Thursday, August 19, 2004

Gravelly Run -- 10 Poems of A. R. Ammons

Gravelly Run

By A. R. Ammons

I don't know somehow it seems sufficient
to see and hear whatever coming and going is,
losing the self to the victory
of stones and trees,
of bending, sand pit lakes, crescent

round groves of dwarf pine;
for it is not so much to know the self
as to know it as it is known
by galaxy and cedar cone,
as if birth had never found it

and death could never end it:
the swamp's slow water comes
down Gravelly Run fanning the long,
stone-held algal
hair and narrowing roils between

the shoulders of the highway bridge:
holly grows on the banks in the woods there,
and the cedar's gothic-clustered
spires could make
green religion in winter bones: so I

look and reflect, but the air's glass
jail seals each thing in its entity: no
use to make any philosphies here:
I see no
god in the holly, hear no song from

the snowbroken weeds: Hegel is not the winter
yellow in the pines: the sunlight has never
heard of trees: surrendered self among
unwelcoming forms: stranger,
hoist your burdens, get on down the road



By A. R. Ammons

I said I will find what is lowly

and put the roots of my identity
down there:
each day I'll wake up
and find the lowly nearby,
a handy focus and reminder,
a ready measure of my significance,
the voice by which I would be heard,
the wills, the kinds of selfishness
I could
freely adopt as my own:

but though I have looked everywhere,
I can find nothing
to give myself to:
everything is

magnificent with existence, is in
surfeit of glory:
nothing is diminished,
nothing has been diminished for me:

I said what is more lowly than the grass:
ah, underneath,
a ground-crust of dry-burnt moss:
I looked at it closely
and said this can be my habitat: but
nestling in I
below the brown exterior
green mechanisms beyond the intellect
awaiting resurrection in rain: so I got up

and ran saying there is nothing lowly in the universe:
I found a beggar:
he had stumps for legs: nobody was paying
him any attention: everybody went on by:
I nestled in and found his life:
there, love shook his body like a devastation:
I said
though I have looked everywhere
I can find nothing lowly
in the universe:

I whirled though transfigurations up and down,
transfigurations of size and shape and place:

at one sudden point came still,
stood in wonder:
moss, beggar, weed, tick, pine, self, magnificent
with being!


By A. R. Ammons

Are all these stones
I said
and the mountain

but reluctant to
admit my praise could move it much

shook a little
and rained a windrow ring of stones
to show
that it was so

Stonefelled I got
up addled with dust

and shook
without much consequence

Obviously I said it doesn't pay
to get too
close up to

and the mountain friendless wept
and said
it couldn't help



By A. R. Ammons

Nothing's going to become of anyone
except death:
therefore: it's okay
to yearn
too high:
the grave accommodates
swell rambunctiousness &

ruin's not
compromised by magnificence:

the cut-off point
liberates us to the
common disaster: so
pick a perch --
apple bough for example in bloom --
tune up
and if you like

drill imagination right through necessity:
it's all right:
it's been taken care of:

is allowed, considering



By A. R. Ammons

The brook gives me
sparkles plenty, an
abundance, but asks
nothing of me:
snow thickets
and scrawny
snowwork of hedgerows,
still gold weeds, and
snow-bent cedar gatherings
feasts of disposition
(figure, color, weight, proportion)
and require
nothing of me,
not even that I notice: the near-winter
sliding high almost
into color at four-thirty --
the abundance of clarity
along the rose ridge line!
alone, I'm not alone:
a standoffishness and reasonableness
in things finds
me or I find that
in them: sand, fall,
furrow, bluff --
things one, speaking things
not words, would
have found to say


Called into Play

By A. R. Ammons

Fall fell: so that's it for the leaf poetry:

some flurries have whitened the edges of roads

and lawns: time for that, the snow stuff: &
turkeys and old St. Nick: where am I going to

find something to write about I haven't already
written away: I will have to stop short, look

down, look up, look close, think, think, think:
but in what range should I think: should I

figure colors and outlines, given forms, say
mailboxes, or should I try to plumb what is

behind what and what behind that, deep down
where the surface has lost its semblance: or

should I think personally, such as, this week
seems to have been crafted in hell: what: is

something going on: something besides this
diddledeediddle everyday matter-of-fact: I

could draw up an ancient memory which would
wipe this whole presence away: or I could fill

out my dreams with high syntheses turned into
concrete visionary forms: Lucre could lust

for Luster: bad angels could roar out of perdition
and kill the AIDS vaccine not quite

perfected yet: the gods could get down on
each other; the big gods could fly in from

nebulae unknown: but I'm only me: I have 4
interests--money, poetry, sex, death: I guess

I can jostle those. . . .

The City Limits

By A. R. Ammons

When you consider the radiance, that it does not withhold

itself but pours its abundance without selection into every
nook and cranny not overhung or hidden; when you consider

that birds' bones make no awful noise against the light but
lie low in the light as in a high testimony; when you consider
the radiance, that it will look into the guiltiest

swervings of the weaving heart and bear itself upon them,
not flinching into disguise or darkening; when you consider
the abundance of such resource as illuminates the glow-blue

bodies and gold-skeined wings of flies swarming the dumped
guts of a natural slaughter or the coil of shit and in no
way winces from its storms of generosity; when you consider

that air or vacuum, snow or shale, squid or wolf, rose or lichen,
each is accepted into as much light as it will take, then
the heart moves roomier, the man stands and looks about, the

leaf does not increase itself above the grass, and the dark
work of the deepest cells is of a tune with May bushes
and fear lit by the breadth of such calmly turns to praise.

An Improvisation for Angular Momentum

By A. R. Ammons

Walking is like
imagination, a
single step
dissolves the circle
into motion; the eye here
and there rests
on a leaf,
gap, or ledge,
everything flowing
except where
sight touches seen:
stop, though, and
reality snaps back
in, locked hard,
forms sharply
themselves, bushbank,
dentree, phoneline,
definite, fixed,
the self, too, then
caught real, clouds
and wind melting
into their directions,
breaking around and
over, down and out,
motions profound,
alive, musical!

Perhaps the death mother like the birth mother
does not desert us but comes to tend
and produce us, to make room for us
and bear us tenderly, considerately,
through the gates, to see us through,
to ease our pains, quell our cries,
to hover over and nestle us, to deliver
us into the greatest, most enduring
peace, all the way past the bother of
beyond the finework of frailty,
the mishmash house of the coming & going,
creation's fringes,
the eddies and curlicues


 He Held Radical Light

By A. R. Ammons

He held radical light
as music in his skull: music
turned, as
over ridges immanences of evening light
rise, turned
back over the furrows of his brain
into the dark, shuddered,
shot out again
in long swaying swirls of sound:

reality had little weight in his transcendence
so he
had trouble keeping
his feet on the ground, was
terrified by that
and liked himself, and others, mostly
under roofs:
nevertheless, when the
light churned and changed

his head to music, nothing could keep him
off the moutains, his
head back, mouth working,
wrestling to say, to cut loose
from the high unimaginable hook:
released, hidden from stars, he ate,
burped, said he was like any one
of us: demanded he
was like any one of us.

Easter Morning

By A. R. Ammons

I have a life that did not become,

that turned aside and stopped,
I hold it in me like a pregnancy or
as on my lap a child
not to grow old but dwell on

it is to his grave I most
frequently return and return
to ask what is wrong, what was
wrong, to see it all by
the light of a different necessity
but the grave will not heal
and the child,
stirring, must share my grave
with me, an old man having
gotten by on what was left

when I go back to my home country in these
fresh far-away days, it�s convenient to visit
everybody, aunts and uncles, those who used to say,
look how he�s shooting up, and the
trinket aunts who always had a little
something in their pocketbooks, cinnamon bark
or a penny or nickel, and uncles who
were the rumored fathers of cousins
who whispered of them as of great, if
troubled, presences, and school

teachers, just about everybody older
(and some younger) collected in one place
waiting, particularly, but not for
me, mother and father there, too, and others
close, close as burrowing
under skin, all in the graveyard
assembled, done for, the world they
used to wield, have trouble and joy
in, gone

the child in me that could not become
was not ready for others to go,
to go on into change, blessings and
horrors, but stands there by the road
where the mishap occurred, crying out for
help, come and fix this or we
can�t get by, but the great ones who
were to return, they could not or did
not hear and went on in a flurry and
now, I say in the graveyard, here
lies the flurry, now it can�t come
back with help or helpful asides, now
we all buy the bitter
incompletions, pick up the knots of
horror, silently raving, and go on
crashing into empty ends not
completions, not rondures the fullness
has come into and spent itself from

I stand on the stump
of a child, whether myself
or my little brother who died, and
yell as far as I can, I cannot leave this place, for
for me it is the dearest and the worst,
it is life nearest to life which is
life lost: it is my place where
I must stand and fail,
calling attention with tears
to the branches not lofting
boughs into space, to the barren
air that holds the world that was my world

though the incompletions
(& completions) burn out
standing in the flash high-burn
momentary structure of ash, still it
is a picture-book, letter-perfect
Easter morning: I have been for a
walk: the wind is tranquil: the brook
works without flashing in an abundant
tranquility: the birds are lively with
voice: I saw something I had
never seen before: two great birds,
maybe eagles, blackwinged, whitenecked
and �headed, came from the south oaring
the great wings steadily; they went
directly over me, high up, and kept on
due north: but then one bird,
the one behind, veered a little to the
left and the other bird kept on seeming
not to notice for a minute: the first
began to circle as if looking for
something, coasting, resting its wings
on the down side of some of the circles:
the other bird came back and they both
circled, looking perhaps for a draft;
they turned a few more times, possibly
rising�at least, clearly resting�
then flew on falling into distance till
they broke across the local bush and
trees: it was a sight of bountiful
majesty and integrity: the having
patterns and routes, breaking
from them to explore other patterns or
better ways to routes, and then the
return: a dance sacred as the sap in
the trees, permanent in its descriptions
as the ripples round the brook�s
ripplestone: fresh as this particular
flood of burn breaking across us now
from the sun.

Author's Bio:

A. R. Ammons
A. R. Ammons (1926 - 2001)

Archie Randolph Ammons was born on February 18, 1926, on his family’s small farm near Whiteville and later moved to Chadburn. It was a hardscrabble life and growing up in the country during the Great Depression gave him, as one critic observed, "not only an intimate acquaintance with nature but also a keen sense of the precarious nature of existence." His early years on a tobacco and cotton farm provided the pastoral setting for some of his most memorable work, as well as the inspiration for poems about mules, hog-killings, hunting, and farmlands.

Ammons started writing poetry during the long hours aboard a Navy destroyer escort in the South Pacific. After World War II, he attended Wake Forest University, where his interest in science would influence the unique diction of his poetical style. After a few months of graduate school, he became principal of Hatteras Elementary School and absorbed the sights and sounds of the Outer Banks for a year. He also worked jobs as a real estate salesman, an editor, and an executive in a glass manufacturing firm before he began teaching at Cornell University in 1964.

Ammons has been described as a major American poet in the tradition of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Walt Whitman. Generally opting for free forms, he has been concerned with man’s relationship to nature, the problems of identity, permanence and change, and the processes of nature. His whimsically formatted Tape for the Turn of the Year was originally written on a roll of adding machine tape in the form of a journal covering the period December 6, 1963, to January 10, 1964. Many think his Expressions at Sea Level, Corsons Inlet: A Book of Poems among his best work.

A two-time winner of the National Book Award, plus the Bollingen Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry, Ammons published nearly thirty volumes of poetry, including Glare (1997), Garbage (1993), A Coast of Trees (1981), Sphere (1974), and Collected Poems 1951-1971 (1972). His many honors included the American Academy of American Poets’ 1998 Tanning Prize, the Poetry Society of America’s Robert Frost Medal and the Ruth Lilly Prize, as well as fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation and the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

His last book, Glare, was praised for its "riveting, iconoclastic freshness" by the judges who awarded him the $100,000 Tanning Prize. Despite his many accomplishments, upon learning of this singular Academy honor, Ammons cast his mind back to his early years as a struggling poet. "I greatly appreciate the recognition," he told an interviewer. "It rings back to the earliest days when there was no recognition or support—and it means a lot to hear those bells." The poet lived with his wife, Phyllis, in Ithaca, New York, where he was Goldwin Smith Professor Emeritus of Poetry at Cornell.

Bio Source:

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