Tuesday, August 31, 2004

About My Poems --- 17 Poems of Donald Justice

About My Poems

By Donald Justice

How fashionably sad my early poems are!
On their clipped lawns and hedges the snows fall;
Rains beat against the tarpaulins of their porches,
Where, Sunday mornings, the bored children sprawl,
Reading the comics, before the parents rise.
---The rhymes, the meters, how they paralyze!

Who walks out through their streets tonight? No one.
You know these small towns, how all traffic stops
At ten; the corner streetlamps gathering moths;
And the pale mannequins waiting in dark shops,
Undressed, and ready for the dreams of men.
--- Now the long silence. Now the beginning again.


The Voice of Col. Von Stauffenberg Rising From Purgatory

By Donald Justice

"Something fearful has happened ..... The Fuhrer is alive!"
Fen. Fellgiebel, July 20, 1944

That last night we passed quietly, my brother and I.
We sat talking of poems into the small hours;

And saw, at dawn, for the last time, through the beautiful tall windows,
The smoke as of some great sacrifice suspended over the city.

And the little life remaining seemed very full.

And to turn away then, to turn one's back to God,
To cast one's self aside as simply as a child
Discards the doll he has grown weary of ...

They led us out that evening into the courtyard.
There was a mound of earth there, left from the excavations,

Against which they posed us
And it was there that the lights of the parked trucks found us.

All it would ever come to now was grief and a little pride,
Grief, pride, and the overwhelming regret
That through failure one had been spared for heaven after all.


Ode to a Dressmaker's Dummy

By Donald Justice

Papier-mache body; blue-and-black cotton jersey cover.
Metal stand. Instructions included.

--Sears, Roebuck Catalogue

 O my coy darling, still

You wear for me the scent
Of those long afternoons we spent,
The two of us together,
Safe in the attic from the jealous eyes
Of household spies
And the remote buffooneries of the weather;
So high,
Our sole remaining neighbor was the sky,
Which, often enough, at dusk,
Leaning its cloudy shoulders on the sill,
Used to regard us with a bored and cynical eye.

How like the terrified,
Shy figure of a bride
You stood there then, without your clothes,
Drawn up into
So classic and so strict a pose
Almost, it seemed, our little attic grew
Dark with the first charmed night of the honeymoon.
Or was it only some obscure
Shape of my mother's youth I saw in you,
There where the rude shadows of the afternoon
Crept up your ankles and you stood
Hiding your sex as best you could?--
Prim ghost the evening light shone through.


Women in Love

By Donald Justice

It always comes, and when it comes they know.

To will it is enough to bring them there.
The knack is this, to fasten and not let go.

Their limbs are charmed; they cannot stay or go.
Desire is limbo: they¼re unhappy there.
It always comes, and when it comes they know.

Their choice of hells would be the one they know.
Dante describes it, the wind circling there.
The knack is this, to fasten and not let go.

The wind carries them where they want to go.
Yet it seems cruel to strangers passing there.
It always comes, and when it comes they know
The knack is this, to fasten and not let go.


Love's Stratagems

By Donald Justice

But these maneuverings to avoid
The touching of hands,
These shifts to keep the eyes employed
On objects more or less neutral
(As honor, for time being, commands)
Will hardly prevent their downfall.

Stronger medicines are needed.
Already they find
None of their stratagems have succeeded,
Nor would have, no,
Not had their eyes been stricken blind,
Hands cut off at the elbow.


The Assassination

By Donald Justice

It begins again, the nocturnal pulse.
It courses through the cables laid for it.
It mounts to the chandeliers and beats there, hotly.
We are too close. Too late, we would move back.
We are involved with the surge.

Now it bursts. Now it has been announced.
Now it is being soaked up by newspapers.
Now it is running through the streets.
The crowd has it. The woman selling carnations
And the man in the straw hat stand with it in their shoes.

Here is the red marquee it sheltered under.
Here is the ballroom, here
The sadly various orchestra led
By a single gesture. My arms open.
It enters. Look, we are dancing.


Men at Thirty

By Donald Justice

Thirty today, I saw

The trees flare briefly like
The candles upon a cake
As the sun went down the sky,
A momentary flash
Yet there was time to wish

Before the break light could die
If I had known what to wish
As once I must have known
Bending above the clean candlelit tablecloth
To blow them out with a breath


Men at Forty

By Donald Justice

Men at forty

Learn to close softly
The doors to rooms they will not be
Coming back to


On the death of Friends in childhood

By Donald Justice

We shall not ever meet them bearded in heaven

Nor sunning themselves among the bald of hell;
If anywhere, in the deserted schoolyard at twilight,
forming a ring, perhaps, or joining hands
In games whose very names we have forgotten.
come memory, let us seek them there in the shadows.


To a Ten-months' child

By Donald Justice

Late arrival, no

One would think of blaming you
For hesitating so.

Who, setting his hand to knock
At a door so strange as this one,
Might not draw back?


Ode to a Dressmaker’s Dummy

By Donald Justice

 Papier-mache body; blue-and-black cotton

jersey cover. Metal stand. Instructions included.

--Sears, Roebuck Catalogue

O my coy darling, still
You wear for me the scent
Of those long afternoons we spent,
The two of us together,
Safe in the attic from the jealous eyes
Of household spies
And the remote buffooneries of the weather;
So high,
Our sole remaining neighbor was the sky,
Which, often enough, at dusk,
Leaning its cloudy shoulders on the sill,
Used to regard us with a bored and cynical eye.

How like the terrified,
Shy figure of a bride
You stood there then, without your clothes,
Drawn up into
So classic and so strict a pose
Almost, it seemed, our little attic grew
Dark with the first charmed night of the honeymoon.
Or was it only some obscure
Shape of my mother’s youth I saw in you,
There where the rude shadows of the afternoon
Crept up your ankles and you stood
Hiding your sex as best you could?--
Prim ghost the evening light shone through.


By Donald Justice

This poem is not addressed to you.

You may come into it briefly,
But no one will find you here, no one.
You will have changed before the poem will.

Even while you sit there, unmovable,
You have begun to vanish. And it does no matter.
The poem will go on without you.
It has the spurious glamour of certain voids.

It is not sad, really, only empty.
Once perhaps it was sad, no one knows why.
It prefers to remember nothing.
Nostalgias were peeled from it long ago.

Your type of beauty has no place here.
Night is the sky over this poem.
It is too black for stars.
And do not look for any illumination.

You neither can nor should understand what it means.
Listen, it comes with out guitar,
Neither in rags nor any purple fashion.
And there is nothing in it to comfort you.

Close your eyes, yawn. It will be over soon.
You will forge the poem, but not before
It has forgotten you. And it does not matter.
It has been most beautiful in its erasures.

O bleached mirrors! Oceans of the drowned!
Nor is one silence equal to another.
And it does not matter what you think.
This poem is not addressed to you.


Villanelle at Sundown

By Donald Justice

Turn your head. Look. The light is turning yellow.

The river seems enriched thereby, not to say deepened.
Why this is, I'll never be able to tell you.

Or are Americans half in love with failure?
One used to say so, reading Fitzgerald, as it happened.
(That Viking Portable, all water spotted and yellow--

remember?) Or does mere distance lend a value
to things? --false, it may be, but the view is hardly cheapened.
Why this is, I'll never be able to tell you.

The smoke, those tiny cars, the whole urban milieu--
One can like anything diminishment has sharpened.
Our painter friend, Lang, might show the whole thing yellow

and not be much off. It's nuance that counts, not color--
As in some late James novel, saved up for the long weekend
and vivid with all the Master simply won't tell you.

How frail our generation has got, how sallow
and pinched with just surviving! We all go off the deep end
finally, gold beaten thinly out to yellow.
And why this is, I'll never be able to tell you.


Variations on a Text by Vallejo

By Donald Justice

Me moriré en París con aguacero...

I will die in Miami in the sun,
On a day when the sun is very bright,
A day like the days I remember, a day like other days,
A day that nobody knows or remembers yet,
And the sun will be bright then on the dark glasses of strangers
And in the eyes of a few friends from my childhood
And of the surviving cousins by the graveside,
While the diggers, standing apart, in the still shade of the palms,
Rest on their shovels, and smoke,
Speaking in Spanish softly, out of respect.

I think it will be on a Sunday like today,
Except that the sun will be out, the rain will have stopped,
And the wind that today made all the little shrubs kneel down;
And I think it will be a Sunday because today,
When I took out this paper and began to write,
Never before had anything looked so blank,
My life, these words, the paper, the grey Sunday;
And my dog, quivering under a table because of the storm,
Looked up at me, not understanding,
And my son read on without speaking, and my wife slept.

Donald Justice is dead. One Sunday the sun came out,
It shone on the bay, it shone on the white buildings,
The cars moved down the street slowly as always, so many,
Some with their headlights on in spite of the sun,
And after a while the diggers with their shovels
Walked back to the graveside through the sunlight,
And one of them put his blade into the earth
To lift a few clods of dirt, the black marl of Miami,
And scattered the dirt, and spat,
Turning away abruptly, out of respect.


Henry James at the Pacific

By Donald Justice

 -- Coronado Beach, California, March, 1905

In a hotel room by the sea, the Master
Sits brooding on the continent he has crossed.
Not that he foresees immediate disaster,
Only a sort of freshness being lost --
Or should he go on calling it Innocence?
The sad-faced monsters of the plains are gone;
Wall Street controls the wilderness. There's an immense
Novel in all this waiting to be done.
But not, not -- sadly enough -- by him. His
Such as they may be, want a different theme,
Rather more civilized than this, on balance.
For him now always the recurring dream
Is just the mild, dear light of Lamb House falling
Beautifully down the pages of his calling.


Bus Stop

<>By Donald Justice

Lights are burning
In quiet rooms
Where lives go on
Resembling ours.

The quiet lives
That follow us—
These lives we lead
But do not own—

Stand in the rain
So quietly
When we are gone,
So quietly . . .
And the last bus
Comes letting dark
Umbrellas out—
Black flowers, black flowers.

And lives go on.
And lives go on
Like sudden lights
At street corners

Or like the lights
In quiet rooms
Left on for hours,
Burning, burning.


Anonymous Drawing

By Donald Justice

A delicate young Negro stands
With the reins of a horse clutched loosely in his hands;
So delicate, indeed, that we wonder if he can hold the spirited creature
beside him
Until the master shall arrive to ride him.
Already the animal's nostrils widen with rage or fear.
But if we imagine him snorting, about to rear,
This boy, who should know about such things better than we,
Only stands smiling, passive and ornamental, in a fantastic livery
Of ruffles and puffed breeches,
Watching the artist, apparently, as he sketches.
Meanwhile the petty lord who must have paid
For the artist's trip up from Perugia, for the horse, for the boy, for
everything here, in fact, has been delayed,
Kept too long by his steward, perhaps, discussing
Some business concerning the estate, or fussing
Over the details of his impeccable toilet
With a manservant whose opinion is that any alteration at all would spoil it.
However fast he should come hurrying now
Over this vast greensward, mopping his brow
Clear of the sweat of the fine Renaissance morning, it would be too late:
The artist will have had his revenge for being made to wait,
A revenge not only necessary but right and clever --
Simply to leave him out of the scene forever.

A Note on Donald Justice (Source: http://www.interviews-with-poets.com/donald-justice/justice-note.html)

Donald Justice - poet copyright statement

Donald Justice was born in Miami, Florida, on August 12th 1925, the only child of Vasco and Mary Ethel Justice (née Cook).

Justice attended Allapattah Elementary School, Andrew Jackson High School and the Senior High School in Miami. Then, in the autumn of 1942, he enrolled for a BA in Music at the University of Miami, where he studied for a time with the composer Carl Ruggles. At a certain point, however, Justice decided that he might have more talent as a writer than a composer, and when he took his degree, in 1945, it was not in Music but English.

After a year spent working at odd jobs in New York, Justice entered the University of North Carolina – the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, as it is now known – to study for an MA. There he got to know a number of other people who would go on to make their mark as writers, amongst them the novelist Richard Stern, the poet Edgar Bowers, and the short story writer, Jean Ross, whom he married in 1947, the year he took his MA.

Justice accepted a one-year appointment instructing in English at the University of Miami. Then, with the encouragement of Edgar Bowers, who had gone there the year before, he took up the offer of a place to study for a PhD at Stanford University in California, where he hoped to work under the supervision of Yvor Winters. Unfortunately, the head of department refused to allow this, and, mindful of Justice’s teaching load, insisted that he took only one course per semester, thereby condemning him to very slow progress. Frustrated, Justice left Stanford and went back to Florida, where he resumed the life of an instructor at the University of Miami.

Early in 1951, the Pandanus Press published a small chapbook of Justice’s work, The Old Bachelor and Other Poems. But if the occasion was cause for celebration, it will have been overshadowed by the announcement that the university was letting all of its English instructors go.

Out of work, and unsure what to do next, Justice acted on the advice of friends and applied to study for the PhD in Creative Writing being offered by the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, the oldest institution of its kind in America, founded by Paul Engle in 1937. His application was successful, and in the spring of 1952 Justice joined one of the most distinguished classes ever to pass through the Workshop, his fellow students including Jane Cooper, Henri Coulette, Robert Dana, William Dickey, Philip Levine, W.D. Snodgrass and William Stafford.

In the spring of 1954, just two years after his arrival, Justice obtained his PhD, and was promptly awarded a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship in poetry, which made it possible for him to travel to Europe for the first time. After his return, he spent two years as an assistant professor, one at the University of Missouri at Columbia, the other at Hamline University, St Paul, Minnesota. Then, in 1957, he went back to the Iowa Writers' Workshop, where he had agreed to take over some of his teaching while Engle was away on leave. This was to have been a temporary appointment, but when Engle returned, he was asked to stay on, and he remained at the Workshop for over ten years.

Justice had been publishing poems in many of the country's leading journals – amongst them, Poetry, The New Yorker, Harper's, The Hudson Review, and The Paris Review – and he had been publishing short stories as well – two had been included in O. Henry Prize Stories annual collections – but it wasn't until 1960, when he was thirty-five years old, that Wesleyan University Press published his first full collection, The Summer Anniversaries. It was very well received: 'Mr Justice is an accomplished writer,' wrote Howard Nemerov, 'whose skill is consistently subordinated to an attitude at once serious and unpretentious. Although his manner is not yet fully disengaged from that of certain modern masters, whom he occasionally echoes, his own way of doing things does in general come through, a voice distinct although very quiet, in poems that are delicate and brave among their nostalgias.' In competition with books submitted by forty-seven other publishers, The Summer Anniversaries was chosen by the Academy of American Poets as the Lamont Poetry Selection for 1959.

Two small press publications came out in the next few years – A Local Storm in 1963 and Three Poems in 1966 – and so did two edited volumes – The Collected Poems of Weldon Kees in 1960 and Contemporary French Poetry in 1965 – and then, in 1967, the year he left the Iowa Writers' Workshop, Justice's second full collection was published. Night Light was a very different book from its predecessor, but although it drew some negative reviews – William H. Pritchard summed up his reaction by saying that the book was 'almost wholly about literature, often not very exciting literature' – and some of the positive reviews were lazily formulated, Justice will have found the general tenor of the pieces reassuring: 'This is a book to be grateful for,' wrote one reviewer, and most of the others were clearly in agreement.

Justice left the Iowa Writers' Workshop in order to take up an Associate Professorship at Syracuse University in New York. The following year – a year in which he was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in poetry, and gave the Elliston lectures at the University of Cincinnati – he was appointed full professor. However, Justice remained at Syracuse University for only three years, accepting a one-year appointment at the University of California at Irvine in 1970, and then, in the autumn of 1971, going back for a third time to Iowa.

Two more small press publications came out in the early 1970s – Sixteen Poems in 1970 and From a Notebook in 1972. These were followed by Justice's third full collection, Departures, which was published in 1973, and was another critical success. Irvin Ehrenpreis described its author as a 'profoundly gifted' poet. Richard Howard was no less enthusiastic: '[T]his little book [contains] some of the most assured, elegant and heartbreaking ... verse in our literature so far.' Departures was nominated for the 1973 National Book Award.

Justice's Selected Poems was published in 1979, and its jacket bore a ringing endorsement from Anthony Hecht: 'Many admiring poets and a few perceptive critics (Paul Fussell, Jr among them) have paid careful, even studious attention to Donald Justice's poetic skill, which seems able to accomplish anything with an ease that would be almost swagger if it were not so modest of intention. He is, among other things, the supreme heir of Wallace Stevens. His brilliance is never at the service merely of flash and display; it is always subservient to experienced truth, to accuracy, to Justice, the ancient virtue as well as the personal signature. He is one of our finest poets.' Not all of the reviewers were so well-disposed, however. Calvin Bedient described Justice as 'an uncertain talent that has not been turned to much account'; Gerald Burns said that the volume 'reads like a very thin Tennessee Williams'; and Alan Hollinghurst said that the poems, 'formal but fatigués ... create the impression of getting great job satisfaction without actually doing much work.' Still, those who felt like Bedient, Burns and Hollinghurst were in a small minority, and Justice's Selected Poems was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1980.

In 1982 Justice returned to the state of his birth to take up a professorship at the University of Florida, Gainsville. Two years later he published Platonic Scripts, which gathered a number of his critical essays and a handful of the interviews he had given since the mid-1960s. Then, in 1987, he published his next full collection, The Sunset Maker, a book whose contents were well described by his old friend Richard Stern in a review for The Chicago Tribune: 'Poems built so finely out of such intricate emotional music shift in the mind from reading. They are the products, if not the barometer, of an extraordinary temperament coupled with enormous verbal and rhythmic skill. No poem here could have been written by anyone but Donald Justice. This is his world, faintly tropical, faintly melancholy, musical, affectionate, a fixity of evanescence. Beautiful as little else.'

In 1991, by which time he had written the libretto for Edwin London's opera, The Death of Lincoln, and had co-edited The Collected Poems of Henri Coulette, Justice was awarded the Bollingen Prize, in recognition of a lifetime's achievement in poetry.

The following year, disenchanted with Florida, and disaffected with the university, Justice retired and moved back to Iowa City. Since then, he has published a number of books: A Donald Justice Reader (containing poems, a memoir, short stories and critical essays) appeared in 1992, New and Selected Poems and Banjo Dog in 1995, Oblivion (containing critical essays, appreciations and extracts from notebooks) and Orpheus Hesitated Beside the Black River (an English version of his New and Selected Poems) in 1998. He has also co-edited The Comma After Love: Selected Poems of Raeburn Miller (1994) and Joe Bolton's The Last Nostalgia: Poems 1982-1990 (1999).

In 1997, Justice was elected a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. He and his wife still live in Iowa City. They have one son, Nathaniel, who was born in 1961.

* It is with great sadness that BTL has learnt of the death of Donald Justice on August 6th 2004.

"The poems have a sweet and measured gravity that engages us on a level more profound than the one we usually find ourselves on … Reading Justice, one feels keenly that a poem is an act of retrieval - that, as it memorializes, so it revives … Memory and rapture are so closely intertwined that they become a single gesture of sustained regard."
- Mark Strand -

"His career has never been marred by an insincere or bogus stretch; there is no phase of his work you'd wish he hadn't included … For decades now, Justice has sought to capture the quality of a farflung, subsiding sunlight, and the best of his poems should - like chased metal in a museum case - hold their gleam for a very long while."
- Brad Leithauser -

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Funeral --- a Poem


By Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)
August 28, 2004

On their way out
they shook my hand
grabbing fingers, clammy
and old, but strong
like a cold hammer
I could only stammer
a few words of gratitude
for their presence here
tonight at my father's funeral
in a night enveloped by briny past
and rigid fortitude

I stood in that long lonely corridor
while the visitors gathered
and waited in a room of prayer
old and young with grief and fear

My hands now rested
on a thick wooden box where my father
lied in sleep, peaceful,
wrapped in clothe of pure white
after a warm morning shower, sacred
washed his remnant of tremor
now peace had arrived
daisy cutting morphine hopeless!
now peace had arrived
in absentia, at last

I swallowed soured spits,
forgotten pain, and angst in one gulp
before others came forward, aghast
concealed in condoled smile
for another round of pleasantries,
shaking of hands with attitude!

As If --- a Poem

As If

By Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)
August 28, 2004

As if it had never happened
As if it had never existed
As if it was a prank, stunt
or a second-rated fiction
found in dusty paperback
in a dilapidated bookstore
abandoned by nose-high academics

As if you and I were slanted
As if you and I was confounded
As if you and I were blunt
from witnessing tumbling friction
between stingy cat and rat
playing hide and seek for a galore
of popcorn bound crowd and polemics

Histrionically speaking ---
What if it did happen
What if it did exist
What if it was the Truth
not a melodramatic romance novel
smudged with tears
of cheated, cheating wives?

Now comes the hardest part
It must be told
as it unfolds
in a world of reality
under sun or light of moon
"Truth shall set you free"
swoon a worn out line, dying cliché
Truth shall set you free
in dungeon or iron bar
tucked aside from afar, scrutiny
in crocodile guarded land
of free and haunted animals,
caged and groomed
for public satisfaction

Friday, August 27, 2004

Deep Inside an Ocean

By Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)
August 27, 2004

Deep inside an ocean
I have seen red and blue
swimming in unperturbed devotion
that man reserves for religion's stake

For the tiny red and blue
the world above seems
a mystery, written in a tongue
understood by red and blue
not in any particular oblong
dimension, but the knowledge
is there that the world above glares,
devoid of water, lifeblood of red and blue
that the world above
is kinda, sorta
out of their world,
alien. Only the rumbling of boats
starts havoc in form of waves
or weed like net
enslaves red and blue
murmur of protests
I've heard
deep inside an ocean,
imperceptible, beyond decibel range

Deep inside an ocean
sharks roam like defiant imperialists
they follow the smell
of blood or memory,
past savoring taste of red and blue
unprotected, neglected
deep inside an ocean
plagiarized songs of humans
so adept in singing
in voice of sweet melody

Deep inside an ocean
I have seen a mirror
where my piggish face
snared and advertised in corporeal
flesh, devoid of life
only face of dead
I've seen deep inside an ocean

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Letter in July -- 16 Poems of Elizabeth Spires

Letter in July

By Elizabeth Spires

My life slows and deepens.
I am thirty-eight, neither here nor there.
It is a morning in July, hot and clear.
Out in the field, a bird repeats its quaternary call,
four notes insisting, I'm here, I'm here.
The field is unmowed, summer's wreckage everywhere.
Even this early, all is expectancy.

It is as if I float on a still pond,
drowsing in the bottom of a rowboat,
curled like a leaf into myself.
The water laps at its old wooden sides
as the sun beats down on my body,
a wand, an enchantment, shaping it
into something languid and new.

A year ago, two, I dreamed I held
a mirror to your unborn face and saw you,
in the warped watery glass, not as a child
but as you will be twenty years from now.
I woke, a light breeze lifting the curtain,
as if touched by a ghost's thin hand,
light filling the room, coming from nowhere.

I know the time, the place of our meeting.
It will be January, the coldest night
of the year. You will be carrying a lantern
as you enter the world crying,
and I cry to hear you cry.
A moment that, even now,
I carry in my body.


Fabergé's Egg

By Elizabeth Spires

Switzerland, 1920

Dear Friend, "called away" from my country,
I square the egg and put it in a letter
that all may read, gilding each word a little
so that touched, it yields to a secret
stirring, a small gold bird on a spring
suddenly appearing to sing a small song
of regret, elation, that overspills all private
bounds, although you ask, as I do, what now
do we sing to, sing for? Before the Great War,
I made a diamond-studded coach three inches high
with rock crystal windows and platinum wheels
to ceremoniously convey a speechless egg to Court.
All for a bored Czarina! My version of history
fantastic and revolutionary as I reduced the scale
to the hand-held dimensions of a fairy tale,
hiding tiny Imperial portraits and cameos
in eggs of pearl and bone. Little bonbons, caskets!

The old riddle of the chicken and the egg
is answered thus: in the Belle Epoque
of the imagination, the egg came first, containing,
as it does, both history and uncertainty, my excesses
inducing unrest among those too hungry to see
the bitter joke of an egg one cannot eat.
Oblique oddity, and egg is the most beautiful of all
beautiful forms, a box without corners
in which anything can be contained, anything
except Time, that old jeweller who laughed
when he set me ticking. Here, among the clocks
and watches of a country precisely ordered
and dying, I am not sorry, I do not apologize.
Three times I kiss you in memory

of that first Easter, that first white rising,
and send this message as if it could save you:
Even the present is dead. We must live now
in the future. Yours, Fabergé.


Sims: The Game

By Elizabeth Spires

A popular computer game explained by a child

In some ways it's Life Real Life
in some ways Yes in some ways No

You design the people they can be
outgoing nice playful active neat
but you can't make them be everything
if they are neat they will clean up after themselves
(Charisma is when they talk to themselves
in front of a mirror)

Adults never get older & old people can do
anything young people can do
Adults don't have to have jobs they can cheat:
push the rose bud & money appears

Job objects like pizza ovens earn you money
or you can be an extra in a movie a soldier
a doctor an astronaut a human guinea pig

Children get older slowly every day they get a report card
children can live in the house without adults
(a family is anyone who lives in the house with you)

Everyone gets skill points:
for chess painting playing the piano
gardening cooking swimming mechanics
(when you get points a circle above your head
fills up with blue)

& there are goals: not to run out of money not to die
& to buy more stuff for the house
(like a pool table or an Easy Double Sleeper Bed)

Adults can get married but it's hard to get married
You tell them to propose but they can't make the decision
on an empty stomach or they've just eaten
& are too tired

To have a Baby click Yes or No & a baby carriage
rolls up

Everyone has to eat sleep go to the bathroom etc.
if they live alone & don't have friends
they get depressed & begin waving their arms

If you give them Free Will you don't have to
keep track of them
but it's strange what they'll do:
once a player fell asleep under the stairs standing up

& sometimes they go into a bedroom that isn't theirs
& sleep in the wrong bed then you have to tell them:
Wake up! That is not your bed!

If they are mad they stomp on each other or put each other
in wrestling holds but no one gets hurt

There are different ways to die:
you can drown in the pool if you swim laps for 24 hours
(the Disaster Family all drowned in the pool
except the little girl who kept going
to school after they died she was perfect)

& the stove or fireplace or grill
can set the house on fire:
once there was a fire in the kitchen
eight people rushed in
yelling Fire! Fire! & blocked the door
so the firemen couldn't get through
(after that everyone had to study cooking
now there are less accidents)

If you have Free Will you can starve or drown yourself
then you wander around as a ghost
until another player agrees to resurrect you

In some ways it's Life Real Life
in some ways Yes in some ways No



By Elizabeth Spires

A featherweight letter drops through the mailslot
addressed to me. Pale blue, it has followed me
from city to city, travelling oceans and continents,
to arrive thirty years late. The writing is illegible.

And then the doorbell rings and there you are,
boyish as ever, in your Beatle haircut and olive drab
turtleneck sweater, holding a dog-eared copy
of Being and Nothingness, sure I'll invite you in.

Late night I dreamed all this. Affectionate strangers,
we kissed, as we never had, and I was thirteen again.
Then I had to pull away or lose myself completely
in the Proustian shock of your aftershave.

I can still remember, if I try, what I felt then.
A girl in love for the first time is the purest creature!
So that now, old ghost, believing nothing is coincidence,
I must write to you on onionskin, closing the circle.

I hold in my hand sheets that the slightest breath
would scatter: words without weight, my unsent letter.


"In Heaven It Is Always Autumn"

—John Donne

By Elizabeth Spires

In heaven it is always autumn. The leaves are always near
to falling there but never fall, and pairs of souls out walking
heaven's path no longer feel the weight of hears upon them.
Safe in heaven's calm, they take each other's arm,
the light shining through them, all joy and terror gone.
But we are far from heaven here, in a garden ragged and unkept
as Eden would be with the walls knocked down, the paths littered
with the unswept leaves of many years, bright keepsakes
for children of the Fall. The light is gold, the sun pulling
the long shadow soul out of each thing, disclosing an outcome.
The last roses of the year nod their frail heads,
like listeners listening to all that's said, to ask,
What brought us here? What seed? What rain? What light?
What forced us upward through dark earth? What made us bloom?
What wind shall take us soon, sweeping the garden bare?

Their voiceless voices hang there, as ours might,
if we were roses, too. Their beds are blanketed with leaves,
tended by an absent gardener whose life is elsewhere.
It is the last of many last days. Is it enough?
To rest in this moment? To turn our faces to the sun?
To watch the lineaments of a world passing?
To feel the metal of a black iron chair, cool and eternal,
press against our skin? To apprehend a chill as clouds
pass overhead, turning us to shivering shade and shadow?
And then to be restored, small miracle, the sun shining brightly
as before? We go on, you leading the way, a figure
leaning on a cane that leaves its mark on the earth.
My friend, you have led me farther than I have ever been.
To a garden in autumn. To a heaven of impermanence
where the final falling off is slow, a slow and radiant happening.
The light is gold. And while we're here, I think it must be heaven.



By Elizabeth Spires

I found a white stone on the beach
inlaid with a blue-green road I could not follow.
All night I'd slept in fits and starts,
my only memory the in-out, in-out, of the tide.
And then morning. And then a walk,
the white stone beckoning, glinting in the sun.
I felt its calm power as I held it
and wished a wish I cannot tell.
It fit in my hand like a hand gently
holding my hand through a sleepless night.
A stone, so like, so unlike,
all the others it could only be mine.

The wordless white stone of my life!



By Elizabeth Spires

In a world of souls, I set out to find them.
They who first must find each other,
be each other's fate.
There, on the open road,
I gazed into each traveler's face.
Is it you? I would ask.
Are you the ones?
No, no, they said, or nothing at all.

How many cottages did I pass,
each with a mother, a father,
a firstborn, newly swaddled, crying;
or sitting in its little chair,
dipping a fat wooden spoon
into a steaming bowl,
its mother singing it a foolish song,
One, one, a lily's my care . . .

Through seasons I searched,
through years I can't remember,
reading the lichens and stones
as if one were marked
with my name, my face, my form.
By night and day I searched,
never sleeping, not wanting to fail,
not wanting to simply be a star.

Finally in a town like any other town,
in a house foursquare and shining,
its door wide open to the moon,
did I find them.

There, at the top of the winding stairs,
asleep in the big bed,
the sheets thrown off, curled
like question marks into each other's arms.

Past memory, I beheld them,
naked, their bodies without flaw.
It is I, I whispered.
I, the nameless one.
And my parents, spent by the dream
of creation, slept on.


Celia Dreaming

By Elizabeth Spires

Bright sphere, I have watched you dreaming,
your face a wordless whorl, an inward-folding flower
whose petals spiral round a dream of milk and hunger,
a fear of falling farther than outstretched arms
can catch you, while I stand beyond the circle
of your dreaming joy and fear, amazed
that you have been here half a year. Half a year!

Yesterday in the garden as you slept on my shoulder,
I watched a bee tunnel into the Rose of Sharon,
summer's late-blooming flower, watched its head,
then furred legs, disappear completely
into the heart of the flower, back beyond
the body's origin, as if it could be unborn.
Sphere, before you were with me, where were you?

Waking, you reached to touch the white face
of the flower, then another, and another, faces
quickly flowing past us, or held and stared into,
as if between two hands, the way a countenance
that lies in rippling water finally comes clear,
making me wonder how all of the million millions
it is you, you who are with me, you and not another.



By Elizabeth Spires

My name in the black air, called out in the early morning.
A premonition dreamed: waking, I beheld a future of mourning.

Our partings were rehearsals for the final scene: you and I
in a desert, saying goodbye on a white September morning.

The call came. West, I flew west again. Impossible, but the sun
didn’t move. I stepped off the plane and it was still morning.

I’ve always worn black. Now a blank whiteness outlines
everything. What shall I put on this loneliest of mornings?

You’ve left an envelope. Inside, your black pearl earrings
and a note: Your grandmother’s. Good. In ink the color of mourning.

I remember the songs you used to sing. Blue morning glories on the vine.
An owl in the tree of heaven. All of my childhood’s sacred mornings.

Your mother before you. Her mother before her. I, before my daughter.
It’s simple, I hear you explain. We are all daughters in mourning.

I was your namesake, a firstborn Elizabeth entering
the world on a May morning. I cannot go back to that morning.


Infant Joy

By Elizabeth Spires

I hear your infant voice again,
unspooling on a tape made years ago—
No, though it was paradise, I can’t,

can’t go back to that room, filled
with your rounded vowels, the sighs
and crooning of a newborn child,

bright syllables strung, like beads
on a string, into meaningless meaning.
One night, as you slept,

I read Blake’s song:
I have no name:
I am but two days old.

By a circle of light, I read,
exhausted, stunned:
What shall I call thee?

And you, in a dream
beyond me, cried out:
I happy am, Joy is my name.

You laughed the laugh of creation.
Beyond the darkened room,
a framing radiance, beyond

the framing radiance, the world.
But for an everlasting moment,
we were there, together,

in a place such as Blake knew,
your infant syllables dissolving terror,
fear, all that could befall me, you.

Meaningless meaning made new!
Sweet joy but two days old,
Sweet joy I call thee . . .

And I was laughing, too,
to read Blake’s song.


The Falling

By Elizabeth Spires

It rains and it keeps
raining, and there is
no sound except the sound
of the rain falling,
a sound with small
silences in between,
like music we can't
understand, expecting
each moment to be
filled with something.

The sound does not
explain the trees,
the yellow trees,
whose leaves are falling
like the rain, so
silently, leaving me
at a loss, completely
at a loss, leaving me here
and you there and so much
unspoken between us.

Soon it will cease,
the endless falling,
so that the silence
will come to be a sound,
and the sound of falling
will recede, no longer
enclosing the trees,
each in their posture
of grief, whispering,
teach me how to live.


April: First Movement

By Elizabeth Spires

Intelligence moves me, I am
moved by first movement

as a soul is moved
to enter body, as a star,

possessed of mind, burns
passionless for many lifetimes,

as a tree does meditate
continually, branches

driven upward unceasingly
by first movement,

leaves driven to sing
with fluent urgency

of water, wind, and light,
as I mediate my end

and my beginning,
made, like a thought,

out of nothing, no thing
like me, my cause,

my first responsibility,
to see, emotion

driven inward to the source,
flinging me backward

on myself in ignorance:
Cause of the World.


Blue Nude

By Elizabeth Spires

It is not true
what they say about the body:
that it must be loved, that it cannot
sleep through its nights alone
without injury.

Look at me. Look
at the way the artist lies
about his loneliness, painting a room
where walls, floor, and ceiling
converge on a door too small

for me to leave or enter.
Leaving my face featureless as snow,
my body bruised like the pears
he buys only to paint.
They should have been eaten weeks ago.

Swollen and isolate, they sit
on a bone-white plate, their shadows
distortions of their true shape,
ellipses of blue and darker
blue the eye falls into.

I know
how the snow fell for days
outside his studio, how he painted
in his coat and gloves,
rising each morning

to break the ice
in the washbowl and light
the stove, the heart of the flame
blue against his chest.
The heart, he thinks, the heart

is blue and solitary.
It knows what it knows.
And so he paints a room
with one of everything:
one bed with one pillow,

one window overlooking
shadowed figures walking
two by two, one book whose pages
turn as days do, each page only
a part of the larger story.



By Elizabeth Spires

I do not believe the ancients—
the constellations look like nothing at all.

See how their light scatters itself
across the sky, not bright

enough to guide us anywhere?
And the avenue of trees, leaking

their dark inks, are shapes I can't identify.
The night is too inconstant, a constant

injury, alchemical moonlight
changing my body from lead to silver,

silver to lead. I lie
uncovered on the bed, unmoved

by the love you left, bad dreams,
bad night ahead. All summer

you held me to your chest:
It's the heat, you said, accounting

for our sleeplessness, so that
touch became metaphor for what kept us

separate. Our lives construct
themselves out of the lie of pain.

I lied when I sent you away.
To call your name would be another lie.


The Faces of Children

By Elizabeth Spires

Meeting old friends after a long time, we see
with surprise how they have changed, and must imagine,
despite the mirror's lies, that change is upon us, too.

Once, in our twenties, we thought we would never die.
Now, as one thoughtlessly shuffles a deck of cards,
we have run through half our lives.

The afternoon has vanished, the evening changing
us into four shadows mildly talking on a porch.
And as we talk, we listen to the children play

the games that we played once. In joy and terror,
they cry out in surprise as the seeker finds the one in hiding,
or, in fairytale tableau, each one is tapped and turned

to stone. The lawn is full of breathing statues who wait
to be changed back again, and we can do nothing but stand
to one side of our children's games, our children's lives.

We are the conjurors who take away all pain,
and we are the ones who cannot take away the pain at all.
They do not ask, as lately we have asked ourselves

Who was I then? And what must I become?
Like newly minted coins, their faces catch what light
there is. They are so sure of us, more sure

than we are of ourselves. Our children: who gently
push us toward the end of our own lives. The future
beckons brightly. They trust us to lead them there.


A Star Through the Trees

By Elizabeth Spires

I lay on my back in the grass
under a black overarching canopy
and saw, through a tiny opening,
one star through branching leaves.

Pale and small, as stars go,
its light could not illuminate
the night, but even so,
I fixed on it and made a wish.

It blinked, as if considering,
and then began to fall toward
the I that I was to land, soft
as a living hand, on my shirt front.

I dared not move as, coolly,
the star went to work, its light
a probing scalpel that touched
and prodded all around it

until my heart beat hot and rapid,
alive once more. “Now rise,”
the star commanded, and when I did,
there, in the grass, lay

the singed shape of my old self,
curled and shrunken like a leaf.
Far off, a light still burned
in a window. To call me back?

The star discerned my hope.
Again it spoke, answering
what I had not asked:
“I am your second chance.”

A Brief Profile of the Poet

Elizabeth Spires

Professor Spires (b. 1952) is the author of five collections of poetry: Globe (Wesleyan, 1981), Swan's Island (Holt, 1985), Annonciade (Viking Penguin, 1989), Worldling (Norton, 1995), and Now the Green Blade Rises (Norton, 2002). She has also published five books for children: The Mouse of Amherst (a Publishers' Weekly "Best Book of 1999"), I Am Arachne, Riddle Road, With One White Wing, and The Big Meow. Her poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The New Republic, Poetry, American Poetry Review, The New Criterion, and in many other magazines, and in five volumes of the annual anthology The Best American Poetry. She has been the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Whiting Writer's Award, two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Amy Lowell Travelling Poetry Scholarship, the Maryland Library Association Author Award, and the Witter Bynner Poetry Prize from the Academy of Arts and Letters. She also edited and introduced The Instant of Knowing: Lectures, Criticism and Occasional Prose of Josephine Jacobsen (Michigan, 1997). Professor Spires has taught Modern Poetry, Contemporary American Poetry, and Children's Literature, and is currently teaching Introductory and Advanced Poetry Workshops, and the Advanced Creative Writing Seminar, as well as supervising independent studies in poetry. (Source: http://www.goucher.edu/academics/template.cfm?page_id=55&dep_id=11&view=faculty&fac_ID=299)

Commenting about her work, she has remarked, "I find myself...interested in writing about childhood experiences related to growing up Catholic." (Source: http://www.bedfordstmartins.com/litlinks/poetry/spires.htm)

A Night Like This -- a Poem

A Night Like This

By Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)
August 26, 2004

A night like this brings ice and fire
of bitter and a trapped mountain
standing in stones, glittered like
precious diamonds and proud fountain

A mountain with nimbus from thousands of years
of burning and freezing in a cycle of time,
torturous and pitiless erosions sweeping away
cobbles and boulders in miniaturized shrine

Can a mountain be sinusoidal, rhymes
like a string, flowing in seismic waves
through crusty tectonic plates
wiggling away bones, dead leaves
and zillions of species
piercing other universes
or dimensions invisible,
undiscovered by "civilized" or "braves"?

A night like this brings ice and fire
of throttling "spirits" enmeshed in silent twister
round and round that goes and goes by bitten
monk, rabbi, priest, imam and prankster
delivering customized sermons
deciphering complex hegemons
forgettable but potent
for destruction of mortals and the spirit world alike

A night like this brings ice and fire
of sustained defeat, disintegration of mountain
to fragments abjured,
retreating from distal pure!

Monday, August 23, 2004

True Love --- 10 Poems of Robert Penn Warren

True Love

By Robert Penn Warren

In silence the heart raves. It utters words

Meaningless, that never had
A meaning. I was ten, skinny, red-headed,

Freckled. In a big black Buick,
Driven by a big grown boy, with a necktie, she sat
In front of the drugstore, sipping something

Through a straw. There is nothing like
Beauty. It stops your heart. It
Thickens your blood. It stops your breath. It

Makes you feel dirty. You need a hot bath.
I leaned against a telephone pole, and watched.
I thought I would die if she saw me.

How could I exist in the same world with that brightness?
Two years later she smiled at me. She
Named my name. I thought I would wake up dead.

Her grown brothers walked with the bent-knee
Swagger of horsemen. They were slick-faced.
Told jokes in the barbershop. Did no work.

Their father was what is called a drunkard.
Whatever he was he stayed on the third floor
Of the big white farmhouse under the maples for twenty-five years.

He never came down. They brought everything up to him.
I did not know what a mortgage was.
His wife was a good, Christian woman, and prayed.

When the daughter got married, the old man came down wearing
An old tail coat, the pleated shirt yellowing.
The sons propped him. I saw the wedding. There were

Engraved invitations, it was so fashionable. I thought
I would cry. I lay in bed that night
And wondered if she would cry when something was done to her.

The mortgage was foreclosed. That last word was whispered.
She never came back. The family
Sort of drifted off. Nobody wears shiny boots like that now.

But I know she is beautiful forever, and lives
In a beautiful house, far away.

She called my name once. I didn't even know she knew it.

Tale of Time

I What Happened

By Robert Penn Warren

It was October. It was the Depression. Money
Was tight. Hoover was not a bad
Man, and my mother
Died, and God
Kept on, and keeps on,
Trying to tie things together, but

It doesn't always work, and we put the body
Into the ground, dark
Fell soon, but not yet, and oh,
Have you seen the last oak leaf of autumn, high,
Not yet fallen, stung
By last sun to a gold
Painful beyond the pain one can ordinarily
Get? What

Was there in the interim
To do, the time being the time
Between the clod's chunk and
The full realization, which commonly comes only after
Midnight? That

Is when you will go to the bathroom for a drink of water.
You wash your face in cold water.
You stare at your face in the mirror, wondering
Why now no tears come, for
You had been proud of your tears, and so
You think of copulation, of
Fluid ejected, of
Water deeper than daylight, of
The sun-dappled dark of deep woods and
Blood on green fern frond, of
The shedding of blood, and you will doubt
The significance of your own experience. Oh,
Desolation --- oh, if
You were rich!
You try to think of a new position. Is this

Grief? You pray
To God that this be grief, for
You want to grieve.

This, you reflect, is no doubt the typical syndrome.

But all this will come later.
There will also be the dream of the eating of human flesh.

Bearded Oaks

By Robert Penn Warren

The oaks, how subtle and marine!

Bearded, and all the layered light

Above them swims; and thus the scene,

Recessed, awaits the positive night.

So, waiting, we in the grass now lie

Beneath the langorous tread of light;

The grasses, kelp-like, satisfy

The nameless motions of the air.

Upon the floor of light, and time,

Unmurmuring, of polyp made,

We rest; we are, as light withdraws,

Twin atolls on a shelf of shade.

Ages to our construction went,

Dim architecture, hour by hour;

And violence, forgot now, lent

The present stillness all its power.

The storm of noon above us rolled,

Of light the fury, furious gold,

The long drag troubling us, the depth:

Unrocked is dark, unrippling, still.

Passion and slaughter, ruth, decay

Descended, whispered grain by grain,

Silted down swaying streams, to lay

Foundation for our voicelessness.

All our debate is voiceless here,

As all our rage is rage of stone;

If hopeless hope, fearless is fear,

And history is thus undone.

(Our feet once wrought the hollow street

With echo when the lamps were dead

At windows; once our headlight glare

Disturbed the doe that, leaping, fled.)

That caged hearts make iron stroke

I do not love you now the less,

Or less that all that light once gave

The graduate dark should now revoke

So little time we live in Time,

And we learn all so painfully,

That we may spare this hour's term

To practice for Eternity.


The Mad Druggist

By Robert Penn Warren

I came back to try to remember the faces she saw every day.
She saw them on the street, at school, in the stores, at church.
They are not here now, they have been withdrawn, are put away.
They are all gone now, and have left me in the lurch.

I am in the lurch because they were part of her.
Not clearly remembering them, I have therefore lost that much
Of her, and if I do remember,
I remember the lineaments only beyond the ice-blur and soot-smutch

Of boyhood contempt, for I had not thought they were real.
The real began where the last concrete walk gave out
And the smart-weed crawled in the cracks, where the last privy canted to
Over flat in the rank-nourished burdock, and would soon, no doubt,

If nobody came to prop it, which nobdy would do.
The real began there: field and woods, stone and stream began
Their utterance, and the fox, in his earth, knew
Joy; and the hawk, like philosophy, hung without motion, high,
where the sun-blaze of wind ran.

Now, far from Kentucky, planes pass in the night, I hear them and all, all
is real.
Some men are mad, but I know that delusion may be one name for truth.
The faces I cannot remember lean at my bed-foot, and grin fit to kill,
For we now share a knowledge I did not have in my youth.

There's one I remember, the old druggist they carried away.
They put him in Hoptown, where he kept on making his list ---
The same list he had on the street when he stopped my mother to say:
"Here they are, Miss Ruth, the folks that wouldn't be missed,

"Or this God-durn town would be lucky to miss,
If when I fixed a prescription I just happened to pour
Something in by way of improvement." Then leaned in that gray way of
"But you --- you always say something nice when you come in my store."

In Hoptown he worked on his list, which now could have nothing to do
With the schedule of deaths continuing relentlessly,
To include, in the end, my mother, as well as that list-maker who
Had the wit to see that she was too precious to die:

A fact some in the street had not grasped --- nor the attending physician,
nor God, nor I.


Anser Yes or No

By Robert Penn Warren

Death is only a technical correction of the market.
Death is only the transfer of energy to a new form.
Death is only the fulfilment of a wish.

Whose wish?

Mortal Limit

By Robert Penn Warren
I saw the hawk ride updraft in the sunset over Wyoming.

It rose from coniferous darkness, past gray jags
Of mercilessness, past whiteness, into the gloaming
Of dream-spectral light above the lazy purity of snow-snags.

There--west--were the Tetons. Snow-peaks would soon be
In dark profile to break constellations. Beyond what height
Hangs now the black speck? Beyond what range will gold eyes see
New ranges rise to mark a last scrawl of light?

Or, having tasted that atmosphere's thinness, does it
Hang motionless in dying vision before
It knows it will accept the mortal limit,
And swing into the great circular downwardness that will restore

The breath of earth? Of rock? Of rot? Of other such
Items, and the darkness of whatever dream we clutch?

A Way to Love God

By Robert Penn Warren

Here is the shadow of truth, for only the shadow is true.

And the line where the incoming swell from the sunset Pacific
First leans and staggers to break will tell all you need to know
About submarine geography, and your father's death rattle
Provides all biographical data required for the Who's Who of the dead.

I cannot recall what I started to tell you, but at least
I can say how night-long I have lain under the stars and
Heard mountains moan in their sleep. By daylight,
They remember nothing, and go about their lawful occasions
Of not going anywhere except in slow disintegration. At night
They remember, however, that there is something they cannot remember.
So moan. Theirs is the perfected pain of conscience that
Of forgetting the crime, and I hope you have not suffered it. I have.

I do not recall what had burdened my tongue, but urge you
To think on the slug's white belly, how sick-slick and soft,
On the hairiness of stars, silver, silver, while the silence
Blows like wind by, and on the sea's virgin bosom unveiled
To give suck to the wavering serpent of the moon; and,
In the distance, in plaza, piazza, place, platz, and square,
Boot heels, like history being born, on cobbles bang.

Everything seems an echo of something else.

And when, by the hair, the headsman held up the head
Of Mary of Scots, the lips kept on moving,
But without sound. The lips,
They were trying to say something very important.

But I had forgotten to mention an upland
Of wind-tortured stone white in darkness, and tall, but when
No wind, mist gathers, and once on the Sarré at midnight,
I watched the sheep huddling. Their eyes
Stared into nothingness. In that mist-diffused light their eyes
Were stupid and round like the eyes of fat fish in muddy water,
Or of a scholar who has lost faith in his calling.

Their jaws did not move. Shreds
Of dry grass, gray in the gray mist-light, hung
From the side of a jaw, unmoving.

You would think that nothing would ever again happen.

That may be a way to love God.

Evening Hawk

By Robert Penn Warren
From plane of light to plane, wings dipping through

Geometries and orchids that the sunset builds,
Out of the peak's black angularity of shadow, riding
The last tumultuous avalanche of
Light above pines and the guttural gorge,
The hawk comes.
His wing
Scythes down another day, his motion
Is that of the honed steel-edge, we hear
The crashless fall of stalks of Time.

The head of each stalk is heavy with the gold of our error.

Look! Look! he is climbing the last light
Who knows neither Time nor error, and under
Whose eye, unforgiving, the world, unforgiven, swings
Into shadow.

Long now,
The last thrush is still, the last bat
Now cruises in his sharp hieroglyphics. His wisdom
Is ancient, too, and immense. The star
Is steady, like Plato, over the mountain.

If there were no wind we might, we think, hear
The earth grind on its axis, or history
Drip in darkness like a leaking pipe in the cellar.


San Francisco Night Windows

By Robert Penn Warren

So hangs the hour like fruit fullblown and sweet,

Our strict and desperate avatar,
Despite that antique westward gulls lament
Over enormous waters which retreat
Weary unto the white and sensual star.
Accept these images for what they are--
Out of the past a fragile element
Of substance into accident.
I would speak honestly and of a full heart;
I would speak surely for the tale is short,
And the soul's remorseless catalogue
Assumes its quick and piteous sum.
Think you, hungry is the city in the fog
Where now the darkened piles resume
Their framed and frozen prayer
Articulate and shafted in the stone
Against the void and absolute air.
If so the frantic breath could be forgiven,
And the deep blood subdued before it is gone
In a savage paternoster to the stone,
Then might we all be shriven.


Tell Me a Story

By Robert Penn Warren

[ A ]

Long ago, in Kentucky, I, a boy, stood

By a dirt road, in first dark, and heard
The great geese hoot northward.

I could not see them, there being no moon
And the stars sparse. I heard them.

I did not know what was happening in my heart.

It was the season before the elderberry blooms,
Therefore they were going north.

The sound was passing northward.

[ B ]

Tell me a story.

In this century, and moment, of mania,
Tell me a story.

Make it a story of great distances, and starlight.

The name of the story will be Time,
But you must not pronounce its name.

Tell me a story of deep delight.

Poet's Brief Biography

Robert Penn Warren

(From Literary Encyclopedia: http://www.litencyc.com/php/speople.php?rec=true&UID=4927)

Born on April 24th, 1905 in Guthrie, Kentucky to Robert Franklin and Anna Ruth Penn Warren, Robert Penn Warren distinguished himself over seven decades in multiple genres: full-length fiction, the short story, poetry, literary criticism, and the sociohistoric essay. As the oldest child of well-read parents, Robert Penn Warren excelled as an elementary and high school student, skipping three grades along the way. An accidental yet serious injury to his left eye forced the sixteen-year-old Robert to abandon hopes of attending the United States Naval Academy. Instead, he chose to major in chemistry at Vanderbilt University, and enrolled there for the fall 1921 term. Soon disillusioned with the curriculum in this subject, he flourished in freshman English, and attracted the attention of John Crowe Ransom, his composition instructor. Ransom, who would assume the role of mentor for this impressive undergraduate, was instrumental in Warren's joining a group of other young Southern male writers and students of literature who became known as “The Fugitives”; among its members was Allen Tate, who would become a lifelong friend of Warren.

Having inherited his father's appreciation of verse, Warren had published his first poem prior to attending college, but T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land (1922) had a major impact on the growth of Warren's poetic voice and desire to write in this genre. While Warren published verse in such publications as The Fugitive and The Double Dealer as an undergraduate, he would make his mark in more celebrated ways upon graduating summa cum laude from Vanderbilt. He entered the University of California at Berkeley as a graduate assistant in 1925; while there he published poems in The New Republic. After graduating with an M.A. from Berkeley two years later, he accepted a fellowship to Yale University. At this time he published poetry in The Nation and American Caravan, and, through the intercession of Allen Tate, was granted an opportunity to publish a full-length biography of John Brown for Payson and Clarke Ltd., a New York publishing firm unafraid to take a chance on an unknown but promising writer. John Brown: the Making of a Martyr was published in 1929, the same year he married Emma Cinina Brescia, whom he met while in California. A Rhodes scholar and recipient of a Bachelor of Literature, Warren displayed his versatility by writing and publishing in varied genres early in the 1930s. In 1930, he published a short story/novelette entitled “Prime Leaf”. A tale of Kentucky tobacco farmers and their crop wars, it was largely inspired by stories told to him by his maternal grandfather, and Warren would return to this subject matter for his first published novel, Night Rider (1939). By now a full-fledged member of the Vanderbilt-based Fugitives, Warren contributed an essay to their published compendium which was entitled I'll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition (1934). The essays in this collection applauded the farm-based Southern society which was rapidly becoming a part of history. Warren's contribution, “The Briar Patch”, addressed the role of African-Americans in the agriculture-based economy; in later years he would recant the stereotypical observations therein.

By the mid-1930s Warren had secured a position as Assistant Professor at Louisiana State University, and, alongside friend and colleague Cleanth Brooks, he was named co-editor of The Southern Review. In 1936 his first full-length book of poetry, entitled Thirty-Six Poems, was published. Two years later, he co-authored an influential critical text with Brooks. Understanding Poetry championed close reading of the text, examining poems as structures with unifying elements. This “New Criticism” marked a radical change from the prevailing tradition of analyzing poetry in terms of the author's life or the sociohistorical context in which the poem was created. Although the text lacks diversity in the authors represented, it remains in print to this day. The 1940s would be marked by travel, job changes, and additional literary success for Warren. Having received a Guggenheim fellowship, he traveled to Italy with Emma in 1939; they returned to the United States one year later and one step ahead of war's impact. In 1941 Warren found himself making a near equally rapid departure from Louisiana State University when it would not match an offer proffered to Warren by the University of Minnesota. LSU's decision to discontinue publishing The Southern Review only helped reinforce Warren's acceptance of the Minnesota position.

In 1943, Warren's second novel, At Heaven's Gate, was published; this novel, set in the 1920s, contained thematic material similar to that covered in Night Rider: the conflict between agrarianism and big business, and the “innocent”, Adamic-type male protagonist in search of the American Dream. One year later, Warren published another full-length book of poems entitled Selected Poems: 1923-43; this collection included such anthologized poems as “Kentucky Mountain Farm” and “Pondy Woods”. In 1946 Warren's third novel and the work for which he is best known was published. All the King's Men was originally conceived as a play entitled Proud Flesh, but it was ultimately fleshed out into a novel of more than four hundred pages with two parallel plot lines. While telling the story of the rise and fall of Southern politician Willy Stark (featuring events based on the life of Louisiana Governor Huey Long), the novel simultaneously traces the search for identity and the meaning of life of the first-person narrator Jack Burden, a reporter who learns much about the world and himself when he becomes a Stark insider. All the King's Men was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for 1946, and was adapted (minus the Burden plot) for the big screen three years later. The film version of All the King's Men, which pleased Robert Penn Warren, was nominated for six Academy Awards and won three, including Best Picture. In 2001 a revised and expanded edition of All the King's Men was published, based on Warren's original typescript and hence more reflective of his intentions. The omissions and changes that had been imposed by the first text's editor, the majority of which dealt with the conduct and perceptions of Jack Burden, were re-assessed, and much original material restored.

The 1950s brought as much change to Warren's private and personal life as the departing decade did. In 1950 Warren accepted a visiting professorship at Yale University which eventually materialized into a permanent Professorship in playwriting in the Yale School of Drama. In 1951 his turbulent, unhappy marriage to Emma Brescia came to an end when he was granted a divorce in June. He was to find lasting happiness with writer Eleanor Clark, whom he married in 1952. The following year brought the birth of their daughter Rosanna and the publication of a book-length verse entitled Brother to Dragons. This ambitious work dealt with historic fact: a heinous crime committed by nephews of Thomas Jefferson. The text of the poem pondered the statesman's awareness of the act. Actual Southern historic events provided the foci for Warren's next two novels as well: World Enough and Time, set in the early 1800s and Band of Angels, a narrative with the post-Civil War years as a backdrop. In 1955, the year of Band of Angels' publication, his son Gabriel was born, and the 50-year-old Warren retired from Yale to devote more time to writing. Over the next five years he would continue to publish in a spectrum of genres. In 1956 Life magazine published “Divided South Searches for its Soul”, an article based on extensive primary research on race relations at the mid-century. The article was expanded into a 66-page book entitled “Segregation: The Inner Conflict in the South” which was published later that year. Before the decade concluded, he would publish another poetry collection, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Promises: Poems, 1954-56; a children's book entitled Remember the Alamo (1958); and yet another novel, The Cave (1959). The Cave marked a change from prior full-length fiction by Warren. In lieu of the dominant protagonist in search of identity, meaning, and a parental figure, a staple of the previous novels, The Cave featured an ensemble of characters, male and female, many of whom were followed closely in their personal searches for significance.

By the 1960s Warren, residing in rural Vermont with wife Eleanor, saw more favorable notices for his nonfiction efforts than for his novels and poetry. He did return to the Yale campus in 1962, to teach courses on the novel and writing fiction on an adjunct basis. His next two novels, Wilderness: A Tale of the Civil War (1961), featuring yet another Adamic male lead character; and Flood (1964), an ensemble piece reminiscent of The Cave, did not get the recognition deserved or hoped for. You, Emperors, and Others: Poems, 1957-1960 was criticized for covering the familiar ground of the previous verse collections. Conversely, the nonfiction work The Legacy of the Civil War: Meditations on the Centennial (1961) proved a critical and commercial success, and Who Speaks for the Negro? (1965), a 454-page social and historical chronicle of the Civil Rights movement, was also well received. In 1969 Warren's book-length poem entitled Audubon: A Vision was unique for Warren in its use of free verse techniques, and praised for its insightful look at the title character.

In the 1970s, Warren wrote his two final novels: the melodramatic Meet Me in the Green Glen (1971), about which critics either raved enthusiastically or condemned as a disappointment; and A Place to Come To (1977), which dealt with familiar Warren turf: the male Southern protagonist in search of meaning in the world, albeit in a more ribald fashion than in earlier works. Actor Robert Redford purchased the film rights to the latter book, but the project never came to fruition. This decade was also marked by Warren's writing of literary criticism on canonical American authors. A full-length work entitled Homage to Theodore Dreiser was published the same year as Meet Me in the Green Glen, and Warren wrote several essays for the 1973 text American Literature: The Makers and the Making. He penned introductions to the works of Mark Twain, Stephen Crane, Theodore Dreiser, Sherwood Anderson, Ernest Hemingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. His analysis of the latter's masterwork, The Great Gatsby, received especial praise and recognition. At the conclusion of the decade, he received his third Pulitzer Prize for the poetry collection Now and Then: Poems 1976-1978. In his eighth decade, Warren focused primarily on poetry and grandfatherhood, while receiving a multitude of achievement awards. Being Here: Poetry 1977-1980, Rumor Verified: Poems 1979-1980, and the full-length Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce were published in 1980, 1981, and 1983, respectively. He received the MacArthur Prize Fellowship in 1981, the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Gold Medal for poetry in 1985, and in 1986 was named the first Poet Laureate of the United States. Throughout this decade he battled prostate cancer, a battle made more difficult given the devoted Eleanor's loss of eyesight. He succumbed in his Vermont vacation home, wife and daughter at his side, on September 15, 1989.