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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Ariel

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Later some said
You’d all along been practicing for dead
But I believe it wasn’t in you
To practice what you thought you knew;
You thought yourself wise and were
Already plotting your rise.

 

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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 (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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Paradise (pt.2)

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“I believed in Zeus & Apollo & not in Christ,
and the nun: ‘well,
it’s all the same religion.’
She was Italian, after all…”

The golden dust footprint-deep on the road
& the air golden with sun-light
& around any turning of the road a tree or a god,

a god or a goddess,
ivy-tressed,
skin the color of sun-light,
dusted with gold, dust of autumn grapes,
the old wise eyes, half-lidded, —
“She turned her eyes to me,
and she inclined her head, so;
and the light of the golden hour
shone on her shoulder,
and on her soft throat,
and I came to her there…”

 

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Paradise (pt.1)

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And the sea,
the sea tranquil this winter’s day;
and Ezra, old man gone silent at last, —
ear, ear for the sea-surge
— gone silent, hearing no voices,

only the sea, the measureless sea
fills his ears
bidding him be silent,
bidding him hear no voices

who took genius for wisdom
who took passion for faith
who for atonement took sadness and silence,

took bitterness, despairing of Paradise.

“How are you today, Maestro?”
“Senile!”

And the great sea
surges, surges, the world’s measure.
He may hear it who has the ear for it,
he may bring it forth who has a tongue for it.

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Maybe I should have been

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Maybe I should have been
a nature poet, talking up
clouds and lakes,
wolves and rabbits,
the coyote, the honeybee, the scorpion.

Maybe I should have spent my time
traveling from desert to climax forest,
traveling from valley to mountainside,
talking forest fires, rolling fog,
the endless waves that munch seaside cliffs,
the fantastical desert arches
that occupy our cross section of time,
snails, beetles, microbes, grizzly bears,
and how everything fails and is reborn.

Maybe I’ll let go of my newspaper
this time, maybe
I’ll move to the suburbs and write about
a drowned man, maybe
I’ll go to work for a bank
and write about a drowned man,
maybe after writing about the sea
all my life, it will be a happy ending
to load my pockets with stones
and wade to meet the rising tide.

Maybe I’ll go to work for an insurance company
and write about ice cream.

Maybe I will yet.
Meanwhile, just to remind me
that it’s not all over,
here comes that blackbird again,
calling to see if I’m ready yet
to do the next thing.

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