He scratched The part of his head under his hat.
The apartment Seemed to grow smaller.
"But what if no pleasant Inspiration plunge us now to the stars? For this is my country.
" Suddenly they remembered how it was cheaper in the country.
Wimpy was thoughtfully cutting open a number 2 can of spinach When the door opened and Swee'pea crept in.
"How pleasant!" But Swee'pea looked morose.
A note was pinned to his bib.
"Thunder And tears are unavailing," it read.
"Henceforth shall Popeye's apartment Be but remembered space, toxic or salubrious, whole or scratched.
" Olive came hurtling through the window; its geraniums scratched Her long thigh.
"I have news!" she gasped.
"Popeye, forced as you know to flee the country One musty gusty evening, by the schemes of his wizened, duplicate father, jealous of the apartment And all that it contains, myself and spinach In particular, heaves bolts of loving thunder At his own astonished becoming, rupturing the pleasant Arpeggio of our years.
No more shall pleasant Rays of the sun refresh your sense of growing old, nor the scratched Tree-trunks and mossy foliage, only immaculate darkness and thunder.
" She grabbed Swee'pea.
"I'm taking the brat to the country.
" "But you can't do that--he hasn't even finished his spinach," Urged the Sea Hag, looking fearfully around at the apartment.
But Olive was already out of earshot.
Now the apartment Succumbed to a strange new hush.
"Actually it's quite pleasant Here," thought the Sea Hag.
"If this is all we need fear from spinach Then I don't mind so much.
Perhaps we could invite Alice the Goon over"--she scratched One dug pensively--"but Wimpy is such a country Bumpkin, always burping like that.
" Minute at first, the thunder Soon filled the apartment.
It was domestic thunder, The color of spinach.
Popeye chuckled and scratched His balls: it sure was pleasant to spend a day in the country.
Written by David Lehman | Create an image from this poem

April 24

 Did you know that Evian spelled backwards is naive?
I myself was unaware of this fact until last Tuesday night
when John Ashbery, Marc Cohen, and Eugene Richie
gave a poetry reading and I introduced them
to an audience that already knew them,
and there were bottles of Evian at the table.
As air to the lungs of a drowning man was a glass of this water to my dry lips.
I recommend it to you, a lover of palindromes, who will also be glad to learn that JA read us three "chapters" of his new poem, "Girls on the Run," a twelve- part saga inspired by girls' adventure stories, with characters named Dimples and Tidbit plus Talkative and Hopeful on loan from "Pilgrim's Progress.
" As Frank O'Hara would have said, "it's the nuts.
" The poets' books were on sale and afterwards two of the poets signed theirs happily and the third did so willingly and Joe took photos and I smiled for the camera, shaking hands with people I knew or didn't know and thinking how blessed was the state of naivete my naive belief in the glory of the word
Written by David Lehman | Create an image from this poem

July 12

 Wisteria, hysteria is as obvious a rhyme
as Viagra and Niagara there must be a reason
honeymooners traditionally went to the Falls
which were, said the divine Oscar,
an American bride's second biggest disappointment
tell me which do you like better,
the American Falls or the Horseshoe Falls,
I say the Horseshoe Falls, Joe says,
because its magnificence surpasses the American Falls
thank you, Joe, and did you know
when Casey Stengel managed the Yankees
he sat next to Bob Cerv on the bench one day,
put his arm around the big outfielder, and said,
"One of us has just been traded to Kansas City"
I don't know what put that in my mind
except that it backs up Michael Malinowitz's line
about John Ashbery being the Casey Stengel of poetry
meanwhile the Yankees are playing like the Bronx Bombers of old
and though I used to hate the Yankees I'm just enough
of a New York chauvinist to feel gleeful about it
wait a minute I'll be right back I am back that's
another line I've always wanted to put in a poem
what it will say on Johnny Carson's gravestone
"I'll be right back"
Written by David Lehman | Create an image from this poem

February 23

 Light rain is falling in Central Park
but not on Upper Fifth Avenue or Central Park West
where sun and sky are yellow and blue
Winds are gusting on Washington Square
through the arches and on to LaGuardia Place
but calm is the corner of 8th Street and Second Avenue
which reminds me of something John Ashbery said
about his poem "Crazy Weather" he said
he was in favor of all kinds of weather
just so long as it's genuine weather
which is always unusually bad, unusually
good, or unusually indifferent,
since there isn't really any norm for weather
When he was a boy his mother met a friend
who said, "Isn't this funny weather?"

It was one of his earliest memories
Written by John Ashbery | Create an image from this poem


 The man with the red hat
And the polar bear, is he here too? 
The window giving on shade, 
Is that here too? 
And all the little helps, 
My initials in the sky, 
The hay of an arctic summer night? 

The bear
Drops dead in sight of the window.
Lovely tribes have just moved to the north.
In the flickering evening the martins grow denser.
Rivers of wings surround us and vast tribulation.