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EARLY WORK

Poetry Collections from the 1950s and 1960s

MOZART IN THETFORD

I can’t enjoy music outdoors in the city,
for a truck goes rumbling by just
at the moment of a
delicate pianissimo,
or the orchestra’s rise to climax is
echoed in the roar of
a plane; not do I particularly enjoy
the show of the virtuoso
performer who
arouses the crowd, whatever merits

he may have; though even he would sound better in
a hall with good acoustics. I
prefer my music here,
way out in the country, where the
only echo is the doubled note from
across the valley. I
like to sit on a field stone and listen to my
neighbor from half a mile away
practice at night
her reedy recorder. Or I like to

put a record on and listen to the crimson
brasses of Gabrieli roll
the hills. They might have been
meant for a high campanile
over a city square, but gasoline
engines have made a change
in that: so we’re poorer, without some radical
change in position. Another
piece I like to
hear among the hills is the funeral

march with the long drum rolls that Purcell wrote at the
death of a young queen. I’ve never
heard it where one should, in
the dark of a high cathedral;
but sometimes, when heavy clouds have brought the
night in faster, and that
clump of trees is a darker, gothic shape against
the sky, I want another world
to add to this:
the roll of muffled drum beats, relieved by

soprano voices, as clear as summer bird songs.
But on an evening like last night,
when the sun settles slow-
ly down the valley, and shadows
fall clear and sharp across a mown field, and
trees are like permanent
forms on the canvases of Tuscan artists, I
want the quiet, assured sound of
four instruments
playing Mozart or something by Haydn.

I want the strings to replace, if only for a
moment, the sound of wind, not in
some quaint imitation,
but with their own sound that will fill
the valley with richness and cause the deer,
who feed in the upper
orchard, to pause and lift their heads high in wonder.
I would like to think, though I know
better, that such
music was written for a place like this.

ECCE OEDIPUS

He pulled himself across the street
and limped to safety near those bricks
that held a shadow from the sun;
and twice or more he stopped to scratch his head
and peer behind and myopically ahead.

He stumbled on until a sheet
blew against his swollen feet;
tensively, he must have felt it give away
and tumble to the gutter, nothing seen
beyond a crack and grit.

I watched him thread his demons,
adding one at every step, his face
contorted to a scarred grimace,
until at last he sank against a door
boarded up against the poor.

He piled himself in sooty rags,
twitched just once among the clutter,
and fell asleep with just a mutter,
as if this fall were only one of many
suffered in a gangrenescent battle.

There seemed in him no light of angel,
no strength at all, no strength of ape,
no power to destroy, no flagrant hate,
no dark and bitter fury at the world —
just dirty rags upon a dirty stoop.

I would have plucked his demons
as he had plucked his eyes,
but felt ashamed and turned to go my way,
avoiding, with a sudden lurch, his shadow
by calling to a friend among the crowd.

DREAMS THAT NEVER LET GO

I’m tired of dreams that never let go,
of winds that continue to blow
across these steps and back to the sea;
they hold with such tenacity
the shadows where conifers grow
that, when I wake, I can only show
with what a rush the past will flow
into the dark. Will you ever see
I’m tired of dreams?

I’m tired of what I know or ought to know
of the complexity these words show.
I’d like to rest beneath a tree,
forgetful of books, of me,
of this terrifying vertigo:
I’m tired of dreams.