The Lives of the Poets

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Ogden Nash
As a poet was brash
His lines rushed out in a lengthy and seemingly unstoppable torrent
And his rhymes were abhorrent.

Ezra Pound
Wrote verse difficult and profound
The fact that even he couldn’t figure it out
Should suffice to remove any doubt.

Edward Lear
Was rather queer.
But of course, the word had a different meaning back then
So instead, one should simply say that he preferred men.

Edmund Clerihew Bentley
Died discontently
Aware that decent rhymes for Clerihew
Are, alas, very few.

Edna St. Vincent Millay
Was heard on occasion to say
That only the author of Euclid’s Elements
Had ever seen Beauty without habiliments.

 

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The Monday subway station’s

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The Monday subway station’s
full of faces
fair as flowers

– See!

Then the rush, the push,
the train’s electric flexing
the shut doors’ hush

the deliberate departure

and upon the vacant station
silence settles:

the bough stripped of its petals

 

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Paradise (pt.10)

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One walked in silence,
remembering Paradise,
Mourning for Paradise,
the Paradise that was in desire,
and remains in desire,
Stones gathered together never to be used aright,
Paradise too long in the building,
Ruin of nothing,
lapped by the sea,

Surge of the sea…

* * *

“‘No ideas but in things,’
Bill Williams said,

“But as for me,
& I’ve minted a slogan or 2
in my day,
slogans thick as money,
words heavy as coins

& would have minted more
had my time not come…

“But as for me,
let me assure you,
“There are ideas
and not only in things,
“There is nothing easier than to get ideas,
let me assure you,
let me assure you of this.”

* * *

What can only be communicated in silence,
Darkness and silence….

 

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Paradise (p.9)

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Little-read now,
but in truth little-read even in his time;
And less loved,
but known for those who loved him in his time.
And the great tower
which was to have reached as high as Heaven
Undercut — or top-heavy,
or with too weak a foundation, —
Too long in the building, in any case.

The sea which gnaws at the land
The land which fills up the sea

* * *

And now in Venice, antique city,
All history encrusted upon her,
and in all her long impatience a kind of patience at last visible,
Pearl of the middle-world,
Her treasures flotsam, flotsam her art,
her history flotsam;
Her citizens flotsam, borne to the edge of the world…

And now, in Venice, what thoughts?

But to have envisioned Paradise
Though the hand was not the eye’s equal;
And to have approached the shoals of Paradise,
Of the chosen island, the site where the great building should take place,
Braved the reefs, stone to tear out a ship’s belly;
To have heard the waves crash and the susurrus,
Sea-surge, waves on the stones,
Day-long, night-long, as ever, so now,
And to have made a start anyway, though never an ending,
Is this a little thing?

“Bill Williams said you had a mystic ear, did you know?”
“He never said that to me. No, I never heard that.”
“A mystic ear, he said. Never a word wrongly chosen,
Never a word misplaced.”

Silence then, the old man perhaps pleased for a while…

But to have had a vision,
To have felt in one’s hand the heft of the stone,
To have made a beginning of things, —
Though on a too-narrow foundation,
The stone on stone laid too high,
Stone laid on stone, and on stone,
The vision made real,
which could not stand the weight of being made real,
Art outstripped by fancy…

 And to have had such a vision,
And to have made such a start

Is this a little thing?
Is this insignificant?

A start, never an ending.
And here, and here…
what thoughts, shaped in silence?

 

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Paradise (p.8)

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And so Paris, and so then Italy,
between wars,
as always between wars,
her shores lapped by the gentle sea,
habitation of old gods…
So Rapallo,
so mare medius terraneum,
the sea in the middle of the world,
the cradle of man’s ambition…

Rapallo, Rapallo,
Hers a quiet grace,
neither the sinuous grace of Provence
nor the assured grace of Firenze
Hers a grace that cannot be multiplied
that cannot be exploited
She can be loved only by those who love her.

And the mule-driver:
“The famous poet
lives in that villa; I’ve seen him:
black hat and a purple cloak, and
he carries a stick. Maybe he was in the war?
‘s very famous, and so many visitors!”

Only the love of those who love…

(and twenty years on a new word will enter the language,
Rapallizare, meaning to put up concrete buildings all over the place,
to build without thought,
to scatter hotels like money.)

 

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Paradise (pt.7)

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And Ezra, become an old man,
Having been born out of his time, although
born neither too late
nor too early;
And had not charity, although
charity was not the quality he was wanting of…

Become old, an old man in an old city,
the old city lapped by the sea;
Speaking not, not writing,
excepting only fragments,
shards of his thought,

poetry of old age,
old age and ruin.

“The world is not as we would have it
but as we have made it.”

 

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Paradise (pt.6)

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… to have made a start …

“Benito, there was soldier
& a statesman, understd. Art
Economics
& Poetry of his kind
which is in the proper balance —

non crede
né alla possibilità
né all’utilità della
pace perpetua.

Kilt of course
& they like to have kilt me the same — “

Wrong, all wrong, wrong from the start…

But to have made a start, at any rate,
to have had a vision…

A thirty years fury,
China and Pisa conflated,
Jefferson and Mussolini conflated,
H. Adams and Odysseus,
Hell in England,
Satan in Usura, —

And to have had a vision…

To be
To be the stone
To be the stone that splits the in-rushing tide,
And was, some would say he was like that stone —

on which many a foot would stumble,
which could not bear the weight of being builded with,
which, having been spit out from the earth,
returns to earth —

Of such stone, to make Paradise —
Paradise!
Always it comes to this notion of Paradise —

To make Paradise, or “a paradise,” any Paradise,
it is necessary to have had a vision,
it is necessary to have had some plan in mind

And to find Paradise (or any Paradise), it is necessary to walk a long road,
for Paradise is not close by,
and Paradise is not given easily,
it is not a thing given —

For Paradise exists already
and Paradise must be builded;
Paradise must be discovered, and
Paradise must be invented also.

In this it is like a mystery.
O,
it is very like a mystery.

 

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Paradise (pt.5)

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Venice, the city precarious,
built as for eternity,
founded upon water;
The floods each year,
water jealous of stone
rising up;
Every stone brought from afar,
and the city’s treasures traded for or stolen,
laid up like stones;

Those living beside the sea
are of necessity traders —
are of necessity grubbers at the sea’s verge,
Where even careful tending
will not make a garden…

Traders, as all men,
As the bankers trade in money & in war
coin & credit
mustard gas & “security”
In the interest of security,
in the interest…
Ignorance of the masses,
“ignorance of coin,
credit and circulation!”
But with a day’s reading
a man may have the key in his hands,
with one day’s reading…

To make of all things, one thing,
and out of one, all:
A cinema of words,
image following image,
& so on,
& because these things have been joined
they have been meant to be joined,
they increase in meaning;

The key in his hand,
“The terrifyin’ voice of civilization…”

 

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Paradise (pt.4)

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(and in London,
which disgraced itself,
and he left later,
singing…)

O London town’s a town of stink,
A town of Wells and Bennett
Where once old Shaw has said “’tis so”
No man dares speak again’ it.

A man may labour 20 years
I’ th’ vineyard of the min’
But the grapes o’ filthy London town
They make a bitter wine.

A man may labour 30 years
I’ th’ brickyard of the soul
Or make as grand a difference
By pissin’ in a hole.

O London town, O London town,
I’ll see thee never more
Till all thy murdered artists march
Triumphant home from war,

Till all thy streets be paved wi’ gold
Beneath an azure sky,
And Bloomsbury be buried
And the Lakes have all gang dry.

 

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Paradise (pt.3)

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Up a thousand steps,
a thousand steps and a dusty lane,
Fig-trees, leaves the color of the sea,
glint of sea-mirror, whence one had started;
A violin bowed by skillful hands,
playing Vivaldi, not practicing, playing to be heard;
And Il Poeta, come to stay the weekend,
come to see his daughter,
His daughter, and not his wife,
and also the skillful woman who plays Vivaldi.

The eye that covets,
The hand that moves upon the impulse of the eye.
It has been this way for some time,
and so why should we speak of it?

And a thousand steps below,
upon the promenade, the women in their finery,
the men not less fine.

And Dorothy has done with Henry James at last,
Only she may read The Princess Casamassima again,
Or perhaps start in on one of the French novelists…

And why should it be spoken of?

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