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cCbe (gllected <T)oems

Sylvia T^lath Edited by Ted Hughes

M 1

1817 HARPER & ROW, P U B L I S H E R S , New York

Cambridge. Philadelphia. San Francisco,

London. Mexico City. Sao Paulo, Sydney

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"Rhyme," "Black Pine Tree in an Orange Light," "Incommunicado," and "Morning in the Hospital Solarium" originally appeared in The American Poetry Review.

"Waking in Winter," "Barren Woman," "Perseus," and "Song for a Summer's Day" originally appeared in The New York Times Book Review.

THE COLLECTED POEMS. Poems copyright © 1960, 1965, 1971, 1981 by the Estate of Sylvia Plath. Editorial material copyright © 1981 by Ted Hughes. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. For information address Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc., 10 East 53rd Street, New York, N.Y. 10022.


Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data

Plath, Sylvia.

The collected poems.

Includes index.

I. Hughes, Ted, 1930- II. Title.

PS3566.L27A17 1981 811'.54 75-25057


ISBN 0-06-013369-4 81 82 83 84 85 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

ISBN 0-06-090900-5 (pbk.) 81 82 83 84 85 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

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Poems 1956-1963




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Conversation Among the Ruins Winter Landscape, with Rooks Pursuit Bucolics Tale of a Tub Southern Sunrise Channel Crossing Prospect The Queen's Complaint Ode for Ted Firesong Song for a Summer's Day Two Sisters of Persephone Vanity Fair Strumpet Song Tinker Jack and the Tidy Wives Faun Street Song Letter to a Purist Soliloquy of the Solipsist Dialogue Between Ghost and Priest The Glutton Monologue at 3 a.m. Miss Drake Proceeds to Supper Recantation The Shrike


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Contents 27 Alicante Lullaby 28 Dream with Clam-Diggers 29 Wreath for a Bridal 30 Epitaph for Fire and Flower 31 Fiesta Melons 32 The Goring 33 The Beggars 34 Spider 35 Spinster 36 Rhyme 37 Departure 38 Maudlin 39 Resolve 40 Landowners 41 Ella Mason and Her Eleven Cats 42 Crystal Gazer 43 November Graveyard 44 Black Rook in Rainy Weather

1957 45 The Snowman on the Moor 46 Mayflower 47 Sow 48 The Everlasting Monday 49 Hardcastle Crags 50 The Thin People 51 On the Difficulty of Conjuring Up a Dryad 52 On the Plethora of Dryads 53 The Other Two 54 The Lady and the Earthenware Head 55 All the Dead Dears 56 Natural History 57 Two Views of Withens 58 The Great Carbuncle 59 Words for a Nursery 60 The Disquieting Muses 61 Night Shift 62 Ouija 63 On the Decline of Oracles 64 Snakecharmer 65 A Lesson in Vengeance


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66 Virgin in a Tree page 81 67 Perseus: The Triumph of Wit Over Suffering 82 68 Battle-Scene from the Comic Operatic Fantasy The Seafarer 84 69 Yadwigha, on a Red Couch, Among Lilies 85 70 A Winter's Tale 86 71 Above the Oxbow 87 72 Memoirs of a Spinach-Picker 89 73 The Ghost's Leavetaking 90 74 Sculptor 91 75 Full Fathom Five 92 76 Lorelei 94 77 Mussel Hunter at Rock Harbor 95 78 Moonrise 98 79 Frog Autumn 99 80 In Midas' Country 99 81 Incommunicado 100 82 Child's Park Stones 100 83 Owl 101 84 Whiteness I Remember 102 85 Fable of the Rhododendron Stealers 103 86 The Death of My th-Making 104 87 Green Rock, Winthrop Bay 104 88 The Companionable Ills 105 89 I Want, I Want 106 90 Poems, Potatoes 106 91 The Times Are Tidy 107


92 The Bull of Bendylaw 108 93 The Eye-mote 109 94 Point Shirley n o 95 Goatsucker 111 96 Watercolor of Grantchester Meadows i n 97 A Winter Ship 112 98 Aftermath 113 99 Two Views of a Cadaver Room 114

100 Suicide off Egg Rock 115 101 The Ravaged Face 115 102 Metaphors 116


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Electra on Azalea Path The Beekeeper's Daughter The Hermit at Outermost House Man in Black Old Ladies' Home The Net-Menders Magnolia Shoals The Sleepers Yaddo: The Grand Manor Medallion The Manor Garden Blue Moles Dark Wood, Dark Water Polly's Tree The Colossus Private Ground Poem for a Birthday

1 Who 2 Dark House 3 Maenad 4 The Beast 5 Flute Notes from a Reedy Pond 6 Witch Burning 7 The Stones

The Burnt-out Spa Mushrooms


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131 132


You're The Hanging Man Stillborn On Deck Sleep in the Mojave Desert Two Campers in Cloud Country Leaving Early Love Letter Magi Candles A Life Waking in Winter

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1961 134 Parliament Hill Fields 135 Whitsun 136 Zoo Keeper's Wife 137 Face Lift 138 Morning Song 139 Barren Woman 140 Heavy Women 141 In Plaster 142 Tulips 143 I Am Vertical 144 Insomniac 145 Widow 146 Stars Over the Dordogne 147 The Rival 148 Wuthering Heights 149 Blackberry ing 150 Finisterre 151 The Surgeon at 2 a.m. 152 Last Words 153 The Moon and the Yew Tree 154 Mirror 155 The Babysitters

1962 156 New Year on Dartmoor 157 Three Women: A Poem for Three Voices 158 Little Fugue 159 An Appearance 160 Crossing the Water 161 Among the Narcissi 162 Pheasant 163 Elm 164 The Rabbit Catcher 165 Event 166 Apprehensions 167 Berck-Plage 168 The Other 169 Words heard, by accident, over the phone 170 Poppies in July 171 Burning the Letters


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Contents 172 For a Fatherless Son 173 A Birthday Present 174 The Detective 175 The Courage of Shutting-Up 176 The Bee Meeting 177 The Arrival of the Bee Box 178 Stings 179 The Swarm 180 Wintering 181 A Secret 182 The Applicant 183 Daddy 184 Medusa 185 The Jailer 186 Lesbos 187 Stopped Dead 188 Fever 1030

189 Amnesiac 190 Lyonnesse 191 Cut 192 By Candlelight 193 The Tour 194 Ariel 195 Poppies in October 196 Nick and the Candlestick 197 Purdah T§8 Lady Lazarus 199 The Couriers 200 Getting There 201 The Night Dances 202 Gulliver 203 Thalidomide 204 Letter in November 205 Death & Co. 206 Years 207 The Fearful 208 Mary's Song 209 Winter Trees 210 Brasilia 211 Childless Woman 212 Eavesdropper

page 205 206 208 209 2 1 1

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224 226 227 230 231 232 233 235 236

237 239 240 240 242

244 247 247 249

251 252 253 254 255 256

257 257 258 259 260


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Contents 1963

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Sheep in Fog The Munich Mannequins Totem Child Paralytic Gigolo Mystic Kindness Words Contusion Balloons Edge

Notes on Poems 1956-1963

The 'Ariel' Poems Translation A Concordance with Published Volumes


A Selection of Fifty Early Poems

Bitter Strawberries Family Reunion Female Author April 18 Gold mouths cry Dirge for a Joker To Eva Descending the Stair Cinderella Jilted Sonnet: To Eva Bluebeard Aquatic Nocturne Notes to a Neophyte Metamorphoses of the Moon Dialogue En Route To a Jilted Lover The Dream


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Sonnet: To Time page 311 The Trial of Man 312 April Aubade 3 1 2

Go get the goodly squab 313 Trio of Love Songs 313 Lament 3 J 5 Doomsday 316 Moonsong at Morning 316 Doom of Exiles 318 The Dispossessed 318 Admonitions 319 Never try to trick me with a kiss 319 The Dead 320 Danse macabre 320 Circus in Three Rings 321 Prologue to Spring 322 Song for a Revolutionary Love 322 Sonnet to Satan 323 A Sorcerer Bids Farewell to Seem 324 Midsummer Mobile 324 On Looking into the Eyes of a Demon Lover 325 Insolent storm strikes at the skull 325 Denouement 326 Two Lovers and a Beachcomber by the Real Sea 327 Black Pine Tree in an Orange Light 328 Terminal 328 Love Is a Parallax 329 Aerialist 331 Morning in the Hospital Solarium 332 The Princess and the Goblins 333 Touch-and-Go 335 Temper of Time 336 Epitaph in Three Parts 337

Uncollected Juvenilia: A complete list of poems composed before 1956 339

Index of Titles and First Lines

Poems 1956-1963 343 Fifty Early Poems 349


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By the time of her death, on u February 1963, Sylvia Plath had written a large bulk of poetry. To my knowledge, she never scrapped any of her poetic efforts. With one or two exceptions, she brought every piece she worked on to some final form acceptable to her, rejecting at most the odd verse, or a false head or a false tail. Her attitude to her verse was artisan-like: if she couldn't get a table out of the material, she was quite happy to get a chair, or even a toy. The end product for her was not so much a successful poem, as something that had temporarily exhausted her ingenuity. So this book contains not merely what verse she saved, but—after 1956—all she wrote.

From quite early she began to assemble her poems into a prospective collection, which at various times she presented—always hopeful—to publishers and to the judging committees of contests. The collection evolved through the years in a natural way, shedding old poems and growing new ones, until by the time the contract for The Colossus was signed with Heinemann, in London, on 11 February i960, this first book had gone through several titles and several changes of substance. 'I had a vision in the dark art lecture room today of the title of my book of poems,' she wrote in early 1958. 'It came to me suddenly with great clarity that The Earthenware Head was the right title, the only title.' She goes on to say, 'Somehow this new title spells for me the release from the old crystal-brittle and sugar-faceted voice of Circus in Three Rings and Two Lovers and a Beachcomber* (the two immediately preceding titles). Two months later she had replaced The Earthenware Head, briefly, with The Everlasting Monday. A fortnight later the title had become Full Fathom Five, 'after what I consider one of my best and most curiously moving poems, about my father-sea god-muse . . . "[The Lady and] The Earthenware Head" is out: once, in England, my "best poem": too fancy, glassy, patchy and rigid—it embarrasses me now— with its ten elaborate epithets for head in five verses.'

During the next year Full Fathom Five was replaced by The Bull of Bendy law, but then in May 1959 she wrote: 'Changed title of poetry book in an inspiration to The Devil of the Stairs . . . this title encompasses my book and "explains" the poems of despair, which is as deceitful as hope is.' This title lasted until October, when she was at Yaddo, and now on a different


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kind of inspiration she noted: 'Wrote two poems that pleased me. One a poem to Nicholas' (she expected a son, and titled the poem 'The Manor Garden') 'and one the old father-worship subject' (which she titled 'The Colossus'). 'But different. Weirder. I see a picture, a weather, in these poems. Took "Medallion" out of the early book and made up my mind to start a second book, regardless. The main thing is to get rid of the idea that what I write now is for the old book. That soggy book. So I have three poems for the new, temporarily called The Colossus and other poems?

This decision to start a new book 'regardless', and get rid of all that she'd written up to then, coincided with the first real breakthrough in her writing, as it is now possible to see. The actual inner process of this quite sudden development is interestingly recorded, in a metaphorical way, in 'Poem for a Birthday', which she was thinking about on 22 October 1959 (cf. note on No. 119). On 4 November she wrote: 'Miraculously I wrote seven poems in my "Poem for a Birthday" sequence, and the two little ones before it, "The Manor Garden" and "The Colossus", I find colorful and amusing. But the manuscript of my [old] book seems dead to me. So far off, so far gone. It has almost no chance of finding a publisher: just sent it out to the seventh.. . . There is nothing for it but to try to publish it in England.' A few days later she noted: 'I wrote a good poem this week on our walk Sunday to the burnt-out spa, a second-book poem. How it consoles me, the idea of a second book with these new poems: "The Manor Garden", "The Colossus", the seven birthday poems and perhaps "Medallion", if I don't stick it in my present book.' But then she realized: 'If I were accepted by a publ isher . . . I would feel a need to throw all my new poems in, to bolster the book.'

This last is exactly what happened. With time running out at Yaddo, which had suddenly become so fruitful for her, followed by the upheaval of returning to England in December, she was able to add very little tp her 'second' book. So it was this combination of the old poems, which she had inwardly rejected, and the few new ones that seemed to her so different, that James Michie told her—in January 1960—Heinemann would like to publish, under the title of The Colossus.

Once that contract had been signed, she started again, though with a noticeable difference. As before, a poem was always 'a book poem' or 'not a book poem', but now she seemed more relaxed about it, and made no attempt to find an anxious mothering title for the growing brood, over the next two years, until she was overtaken by the inspiration that produced the poems of the last six months of her life.

Some time around Christmas 1962, she gathered most of what are now known as the 'Ariel' poems in a black spring binder, and arranged them in a careful sequence. (At the time, she pointed out that it began with the word


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'Love' and ended with the word 'Spring'. The exact order of her text is given in the Notes, p. 295.) This collection of hers excluded almost everything she had written between The Colossus and July 1962—or two and a half years' work. She had her usual trouble with a title. On the title-page of her manuscript The Rival is replaced by A Birthday Present which is replaced by Daddy. It was only a short time before she died that she altered the title again, to Ariel.

The Ariel eventually published in 1965 was a somewhat different volume from the one she had planned. It incorporated most of the dozen or so poems she had gone on to write in 1963, though she herself, recognizing the different inspiration of these new pieces, regarded them as the beginnings of a third book. It omitted some of the more personally aggressive poems from 1962, and might have omitted one or two more if she had not already published them herself in magazines—so that by 1965 they were widely known. The collection that appeared was my eventual compromise between publishing a large bulk of her work—including much of the post-Colossus but pre-Ariel verse—and introducing her late work more cautiously, printing perhaps only twenty poems to begin with. (Several advisers had felt that the violent contradictory feelings expressed in those pieces might prove hard for the reading public to take. In one sense, as it turned out, this apprehension showed some insight.)

A further collection, Crossing the Water (1971), contained most of the poems written between the two earlier books; and the same year the final collection, Winter Trees, was published, containing eighteen uncollected poems of the late period together with her verse play for radio, Three Women, which had been written in early 1962.

The aim of the present complete edition, which contains a numbered sequence of the 224 poems written after 1956 together with a further 50 poems chosen from her pre-1956 work, is to bring Sylvia Plath's poetry together in one volume, including the various uncollected and unpublished pieces, and to set everything in as true a chronological order as is possible, so that the whole progress and achievement of this unusual poet will become accessible to readers.

The manuscripts on which this collection is based fall roughly into three phases, and each has presented slightly different problems to the editor.

The first phase might be called her juvenilia and the first slight problem here was to decide where it ended. A logical division occurs, conveniently, at the end of 1955, just after the end of her twenty-third year. The 220 or more poems written before this are of interest mainly to specialists. Sylvia Plath had set these pieces (many of them from her early teens) firmly behind her


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Introduction and would certainly never have republished them herself. Nevertheless, quite a few seem worth preserving for the general reader. At their best, they are as distinctive and as finished as anything she wrote later. They can be intensely artificial, but they are always lit with her unique excitement. And that sense of a deep mathematical inevitability in the sound and texture of her lines was well developed quite early. One can see here, too, how exclusively her writing depended on a supercharged system of inner symbols and images, an enclosed cosmic circus. If that could have been projected visually, the substance and patterning of these poems would have made very curious mandalas. As poems, they are always inspired high jinks, but frequently quite a bit more. And even at their weakest they help chart the full acceleration towards her final take-off.

The greater part of these early poems survive in final typed copies; some others have been recovered from magazines, and still others, not in the typescript and not appearing in any magazine, have turned up in letters and elsewhere. Presumably there may be more, still hidden. The chronological order of the work of this period is often impossible to determine, except in its broadest outlines. A date can sometimes be fixed from a letter or from the date of magazine publication, but she occasionally took poems up again — sometimes years later—and reworked them.

From this whole pre-1956 period, I have selected what seem to be the best, some fifty pieces, and these are printed—as nearly as possible in the order of their writing—at the back of the book, as an appendix. Also given there is a complete list, alphabetically by title, of all the pre-1956 poems that survive, with dates where these can be assigned.

The second phase of Sylvia Plath's writing falls between early 1956 and late i960. Early 1956 presents itself as a watershed, because from later this year come the earliest poems of her first collection, The Colossus. And from this time I worked closely with her and watched the poems being written, so I am reasonably sure that everything is here. Searching over the years, we have failed to unearth any others. Final typescripts exist for all of them. The chronological order, also, is less in doubt here, though the problem does still linger. Her evolution as a poet went rapidly through successive moults of style, as she realized her true matter and voice. Each fresh phase tended to bring out a group of poems bearing a general family likeness, and is usually associated in my memory with a particular time and place. At each move we made, she seemed to shed a style.

So the sequence of the groups of poems through this period is fairly certain. But I am rarely sure now which poem comes before which in any particular group. In among them, the odd poem will pop up that looks like a leftover from long before. Occasionally, she anticipated herself and


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Introduction produced a poem ('Two Lovers and a Beachcomber by the Real Sea', for instance, in the pre-1956 selection, or 'The Stones' from her 1959 'Poem for a Birthday') which now seems to belong quite a bit later. In several cases I can fix poems precisely to a date and place. (She was writing 'Miss Drake Proceeds to Supper' on a parapet over the Seine on 21 June 1956.) Then again, in one or two cases the dates she left on the manuscripts contradict what seem to me very definite memories. So I have nowhere attempted to affix a date where none appears on the manuscript. Fortunately, after 1956 she kept a full record of the dates on which she sent her poems off to magazines, and she usually did this as soon as possible after writing them, which sets one limit to my approximations of order.

The third and final phase of her work, from the editorial point of view, dates from about September i960. Around that time, she started the habit of dating the final typescript of each poem. On the two or three occasions when she modified a poem later, she dated the revision as well. From early 1962 she began to save all her handwritten drafts (which up to that time she had systematically destroyed as she went along), and provisional final versions among these are usually dated as well. So throughout this period the calendar sequence is correct, and the only occasional doubt concerns the order of composition among poems written on the same day.

I have resisted the temptation to reproduce the drafts of these last poems in variorum completeness. These drafts are arguably an important part of Sylvia Plath's complete works. Some of the handwritten pages are aswarm with startling, beautiful phrases and lines, crowding all over the place, many of them in no way less remarkable than the ones she eventually picked out to make her final poem. But printing them all would have made a huge volume.

A poem 'for two voices', never produced or published, is given in the notes to the poem 'Ouija' (No. 62), where it is relevant. Some cancelled but quite large fragments or sections of poems are also given in the Notes, and the poet's literal rendering of Rilke's 'A Prophet'. The Notes provide brief biographical information for each of the years 1956-1963, and the background on certain poems. A concordance sets out the contents of each of the four published volumes in terms of the chronological numbering adopted in this complete edition.

Thanks and acknowledgements are due to Judith Kroll, who went over the manuscripts and did much to establish many of the final texts in their detail, and to the Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, for access to the Sylvia Plath Archive of juvenilia.

August ig80 TED HUGHES


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POEMS 1956-1963

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Conversation Among the Ruins

Through portico of my elegant house you stalk With your wild furies, disturbing garlands of fruit And the fabulous lutes and peaco*cks, rending the net Of all decorum which holds the whirlwind back. Now, rich order of walls is fallen; rooks croak Above the appalling ruin; in bleak light Of your stormy eye, magic takes flight Like a daunted witch, quitting castle when real days break.

Fractured pillars frame prospects of rock; While you stand heroic in coat and tie, I sit Composed in Grecian tunic and psyche-knot, Rooted to your black look, the play turned tragic: With such blight wrought on our bankrupt estate, What ceremony of words can patch the havoc ?

Winter Landscape, with Rooks

Water in the millrace, through a sluice of stone, plunges headlong into that black pond

where, absurd and out-of-season, a single swan floats chaste as snow, taunting the clouded mind

which hungers to haul the white reflection down.

The austere sun descends above the fen, an orange cyclops-eye, scorning to look

longer on this landscape of chagrin; feathered dark in thought, I stalk like a rook,

brooding as the winter night comes on.

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Last summer's reeds are all engraved in ice as is your image in my eye; dry frost

glazes the window of my hurt; what solace can be struck from rock to make heart's waste

grow green again ? Who'd walk in this bleak place ?

Pursuit Dans lefond des forks votre image me suit.


There is a panther stalks me down: One day I'll have my death of him; His greed has set the woods aflame,

He prowls more lordly than the sun. Most soft, most suavely glides that step,

Advancing always at my back; From gaunt hemlock, rooks croak havoc:

The hunt is on, and sprung the trap. Flayed by thorns I trek the rocks,

Haggard through the hot white noon. Along red network of his veins

What fires run, what craving wakes ?

Insatiate, he ransacks the land Condemned by our ancestral fault, Crying: blood, let blood be spilt;

Meat must glut his mouth's raw wound. Keen the rending teeth and sweet

The singeing fury of his fur; His kisses parch, each paw's a briar,

Doom consummates that appetite. In the wake of this fierce cat, Kindled like torches for his joy, Charred and ravened women lie,

Become his starving body's bait.

Now hills hatch menace, spawning shade; Midnight cloaks the sultry grove; The black marauder, hauled by love


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On fluent haunches, keeps my speed. Behind snarled thickets of my eyes

Lurks the lithe one; in dreams' ambush Bright those claws that mar the flesh

And hungry, hungry, those taut thighs. His ardor snares me, lights the trees,

And I run flaring in my skin; What lull, what cool can lap me in

When burns and brands that yellow gaze?

I hurl my heart to halt his pace, To quench his thirst I squander blood; He eats, and still his need seeks food,

Compels a total sacrifice. His voice waylays me, spells a trance,

The gutted forest falls to ash; Appalled by secret want, I rush

From such assault of radiance. Entering the tower of my fears,

I shut my doors on that dark guilt, I bolt the door, each door I bolt.

Blood quickens, gonging in my ears:

The panther's tread is on the stairs, Coming up and up the stairs.

4 Bucolics

Mayday: two came to field in such wise: 'A daisied mead,' each said to each, So were they one; so sought they couch, Across barbed stile, through flocked brown cows.

'No pitchforked farmer, please,' she said; 'May co*ckcrow guard us safe,' said he; By blackthorn thicket, flower spray They pitched their coats, come to green bed.


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Below: a fen where water stood; Aslant: their hill of stinging nettle; Then, honor-bound, mute grazing cattle; Above: leaf-wraithed white air, white cloud.

All afternoon these lovers lay Until the sun turned pale from warm, Until sweet wind changed tune, blew harm: Cruel nettles stung her ankles raw.

Rueful, most vexed, that tender skin Should accept so fell a wound, He stamped and cracked stalks to the ground Which had caused his dear girl pain.

Now he goes from his rightful road And, under honor, will depart; While she stands burning, venom-girt, In wait for sharper smart to fade.

5 Tale of a Tub

The photographic chamber of the eye records bare painted walls, while an electric light flays the chromium nerves of plumbing raw; such poverty assaults the ego; caught naked in the merely actual room, the stranger in the lavatory mirror puts on a public grin, repeats our name but scrupulously reflects the usual terror.

Just how guilty are we when the ceiling reveals no cracks that can be decoded ? when washbowl maintains it has no more holy calling than physical ablution, and the towel dryly disclaims that fierce troll faces lurk in its explicit folds ? or when the window, blind with steam, will not admit the dark which shrouds our prospects in ambiguous shadow ?


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Twenty years ago, the familiar tub bred an ample batch of omens; but now water faucets spawn no danger; each crab and octopus—scrabbling just beyond the view, waiting for some accidental break in ritual, to strike—is definitely gone; the authentic sea denies them and will pluck fantastic flesh down to the honest bone.

We take the plunge; under water our limbs waver, faintly green, shuddering away from the genuine color of skin; can our dreams ever blur the intransigent lines which draw the shape that shuts us in ? absolute fact intrudes even when the revolted eye is closed; the tub exists behind our back: its glittering surfaces are blank and true.

Yet always the ridiculous nude flanks urge the fabrication of some cloth to cover such starkness; accuracy must not stalk at large: each day demands we create our whole world over, disguising the constant horror in a coat of many-colored fictions; we mask our past in the green of eden, pretend future's shining fruit can sprout from the navel of this present waste.

In this particular tub, two knees jut up like icebergs, while minute brown hairs rise on arms and legs in a fringe of kelp; green soap navigates the tidal slosh of seas breaking on legendary beaches; in faith we shall board our imagined ship and wildly sail among sacred islands of the mad till death shatters the fabulous stars and makes us real.


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6 Southern Sunrise

Color of lemon, mango, peach, These storybook villas Still dream behind Shutters, their balconies Fine as hand-Made lace, or a leaf-and-flower pen-sketch.

Tilting with the winds, On arrowy stems, Pineapple-barked, A green crescent of palms Sends up its forked Firework of fronds.

A quartz-clear dawn Inch by bright inch Gilds all our Avenue, And out of the blue drench Of Angels' Bay Rises the round red watermelon sun.

Channel Crossing

On storm-struck deck, wind sirens caterwaul; With each tilt, shock and shudder, our blunt ship Cleaves forward into fury; dark as anger, Waves wallop, assaulting the stubborn hull. Flayed by spray, we take the challenge up, Grip the rail, squint ahead, and wonder how much longer

Such force can last; but beyond, the neutral view Shows, rank on rank, the hungry seas advancing. Below, rocked havoc-sick, voyagers lie Retching in bright orange basins; a refugee Sprawls, hunched in black, among baggage, wincing Under the strict mask of his agony.


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Far from the sweet stench of that perilous air In which our comrades are betrayed, we freeze And marvel at the smashing nonchalance Of nature: what better way to test taut fiber Than against this onslaught, these casual blasts of ice That wrestle with us like angels; the mere chance

Of making harbor through this racketing flux Taunts us to valor. Blue sailors sang that our journey Would be full of sun, white gulls, and water drenched With radiance, peaco*ck-colored; instead, bleak rocks Jutted early to mark our going, while sky Curded over with clouds and chalk cliffs blanched

In sullen light of the inauspicious day. Now, free, by hazard's quirk, from the common ill Knocking our brothers down, we strike a stance Most mock-heroic, to cloak our waking awe At this rare rumpus which no man can control: Meek and proud both fall; stark violence

Lays all walls waste; private estates are torn, Ransacked in the public eye. We forsake Our lone luck now, compelled by bond, by blood, To keep some unsaid pact; perhaps concern Is helpless here, quite extra, yet we must make The gesture, bend and hold the prone man's head.

And so we sail toward cities, streets and homes Of other men, where statues celebrate Brave acts played out in peace, in war; all dangers End: green shores appear; we assume our names, Our luggage, as docks halt our brief epic; no debt Survives arrival; we walk the plank with strangers.


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8 Prospect

Among orange-tile rooftops and chimney pots

the fen fog slips, gray as rats,

while on spotted branch of the sycamore

two black rooks hunch and darkly glare,

watching for night, with absinthe eye

co*cked on the lone, late, passer-by.

The Queen's Complaint

In ruck and quibble of courtfolk This giant hulked, I tell you, on her scene With hands like derricks, Looks fierce and black as rooks; Why, all the windows broke when he stalked in.

Her dainty acres he ramped through And used her gentle doves with manners rude; I do not know What fury urged him slay Her antelope who meant him naught but good.

She spoke most chiding in his ear Till he some pity took upon her crying; Of rich attire He made her shoulders bare And solaced her, but quit her at co*ck's crowing.


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A hundred heralds she sent out To summon in her slight all doughty men Whose force might fit Shape of her sleep, her thought — None of that greenhorn lot matched her bright crown.

So she is come to this rare pass Whereby she treks in blood through sun and squall And sings you thus: 'How sad, alas, it is To see my people shrunk so small, so small.'

Ode for Ted

From under crunch of my man's boot green oat-sprouts jut; he names a lapwing, starts rabbits in a rout legging it most nimble to sprigged hedge of bramble, stalks red fox, shrewd stoat.

Loam-humps, he says, moles shunt up from delved worm-haunt; blue fur, moles have; hefting chalk-hulled flint he with rock splits open knobbed quartz; flayed colors ripen rich, brown, sudden in sunglint.

For his least look, scant acres yield: each finger-furrowed field heaves forth stalk, leaf, fruit-nubbed emerald; bright grain sprung so rarely he hauls to his will early; at his hand's staunch hest, birds build.

Ringdoves roost well within his wood, shirr songs to suit which mood he saunters in; how but most glad


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1956 could be this adam's woman when all earth his words do summon leaps to laud such man's blood!

21 April ig$6


Born green we were to this flawed garden, but in speckled thickets, warted as a toad, spitefully skulks our warden, fixing his snare which hauls down buck, co*ck, trout, till all most fair is tricked to falter in spilt blood.

Now our whole task's to hack some angel-shape worth wearing from his crabbed midden where all's wrought so awry that no straight inquiring could unlock shrewd catch silting our each bright act back to unmade mud cloaked by sour sky.

Sweet salts warped stem of weeds we tackle towards way's rank ending; scorched by red sun we heft globed flint, racked in veins' barbed bindings; brave love, dream not of staunching such strict flame, but come, lean to my wound; burn on, burn on.

Song for a Summer's Day

Through fen and farmland walking With my own country love I saw slow flocked cows move


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1956 White hulks on their day's cruising; Sweet grass sprang for their grazing.

The air was bright for looking: Most far in blue, aloft, Clouds steered a burnished drift; Larks' nip and tuck arising Came in for my love's praising.

Sheen of the noon sun striking Took my heart as if It were a green-tipped leaf Kindled by my love's pleasing Into an ardent blazing.

And so, together, talking, Through Sunday's honey-air We walked (and still walk there — Out of the sun's bruising) Till the night mists came rising.

3 Two Sisters of Persephone

Two girls there are: within the house One sits; the other, without. Daylong a duet of shade and light Plays between these.

In her dark wainscoted room The first works problems on A mathematical machine. Dry ticks mark time

As she calculates each sum. At this barren enterprise Rat-shrewd go her squint eyes, Root-pale her meager frame.

3 i

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Bronzed as earth, the second lies, Hearing ticks blown gold Like pollen on bright air. Lulled Near a bed of poppies,

She sees how their red silk flare Of petaled blood Burns open to sun's blade. On that green altar

Freely become sun's bride, the latter Grows quick with seed. Grass-couched in her labor's pride, She bears a king. Turned bitter

And sallow as any lemon, The other, wry virgin to the last, Goes graveward with flesh laid waste, Worm-husbanded, yet no woman.

14 Vanity Fair

Through frost-thick weather This witch sidles, fingers crooked, as if Caught in a hazardous medium that might Merely by its continuing Attach her to heaven.

At eye's envious corner Crow's-feet copy veining on stained leaf; Cold squint steals sky's color; while bruit Of bells calls holy ones, her tongue Backtalks at the raven

Cleaving furred air Over her skull's midden; no knife Rivals her whetted look, divining what conceit Waylays simple girls, church-going, And what heart's oven


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Craves most to cook batter Rich in strayings with every amorous oaf, Ready, for a trinket, To squander owl-hours on bracken bedding, Flesh unshriven.

Against virgin prayer This sorceress sets mirrors enough To distract beauty's thought; Lovesick at first fond song, Each vain girl's driven

To believe beyond heart's flare No fire is, nor in any book proof Sun hoists soul up after lids fall shut; So she wills all to the black king. The worst sloven

Vies with best queen over Right to blaze as satan's wife; Housed in earth, those million brides shriek out. Some burn short, some long, Staked in pride's coven.

is Strumpet Song

With white frost gone And all green dreams not worth much, After a lean day's work Time comes round for that foul slu*t: Mere bruit of her takes our street Until every man, Red, pale or dark, Veers to her slouch.

Mark, I cry, that mouth Made to do violence on, That seamed face Askew with blotch, dint, scar


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Struck by each dour year. Walks there not some such one man As can spare breath To patch with brand of love this rank grimace Which out from black tarn, ditch and cup Into my most chaste own eyes Looks up.

16 Tinker Jack and the Tidy Wives

'Come lady, bring that pot Gone black of polish And whatever pan this mending master Should trim back to shape. I'll correct each mar On silver dish, And shine that kettle of copper At your fireside Bright as blood.

'Come lady, bring that face Fallen from luster. Time's soot in bleared eye Can be made to glister For small charge. No form's gone so awry, Crook-back or bandy-leg, But Tinker Jack can forge Beauty from hag.

'Whatever scath Fierce fire's wrought Jack will touch up And fit for use. What scar's been knocked Into cracked heart Jack shall repair.


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'And if there be Young wives still blithe, Still fair, Whose labor's not yet smoked Their fine skin sere, From their white heat Before he part Let Jack catch fire.'


Haunched like a faun, he hooed From grove of moon-glint and fen-frost Until all owls in the twigged forest Flapped black to look and brood On the call this man made.

No sound but a drunken coot Lurching home along river bank. Stars hung water-sunk, so a rank Of double star-eyes lit Boughs where those owls sat.

An arena of yellow eyes Watched the changing shape he cut, Saw hoof harden from foot, saw sprout Goat-horns. Marked how god rose And galloped woodward in that guise.

Street Song

By a mad miracle I go intact Among the common rout Thronging sidewalk, street, And bickering shops; Nobody blinks a lid, gapes, Or cries that this raw flesh


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1956 Reeks of the butcher's cleaver, Its heart and guts hung hooked And bloodied as a cow's split frame Parceled out by white-jacketed assassins.

Oh no, for I strut it clever As a greenly escaped idiot, Buying wine, bread, Yellow-casqued chrysanthemums — Arming myself with the most reasonable items To ward off, at all cost, suspicions Roused by thorned hands, feet, head, And that great wound Squandering red From the flayed side.

Even as my each mangled nerve-end Trills its hurt out Above pitch of pedestrian ear, So, perhaps I, knelled dumb by your absence, Alone can hear Sun's parched scream, Every downfall and crash Of gutted star, And, more daft than any goose, This cracked world's incessant gabble and hiss.

19 Letter to a Purist

That grandiose colossus who Stood astride The envious assaults of sea (Essaying, wave by wave, Tide by tide, To undo him, perpetually), Has nothing on you, O my loxey


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O my great idiot, who With one foot Caught (as it were) in the muck-trap Of skin and bone, Dithers with the other way out In preposterous provinces of the madcap Cloud-cuckoo, Agawp at the impeccable moon.

Soliloquy of the Solipsist


I walk alone; The midnight street Spins itself from under my feet; When my eyes shut These dreaming houses all snuff out; Through a whim of mine Over gables the moon's celestial onion Hangs high.

I Make houses shrink And trees diminish By going far; my look's leash Dangles the puppet-people Who, unaware how they dwindle, Laugh, kiss, get drunk, Nor guess that if I choose to blink They die.

I When in good humor, Give grass its green Blazon sky blue, and endow the sun With gold; Yet, in my wintriest moods, I hold Absolute power


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To boycott color and forbid any flower To be.

I Know you appear Vivid at my side, Denying you sprang out of my head, Claiming you feel Love fiery enough to prove flesh real, Though it's quite clear All your beauty, all your wit, is a gift, my dear, From me.

Dialogue Between Ghost and Priest

In the rectory garden on his evening walk Paced brisk Father Shawn. A cold day, a sodden one it was In black November. After a sliding rain Dew stood in chill sweat on each stalk, Each thorn; spiring from wet earth, a blue haze Hung caught in dark-webbed branches like a fabulous heron.

Hauled sudden from solitude, Hair prickling on his head, Father Shawn perceived a ghost Shaping itself from that mist.

'How now,' Father Shawn crisply addressed the ghost Wavering there, gauze-edged, smelling of woodsmoke, 'What manner of business are you on ? From your blue pallor, I'd say you inhabited the frozen waste Of hell, and not the fiery part. Yet to judge by that dazzled look, That noble mien, perhaps you've late quitted heaven?'

In voice furred with frost, Ghost said to priest: 'Neither of those countries do I frequent: Earth is my haunt.'


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'Come, come,' Father Shawn gave an impatient shrug, 'I don't ask you to spin some ridiculous fable Of gilded harps or gnawing fire: simply tell After your life's end, what just epilogue God ordained to follow up your days. Is it such trouble To satisfy the questions of a curious old fool?'

'In life, love gnawed my skin To this white bone; What love did then, love does now : Gnaws me through.'

'What love,' asked Father Shawn, 'but too great love Of flawed earth-flesh could cause this sorry pass ? Some damned condition you are in: Thinking never to have left the world, you grieve As though alive, shriveling in torment thus To atone as shade for sin that lured blind man.'

'The day of doom Is not yet come. Until that time A crock of dust is my dear home.'

'Fond phantom,' cried shocked Father Shawn, 'Can there be such stubbornness — A soul grown feverish, clutching its dead body-tree Like a last storm-crossed leaf? Best get you gone To judgment in a higher court of grace. Repent, depart, before God's trump-crack splits the sky.'

From that pale mist Ghost swore to priest: 'There sits no higher court Than man's red heart.'


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The Glutton

He, hunger-stung, hard to slake, So fitted is for my black luck (With heat such as no man could have And yet keep kind) That all merit's in being meat Seasoned how he'd most approve; Blood's broth, Filched by his hand, Choice wassail makes, cooked hot, Cupped quick to mouth; Though prime parts cram each rich meal, He'll not spare Nor scant his want until Sacked larder's gone bone-bare.

Monologue at 3 a.m.

Better that every fiber crack and fury make head, blood drenching vivid couch, carpet, floor and the snake-figured almanac vouching you are a million green counties from here,

than to sit mute, twitching so under prickling stars, with stare, with curse blackening the time goodbyes were said, trains let go, and I, great magnanimous fool, thus wrenched from my one kingdom.


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Miss Drake Proceeds to Supper

No novice In those elaborate rituals Which allay the malice Of knotted table and crooked chair, The new woman in the ward Wears purple, steps carefully Among her secret combinations of eggshells And breakable hummingbirds, Footing sallow as a mouse Between the cabbage-roses Which are slowly opening their furred petals To devour and drag her down Into the carpet's design.

With bird-quick eye co*cked askew She can see in the nick of time How perilous needles grain the floorboards And outwit their brambled plan; Now through her ambushed air, Adazzle with bright shards Of broken glass, She edges with wary breath, Fending off jag and tooth, Until, turning sideways, She lifts one webbed foot after the other Into the still, sultry weather Of the patients' dining room.


'Tea leaves I've given up, And that crooked line On the queen's palm Is no more my concern. On my black pilgrimage This moon-pocked crystal ball Will break before it help;


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1956 Rather than croak out What's to come, My darling ravens are flown.

'Forswear those freezing tricks of sight And all else I've taught Against the flower in the blood: Not wealth nor wisdom stands Above the simple vein, The straight mouth. Go to your greenhorn youth Before time ends And do good With your white hands.'

26 The Shrike

When night comes black Such royal dreams beckon this man As lift him apart From his earth-wife's side To wing, sleep-feathered, The singular air, While she, envious bride, Cannot follow after, but lies With her blank brown eyes starved wide, Twisting curses in the tangled sheet With taloned fingers, Shaking in her skull's cage The stuffed shape of her flown mate Escaped among moon-plumaged strangers; So hungered, she must wait in rage Until bird-racketing dawn When her shrike-face Leans to peck open those locked lids, to eat Crowns, palace, all That nightlong stole her male, And with red beak Spike and suck out Last blood-drop of that truant heart.


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27 Alicante Lullaby

In Alicante they bowl the barrels Bumblingly over the nubs of the cobbles Past the yellow-paella eateries, Below the ramshackle back-alley balconies,

While the co*cks and hens In the roofgardens

Scuttle repose with crowns and cackles.

Kumquat-colored trolleys ding as they trundle Passengers under an indigo fizzle Needling spumily down from the wires: Alongside the sibilant harbor the lovers

Hear loudspeakers boom From each neon-lit palm

Rumbas and sambas no ear-flaps can muffle.

O Cacophony, goddess of jazz and of quarrels, Crack-throated mistress of bagpipes and cymbals, Let be your con brios, your capricciosos, Crescendos, cadenzas, prestos and prestissimos,

My head on the pillow {Piano, pianissimo)

Lullayed by susurrous lyres and viols.

28 Dream with Clam-Diggers

This dream budded bright with leaves around the edges, Its clear air winnowed by angels; she was come Back to her early sea-town home Scathed, stained after tedious pilgrimages.

Barefoot, she stood, in shock of that returning, Beside a neighbor's house With shingles burnished as glass, Blinds lowered on that hot morning.


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i95b No change met her: garden terrace, all summer Tanged by melting tar, Sloped seaward to plunge in blue; fed by white fire, The whole scene flared welcome to this roamer.

High against heaven, gulls went wheeling soundless Over tidal-flats where three children played Silent and shining on a green rock bedded in mud, Their fabulous heyday endless.

With green rock gliding, a delicate schooner Decked forth in co*ckle-shells, They sailed till tide foamed round their ankles And the fair ship sank, its crew knelled home for dinner.

Plucked back thus sudden to that far innocence, She, in her shabby travel garb, began Walking eager toward water, when there, one by one, Clam-diggers rose up out of dark slime at her offense.

Grim as gargoyles from years spent squatting at sea's border In wait amid snarled weed and wrack of wave To trap this wayward girl at her first move of love, Now with stake and pitchfork they advance, flint eyes fixed on murder.

.9 Wreath for a Bridal

What though green leaves only witness Such pact as is made once only; what matter That owl voice sole 'yes', while cows utter Low moos of approve; let sun surpliced in brightness Stand stock still to laud these mated ones Whose stark act all coming double luck joins.

Couched daylong in cloisters of stinging nettle They lie, cut-grass assaulting each separate sense With savor; coupled so, pure paragons of Constance, This pair seek single state from that dual battle. Now speak some sacrament to parry scruple For wedlock wrought within love's proper chapel.


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1956 Call here with flying colors all watchful birds To people the twigged aisles; lead babel tongues Of animals to choir: 'Look what thresh of wings Wields guard of honor over these!' Starred with words Let night bless that luck-rooted mead of clover Where, bedded like angels, two burn one in fever.

From this holy day on, all pollen blown Shall strew broadcast so rare a seed on wind That every breath, thus teeming, set the land Sprouting fruit, flowers, children most fair in legion To slay spawn of dragon's teeth: speaking this promise, Let flesh be knit, and each step hence go famous.

Epitaph for Fire and Flower

You might as well haul up This wave's green peak on wire To prevent fall, or anchor the fluent air In quartz, as crack your skull to keep These two most perishable lovers from the touch That will kindle angels' envy, scorch and drop Their fond hearts charred as any match.

Seek no stony camera-eye to fix The passing dazzle of each face In black and white, or put on ice Mouth's instant flare for future looks; Stars shoot their petals, and suns run to seed, However you may sweat to hold such darling wrecks Hived like honey in your head.

Now in the crux of their vows hang your ear, Still as a shell: hear what an age of glass These lovers prophesy to lock embrace Secure in museum diamond for the stare Of astounded generations; they wrestle To conquer cinder's kingdom in the stroke of an hour And hoard faith safe in a fossil.


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But though they'd rivet sinews in rock And have every weatherco*ck kiss hang fire As if to outflame a phoenix, the moment's spur Drives nimble blood too quick For a wish to tether: they ride nightlong In their heartbeats' blazing wake until red co*ck Plucks bare that comet's flowering.

Dawn snuffs out star's spent wick, Even as love's dear fools cry evergreen, And a languor of wax congeals the vein No matter how fiercely lit; staunch contracts break And recoil in the altering light: the radiant limb Blows ash in each lover's eye; the ardent look Blackens flesh to bone and devours them.

Fiesta Melons

In Benidorm there are melons, Whole donkey-carts full

Of innumerable melons, Ovals and balls,

Bright green and thumpable Laced over with stripes

Of turtle-dark green. Choose an egg-shape, a world-shape,

Bowl one homeward to taste In the whitehot noon:

Cream-smooth honeydews, Pink-pulped whoppers,

Bump-rinded cantaloupes With orange cores.


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'956 Each wedge wears a studding Of blanched seeds or black seeds

To strew like confetti Under the feet of

This market of melon-eating Fiesta-goers.

32 The Goring

Arena dust rusted by four bulls' blood to a dull redness, The afternoon at a bad end under the crowd's truculence, The ritual death each time botched among dropped capes, ill-judged

stabs, The strongest will seemed a will toward ceremony. Obese, dark-Faced in his rich yellows, tassels, pompons, braid, the picador

Rode out against the fifth bull to brace his pike and slowly bear Down deep into the bent bull-neck. Cumbrous routine, not artwork. Instinct for art began with the bull's horn lofting in the mob's Hush a lumped man-shape. The whole act formal, fluent as a dance. Blood faultlessly broached redeemed the sullied air, the earth's grossness.

33 The Beggars

Nightfall, cold eye—neither disheartens These goatish tragedians who Hawk misfortune like figs and chickens

And, plaintiff against each day, decry Nature's partial, haphazard thumb. Under white wall and Moorish window

Griefs honest grimace, debased by time, Caricatures itself and thrives On the coins of pity. At random


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1956 A beggar stops among eggs and loaves, Props a leg-stump upon a crutch, Jiggles his tin cup at the good wives.

By lack and loss these beggars encroach On spirits tenderer than theirs, Suffering-toughened beyond the fetch

Of finest conscience. Nightfall obscures

The bay's sheer, extravagant blue, White house and almond grove. The beggars

Outlast their evilest star, wryly And with a perfidious verve Baffle the dark, the pitying eye.


Anansi, black busybody of the folktales, You scuttle out on impulse Blunt in self-interest As a sledge hammer, as a man's bunched fist, Yet of devils the cleverest To get your carousals told: You spun the cosmic web: you squint from center field.

Last summer I came upon your Spanish cousin, Notable robber baron, Behind a goatherd's hut: Near his small stonehenge above the ants' route, One-third ant-size, a leggy spot, He tripped an ant with a rope Scarcely visible. About and about the slope

Of his redoubt he ran his nimble filament, Each time round winding that ant Tighter to the cocoon Already veiling the gray spool of stone


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From which coils, caught ants waved legs in Torpid warning, or lay still And suffered their livelier fellows to struggle.

Then briskly scaled his altar tiered with tethered ants, Nodding in a somnolence Appalling to witness, To the barbarous outlook, from there chose His next martyr to the gross cause Of concupiscence. Once more With black alacrity bound round his prisoner.

The ants—a file of comers, a file of goers— Persevered on a set course No scruple could disrupt, Obeying orders of instinct till swept Off-stage and infamously wrapped Up by a spry black deus Ex machina. Nor did they seem deterred by this.


Now this particular girl During a ceremonious April walk With her latest suitor Found herself, of a sudden, intolerably struck By the birds' irregular babel And the leaves' litter.

By this tumult afflicted, she Observed her lover's gestures unbalance the air, His gait stray uneven Through a rank wilderness of fern and flower. She judged petals in disarray, The whole season, sloven.

How she longed for winter then! — Scrupulously austere in its order Of white and black Ice and rock, each sentiment within border,


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And heart's frosty discipline Exact as a snowflake.

But here—a burgeoning Unruly enough to pitch her five queenly wits Into vulgar motley — A treason not to be borne. Let idiots Reel giddy in bedlam spring: She withdrew neatly.

And round her house she set Such a barricade of barb and check Against mutinous weather As no mere insurgent man could hope to break With curse, fist, threat Or love, either.


I've got a stubborn goose whose gut's Honeycombed with golden eggs, Yet won't lay one. She, addled in her goose-wit, struts The barnyard like those taloned hags Who ogle men

And crimp their wrinkles in a grin, Jangling their great money bags. While I eat grits She fattens on the finest grain. Now, as I hone my knife, she begs Pardon, and that's

So humbly done, I'd turn this keen Steel on myself before profit By such a rogue's Act, but—how those feathers shine!

Exit from a smoking slit Her ruby dregs.


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The figs on the fig tree in the yard are green; Green, also, the grapes on the green vine Shading the brickred porch tiles. The money's run out.

How nature, sensing this, compounds her bitters. Ungifted, ungrieved, our leavetaking. The sun shines on unripe corn. Cats play in the stalks.

Retrospect shall not soften such penury— Sun's brass, the moon's steely patinas, The leaden slag of the world — But always expose

The scraggy rock spit shielding the town's blue bay Against which the brunt of outer sea Beats, is brutal endlessly. Gull-fouled, a stone hut

Bares its low lintel to corroding weathers: Across the jut of ochreous rock Goats shamble, morose, rank-haired, To lick the sea-salt.


Mud-mattressed under the sign of the hag In a clench of blood, the sleep-talking virgin Gibbets with her curse the moon's man, fa*ggot-bearing Jack in his crackless egg:

Hatched with a claret hogshead to swig He kings it, navel-knit to no groan, But at the price of a pin-stitched skin Fish-tailed girls purchase each white leg.


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39 Resolve

Day of mist: day of tarnish

with hands unserviceable, I wait for the milk van

the one-eared cat laps its gray paw

and the coal fire burns

outside, the little hedge leaves are become quite yellow a milk-film blurs the empty bottles on the windowsill

no glory descends

two water drops poise on the arched green stem of my neighbor's rose bush

o bent bow of thorns

the cat unsheathes its claws the world turns

today today I will not disenchant my twelve black-gowned examiners or bunch my fist in the wind's sneer.


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From my rented attic with no earth To call my own except the air-motes, I malign the leaden perspective Of identical gray brick houses, Orange roof-tiles, orange chimney pots, And see that first house, as if between Mirrors, engendering a spectral Corridor of inane replicas, Flimsily peopled.

But landowners Own their cabbage roots, a space of stars, Indigenous peace. Such substance makes My eyeful of reflections a ghost's Eyeful, which, envious, would define Death as striking root on one land-tract; Life, its own vaporous wayfarings.

Ella Mason and Her Eleven Cats

Old Ella Mason keeps cats, eleven at last count, In her ramshackle house off Somerset Terrace; People make queries On seeing our neighbor's cat-haunt, Saying: 'Something's addled in a woman who accommodates That many cats.'

Rum and red-faced as a water-melon, her voice Long gone to wheeze and seed, Ella Mason For no good reason Plays hostess to Tabby, Tom and increase, With cream and chicken-gut feasting the palates Of finical cats.

Village stories go that in olden days Ella flounced about, minx-thin and haughty, A fashionable beauty,


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Slaying the dandies with her emerald eyes; Now, run to fat, she's a spinster whose door shuts On all but cats.

Once we children sneaked over to spy Miss Mason Napping in her kitchen paved with saucers. On antimacassars Table-top, cupboard shelf, cats lounged brazen, One gruff-timbred purr rolling from furred throats: Such stentorian cats!

With poke and giggle, ready to skedaddle, We peered agog through the cobwebbed door Straight into yellow glare Of guardian cats crouched round their idol, While Ella drowsed whiskered with sleek face, sly wits: Sphinx-queen of cats.

'Look! there she goes, Cat-Lady Mason!' We snickered as she shambled down Somerset Terrace To market for her dearies, More mammoth and blowsy with every season; 'Miss Ella's got loony from keeping in cahoots With eleven cats.'

But now turned kinder with time, we mark Miss Mason Blinking green-eyed and solitary At girls who marry— Demure ones, lithe ones, needing no lesson That vain jades sulk single down bridal nights, Accurst as wild-cats.

42 Crystal Gazer

Gerd sits spindle-shanked in her dark tent, Lean face gone tawn with seasons, Skin worn down to the knucklebones At her tough trade; without time's taint The burnished ball hangs fire in her hands, a lens Fusing time's three horizons.


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Two enter to tap her sight, a green pair Fresh leaved out in vows: 'Come tell How we shall do together, Well or ill.' Gerd slants a look at each: most dear, Each to the other; fit fiber for stern weather. Slowly she spins the ball:

'I see two stalwart apple trees Coupled by branches intertwined And, springing all about, Staunch saplings; to this house, thriving days Will bring crop's increase, and harvest fruit Follow on kind wind.'

'No hardship then ?' he asks. 'We'll take Whatever trial's to come, so say true.' His bride echoes his word. At that, Gerd whirls the ball ablaze: 'Rough storm,' she grants, 'may wreak Some havoc on tender limb, and yet Strengthen that orchard thereby.'

Their small price paid, these wedded ones Walk forth into sun-moneyed air, quickened To savor their span of flourishing. Aloof, squatting mummy-wise, Gerd scans That clairvoyant quartz which once, at her own wishing, Exacted her first simple sight for this strict second.

Then, a free-gadding hoyden, Gerd had craved To govern more sight than given to a woman By wits alone: to foresee her lover's faith And their future lot, she braved Church curse to ken that crooked oath Whereby one hires a demon.

A flash like doomcrack rent night's black: God's work stood anchored in that glare Focusing all time's day-suns in one So beggar Gerd might aim her look At gorgon-prospects with power to strike to stone Hearts of those who pierced time's core.


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I95& What Gerd saw then engraved her mind Plague-pitted as the moon: each bud Shriveling to cinders at its source, Each love blazing blind to its gutted end — And, fixed in the crystal center, grinning fierce: Earth's ever-green death's head.

43 November Graveyard

The scene stands stubborn: skinflint trees Hoard last year's leaves, won't mourn, wear sackcloth, or turn To elegiac dryads, and dour grass Guards the hard-hearted emerald of its grassiness However the grandiloquent mind may scorn Such poverty. No dead men's cries

Flower forget-me-nots between the stones Paving this grave ground. Here's honest rot To unpick the heart, pare bone Free of the fictive vein. When one stark skeleton Bulks real, all saints' tongues fall quiet: Flies watch no resurrections in the sun.

At the essential landscape stare, stare Till your eyes foist a vision dazzling on the wind: Whatever lost ghosts flare, Damned, howling in their shrouds across the moor Rave on the leash of the starving mind Which peoples the bare room, the blank, untenanted air.

44 Black Rook in Rainy Weather

On the stiff twig up there Hunches a wet black rook Arranging and rearranging its feathers in the rain. I do not expect a miracle Or an accident


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To set the sight on fire In my eye, nor seek Any more in the desultory weather some design, But let spotted leaves fall as they fall, Without ceremony, or portent.

Although, I admit, I desire, Occasionally, some backtalk From the mute sky, I can't honestly complain: A certain minor light may still Lean incandescent

Out of kitchen table or chair As if a celestial burning took Possession of the most obtuse objects now and then— Thus hallowing an interval Otherwise inconsequent

By bestowing largesse, honor, One might say love. At any rate, I now walk Wary (for it could happen Even in this dull, ruinous landscape); skeptical, Yet politic; ignorant

Of whatever angel may choose to flare Suddenly at my elbow. I only know that a rook Ordering its black feathers can so shine As to seize my senses, haul My eyelids up, and grant

A brief respite from fear Of total neutrality. With luck, Trekking stubborn through this season Of fatigue, I shall Patch together a content

Of sorts. Miracles occur, If you care to call those spasmodic Tricks of radiance miracles. The wait's begun again, The long wait for the angel, For that rare, random descent.


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The Snowman on the Moor

Stalemated their armies stood, with tottering banners: She flung from a room Still ringing with bruit of insults and dishonors

And in fury left him Glowering at the coal-fire: 'Come find me' —her last taunt. He did not come

But sat on, guarding his grim battlement. By the doorstep Her winter-beheaded daisies, marrowless, gaunt,

Warned her to keep Indoors with politic goodwill, not haste Into a landscape

Of stark wind-harrowed hills and weltering mist; But from the house She stalked intractable as a driven ghost

Across moor snows Pocked by rook-claw and rabbit-track: she must yet win Him to his knees—

Let him send police and hounds to bring her in. Nursing her rage Through bare whistling heather, over stiles of black stone,


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'957 To the world's white edge She came, and called hell to subdue an unruly man And join her siege.

It was no fire-blurting fork-tailed demon Volcanoed hot From marble snow-heap of moor to ride that woman

With spur and knout Down from pride's size: instead, a grisly-thewed, Austere, corpse-white

Giant heaved into the distance, stone-hatcheted, Sky-high, and snow Floured his whirling beard, and at his tread

Ambushed birds by Dozens dropped dead in the hedges: o she felt No love in his eye,

Worse—saw dangling from that spike-studded belt Ladies' sheaved skulls: Mournfully the dry tongues clacked their guilt:

'Our wit made fools Of kings, unmanned kings' sons: our masteries Amused court halls:

For that brag, we barnacle these iron thighs.' Throned in the thick Of a blizzard, the giant roared up with his chittering trophies.

From brunt of axe-crack She shied sideways: a white fizz! and the giant, pursuing, Crumbled to smoke.

Humbled then, and crying, The girl bent homeward, brimful of gentle talk And mild obeying.


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Throughout black winter the red haws withstood Assault of snow-flawed winds from the dour skies And, bright as blood-drops, proved no brave branch dies If root's firm-fixed and resolution good. Now, as green sap ascends the steepled wood, Each hedge with such white bloom astounds our eyes As sprang from Joseph's rod, and testifies How best beauty's born of hardihood.

So when staunch island stock chose forfeiture Of the homeland hearth to plough their pilgrim way Across Atlantic furrows, dark, unsure— Remembering the white, triumphant spray On hawthorn boughs, with goodwill to endure They named their ship after the flower of May.


God knows how our neighbor managed to breed His great sow: Whatever his shrewd secret, he kept it hid

In the same way He kept the sow—impounded from public stare, Prize ribbon and pig show.

But one dusk our questions commended us to a tour Through his lantern-lit Maze of barns to the lintel of the sunk sty door

To gape at it: This was no rose-and-larkspurred china suckling With a penny slot

For thrifty children, nor dolt pig ripe for heckling, About to be Glorified for prime flesh and golden crackling


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In a parsley halo; Nor even one of the common barnyard sows, Mire-smirched, blowzy,

Maunching thistle and knotweed on her snout-cruise— Bloat tun of milk On the move, hedged by a litter of feat-foot ninnies

Shrilling her hulk To halt for a swig at the pink teats. No. This vast Brobdingnag bulk

Of a sow lounged belly-bedded on that black compost, Fat-rutted eyes Dream-filmed. What a vision of ancient hoghood must

Thus wholly engross The great grandam! —our marvel blazoned a knight, Helmed, in cuirass,

Unhorsed and shredded in the grove of combat By a grisly-bristled Boar, fabulous enough to straddle that sow's heat.

But our farmer whistled, Then, with a jocular fist thwacked the barrel nape, And the green-copse-castled

Pig hove, letting legend like dried mud drop, Slowly, grunt On grunt, up in the flickering light to shape

A monument Prodigious in gluttonies as that hog whose want Made lean Lent

Of kitchen slops and, stomaching no constraint, Proceeded to swill The seven troughed seas and every earthquaking continent.


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The Everlasting Monday Thou shalt have an everlasting

Monday and stand in the moon.

The moon's man stands in his shell, Bent under a bundle Of sticks. The light falls chalk and cold Upon our bedspread. His teeth are chattering among the leprous Peaks and craters of those extinct volcanoes.

He also against black frost Would pick sticks, would not rest Until his own lit room outshone Sunday's ghost of sun; Now works his hell of Mondays in the moon's Fireless, seven chill seas chained to his ankle.

Hardcastle Crags

Flintlike, her feet struck Such a racket of echoes from the steely street, Tacking in moon-blued crooks from the black Stone-built town, that she heard the quick air ignite Its tinder and shake

A firework of echoes from wall To wall of the dark, dwarfed cottages. But the echoes died at her back as the walls Gave way to fields and the incessant seethe of grasses Riding in the full

Of the moon, manes to the wind, Tireless, tied, as a moon-bound sea Moves on its root. Though a mist-wraith wound Up from the fissured valley and hung shoulder-high Ahead, it fattened


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To no family-featured ghost, Nor did any word body with a name The blank mood she walked in. Once past The dream-peopled village, her eyes entertained no dream, And the sandman's dust

Lost lustre under her footsoles. The long wind, paring her person down To a pinch of flame, blew its burdened whistle In the whorl of her ear, and like a scooped-out pumpkin crown Her head cupped the babel.

All the night gave her, in return For the paltry gift of her bulk and the beat Of her heart, was the humped indifferent iron Of its hills, and its pastures bordered by black stone set On black stone. Barns

Guarded broods and litters Behind shut doors; the dairy herds Knelt in the meadow mute as boulders; Sheep drowsed stoneward in their tussocks of wool, and birds, Twig-sleeping, wore

Granite ruffs, their shadows The guise of leaves. The whole landscape Loomed absolute as the antique world was Once, in its earliest sway of lymph and sap, Unaltered by eyes,

Enough to snuff the quick Of her small heat out, but before the weight Of stones and hills of stones could break Her down to mere quartz grit in that stony light She turned back.


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The Thin People

They are always with us, the thin people Meager of dimension as the gray people

On a movie-screen. They Are unreal, we say:

It was only in a movie, it was only In a war making evil headlines when we

Were small that they famished and Grew so lean and would not round

Out their stalky limbs again though peace Plumped the bellies of the mice

Under the meanest table. It was during the long hunger-battle

They found their talent to persevere In thinness, to come, later,

Into our bad dreams, their menace Not guns, not abuses,

But a thin silence. Wrapped in flea-ridden donkey skins,

Empty of complaint, forever Drinking vinegar from tin cups: they wore

The insufferable nimbus of the lot-drawn Scapegoat. But so thin,

So weedy a race could not remain in dreams, Could not remain outlandish victims

In the contracted country of the head Any more than the old woman in her mud hut could


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Keep from cutting fat meat Out of the side of the generous moon when it

Set foot nightly in her yard Until her knife had pared

The moon to a rind of little light. Now the thin people do not obliterate

Themselves as the dawn Grayness blues, reddens, and the outline

Of the world comes clear and fills with color. They persist in the sunlit room: the wallpaper

Frieze of cabbage-roses and cornflowers pales Under their thin-lipped smiles,

Their withering kingship. How they prop each other up!

We own no wildernesses rich and deep enough For stronghold against their stiff

Battalions. See, how the tree boles flatten And lose their good browns

If the thin people simply stand in the forest, Making the world go thin as a wasp's nest

And grayer; not even moving their bones.

51 On the Difficulty of Conjuring Up a Dryad

Ravening through the persistent bric-a-brac Of blunt pencils, rose-sprigged coffee cup, Postage stamps, stacked books' clamor and yawp,


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1957 Neighborhood co*ckcrow—all nature's prodigal backtalk,

The vaunting mind Snubs impromptu spiels of wind And wrestles to impose Its own order on what is.

'With my fantasy alone,' brags the importunate head, Arrogant among rook-tongued spaces, Sheep greens, finned falls, 'I shall compose a crisis To stun sky black out, drive gibbering mad

Trout, co*ck, ram, That bulk so calm On my jealous stare, Self-sufficient as they are.'

But no hocus-pocus of green angels Damasks with dazzle the threadbare eye; 'My trouble, doctor, is: I see a tree, And that damn scrupulous tree won't practice wiles

To beguile sight: E.g., by cant of light Concoct a Daphne; My tree stays tree.

'However I wrench obstinate bark and trunk To my sweet will, no luminous shape Steps out radiant in limb, eye, lip, To hoodwink the honest earth which pointblank

Spurns such fiction As nymphs; cold vision Will have no counterfeit Palmed off on it.

'No doubt now in dream-propertied fall some moon-eyed, Star-lucky sleight-of-hand man watches My jilting lady squander coin, gold leaf stock ditches, And the opulent air go studded with seed,

While this beggared brain Hatches no fortune, But from leaf, from grass, Thieves what it has.'


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On the Plethora of Dryads

Hearing a white saint rave About a quintessential beauty Visible only to the paragon heart, I tried my sight on an apple-tree That for eccentric knob and wart Had all my love.

Without meat or drink I sat Starving my fantasy down To discover that metaphysical Tree which hid From my worldling look its brilliant vein Far deeper in gross wood Than axe could cut.

But before I might blind sense To see with the spotless soul, Each particular quirk so ravished me Every pock and stain bulked more beautiful Than flesh of any body Flawed by love's prints.

Battle however I would To break through that patchwork Of leaves' bicker and whisk in babel tongues, Streak and mottle of tawn bark, No visionary lightnings Pierced my dense lid.

Instead, a wanton fit Dragged each dazzled sense apart Surfeiting eye, ear, taste, touch, smell; Now, snared by this miraculous art, I ride earth's burning carrousel Day in, day out,

And such grit corrupts my eyes I must watch slu*ttish dryads twitch


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Their multifarious silks in the holy grove Until no chaste tree but suffers blotch Under flux of those seductive Reds, greens, blues.

The Other Two

All summer we moved in a villa brimful of echoes, Cool as the pearled interior of a conch. Bells, hooves, of the high-stepping black goats woke us. Around our bed the baronial furniture Foundered through levels of light seagreen and strange. Not one leaf wrinkled in the clearing air. We dreamed how we were perfect, and we were.

Against bare, whitewashed walls, the furniture Anchored itself, griffin-legged and darkly grained. Two of us in a place meant for ten more— Our footsteps multiplied in the shadowy chambers, Our voices fathomed a profounder sound: The walnut banquet table, the twelve chairs Mirrored the intricate gestures of two others.

Heavy as statuary, shapes not ours Performed a dumbshow in the polished wood, That cabinet without windows or doors: He lifts an arm to bring her close, but she Shies from his touch: his is an iron mood. Seeing her freeze, he turns his face away. They poise and grieve as in some old tragedy.

Moon-blanched and implacable, he and she Would not be eased, released. Our each example Of tenderness dove through their purgatory Like a planet, a stone, swallowed in a great darkness, Leaving no sparky track, setting up no ripple. Nightly we left them in their desert place. Lights out, they dogged us, sleepless and envious:


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1957 We dreamed their arguments, their stricken voices. We might embrace, but those two never did, Come, so unlike us, to a stiff impasse, Burdened in such a way we seemed the lighter— Ourselves the haunters, and they, flesh and blood; As if, above love's ruinage, we were The heaven those two dreamed of, in despair.

The Lady and the Earthenware Head

Fired in sanguine clay, the model head Fit nowhere: brickdust-complected, eye under a dense lid, On the long bookshelf it stood Stolidly propping thick volumes of prose: spite-set Ape of her look. Best rid Hearthstone at once of the outrageous head; Still, she felt loath to junk it.

No place, it seemed, for the effigy to fare Free from all molesting. Rough boys, Spying a pate to spare Glowering sullen and pompous from an ash-heap, Might well seize this prize, Maltreat the hostage head in shocking wise, And waken the sly nerve up

That knits to each original its coarse copy. A dark tarn She thought of then, thick-silted, with weeds obscured, To serve her exacting turn: But out of the watery aspic, laureled by fins, The simulacrum leered, Lewdly beckoning, and her courage wavered: She blenched, as one who drowns,

And resolved more ceremoniously to lodge The mimic head—in a crotched willow, green-Vaulted by foliage: Let bell-tongued birds descant in blackest feather On the rendering, grain by grain,


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Of that uncouth shape to simple sod again Through drear and dulcet weather.

Yet, shrined on her shelf, the grisly visage endured, Despite her wrung hands, her tears, her praying: Vanish! Steadfast and evil-starred, It ogled through rock-fault, wind-flaw and fisted wave — An antique hag-head, too tough for knife to finish, Refusing to diminish By one jot its basilisk-look of love.

All the Dead Dears In the Archaeological Museum in Cambridge is a stone coffin of the fourth century A.D. containing the skeletons of a woman, a mouse and a shrew. The ankle-bone of the woman has been slightly gnawn.

Rigged poker-stiff on her back With a granite grin This antique museum-cased lady Lies, companioned by the gimcrack Relics of a mouse and a shrew That battened for a day on her ankle-bone.

These three, unmasked now, bear Dry witness To the gross eating game We'd wink at if we didn't hear Stars grinding, crumb by crumb, Our own grist down to its bony face.

How they grip us through thin and thick, These barnacle dead! This lady here's no kin Of mine, yet kin she is: she'll suck Blood and whistle my marrow clean To prove it. As I think now of her head,

From the mercury-backed glass Mother, grandmother, greatgrandmother Reach hag hands to haul me in,


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And an image looms under the fishpond surface Where the daft father went down With orange duck-feet winnowing his hair—

All the long gone darlings: they Get back, though, soon, Soon: be it by wakes, weddings, Childbirths or a family barbecue: Any touch, taste, tang's Fit for those outlaws to ride home on,

And to sanctuary: usurping the armchair Between tick And tack of the clock, until we go, Each skulled-and-crossboned Gulliver Riddled with ghosts, to lie Deadlocked with them, taking root as cradles rock.

Natural History

That lofty monarch, Monarch Mind, Blue-blooded in coarse country reigned; Though he bedded in ermine, gorged on roast, Pure Philosophy his love engrossed: While subjects hungered, empty-pursed, With stars, with angels, he conversed

Till, sick of their ruler's godling airs, In one body those earthborn commoners Rose up and put royal nerves to the rack: King Egg-Head saw his domain crack, His crown usurped by the low brow Of the base, barbarous Prince Ow.

Two Views of Withens

Above whorled, spindling gorse, Sheepfoot-flattened grasses, Stone wall and ridgepole rise

7 i

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1957 Prow-like through blurs Of fog in that hinterland few Hikers get to:

Home of uncatchable Sage hen and spry rabbit, Where second wind, hip boot Help over hill And hill, and through peaty water. I found bare moor,

A colorless weather, And the House of Eros Low-lintelled, no palace; You, luckier, Report white pillars, a blue sky, The ghosts, kindly.

The Great Carbuncle

We came over the moor-top Through air streaming and green-lit, Stone farms foundering in it, Valleys of grass altering In a light neither of dawn

Nor nightfall, our hands, faces Lucent as porcelain, the earth's Claim and weight gone out of them. Some such transfiguring moved The eight pilgrims towards its source —

Toward that great jewel: shown often, Never given; hidden, yet Simultaneously seen On moor-top, at sea-bottom, Knowable only by light

Other than noon, than moon, stars— The once-known way becoming


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Wholly other, and ourselves Estranged, changed, suspended where Angels are rumored, clearly

Floating, among the floating Tables and chairs. Gravity's Lost in the lift and drift of An easier element Than earth, and there is nothing

So fine we cannot do it. But nearing means distancing: At the common homecoming Light withdraws. Chairs, tables drop Down: the body weighs like stone.

Words for a Nursery

Rosebud, knot of worms, Heir of the first five Shapers, I open: Five moony crescents For eyes to light me Toward what I can grab, Milk-spout, big finger So many ladders Giving a leg up To these limber hooks.

I learn, good circus Dog that I am, how To move, serve, steer food, Index the arrow, Thumbhead, blunt helper, My master's fetcher, Whipper of itches, No pocket dozer, I shut on the key Of this blue-green toy.


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1957 Five-antlered, branching Touchy antenna, I nose out the lay Of thistle and silk, Cold pole and hot plate. Old historian, My page this desert Crossed by three causeways, Leathery, treeless, With five whorled landspits.

Brown-backed, white-bellied As a flatfish, I Swim the Sea of Do, The left my lackey, My backward image. Penbearer, scrubnurse, The captain's batman, By heart here I hold Coin, button, trigger And his love's body.

Ill-served he'll be when Age manhandles me (A crab to nap on Chairarms and tables, Five wickless candles To wag at the dark) And worse-served when death Makes off with this rose, Five worms in a box To feed the thin crows.

60 The Disquieting Muses

Mother, mother, what illbred aunt Or what disfigured and unsightly Cousin did you so unwisely keep Unasked to my christening, that she Sent these ladies in her stead


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With heads like darning-eggs to nod And nod and nod at foot and head And at the left side of my crib ?

Mother, who made to order stories Of Mixie Blackshort the heroic bear, Mother, whose witches always, always Got baked into gingerbread, I wonder Whether you saw them, whether you said Words to rid me of those three ladies Nodding by night around my bed, Mouthless, eyeless, with stitched bald head.

In the hurricane, when father's twelve Study windows bellied in Like bubbles about to break, you fed My brother and me cookies and Ovaltine And helped the two of us to choir: 'Thor is angry: boom boom boom! Thor is angry: we don't care!' But those ladies broke the panes.

When on tiptoe the schoolgirls danced, Blinking flashlights like fireflies And singing the glowworm song, I could Not lift a foot in the twinkle-dress But, heavy-footed, stood aside In the shadow cast by my dismal-headed Godmothers, and you cried and cried: And the shadow stretched, the lights went out.

Mother, you sent me to piano lessons And praised my arabesques and trills Although each teacher found my touch Oddly wooden in spite of scales And the hours of practicing, my ear Tone-deaf and yes, unteachable. I learned, I learned, I learned elsewhere, From muses unhired by you, dear mother.

I woke one day to see you, mother, Floating above me in bluest air


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1957 On a green balloon bright with a million Flowers and bluebirds that never were Never, never, found anywhere. But the little planet bobbed away Like a soap-bubble as you called: Come here! And I faced my traveling companions.

Day now, night now, at head, side, feet, They stand their vigil in gowns of stone, Faces blank as the day I was born, Their shadows long in the setting sun That never brightens or goes down. And this is the kingdom you bore me to, Mother, mother. But no frown of mine Will betray the company I keep.

6/ Night Shift

It was not a heart, beating, That muted boom, that clangor Far off, not blood in the ears Drumming up any fever

To impose on the evening. The noise came from outside: A metal detonating Native, evidently, to

These stilled suburbs: nobody Startled at it, though the sound Shook the ground with its pounding. It took root at my coming

Till the thudding source, exposed, Confounded inept guesswork: Framed in windows of Main Street's Silver factory, immense

Hammers hoisted, wheels turning, Stalled, let fall their vertical


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1957 Tonnage of metal and wood; Stunned the marrow. Men in white

Undershirts circled, tending Without stop those greased machines, Tending, without stop, the blunt Indefatigable fact.

62 Ouija It is a chilly god, a god of shades, Rises to the glass from his black fathoms. At the window, those unborn, those undone Assemble with the frail paleness of moths, An envious phosphorescence in their wings. Vermilions, bronzes, colors of the sun In the coal fire will not wholly console them. Imagine their deep hunger, deep as the dark For the blood-heat that would ruddle or reclaim. The glass mouth sucks blood-heat from my forefinger. The old god dribbles, in return, his words.

The old god, too, writes aureate poetry In tarnished modes, maundering among the wastes, Fair chronicler of every foul declension. Age, and ages of prose, have uncoiled His talking whirlwind, abated his excessive temper When words, like locusts, drummed the darkening air And left the cobs to rattle, bitten clean. Skies once wearing a blue, divine hauteur Ravel above us, mistily descend, Thickening with motes, to a marriage with the mire.

He hymns the rotten queen with saffron hair Who has saltier aphrodisiacs Than virgins' tears. That bawdy queen of death, Her wormy couriers are at his bones. Still he hymns juice of her, hot nectarine. I see him, horny-skinned and tough, construe What flinty pebbles the ploughblade upturns As ponderable tokens of her love.


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J957 He, godly, doddering, spells No succinct Gabriel from the letters here But floridly, his amorous nostalgias.

63 On the Decline of Oracles My father kept a vaulted conch By two bronze bookends of ships in sail, And as I listened its cold teeth seethed With voices of that ambiguous sea Old Bocklin missed, who held a shell To hear the sea he could not hear. What the seashell spoke to his inner ear He knew, but no peasants know.

My father died, and when he died He willed his books and shell away. The books burned up, sea took the shell, But I, I keep the voices he Set in my ear, and in my eye The sight of those blue, unseen waves For which the ghost of Bocklin grieves. The peasants feast and multiply.

Eclipsing the spitted ox I see Neither brazen swan nor burning star, Heraldry of a starker age, But three men entering the yard, And those men coming up the stair. Profitless, their gossiping images Invade the cloistral eye like pages From a gross comic strip, and toward

The happening of this happening The earth turns now. In half an hour I shall go down the shabby stair and meet, Coming up, those three. Worth Less than present, past—this future. Worthless such vision to eyes gone dull That once descried Troy's towers fall, Saw evil break out of the north.


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64 Snakecharmer

As the gods began one world, and man another, So the snakecharmer begins a snaky sphere With moon-eye, mouth-pipe. He pipes. Pipes green. Pipes water.

Pipes water green until green waters waver With reedy lengths and necks and undulatings. And as his notes twine green, the green river

Shapes its images around his songs. He pipes a place to stand on, but no rocks, No floor: a wave of flickering grass tongues

Supports his foot. He pipes a world of snakes, Of sways and coilings, from the snake-rooted bottom Of his mind. And now nothing but snakes

Is visible. The snake-scales have become Leaf, become eyelid; snake-bodies, bough, breast Of tree and human. And he within this snakedom

Rules the writhings which make manifest His snakehood and his might with pliant tunes From his thin pipe. Out of this green nest

As out of Eden's navel twist the lines Of snaky generations: let there be snakes! And snakes there were, are, will be—till yawns

Consume this piper and he tires of music And pipes the world back to the simple fabric Of snake-warp, snake-weft. Pipes the cloth of snakes

To a melting of green waters, till no snake Shows its head, and those green waters back to Water, to green, to nothing like a snake. Puts up his pipe, and lids his moony eye.


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65 A Lesson in Vengeance

In the dour ages Of drafty cells and draftier castles, Of dragons breathing without the frame of fables, Saint and king unfisted obstruction's knuckles By no miracle or majestic means,

But by such abuses As smack of spite and the overscrupulous Twisting of thumbscrews: one soul tied in sinews, One white horse drowned, and all the unconquered pinnacles Of God's city and Babylon's

Must wait, while here Suso's Hand hones his tacks and needles, Scourging to sores his own red sluices For the relish of heaven, relentless, dousing with prickles Of horsehair and lice his horny loins;

While there irate Cyrus Squanders a summer and the brawn of his heroes To rebuke the horse-swallowing River Gyndes: He split it into three hundred and sixty trickles A girl could wade without wetting her shins.

Still, latter-day sages, Smiling at this behavior, subjugating their enemies Neatly, nicely, by disbelief or bridges, Never grip, as their grandsires did, that devil who chuckles From grain of the marrow and the river-bed grains.


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66 Virgin in a Tree

How this tart fable instructs And mocks! Here's the parody of that moral mousetrap Set in the proverbs stitched on samplers Approving chased girls who get them to a tree And put on bark's nun-black

Habit which deflects All amorous arrows. For to sheathe the virgin shape In a scabbard of wood baffles pursuers, Whether goat-thighed or god-haloed. Ever since that first Daphne Switched her incomparable back

For a bay-tree hide, respect's Twined to her hard limbs like ivy: the puritan lip Cries: 'Celebrate Syrinx whose demurs Won her the frog-colored skin, pale pith and watery Bed of a reed. Look:

Pine-needle armor protects Pitys from Pan's assault! And though age drop Their leafy crowns, their fame soars, Eclipsing Eva, Cleo and Helen of Troy: For which of those would speak

For a fashion that constricts White bodies in a wooden girdle, root to top Unfaced, unformed, the nipple-flowers Shrouded to suckle darkness ? Only they Who keep cool and holy make


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'958 A sanctum to attract Green virgins, consecrating limb and lip To chastity's service: like prophets, like preachers, They descant on the serene and seraphic beauty Of virgins for virginity's sake.'

Be certain some such pact's Been struck to keep all glory in the grip Of ugly spinsters and barren sirs As you etch on the inner window of your eye This virgin on her rack:

She, ripe and unplucked, 's Lain splayed too long in the tortuous boughs: overripe Now, dour-faced, her fingers Stiff as twigs, her body woodenly Askew, she'll ache and wake

Though doomsday bud. Neglect's Given her lips that lemon-tasting droop: Untongued, all beauty's bright juice sours. Tree-twist will ape this gross anatomy Till irony's bough break.

67 Perseus T h e T r i u m p h of Wit Over Suffering

Head alone shows you in the prodigious act Of digesting what centuries alone digest: The mammoth, lumbering statuary of sorrow, Indissoluble enough to riddle the guts Of a whale with holes and holes, and bleed him white Into salt seas. Hercules had a simple time, Rinsing those stables: a baby's tears would do it. But who'd volunteer to gulp the Laocoon, The Dying Gaul and those innumerable pietas Festering on the dim walls of Europe's chapels, Museums and sepulchers? You.


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You Who borrowed feathers for your feet, not lead, Not nails, and a mirror to keep the snaky head In safe perspective, could outface the gorgon-grimace Of human agony: a look to numb Limbs: not a basilisk-blink, nor a double whammy, But all the accumulated last grunts, groans, Cries and heroic couplets concluding the million Enacted tragedies on these blood-soaked boards, And every private twinge a hissing asp To petrify your eyes, and every village Catastrophe a writhing length of cobra, And the decline of empires the thick coil of a vast Anaconda.

Imagine: the world Fisted to a foetus head, ravined, seamed With suffering from conception upwards, and there You have it in hand. Grit in the eye or a sore Thumb can make anyone wince, but the whole globe Expressive of grief turns gods, like kings, to rocks. Those rocks, cleft and worn, themselves then grow Ponderous and extend despair on earth's Dark face.

So might rigor mortis come to stiffen All creation, were it not for a bigger belly Still than swallows joy.

You enter now, Armed with feathers to tickle as well as fly, And a fun-house mirror that turns the tragic muse To the beheaded head of a sullen doll, one braid, A bedraggled snake, hanging limp as the absurd mouth Hangs in its lugubrious pout. Where are The classic limbs of stubborn Antigone ? The red, royal robes of Phedre? The tear-dazzled Sorrows of Malfi's gentle duch*ess ?

Gone In the deep convulsion gripping your face, muscles And sinews bunched, victorious, as the cosmic Laugh does away with the unstitching, plaguey wounds Of an eternal sufferer.


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'958 To you

Perseus, the palm, and may you poise And repoise until time stop, the celestial balance Which weighs our madness with our sanity.

68 Battle-Scene From the Comic Operatic Fantasy The Seafarer

It beguiles — This little Odyssey In pink and lavender Over a surface of gently-Graded turquoise tiles That represent a sea With chequered waves and gaily Bear up the seafarer, Gaily, gaily, In his pink plume and armor.

A lantern-frail Gondola of paper Ferries the fishpond Sindbad Who poises his pastel spear Toward three pinky-purple Monsters which uprear Off the ocean-floor With fanged and dreadful head. Beware, beware The whale, the shark, the squid.

But fins and scales Of each scrolled sea-beast Troll no slime, no weed. They are polished for the joust, They gleam like easter eggshells, Rose and amethyst. Ahab, fulfill your boast: Bring home each storied head. One thrust, one thrust, One thrust: and they are sped.


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'958 So fables go. And so all children sing Their bathtub battles deep, Hazardous and long, But oh, sage grownups know Sea-dragon for sofa, fang For pasteboard, and siren-song For fever in a sleep. Laughing, laughing Of graybeards wakes us up.

69 Yadwigha, on a Red Couch, Among Lilies

A Sestina for the Douanier

Yadwigha, the literalists once wondered how you Came to be lying on this baroque couch Upholstered in red velvet, under the eye Of uncaged tigers and a tropical moon, Set in an intricate wilderness of green Heart-shaped leaves, like catalpa leaves, and lilies

Of monstrous size, like no well-bred lilies. It seems the consistent critics wanted you To choose between your world of jungle green And the fashionable monde of the red couch With its prim bric-a-brac, without a moon To turn you luminous, without the eye

Of tigers to be stilled by your dark eye And body whiter than its frill of lilies: They'd have had yellow silk screening the moon, Leaves and lilies flattened to paper behind you Or, at most, to a mille-fleurs tapestry. But the couch Stood stubborn in its jungle: red against green,

Red against fifty variants of green, The couch glared out at the prosaic eye.


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'958 So Rousseau, to explain why the red couch Persisted in the picture with the lilies, Tigers, snakes, and the snakecharmer and you, And birds of paradise, and the round moon,

Described how you fell dreaming at full of moon On a red velvet couch within your green-Tessellated boudoir. Hearing flutes, you Dreamed yourself away in the moon's eye To a beryl jungle, and dreamed that bright moon-lilies Nodded their petaled heads around your couch.

And that, Rousseau told the critics, was why the couch Accompanied you. So they nodded at the couch with the moon And the snakecharmer's song and the gigantic lilies, Marvelingly numbered the many shades of green. But to a friend, in private, Rousseau confessed his eye So possessed by the glowing red of the couch which you,

Yadwigha, pose on, that he put you on the couch To feed his eye with red: such red! under the moon, In the midst of all that green and those great lilies!

27 March 1Q58

A Winter's Tale

On Boston Common a red star Gleams, wired to a tall Ulmus Americana. Magi near The domed State House.

Old Joseph holds an alpenstock. Two waxen oxen flank the Child. A black sheep leads the shepherds' flock. Mary looks mild.

Angels—more feminine and douce Than models from Bonwit's or Jay's,


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'958 Haloes lustrous as Sirius — Gilt trumpets raise.

By S. S. Pierce, by S. S. Pierce, The red-nosed, blue-caped women ring For money. Lord, the crowds are fierce! There's caroling

On Winter Street, on Temple Place. Poodles are baking cookies in Filene's show windows. Grant us grace, Donner, Blitzen,

And all you Santa's deer who browse By leave of the Park Commission On grass that once fed Boston cows. In unison

On Pinckney, Mount Vernon, Chestnut, The wreathed doors open to the crowd. Noel! Noel! No mouth is shut. Off key and loud

The populace sings toward the sill Of windows with odd violet panes. O Little City on a Hill! The cordial strains

Of bellringers and singers rouse Frost-bitten pigeons, eddy forth From Charles Street to the Custom House, From South Station to North.

71 Above the Oxbow

Here in this valley of discreet academies We have not mountains, but mounts, truncated hillocks To the Adirondacks, to northern Monadnock, Themselves mere rocky hillocks to an Everest.


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'958 Still, they're our best mustering of height: by Comparison with the sunken silver-grizzled Back of the Connecticut, the river-level Flats of Hadley farms, they're lofty enough Elevations to be called something more than hills. Green, wholly green, they stand their knobby spine Against our sky: they are what we look southward to Up Pleasant Street at Main. Poising their shapes Between the snuff and red tar-paper apartments, They mound a summer coolness in our view.

To people who live in the bottom of valleys A rise in the landscape, hummock or hogback, looks To be meant for climbing. A peculiar logic In going up for the coming down if the post We start at's the same post we finish by, But it's the clear conversion at the top can hold Us to the oblique road, in spite of a fitful Wish for even ground, and it's the last cliff Ledge will dislodge our cramped concept of space, unwall Horizons beyond vision, spill vision After the horizons, stretching the narrowed eye To full capacity. We climb in hopes Of such seeing up the leaf-shuttered escarpments, Blindered by green, under a green-grained sky

Into the blue. Tops define themselves as places Where nothing higher's to be looked to. Downward looks Follow the black arrow-backs of swifts on their track Of the air eddies' loop and arc though air's at rest To us, since we see no leaf edge stir high Here on a mount overlaid with leaves. The paint-peeled Hundred-year-old hotel sustains its ramshackle Four-way veranda, view-keeping above The fallen timbers of its once remarkable Funicular railway, witness to gone Time, and to graces gone with the time. A state view-Keeper collects half-dollars for the slopes Of state scenery, sells soda, shows off viewpoints. A ruddy skylight paints the gray oxbow


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1958 And paints the river's pale circumfluent stillness As roses broach their carmine in a mirror. Flux Of the desultory currents—all that unique Stipple of shifting wave-tips is ironed out, lost In the simplified orderings of sky-Lorded perspectives. Maplike, the far fields are ruled By correct green lines and no seedy free-for-all Of asparagus heads. Cars run their suave Colored beads on the strung roads, and the people stroll Straightforwardly across the springing green. All's peace and discipline down there. Till lately we Lived under the shadow of hot rooftops And never saw how coolly we might move. For once A high hush quietens the crickets' cry.

Memoirs of a Spinach-Picker

They called the place Lookout Farm. Back then, the sun

Didn't go down in such a hurry. How it Lit things, that lamp of the Possible!

Wet yet Lay over the leaves like a clear cellophane, A pane of dragonfly wing, when they left me With a hundred bushel baskets on the edge Of the spinach patch.

Bunch after bunch of green Upstanding spinach-tips wedged in a circle— Layer on layer, and you had a basket Irreproachable as any lettuce head, Pure leafa*ge. A hundred baskets by day's end.

Sun and sky mirrored the green of the spinach. In the tin pail shaded by yellow paper Well-water kept cool at the start of the rows. The water had an iron taste, and the air, Even, a tang of metal.

Day in, day out, I bent over the plants in my leather-kneed


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1958 Dungarees, proud as a lady in a sea Of prize roses, culling the fullest florets; My world pyramided with laden baskets.

I'd only to set one foot in wilderness — A whole sea of spinach-heads leaned to my hand.

The Ghost's Leavetaking

Enter the chilly no-man's land of about Five o'clock in the morning, the no-color void Where the waking head rubbishes out the draggled lot Of sulfurous dreamscapes and obscure lunar conundrums Which seemed, when dreamed, to mean so profoundly much,

Gets ready to face the ready-made creation Of chairs and bureaus and sleep-twisted sheets. This is the kingdom of the fading apparition, The oracular ghost who dwindles on pin-legs To a knot of laundry, with a classic bunch of sheets

Upraised, as a hand, emblematic of farewell. At this joint between two worlds and two entirely Incompatible modes of time, the raw material Of our meat-and-potato thoughts assumes the nimbus Of ambrosial revelation. And so departs.

Chair and bureau are the hieroglyphs Of some godly utterance wakened heads ignore: So these posed sheets, before they thin to nothing, Speak in sign language of a lost otherworld, A world we lose by merely waking up.

Trailing its telltale tatters only at the outermost Fringe of mundane vision, this ghost goes Hand aloft, goodbye, goodbye, not down Into the rocky gizzard of the earth, But toward a region where our thick atmosphere


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'958 Diminishes, and God knows what is there. A point of exclamation marks that sky In ringing orange like a stellar carrot. Its round period, displaced and green, Suspends beside it the first point, the starting

Point of Eden, next the new moon's curve. Go, ghost of our mother and father, ghost of us, And ghost of our dreams' children, in those sheets Which signify our origin and end, To the cloud-cuckoo land of color wheels

And pristine alphabets and cows that moo And moo as they jump over moons as new As that crisp cusp towards which you voyage now. Hail and farewell. Hello, goodbye. O keeper Of the profane grail, the dreaming skull.

Sculptor For Leonard Baskin

To his house the bodiless Come to barter endlessly Vision, wisdom, for bodies Palpable as his, and weighty.

Hands moving move priestlier Than priest's hands, invoke no vain Images of light and air But sure stations in bronze, wood, stone.

Obdurate, in dense-grained wood, A bald angel blocks and shapes The flimsy light; arms folded Watches his cumbrous world eclipse

Inane worlds of wind and cloud. Bronze dead dominate the floor,

9 i

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J9S8 Resistive, ruddy-bodied, Dwarfing us. Our bodies flicker

Toward extinction in those eyes Which, without him, were beggared Of place, time, and their bodies. Emulous spirits make discord,

Try entry, enter nightmares Until his chisel bequeaths Them life livelier than ours, A solider repose than death's.

75 Full Fathom Five

Old man, you surface seldom. Then you come in with the tide's coming When seas wash cold, foam-Capped : white hair, white beard, far-flung, A dragnet, rising, falling, as waves Crest and trough. Miles long

Extend the radial sheaves Of your spread hair, in which wrinkling skeins Knotted, caught, survives

The old myth of origins Unimaginable. You float near As keeled ice-mountains

Of the north, to be steered clear Of, not fathomed. All obscurity Starts with a danger:

Your dangers are many. I Cannot look much but your form suffers Some strange injury


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'958 And seems to die: so vapors Ravel to clearness on the dawn sea. The muddy rumors

Of your burial move me To half-believe: your reappearance Proves rumors shallow,

For the archaic trenched lines Of your grained face shed time in runnels: Ages beat like rains

On the unbeaten channels Of the ocean. Such sage humor and Durance are whirlpools

To make away with the ground-Work of the earth and the sky's ridgepole. Waist down, you may wind

One labyrinthine tangle To root deep among knuckles, shinbones, Skulls. Inscrutable,

Below shoulders not once Seen by any man who kept his head, You defy questions;

You defy other godhood. I walk dry on your kingdom's border Exiled to no good.

Your shelled bed I remember. Father, this thick air is murderous. I would breathe water.


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76 Lorelei It is no night to drown in: A full moon, river lapsing Black beneath bland mirror-sheen,

The blue water-mists dropping Scrim after scrim like fishnets Though fishermen are sleeping,

The massive castle turrets Doubling themselves in a glass All stillness. Yet these shapes float

Up toward me, troubling the face Of quiet. From the nadir They rise, their limbs ponderous

With richness, hair heavier Than sculpted marble. They sing Of a world more full and clear

Than can be. Sisters, your song Bears a burden too weighty For the whorled ear's listening

Here, in a well-steered country, Under a balanced ruler. Deranging by harmony

Beyond the mundane order, Your voices lay siege. You lodge On the pitched reefs of nightmare,

Promising sure harborage; By day, descant from borders Of hebetude, from the ledge

Also of high windows. Worse Even than your maddening Song, your silence. At the source


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'958 Of your ice-hearted calling— Drunkenness of the great depths. O river, I see drifting

Deep in your flux of silver Those great goddesses of peace. Stone, stone, ferry me down there.

Mussel Hunter at Rock Harbor

I came before the water-Colorists came to get the Good of the Cape light that scours Sand grit to sided crystal And buffs and sleeks the blunt hulls Of the three fishing smacks beached On the bank of the river's

Backtracking tail. I'd come for Free fish-bait: the blue mussels Clumped like bulbs at the grass-root Margin of the tidal pools. Dawn tide stood dead low. I smelt Mud stench, shell guts, gulls' leavings; Heard a queer crusty scrabble

Cease, and I neared the silenced Edge of a cratered pool-bed The mussels hung dull blue and Conspicuous, yet it seemed A sly world's hinges had swung Shut against me. All held still. Though I counted scant seconds,

Enough ages lapsed to win Confidence of safe-conduct


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'958 In the wary otherworld Eyeing me. Grass put forth claws; Small mud knobs, nudged from under, Displaced their domes as tiny Knights might doff their casques. The crabs

Inched from their pigmy burrows And from the trench-dug mud, all Camouflaged in mottled mail Of browns and greens. Each wore one Claw swollen to a shield large As itself—no fiddler's arm Grown Gargantuan by trade,

But grown grimly, and grimly Borne, for a use beyond my Guessing of it. Sibilant Mass-motived hordes, they sidled Out in a converging stream Toward the pool-mouth, perhaps to Meet the thin and sluggish thread

Of sea retracing its tide-Way up the river-basin. Or to avoid me. They moved Obliquely with a dry-wet Sound, with a glittery wisp And trickle. Could they feel mud Pleasurable under claws

As I could between bare toes ? That question ended it—I Stood shut out, for once, for all, Puzzling the passage of their Absolutely alien Order as I might puzzle At the clear tail of Halley's

Comet coolly giving my Orbit the go-by, made known By a family name it


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'958 Knew nothing of. So the crabs Went about their business, which Wasn't fiddling, and I filled A big handkerchief with blue

Mussels. From what the crabs saw, If they could see, I was one Two-legged mussel-picker. High on the airy thatching Of the dense grasses I found The husk of a fiddler-crab, Intact, strangely strayed above

His world of mud—green color And innards bleached and blown off Somewhere by much sun and wind; There was no telling if he'd Died recluse or suicide Or headstrong Columbus crab. The crab-face, etched and set there,

Grimaced as skulls grimace: it Had an Oriental look, A samurai death mask done On a tiger tooth, less for Art's sake than God's. Far from sea — Where red-freckled crab-backs, claws And whole crabs, dead, their soggy

Bellies pallid and upturned, Perform their shambling waltzes On the waves' dissolving turn And return, losing themselves Bit by bit to their friendly Element—this relic saved Face, to face the bald-faced sun.


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Moonrise Grub-white mulberries redden among leaves. I'll go out and sit in white like they do, Doing nothing. July's juice rounds their nubs.

This park is fleshed with idiot petals. White catalpa flowers tower, topple, Cast a round white shadow in their dying.

A pigeon rudders down. Its fan-tail's white. Vocation enough: opening, shutting White petals, white fan-tails, ten white fingers.

Enough for fingernails to make half-moons Redden in white palms no labor reddens. White bruises toward color, else collapses.

Berries redden. A body of whiteness Rots, and smells of rot under its headstone Though the body walk out in clean linen.

I smell that whiteness here, beneath the stones Where small ants roll their eggs, where grubs fatten. Death may whiten in sun or out of it.

Death whitens in the egg and out of it. I can see no color for this whiteness. White: it is a complexion of the mind.

I tire, imagining white Niagaras Build up from a rock root, as fountains build Against the weighty image of their fall.

Lucina, bony mother, laboring Among the socketed white stars, your face Of candor pares white flesh to the white bone,

Who drag our ancient father at the heel, White-bearded, weary. The berries purple And bleed. The white stomach may ripen yet.


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Frog Autumn

Summer grows old, cold-blooded mother. The insects are scant, skinny. In these palustral homes we only Croak and wither.

Mornings dissipate in somnolence. The sun brightens tardily Among the pithless reeds. Flies fail us. The fen sickens.

Frost drops even the spider. Clearly The genius of plenitude Houses himself elsewhere. Our folk thin Lamentably.

In Midas' Country

Meadows of gold dust. The silver Currents of the Connecticut fan And meander in bland pleatings under River-verge farms where rye-heads whiten. All's polished to a dull luster

In the sulfurous noon. We move With the languor of idols below The sky's great bell glass and briefly engrave Our limbs' image on a field of straw And goldenrod as on gold leaf.

It might be heaven, this static Plenitude: apples gold on the bough, Goldfinch, goldfish, golden tiger cat stock-Still in one gigantic tapestry — And lovers affable, dovelike.

But now the water-skiers race, Bracing their knees. On unseen towlines


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They cleave the river's greening patinas; The mirror quivers to smithereens. They stunt like clowns in the circus.

So we are hauled, though we would stop On this amber bank where grasses bleach. Already the farmer's after his crop, August gives over its Midas touch, Wind bares a flintier landscape.


The groundhog on the mountain did not run But fatly scuttled into the splayed fern And faced me, back to a ledge of dirt, to rattle Her sallow rodent teeth like castanets Against my leaning down, would not exchange For that wary clatter sound or gesture Of love: claws braced, at bay, my currency not hers.

Such meetings never occur in marchen Where love-met groundhogs love one in return, Where straight talk is the rule, whether warm or hostile, Which no gruff animal misinterprets. From what grace am I fallen. Tongues are strange, Signs say nothing. The falcon who spoke clear To Canacee cries gibberish to coarsened ears.

Child's Park Stones

In sunless air, under pines Green to the point of blackness, some

Founding father set these lobed, warped stones To loom in the leaf-filtered gloom

Black as the charred knuckle-bones


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'958 Of a giant or extinct

Animal, come from another Age, another planet surely. Flanked

By the orange and fuchsia bonfire Of azaleas, sacrosanct

These stones guard a dark repose And keep their shapes intact while sun

Alters shadows of rose and iris — Long, short, long—in the lit garden

And kindles a day's-end blaze

Colored to dull the pigment Of the azaleas, yet burnt out

Quick as they. To follow the light's tint And intensity by midnight

By noon and throughout the brunt

Of various weathers is To know the still heart of the stcnes:

Stones that take the whole summer to lose Their dream of the winter's cold; stones

Warming at core only as

Frost forms. No man's crowbar could Uproot them: their beards are ever-

Green. Nor do they, once in a hundred Years, go down to drink the river :

No thirst disturbs a stone's bed.

83 Owl

Clocks belled twelve. Main Street showed otherwise Than its suburb of woods: nimbus-Lit, but unpeopled, held its windows Of wedding pastries,

Diamond rings, potted roses, fox-skins Ruddy on the wax mannequins

1 0 1

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'958 In a glassed tableau of affluence. From deep-sunk basem*nts

What moved the pale, raptorial owl Then, to squall above the level Of streetlights and wires, its wall to wall Wingspread in control

Of the ferrying currents, belly Dense-feathered, fearfully soft to Look upon ? Rats' teeth gut the city Shaken by owl cry.

26 June 1Q58

84 Whiteness I Remember

Whiteness being what I remember About Sam: whiteness and the great run He gave me. I've gone nowhere since but Going's been tame deviation. White, Not of heraldic stallions: ofF-white Of the stable horse whose history's Humdrum, unexceptionable, his Tried sobriety hiring him out To novices and to the timid. Yet the dapple toning his white down To safe gray never grayed his temper.

I see him one-tracked, stubborn, white horse, First horse under me, high as the roofs, His neat trot pitching my tense poise up, Unsettling the steady-rooted green Of country hedgerows and cow pastures To a giddy jog. Then for ill will Or to try me he suddenly set Green grass streaming, houses a river Of pale fronts, straw thatchings, the hard road An anvil, hooves four hammers to jolt Me off into their space of beating,

1 0 2

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'958 Stirrups undone, and decorum. And Wouldn't slow for the hauled reins, his name, Or shouts of walkers: crossroad traffic Stalling curbside at his oncoming, The world subdued to his run of it. I hung on his neck. Resoluteness Simplified me: a rider, riding Hung out over hazard, over hooves Loud on earth's bedrock. Almost thrown, not Thrown: fear, wisdom, at one: all colors Spinning to still in his one whiteness.

9 July 1958

85 Fable of the Rhododendron Stealers

I walked the unwalked garden of rose-beds In the public park; at home felt the want Of a single rose present to imagine The garden's remainder in full paint.

The stone lion-head set in the wall Let drop its spittle of sluggish green Into the stone basin. I snipped An orange bud, pocketed it. When

It had opened its orange in my vase, Retrogressed to blowze, I next chose red; Argued my conscience clear which robbed The park of less red than withering did.

Musk satisfied my nose, red my eye, The petals' nap my fingertips: I considered the poetry I rescued From blind air, from complete eclipse.

Yet today, a yellow bud in my hand, I stalled at sudden noisy crashes From the laurel thicket. No one approached. A spasm took the rhododendron bushes:


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1958 Three girls, engrossed, were wrenching full clusters Of cerise and pink from the rhododendron, Mountaining them on spread newspaper. They brassily picked, slowed by no chagrin,

And wouldn't pause for my straight look. But gave me pause, my rose a charge, Whether nicety stood confounded by love, Or petty thievery by large.

The Death of Myth-Making

Two virtues ride, by stallion, by nag, To grind our knives and scissors:

Lantern-jawed Reason, squat Common Sense, One courting doctors of all sorts,

One, housewives and shopkeepers.

The trees are lopped, the poodles trim, The laborer's nails pared level

Since those two civil servants set Their whetstone to the blunted edge

And minced the muddling devil

Whose owl-eyes in the scraggly wood Scared mothers to miscarry,

Drove the dogs to cringe and whine, And turned the farmboy's temper wolfish,

The housewife's, desultory.

Green Rock, Winthrop Bay

No lame excuses can gloss over Barge-tar clotted at the tide-line, the wrecked pier I should have known better.


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'958 Fifteen years between me and the bay Profited memory, but did away with the old scenery And patched this shoddy

Makeshift of a view to quit My promise of an idyll, the blue's worn out: It's a nigg*rd estate,

Inimical now. The great green rock We gave good use as ship and house is black With tarry muck

And periwinkles, shrunk to common Size. The cries of scavenging gulls sound thin In the traffic of planes

From Logan Airport opposite. Gulls circle gray under shadow of a steelier flight. Loss cancels profit.

Unless you do this tawdry harbor A service and ignore it, I go a liar Gilding what's eyesore,

Or must take loophole and blame time For the rock's dwarfed lump, for the drabbled scum, For a churlish welcome.

88 The Companionable Ills

The nose-end that twitches, the old imperfections— Tolerable now as moles on the face Put up with until chagrin gives place To a wry complaisance —

Dug in first as God's spurs To start the spirit out of the mud It stabled in; long-used, became well-loved Bedfellows of the spirit's debauch, fond masters.


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I Want, I Want

Open-mouthed, the baby god Immense, bald, though baby-headed, Cried out for the mother's dug. The dry volcanoes cracked and spit,

Sand abraded the milkless lip. Cried then for the father's blood Who set wasp, wolf and shark to work, Engineered the gannet's beak.

Dry-eyed, the inveterate patriarch Raised his men of skin and bone, Barbs on the crown of gilded wire, Thorns on the bloody rose-stem.

Poems, Potatoes

The word, defining, muzzles; the drawn line Ousts mistier peers and thrives, murderous, In establishments which imagined lines

Can only haunt. Sturdy as potatoes, Stones, without conscience, word and line endure, Given an inch. Not that they're gross (although

Afterthought often would have them alter To delicacy, to poise) but that they Shortchange me continuously: whether

More or other, they still dissatisfy. Unpoemed, unpictured, the potato Bunches its knobby browns on a vastly Superior page; the blunt stone also.


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The Times Are Tidy

Unlucky the hero born In this province of the stuck record Where the most watchful cooks go jobless And the mayor's rotisserie turns Round of its own accord.

There's no career in the venture Of riding against the lizard, Himself withered these latter-days To leaf-size from lack of action: History's beaten the hazard.

The last crone got burnt up More than eight decades back With the love-hot herb, the talking cat, But the children are better for it, The cow milks cream an inch thick.


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The Bull of Bendylaw

The black bull bellowed before the sea. The sea, till that day orderly, Hove up against Bendylaw.

The queen in the mulberry arbor stared Stiff as a queen on a playing card. The king fingered his beard.

A blue sea, four horny bull-feet, A bull-snouted sea that wouldn't stay put, Bucked at the garden gate.

Along box-lined walks in the florid sun Toward the rowdy bellow and back again The lords and ladies ran.

The great bronze gate began to crack, The sea broke in at every crack, Pellmell, blueblack.

The bull surged up, the bull surged down, Not to be stayed by a daisy chain Nor by any learned man.

O the king's tidy acre is under the sea, And the royal rose in the bull's belly, And the bull on the king's highway.


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The Eye-mote

Blameless as daylight I stood looking At a field of horses, necks bent, manes blown, Tails streaming against the green Backdrop of sycamores. Sun was striking While chapel pinnacles over the roofs, Holding the horses, the clouds, the leaves

Steadily rooted though they were all flowing Away to the left like reeds in a sea When the splinter flew in and stuck my eye, Needling it dark. Then I was seeing A melding of shapes in a hot rain: Horses warped on the altering green,

Outlandish as double-humped camels or unicorns, Grazing at the margins of a bad monochrome, Beasts of oasis, a better time. Abrading my lid, the small grain burns: Red cinder around which I myself, Horses, planets and spires revolve.

Neither tears nor the easing flush Of eyebaths can unseat the speck: It sticks, and it has stuck a week. I wear the present itch for flesh, Blind to what will be and what was. I dream that I am Oedipus.

What I want back is what I was Before the bed, before the knife, Before the brooch-pin and the salve Fixed me in this parenthesis; Horses fluent in the wind, A place, a time gone out of mind.


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Point Shirley From Water-Tower Hill to the brick prison The shingle booms, bickering under The sea's collapse. Snowcakes break and welter. This year The gritted wave leaps The seawall and drops onto a bier Of quahog chips, Leaving a salty mash of ice to whiten

In my grandmother's sand yard. She is dead, Whose laundry snapped and froze here, who Kept house against What the slu*ttish, rutted sea could do. Squall waves once danced Ship timbers in through the cellar window; A thresh-tailed, lanced Shark littered in the geranium bed —

Such collusion of mulish elements She wore her broom straws to the nub. Twenty years out Of her hand, the house still hugs in each drab Stucco socket The purple egg-stones: from Great Head's knob To the filled-in Gut The sea in its cold gizzard ground those rounds.

Nobody wintering now behind The planked-up windows where she set Her wheat loaves And apple cakes to cool. What is it Survives, grieves So, over this battered, obstinate spit Of gravel ? The waves' Spewed relics clicker masses in the wind,

Grey waves the stub-necked eiders ride. A labor of love, and that labor lost. Steadily the sea

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Eats at Point Shirley. She died blessed, And I come by Bones, bones only, pawed and tossed, A dog-faced sea. The sun sinks under Boston, bloody red.

I would get from these dry-papped stones The milk your love instilled in them. The black ducks dive. And though your graciousness might stream, And I contrive, Grandmother, stones are nothing of home To that spumiest dove. Against both bar and tower the black sea runs.


Old goatherds swear how all night long they hear The warning whirr and burring of the bird Who wakes with darkness and till dawn works hard Vampiring dry of milk each great goat udder. Moon full, moon dark, the chary dairy farmer Dreams that his fattest cattle dwindle, fevered By claw-cuts of the Goatsucker, alias Devil-bird, Its eye, flashlit, a chip of ruby fire.

So fablis say the Goatsucker moves, masked from men's sight In an ebony air, on wings of witch cloth, Well-named, ill-famed a knavish fly-by-night, Yet it never milked any goat, nor dealt cow death And shadows only—cave-mouth bristle beset— co*ckchafers and the wan, green luna moth.

Watercolor of Grantchester Meadows

There, spring lambs jam the sheepfold. In air Stilled, silvered as water in a glass Nothing is big or far.

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1959 The small shrew chitters from its wilderness Of grassheads and is heard. Each thumb-size bird Flits nimble-winged in thickets, and of good color.

Cloudwrack and owl-hollowed willows slanting over The bland Granta double their white and green World under the sheer water And ride that flux at anchor, upside down. The punter sinks his pole. In Byron's pool Cat-tails part where the tame cygnets steer.

It is a country on a nursery plate. Spotted cows revolve their jaws and crop Red clover or gnaw beetroot Bellied on a nimbus of sun-glazed buttercup. Hedging meadows of benign Arcadian green The blood-berried hawthorn hides its spines with white.

Droll, vegetarian, the water rat Saws down a reed and swims from his limber grove, While the students stroll or sit, Hands laced, in a moony indolence of love— Black-gowned, but unaware How in such mild air The owl shall stoop from his turret, the rat cry out.

ig February ig$g

97 A Winter Ship

At this wharf there are no grand landings to speak of. Red and orange barges list and blister Shackled to the dock, outmoded, gaudy, And apparently indestructible. The sea pulses under a skin of oil.

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1959 A gull holds his pose on a shanty ridgepole, Riding the tide of the wind, steady As wood and formal, in a jacket of ashes, The whole flat harbor anchored in The round of his yellow eye-button.

A blimp swims up like a day-moon or tin Cigar over his rink of fishes. The prospect is dull as an old etching. They are unloading three barrels of little crabs. The pier pilings seem about to collapse

And with them that rickety edifice Of warehouses, derricks, smokestacks and bridges In the distance. All around us the water slips And gossips in its loose vernacular, Ferrying the smells of dead cod and tar.

Farther out, the waves will be mouthing icecakes— A poor month for park-sleepers and lovers. Even our shadows are blue with cold. We wanted to see the sun come up And are met, instead, by this iceribbed ship,

Bearded and blown, an albatross of frost, Relic of tough weather, every winch and stay Encased in a glassy pellicle. The sun will diminish it soon enough: Each wave-tip glitters like a knife.

98 Aftermath

Compelled by calamity's magnet They loiter and stare as if the house Burnt-out were theirs, or as if they thought Some scandal might any minute ooze From a smoke-choked closet into light; No deaths, no prodigious injuries Glut these hunters after an old meat, Blood-spoor of the austere tragedies.


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1959 Mother Medea in a green smock Moves humbly as any housewife through Her ruined apartments, taking stock Of charred shoes, the sodden upholstery: Cheated of the pyre and the rack, The crowd sucks her last tear and turns away.

Two Views of a Cadaver Room


The day she visited the dissecting room They had four men laid out, black as burnt turkey, Already half unstrung. A vinegary fume Of the death vats clung to them; The white-smocked boys started working. The head of his cadaver had caved in, And she could scarcely make out anything In that rubble of skull plates and old leather. A sallow piece of string held it together.

In their jars the snail-nosed babies moon and glow. He hands her the cut-out heart like a cracked heirloom.


In Brueghel's panorama of smoke and slaughter Two people only are blind to the carrion army: He, afloat in the sea of her blue satin Skirts, sings in the direction Of her bare shoulder, while she bends, Fingering a leaflet of music, over him, Both of them deaf to the fiddle in the hands Of the death's-head shadowing their song. These Flemish lovers flourish; not for long.

Yet desolation, stalled in paint, spares the little country Foolish, delicate, in the lower right hand corner.


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1959 100 Suicide off Egg Rock

Behind him the hotdogs split and drizzled On the public grills, and the ochreous salt flats, Gas tanks, factory stacks—that landscape Of imperfections his bowels were part of— Rippled and pulsed in the glassy updraught. Sun struck the water like a damnation. No pit of shadow to crawl into, And his blood beating the old tattoo I am, I am, I am. Children Were squealing where combers broke and the spindrift Raveled wind-ripped from the crest of the wave. A mongrel working his legs to a gallop Hustled a gull flock to flap off the sandspit.

He smoldered, as if stone-deaf, blindfold, His body beached with the sea's garbage, A machine to breathe and beat forever. Flies filing in through a dead skate's eyehole Buzzed and assailed the vaulted brainchamber. The words in his book wormed off the pages. Everything glittered like blank paper.

Everything shrank in the sun's corrosive Ray but Egg Rock on the blue wastage. He heard when he walked into the water

The forgetful surf creaming on those ledges.

101 The Ravaged Face

Outlandish as a circus, the ravaged face Parades the marketplace, lurid and stricken By some unutterable chagrin, Maudlin from leaky eye to swollen nose. Two pinlegs stagger underneath the mass. Grievously purpled, mouth skewered on a groan, Past keeping to the house, past all discretion — Myself, myself!—obscene, lugubrious.

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1959 Better the flat leer of the idiot, The stone face of the man who doesn't feel, The velvet dodges of the hypocrite: Better, better, and more acceptable To timorous children, to the lady on the street. O Oedipus. O Christ. You use me ill.

ig March 1959


I'm a riddle in nine syllables, An elephant, a ponderous house, A melon strolling on two tendrils. O red fruit, ivory, fine timbers! This loafs big with its yeasty rising. Money's new-minted in this fat purse. I'm a means, a stage, a cow in calf. I've eaten a bag of green apples, Boarded the train there's no getting off.

20 March 1959

Electra on Azalea Path

The day you died I went into the dirt, Into the lightless hibernaculum Where bees, striped black and gold, sleep out the blizzard Like hieratic stones, and the ground is hard. It was good for twenty years, that wintering— As if you had never existed, as if I came God-fathered into the world from my mother's belly: Her wide bed wore the stain of divinity. I had nothing to do with guilt or anything When I wormed back under my mother's heart.

Small as a doll in my dress of innocence I lay dreaming your epic, image by image. Nobody died or withered on that stage.


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Everything took place in a durable whiteness. The day I woke, I woke on Churchyard Hill. I found your name, I found your bones and all Enlisted in a cramped necropolis, Your speckled stone askew by an iron fence.

In this charity ward, this poorhouse, where the dead Crowd foot to foot, head to head, no flower Breaks the soil. This is Azalea Path. A field of burdock opens to the south. Six feet of yellow gravel cover you. The artificial red sage does not stir In the basket of plastic evergreens they put At the headstone next to yours, nor does it rot, Although the rains dissolve a bloody dye: The ersatz petals drip, and they drip red.

Another kind of redness bothers me: The day your slack sail drank my sister's breath The flat sea purpled like that evil cloth My mother unrolled at your last homecoming. I borrow the stilts of an old tragedy. The truth is, one late October, at my birth-cry A scorpion stung its head, an ill-starred thing; My mother dreamed you face down in the sea.

The stony actors poise and pause for breath. I brought my love to bear, and then you died. It was the gangrene ate you to the bone My mother said; you died like any man. How shall I age into that state of mind ? I am the ghost of an infamous suicide, My own blue razor rusting in my throat. O pardon the one who knocks for pardon at Your gate, father—your hound-bitch, daughter, friend. It was my love that did us both to death.


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The Beekeeper's Daughter

A garden of mouthings. Purple, scarlet-speckled, black The great corollas dilate, peeling back their silks. Their musk encroaches, circle after circle, A well of scents almost too dense to breathe in. Hieratical in your frock coat, maestro of the bees, You move among the many-breasted hives,

My heart under your foot, sister of a stone.

Trumpet-throats open to the beaks of birds. The Golden Rain Tree drips its powders down. In these little boudoirs streaked with orange and red The anthers nod their heads, potent as kings To father dynasties. The air is rich. Here is a queenship no mother can contest—

A fruit that's death to taste: dark flesh, dark parings.

In burrows narrow as a finger, solitary bees Keep house among the grasses. Kneeling down I set my eye to a hole-mouth and meet an eye Round, green, disconsolate as a tear. Father, bridegroom, in this Easter egg Under the coronal of sugar roses

The queen bee marries the winter of your year.

The Hermit at Outermost House

Sky and sea, horizon-hinged Tablets of blank blue, couldn't, Clapped shut, flatten this man out.

The great gods, Stone-Head, Claw-Foot, Winded by much rock-bumping And claw-threat, realized that.


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For what, then, had they endured Dourly the long hots and colds, Those old despots, if he sat

Laugh-shaken on his doorsill, Backbone unbendable as Timbers of his upright hut?

Hard gods were there, nothing else. Still he thumbed out something else. Thumbed no stony, horny pot,

But a certain meaning green. He withstood them, that hermit. Rock-face, crab-claw verged on green.

Gulls mulled in the greenest light.

Man in Black

Where the three magenta Breakwaters take the shove And suck of the gray sea

To the left, and the wave Unfists against the dun Barb-wired headland of

The Deer Island prison With its trim piggeries, Hen huts and cattle green

To the right, and March ice Glazes the rock pools yet, Snuff-colored sand cliffs rise

Over a great stone spit Bared by each falling tide, And you, across those white


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1959 Stones, strode out in your dead Black coat, black shoes, and your Black hair till there you stood,

Fixed vortex on the far Tip, riveting stones, air, All of it, together.

Old Ladies' Home

Sharded in black, like beetles, Frail as antique earthenware One breath might shiver to bits, The old women creep out here To sun on the rocks or prop Themselves up against the wall Whose stones keep a little heat.

Needles knit in a bird-beaked Counterpoint to their voices: Sons, daughters, daughters and sons, Distant and cold as photos, Grandchildren nobody knows. Age wears the best black fabric Rust-red or green as lichens.

At owl-call the old ghosts flock To hustle them off the lawn. From beds boxed-in like coffins The bonneted ladies grin. And Death, that bald-head buzzard, Stalls in halls where the lamp wick Shortens with each breath drawn.

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The Net-Menders

Halfway up from the little harbor of sardine boats, Halfway down from groves where the thin, bitter almond pips Fatten in green-pocked pods, the three net-menders sit out, Dressed in black, everybody in mourning for someone. They set their stout chairs back to the road and face the dark Dominoes of their doorways.

Sun grains their crow-colors, Purples the fig in the leafs shadow, turns the dust pink. On the road named for Tomas Ortunio, mica Winks like money under the ringed toes of the chickens. The houses are white as sea-salt goats lick from the rocks.

While their fingers work with the coarse mesh and the fine Their eyes revolve the whole town like a blue and green ball. Nobody dies or is born without their knowing it. They talk of bride-lace, of lovers spunky as gameco*cks.

The moon leans, a stone madonna, over the lead sea And the iron hills that enclose them. Earthen fingers Twist old words into the web-threads:

Tonight may the fish Be a harvest of silver in the nets, and the lamps Of our husbands and sons move sure among the low stars.

Magnolia Shoals

Up here among the gull cries we stroll through a maze of pale

red-mottled relics, shells, claws

as if it were summer still. That season has turned its back.

Though the green sea gardens stall,

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1959 bow, and recover their look

of the imperishable gardens in an antique book

or tapestries on a wall, leaves behind us warp and lapse.

The late month withers, as well.

Below us a white gull keeps the weed-slicked shelf for his own,

hustles other gulls off. Crabs

rove over his field of stone; mussels cluster blue as grapes:

his beak brings the harvest in.

The watercolorist grips his brush in the stringent air.

The horizon's bare of ships,

the beach and the rocks are bare. He paints a blizzard of gulls,

wings drumming in the winter.

October 7959

no The Sleepers

No map traces the street Where those two sleepers are. We have lost track of it. They lie as if under water In a blue, unchanging light, The French window ajar

Curtained with yellow lace. Through the narrow crack Odors of wet earth rise. The snail leaves a silver track;


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Dark thickets hedge the house. We take a backward look.

Among petals pale as death And leaves steadfast in shape They sleep on, mouth to mouth. A white mist is going up. The small green nostrils breathe, And they turn in their sleep.

Ousted from that warm bed We are a dream they dream. Their eyelids keep the shade. No harm can come to them. We cast our skins and slide Into another time.

Yaddo: The Grand Manor

Woodsmoke and a distant loudspeaker Filter into this clear Air, and blur.

The red tomato's in, the green bean; The cook lugs a pumpkin From the vine

For pies. The fir tree's thick with grackles. Gold carp loom in the pools. A wasp crawls

Over windfalls to sip cider-juice. Guests in the studios Muse, compose.

Indoors, Tiffany's phoenix rises Above the fireplace; Two carved sleighs


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1959 Rest on orange plush near the newel post. Wood stoves burn warm as toast. The late guest

Wakens, mornings, to a cobalt sky, A diamond-paned window, Zinc-white snow.


By the gate with star and moon Worked into the peeled orange wood The bronze snake lay in the sun

Inert as a shoelace; dead But pliable still, his jaw Unhinged and his grin crooked,

Tongue a rose-colored arrow. Over my hand I hung him. His little vermilion eye

Ignited with a glassed flame As I turned him in the light; When I split a rock one time

The garnet bits burned like that. Dust dulled his back to ochre The way sun ruins a trout.

Yet his belly kept its fire Going under the chainmail, The old jewels smoldering there

In each opaque belly-scale: Sunset looked at through milk glass. And I saw white maggots coil


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1959 Thin as pins in the dark bruise Where his innards bulged as if He were digesting a mouse.

Knifelike, he was chaste enough, Pure death's-metal. The yardman's Flung brick perfected his laugh.

The Manor Garden

The fountains are dry and the roses over. Incense of death. Your day approaches. The pears fatten like little buddhas. A blue mist is dragging the lake.

You move through the era of fishes, The smug centuries of the pig— Head, toe and finger Come clear of the shadow. History

Nourishes these broken flutings, These crowns of acanthus, And the crow settles her garments. You inherit white heather, a bee's wing,

Two suicides, the family wolves, Hours of blankness. Some hard stars Already yellow the heavens. The spider on its own string

Crosses the lake. The worms Quit their usual habitations. The small birds converge, converge With their gifts to a difficult borning.


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Blue Moles


They're out of the dark's ragbag, these two Moles dead in the pebbled rut, Shapeless as flung gloves, a few feet apart— Blue suede a dog or fox has chewed. One, by himself, seemed pitiable enough, Little victim unearthed by some large creature From his orbit under the elm root. The second carcass makes a duel of the affair: Blind twins bitten by bad nature.

The sky's far dome is sane and clear. Leaves, undoing their yellow caves Between the road and the lake water, Bare no sinister spaces. Already The moles look neutral as the stones. Their corkscrew noses, their white hands Uplifted, stiffen in a family pose. Difficult to imagine how fury struck — Dissolved now, smoke of an old war.


Nightly the battle-shouts start up In the ear of the veteran, and again I enter the soft pelt of the mole. Light's death to them: they shrivel in it. They move through their mute rooms while I sleep, Palming the earth aside, grubbers After the fat children of root and rock. By day, only the topsoil heaves. Down there one is alone.

Outsize hands prepare a path, They go before: opening the veins, Delving for the appendages Of beetles, sweetbreads, shards—to be eaten


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1959 Over and over. And still the heaven Of final surfeit is just as far From the door as ever. What happens between Happens in darkness, vanishes Easy and often as each breath.

Dark Wood, Dark Water

This wood burns a dark Incense. Pale moss drips In elbow-scarves, beards

From the archaic Bones of the great trees. Blue mists move over

A lake thick with fish. Snails scroll the border Of the glazed water

With coils of ram's-horn. Out in the open Down there the late year

Hammers her rare and Various metals. Old pewter roots twist

Up from the jet-backed Mirror of water And while the air's clear

Hourglass sifts a Drift of goldpieces Bright waterlights are

Sliding their quoits one After the other Down boles of the fir.


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Polly's Tree A dream tree, Polly's tree:

a thicket of sticks, each speckled twig

ending in a thin-paned leaf unlike any

other on it

or in a ghost flower flat as paper and

of a color

vaporish as frost-breath, more finical than

any silk fan

the Chinese ladies use

to stir robin's egg

air. The silver-

haired seed of the milkweed

comes to roost there, frail

as the halo

rayed round a candle flame, a will-o'-the-wisp

nimbus, or puff

of cloud-stuff", tipping her queer candelabrum.

Palely lit by

snuff-ruffed dandelions, white daisy wheels and

a tiger-faced

pansy, it glows. O it's no family tree,

Polly's tree, nor


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1959 a tree of heaven, though

it marry quartz-flake, feather and rose.

It sprang from her pillow whole as a cobweb,

ribbed like a hand,

a dream tree. Polly's tree wears a valentine

arc of tear-pearled

bleeding hearts on its sleeve and, crowning it, one

blue larkspur star.

The Colossus

I shall never get you put together entirely, Pieced, glued, and properly jointed. Mule-bray, pig-grunt and bawdy cackles Proceed from your great lips. It's worse than a barnyard.

Perhaps you consider yourself an oracle, Mouthpiece of the dead, or of some god or other. Thirty years now I have labored To dredge the silt from your throat. I am none the wiser.

Scaling little ladders with gluepots and pails of Lysol I crawl like an ant in mourning Over the weedy acres of your brow To mend the immense skull-plates and clear The bald, white tumuli of your eyes.

A blue sky out of the Oresteia Arches above us. O father, all by yourself You are pithy and historical as the Roman Forum.


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1959 I open my lunch on a hill of black cypress. Your fluted bones and acanthine hair are littered

In their old anarchy to the horizon-line. It would take more than a lightning-stroke To create such a ruin. Nights, I squat in the cornucopia Of your left ear, out of the wind,

Counting the red stars and those of plum-color. The sun rises under the pillar of your tongue. My hours are married to shadow. No longer do I listen for the scrape of a keel On the blank stones of the landing.

Private Ground

First frost, and I walk among the rose-fruit, the marble toes Of the Greek beauties you brought Off Europe's relic heap To sweeten your neck of the New York woods. Soon each white lady will be boarded up Against the cracking climate.

All morning, with smoking breath, the handyman Has been draining the goldfish ponds. They collapse like lungs, the escaped water Threading back, filament by filament, to the pure Platonic table where it lives. The baby carp Litter the mud like orangepeel.

Eleven weeks, and I know your estate so well I need hardly go out at all. A superhighway seals me off. Trading their poisons, the north and south bound cars Flatten the doped snakes to ribbon. In here, the grasses Unload their griefs on my shoes,


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1959 The woods creak and ache, and the day forgets itself. I bend over this drained basin where the small fish Flex as the mud freezes. They glitter like eyes, and I collect them all. Morgue of old logs and old images, the lake Opens and shuts, accepting them among its reflections.

Poem for a Birthday

/ . Who

The month of flowering's finished. The fruit's in, Eaten or rotten. I am all mouth. October's the month for storage.

This shed's fusty as a mummy's stomach: Old tools, handles and rusty tusks. I am at home here among the dead heads.

Let me sit in a flowerpot, The spiders won't notice. My heart is a stopped geranium.

If only the wind would leave my lungs alone. Dogbody noses the petals. They bloom upside down. They rattle like hydrangea bushes.

Moldering heads console me, Nailed to the rafters yesterday: Inmates who don't hibernate.

Cabbageheads: wormy purple, silver-glaze, A dressing of mule ears, mothy pelts, but green-hearted, Their veins white as porkfat.

O the beauty of usage! The orange pumpkins have no eyes. These halls are full of women who think they are birds.


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1959 This is a dull school. I am a root, a stone, an owl pellet, Without dreams of any sort.

Mother, you are the one mouth I would be a tongue to. Mother of otherness Eat me. Wastebasket gaper, shadow of doorway.

I said: I must remember this, being small. There were such enormous flowers, Purple and red mouths, utterly lovely.

The hoops of blackberry stems made me cry. Now they light me up like an electric bulb. For weeks I can remember nothing at all.

2. Dark House

This is a dark house, very big. I made it myself, Cell by cell from a quiet corner, Chewing at the gray paper, Oozing the glue drops, Whistling, wiggling my ears, Thinking of something else.

It has so many cellars, Such eelish delvings! I am round as an owl, I see by my own light. Any day I may litter puppies Or mother a horse. My belly moves. I must make more maps.

These marrowy tunnels! Moley-handed, I eat my way. All-mouth licks up the bushes And the pots of meat. He lives in an old well, A stony hole. He's to blame. He's a fat sort.


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Pebble smells, turnipy chambers. Small nostrils are breathing. Little humble loves! Footlings, boneless as noses, It is warm and tolerable In the bowel of the root. Here's a cuddly mother.

j . Maenad

Once I was ordinary: Sat by my father's bean tree Eating the fingers of wisdom. The birds made milk. When it thundered I hid under a flat stone.

The mother of mouths didn't love me. The old man shrank to a doll. 0 I am too big to go backward: Birdmilk is feathers, The bean leaves are dumb as hands.

This month is fit for little. The dead ripen in the grapeleaves. A red tongue is among us. Mother, keep out of my barnyard, 1 am becoming another.

Dog-head, devourer: Feed me the berries of dark. The lids won't shut. Time Unwinds from the great umbilicus of the sun Its endless glitter.

I must swallow it all.

Lady, who are these others in the moon's vat— Sleepdrunk, their limbs at odds ? In this light the blood is black. Tell me my name.


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q. The Beast

He was bullman earlier, King of the dish, my lucky animal. Breathing was easy in his airy holding. The sun sat in his armpit. Nothing went moldy. The little invisibles Waited on him hand and foot. The blue sisters sent me to another school. Monkey lived under the dunce cap. He kept blowing me kisses. I hardly knew him.

He won't be got rid of: Mumblepaws, teary and sorry, Fido Littlesoul, the bowel's familiar. A dustbin's enough for him. The dark's his bone. Call him any name, he'll come to it.

Mud-sump, happy sty-face. I've married a cupboard of rubbish. I bed in a fish puddle. Down here the sky is always falling. Hogwallow's at the window. The star bugs won't save me this month. I housekeep in Time's gut-end Among emmets and mollusks, duch*ess of Nothing, Hairtusk's bride.

5. Flute Notes from a Reedy Pond

Now coldness comes sifting down, layer after layer, To our bower at the lily root. Overhead the old umbrellas of summer Wither like pithless hands. There is little shelter.

Hourly the eye of the sky enlarges its blank Dominion. The stars are no nearer. Already frog-mouth and fish-mouth drink The liquor of indolence, and all things sink


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Into a soft caul of forgetfulness. The fugitive colors die. Caddis worms drowse in their silk cases, The lamp-headed nymphs are nodding to sleep like statues.

Puppets, loosed from the strings of the puppet-master, Wear masks of horn to bed. This is not death, it is something safer. The wingy myths won't tug at us any more:

The molts are tongueless that sang from above the water Of golgotha at the tip of a reed, And how a god flimsy as a baby's finger Shall unhusk himself and steer into the air.

6. Witch Burning

In the marketplace they are piling the dry sticks. A thicket of shadows is a poor coat. I inhabit The wax image of myself, a doll's body. Sickness begins here: I am a dartboard for witches. Only the devil can eat the devil out. In the month of red leaves I climb to a bed of fire.

It is easy to blame the dark: the mouth of a door, The cellar's belly. They've blown my sparkler out. A black-sharded lady keeps me in a parrot cage. What large eyes the dead have! I am intimate with a hairy spirit. Smoke wheels from the beak of this empty jar.

If I am a little one, I can do no harm. If I don't move about, I'll knock nothing over. So I said, Sitting under a potlid, tiny and inert as a rice grain. They are turning the burners up, ring after ring. We are full of starch, my small white fellows. We grow. It hurts at first. The red tongues will teach the truth.

Mother of beetles, only unclench your hand: I'll fly through the candle's mouth like a singeless moth.


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1959 Give me back my shape. I am ready to construe the days I coupled with dust in the shadow of a stone. My ankles brighten. Brightness ascends my thighs. I am lost, I am lost, in the robes of all this light.

7. The Stones

This is the city where men are mended. I lie on a great anvil. The flat blue sky-circle

Flew off like the hat of a doll When I fell out of the light. I entered The stomach of indifference, the wordless cupboard.

The mother of pestles diminished me. I became a still pebble. The stones of the belly were peaceable,

The head-stone quiet, jostled by nothing. Only the mouth-hole piped out, Importunate cricket

In a quarry of silences. The people of the city heard it. They hunted the stones, taciturn and separate,

The mouth-hole crying their locations. Drunk as a foetus I suck at the paps of darkness.

The food tubes embrace me. Sponges kiss my lichens away. The jewelmaster drives his chisel to pry Open one stone eye.

This is the after-hell: I see the light. A wind unstoppers the chamber Of the ear, old worrier.


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1959 Water mollifies the flint lip, And daylight lays its sameness on the wall. The grafters are cheerful,

Heating the pincers, hoisting the delicate hammers. A current agitates the wires Volt upon volt. Catgut stitches my fissures.

A workman walks by carrying a pink torso. The storerooms are full of hearts. This is the city of spare parts.

My swaddled legs and arms smell sweet as rubber. Here they can doctor heads, or any limb. On Fridays the little children come

To trade their hooks for hands. Dead men leave eyes for others. Love is the uniform of my bald nurse.

Love is the bone and sinew of my curse. The vase, reconstructed, houses The elusive rose.

Ten fingers shape a bowl for shadows. My mendings itch. There is nothing to do. I shall be good as new.

4 November igS9

The Burnt-out Spa

An old beast ended in this place:

A monster of wood and rusty teeth. Fire smelted his eyes to lumps Of pale blue vitreous stuff, opaque As resin drops oozed from pine bark.


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1959 The rafters and struts of his body wear Their char of karakul still. I can't tell How long his carcass has foundered under The rubbish of summers, the black-leaved falls.

Now little weeds insinuate Soft suede tongues between his bones. His armorplate, his toppled stones Are an esplanade for crickets.

I pick and pry like a doctor or Archaeologist among Iron entrails, enamel bowls, The coils and pipes that made him run.

The small dell eats what ate it once. And yet the ichor of the spring Proceeds clear as it ever did From the broken throat, the marshy lip.

It flows off below the green and white Balustrade of a sag-backed bridge. Leaning over, I encounter one Blue and improbable person

Framed in a basketwork of cat-tails. O she is gracious and austere, Seated beneath the toneless water! It is not I, it is not I.

No animal spoils on her green doorstep. And we shall never enter there Where the durable ones keep house. The stream that hustles us

Neither nourishes nor heals.

i / November igs9


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Mushrooms Overnight, very Whitely, discreetly, Very quietly

Our toes, our noses Take hold on the loam, Acquire the air.

Nobody sees us, Stops us, betrays us; The small grains make room.

Soft fists insist on Heaving the needles, The leafy bedding,

Even the paving. Our hammers, our rams, Earless and eyeless,

Perfectly voiceless, Widen the crannies, Shoulder through holes. We

Diet on water, On crumbs of shadow, Bland-mannered, asking

Little or nothing. So many of us! So many of us!

We are shelves, we are Tables, we are meek, We are edible,

Nudgers and shovers In spite of ourselves. Our kind multiplies:


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1959 We shall by morning Inherit the earth. Our foot's in the door.

13 November ig$g


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122 You're

Clownlike, happiest on your hands, Feet to the stars, and moon-skulled, Gilled like a fish. A common-sense Thumbs-down on the dodo's mode. Wrapped up in yourself like a spool, Trawling your dark as owls do. Mute as a turnip from the Fourth Of July to All Fools' Day, O high-riser, my little loaf.

Vague as fog and looked for like mail. Farther off than Australia. Bent-backed Atlas, our traveled prawn. Snug as a bud and at home Like a sprat in a pickle jug. A creel of eels, all ripples. Jumpy as a Mexican bean. Right, like a well-done sum. A clean slate, with your own face on.

January!February ig6o

123 The Hanging Man

By the roots of my hair some god got hold of me. I sizzled in his blue volts like a desert prophet.

The nights snapped out of sight like a lizard's eyelid: A world of bald white days in a shadeless socket.


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A vulturous boredom pinned me in this tree. If he were I, he would do what I did.

27 June ig6o


These poems do not live: it's a sad diagnosis. They grew their toes and fingers well enough, Their little foreheads bulged with concentration. If they missed out on walking about like people It wasn't for any lack of mother-love.

O I cannot understand what happened to them! They are proper in shape and number and every part. They sit so nicely in the pickling fluid! They smile and smile and smile and smile at me. And still the lungs won't fill and the heart won't start.

They are not pigs, they are not even fish, Though they have a piggy and a fishy air— It would be better if they were alive, and that's what they were. But they are dead, and their mother near dead with distraction, And they stupidly stare, and do not speak of her.

On Deck

Midnight in the mid-Atlantic. On deck. Wrapped up in themselves as in thick veiling And mute as mannequins in a dress shop, Some few passengers keep track Of the old star-map on the ceiling. Tiny and far, a single ship

Lit like a two-tiered wedding cake Carries its candles slowly off. Now there is nothing much to look at. Still nobody will move or speak— The bingo players, the players at love On a square no bigger than a carpet


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Are hustled over the crests and troughs, Each stalled in his particular minute And castled in it like a king. Small drops spot their coats, their gloves: They fly too fast to feel the wet. Anything can happen where they are going.

The untidy lady revivalist For whom the good Lord provides (He gave Her a pocketbook, a pearl hatpin And seven winter coats last August) Prays under her breath that she may save The art students in West Berlin.

The astrologer at her elbow (a Leo) Picked his trip-date by the stars. He is gratified by the absence of icecakes. He'll be rich in a year (and he should know) Selling the Welsh and English mothers Nativities at two-and-six.

And the white-haired jeweler from Denmark is carving

A perfectly faceted wife to wait On him hand and foot, quiet as a diamond. Moony balloons tied by a string To their owners' wrists, the light dreams float To be let loose at news of land.

July ig6o

126 Sleep in the Mojave Desert

Out here there are no hearthstones, Hot grains, simply. It is dry, dry. And the air dangerous. Noonday acts queerly On the mind's eye, erecting a line Of poplars in the middle distance, the only Object beside the mad, straight road One can remember men and houses by.


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ig6o A cool wind should inhabit those leaves And a dew collect on them, dearer than money, In the blue hour before sunup. Yet they recede, untouchable as tomorrow, Or those glittery fictions of spilt water That glide ahead of the very thirsty.

I think of the lizards airing their tongues In the crevice of an extremely small shadow And the toad guarding his heart's droplet. The desert is white as a blind man's eye, Comfortless as salt. Snake and bird Doze behind the old masks of fury. We swelter like firedogs in the wind. The sun puts its cinder out. Where we lie The heat-cracked crickets congregate In their black armorplate and cry. The day-moon lights up like a sorry mother, And the crickets come creeping into our hair To fiddle the short night away.

5 July ig6o

127 Two Campers in Cloud Country (Rock Lake, Canada)

In this country there is neither measure nor balance To redress the dominance of rocks and woods, The passage, say, of these man-shaming clouds.

No gesture of yours or mine could catch their attention, No word make them carry water or fire the kindling Like local trolls in the spell of a superior being.

Well, one wearies of the Public Gardens: one wants a vacatior Where trees and clouds and animals pay no notice; Away from the labeled elms, the tame tea-roses.


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ig6o It took three days driving north to find a cloud The polite skies over Boston couldn't possibly accommodate. Here on the last frontier of the big, brash spirit

The horizons are too far off to be chummy as uncles; The colors assert themselves with a sort of vengeance. Each day concludes in a huge splurge of vermilions

And night arrives in one gigantic step. It is comfortable, for a change, to mean so little. These rocks offer no purchase to herbage or people:

They are conceiving a dynasty of perfect cold. In a month we'll wonder what plates and forks are for. I lean to you, numb as a fossil. Tell me I'm here.

The Pilgrims and Indians might never have happened. Planets pulse in the lake like bright amoebas; The pines blot our voices up in their lightest sighs.

Around our tent the old simplicities sough Sleepily as Lethe, trying to get in. We'll wake blank-brained as water in the dawn.

July ig6o

128 Leaving Early

Lady, your room is lousy with flowers. When you kick me out, that's what I'll remember, Me, sitting here bored as a leopard In your jungle of wine-bottle lamps, Velvet pillows the colour of blood pudding And the white china flying fish from Italy. I forget you, hearing the cut flowers Sipping their liquids from assorted pots, Pitchers and Coronation goblets Like Monday drunkards. The milky berries Bow down, a local constellation,


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ig6o Toward their admirers in the tabletop: Mobs of eyeballs looking up. Are those petals or leaves you've paired them with — Those green-striped ovals of silver tissue ? The red geraniums I know. Friends, friends. They stink of armpits And the involved maladies of autumn, Musky as a lovebed the morning after. My nostrils prickle with nostalgia. Henna hags: cloth of your cloth. They toe old water thick as fog.

The roses in the toby jug Gave up the ghost last night. High time. Their yellow corsets were ready to split. You snored, and I heard the petals unlatch, Tapping and ticking like nervous fingers. You should have junked them before they died. Daybreak discovered the bureau lid Littered with Chinese hands. Now I'm stared at By chrysanthemums the size Of Holofernes' head, dipped in the same Magenta as this fubsy sofa. In the mirror their doubles back them up. Listen: your tenant mice Are rattling the cracker packets. Fine flour Muffles their bird-feet: they whistle for joy. And you doze on, nose to the wall. This mizzle fits me like a sad jacket. How did we make it up to your attic ? You handed me gin in a glass bud vase. We slept like stones. Lady, what am I doing With a lung full of dust and a tongue of wood, Knee-deep in the cold and swamped by flowers ?

2$ September ig6o


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ig6o 129 Love Letter

Not easy to state the change you made. If I'm alive now, then I was dead, Though, like a stone, unbothered by it, Staying put according to habit. You didn't just toe me an inch, no — Nor leave me to set my small bald eye Skyward again, without hope, of course, Of apprehending blueness, or stars.

That wasn't it. I slept, say: a snake Masked among black rocks as a black rock In the white hiatus of winter— Like my neighbors, taking no pleasure In the million perfectly-chiseled Cheeks alighting each moment to melt My cheek of basalt. They turned to tears, Angels weeping over dull natures, But didn't convince me. Those tears froze. Each dead head had a visor of ice.

And I slept on like a bent finger. The first thing I saw was sheer air And the locked drops rising in a dew Limpid as spirits. Many stones lay Dense and expressionless round about. I didn't know what to make of it. I shone, mica-scaled, and unfolded To pour myself out like a fluid Among bird feet and the stems of plants. I wasn't fooled. I knew you at once.

Tree and stone glittered, without shadows. My finger-length grew lucent as glass. I started to bud like a March twig: An arm and a leg, an arm, a leg. From stone to cloud, so I ascended. Now I resemble a sort of god Floating through the air in my soul-shift Pure as a pane of ice. It's a gift.

16 October i960


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130 Magi

The abstracts hover like dull angels: Nothing so vulgar as a nose or an eye Bossing the ethereal blanks of their face-ovals.

Their whiteness bears no relation to laundry, Snow, chalk or suchlike. They're The real thing, all right: the Good, the True—

Salutary and pure as boiled water, Loveless as the multiplication table. While the child smiles into thin air.

Six months in the world, and she is able To rock on all fours like a padded hammock. For her, the heavy notion of Evil

Attending her cot is less than a belly ache, And Love the mother of milk, no theory. They mistake their star, these papery godfolk.

They want the crib of some lamp-headed Plato. Let them astound his heart with their merit. What girl ever flourished in such company ?

131 Candles

They are the last romantics, these candles: Upside down hearts of light tipping wax fingers, And the fingers, taken in by their own haloes, Grown milky, almost clear, like the bodies of saints. It is touching, the way they'll ignore

A whole family of prominent objects Simply to plumb the deeps of an eye In its hollow of shadows, its fringe of reeds, And the owner past thirty, no beauty at all. Daylight would be more judicious,


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ig6o Giving everybody a fair hearing. They should have gone out with balloon flights and the stereopticon. This is no time for the private point of view. When I light them, my nostrils prickle. Their pale, tentative yellows

Drag up false, Edwardian sentiments, And I remember my maternal grandmother from Vienna. As a schoolgirl she gave roses to Franz Josef. The burghers sweated and wept. The children wore white. And my grandfather moped in the Tyrol,

Imagining himself a headwaiter in America, Floating in a high-church hush Among ice buckets, frosty napkins. These little globes of light are sweet as pears. Kindly with invalids and mawkish women,

They mollify the bald moon. Nun-souled, they burn heavenward and never marry. The eyes of the child I nurse are scarcely open. In twenty years I shall be retrograde As these draughty ephemerids.

I watch their spilt tears cloud and dull to pearls. How shall I tell anything at all To this infant still in a birth-drowse ? Tonight, like a shawl, the mild light enfolds her, The shadows stoop over like guests at a christening.

ij October ig6o

132 A Life

Touch it: it won't shrink like an eyeball, This egg-shaped bailiwick, clear as a tear. Here's yesterday, last year— Palm-spear and lily distinct as flora in the vast Windless thread work of a tapestry.


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Flick the glass with your fingernail: It will ping like a Chinese chime in the slightest air stir Though nobody in there looks up or bothers to answer. The inhabitants are light as cork, Every one of them permanently busy.

At their feet, the sea waves bow in single file, Never trespassing in bad temper: Stalling in midair, Short-reined, pawing like paradeground horses. Overhead, the clouds sit tasseled and fancy

As Victorian cushions. This family Of valentine-faces might please a collector: They ring true, like good china.

Elsewhere the landscape is more frank. The light falls without letup, blindingly.

A woman is dragging her shadow in a circle About a bald, hospital saucer. It resembles the moon, or a sheet of blank paper And appears to have suffered a sort of private blitzkrieg. She lives quietly

With no attachments, like a foetus in a bottle, The obsolete house, the sea, flattened to a picture She has one too many dimensions to enter. Grief and anger, exorcized, Leave her alone now.

The future is a gray seagull Tattling in its cat-voice of departure, departure. Age and terror, like nurses, attend her, And a drowned man, complaining of the great cold, Crawls up out of the sea.

18 November IQ6O


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Waking in Winter

I can taste the tin of the sky—the real tin thing. Winter dawn is the color of metal, The trees stiffen into place like burnt nerves. All night I have dreamed of destruction, annihilations — An assembly-line of cut throats, and you and I Inching off in the gray Chevrolet, drinking the green Poison of stilled lawns, the little clapboard gravestones, Noiseless, on rubber wheels, on the way to the sea resort.

How the balconies echoed! How the sun lit up The skulls, the unbuckled bones facing the view! Space! Space! The bed linen was giving out entirely. Cot legs melted in terrible attitudes, and the nurses — Each nurse patched her soul to a wound and disappeared. The deathly guests had not been satisfied With the rooms, or the smiles, or the beautiful rubber plants, Or the sea, hushing their peeled sense like Old Mother Morphia.


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Parliament Hill Fields

On this bald hill the new year hones its edge. Faceless and pale as china The round sky goes on minding its business. Your absence is inconspicuous; Nobody can tell what I lack.

Gulls have threaded the river's mud bed back To this crest of grass. Inland, they argue, Settling and stirring like blown paper Or the hands of an invalid. The wan Sun manages to strike such tin glints

From the linked ponds that my eyes wince And brim; the city melts like sugar. A crocodile of small girls Knotting and stopping, ill-assorted, in blue uniforms, Opens to swallow me. I'm a stone, a stick,

One child drops a barrette of pink plastic; None of them seem to notice. Their shrill, gravelly gossip's funneled off. Now silence after silence offers itself. The wind stops my breath like a bandage.

Southward, over Kentish Town, an ashen smudge Swaddles roof and tree. It could be a snowfield or a cloudbank. I suppose it's pointless to think of you at all. Already your doll grip lets go.


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The tumulus, even at noon, guards its black shadow: You know me less constant, Ghost of a leaf, ghost of a bird. I circle the writhen trees. I am too happy. These faithful dark-boughed cypresses

Brood, rooted in their heaped losses. Your cry fades like the cry of a gnat. I lose sight of you on your blind journey, While the heath grass glitters and the spindling rivulets Unspool and spend themselves. My mind runs with them,

Pooling in heel-prints, fumbling pebble and stem. The day empties its images Like a cup or a room. The moon's crook whitens, Thin as the skin seaming a scar. Now, on the nursery wall,

The blue night plants, the little pale blue hill In your sister's birthday picture start to glow. The orange pompons, the Egyptian papyrus Light up. Each rabbit-eared Blue shrub behind the glass

Exhales an indigo nimbus, A sort of cellophane balloon. The old dregs, the old difficulties take me to wife. Gulls stiffen to their chill vigil in the drafty half-light; I enter the lit house.

/ / February ig6i


This is not what I meant: Stucco arches, the banked rocks sunning in rows, Bald eyes or petrified eggs, Grownups coffined in stockings and jackets, Lard-pale, sipping the thin Air like a medicine.


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The stopped horse on his chromium pole Stares through us; his hooves chew the breeze. Your shirt of crisp linen Bloats like a spinnaker. Hat-brims Deflect the watery dazzle; the people idle As if in hospital.

I can smell the salt, all right. At our feet, the weed-mustachioed sea Exhibits its glaucous silks, Bowing and truckling like an old-school Oriental. You're no happier than I about it. A policeman points out a vacant cliff

Green as a pool table, where cabbage butterflies Peel off to sea as gulls do, And we picnic in the death-stench of a hawthorn. The waves pulse and pulse like hearts. Beached under the spumy blooms, we lie Seasick and fever-dry.

14 February ig6i

Zoo Keeper's Wife

I can stay awake all night, if need be— Cold as an eel, without eyelids. Like a dead lake the dark envelops me, Blueblack, a spectacular plum fruit. No airbubbles start from my heart, I am lungless And ugly, my belly a silk stocking Where the heads and tails of my sisters decompose. Look, they are melting like coins in the powerful juices-

The spidery jaws, the spine bones bared for a moment Like the white lines on a blueprint. Should I stir, I think this pink and purple plastic Guts bag would clack like a child's rattle, Old grievances jostling each other, so many loose teeth.


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But what do you know about that My fat pork, my marrowy sweetheart, face-to-the-wall ? Some things of this world are indigestible.

You wooed me with the wolf-headed fruit bats Hanging from their scorched hooks in the moist Fug of the Small Mammal House. The armadillo dozed in his sandbin Obscene and bald as a pig, the white mice Multiplied to infinity like angels on a pinhead Out of sheer boredom. Tangled in the sweat-wet sheets I remember the bloodied chicks and the quartered rabbits.

You checked the diet charts and took me to play With the boa constrictor in the Fellows' Garden. I pretended I was the Tree of Knowledge. I entered your bible, I boarded your ark With the sacred baboon in his wig and wax ears And the bear-furred, bird-eating spider Clambering round its glass box like an eight-fingered hand. I can't get it out of my mind

How our courtship lit the tindery cages — Your two-horned rhinoceros opened a mouth Dirty as a bootsole and big as a hospital sink For my cube of sugar: its bog breath Gloved my arm to the elbow. The snails blew kisses like black apples. Nightly now I flog apes owls bears sheep Over their iron stile. And still don't sleep.

14 February ig6i

Face Lift

You bring me good news from the clinic, Whipping off your silk scarf, exhibiting the tight white Mummy-cloths, smiling: I'm all right. When I was nine, a lime-green anesthetist


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Fed me banana gas through a frog-mask. The nauseous vault Boomed with bad dreams and the Jovian voices of surgeons. Then mother swam up, holding a tin basin. 0 I was sick.

They've changed all that. Traveling Nude as Cleopatra in my well-boiled hospital shift, Fizzy with sedatives and unusually humorous, 1 roll to an anteroom where a kind man Fists my fingers for me. He makes me feel something precious Is leaking from the finger-vents. At the count of two Darkness wipes me out like chalk on a blackboard. . . I don't know a thing.

For five days I lie in secret, Tapped like a cask, the years draining into my pillow. Even my best friend thinks I'm in the country. Skin doesn't have roots, it peels away easy as paper. When I grin, the stitches tauten. I grow backward. I'm twenty, Broody and in long skirts on my first husband's sofa, my fingers Buried in the lambswool of the dead poodle; I hadn't a cat yet.

Now she's done for, the dewlapped lady I watched settle, line by line, in my mirror— Old sock-face, sagged on a darning egg. They've trapped her in some laboratory jar. Let her die there, or wither incessantly for the next fifty years, Nodding and rocking and fingering her thin hair. Mother to myself, I wake swaddled in gauze, Pink and smooth as a baby.

15 February IQ6I

138 Morning Song

Love set you going like a fat gold watch. The midwife slapped your footsoles, and your bald cry Took its place among the elements.


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Our voices echo, magnifying your arrival. New statue. In a drafty museum, your nakedness Shadows our safety. We stand round blankly as walls.

I'm no more your mother Than the cloud that distills a mirror to reflect its own slow EfFacement at the wind's hand.

All night your moth-breath Flickers among the flat pink roses. I wake to listen : A far sea moves in my ear.

One cry, and I stumble from bed, cow-heavy and floral In my Victorian nightgown. Your mouth opens clean as a cat's. The window square

Whitens and swallows its dull stars. And now you try Your handful of notes; The clear vowels rise like balloons.

ig February ig6i

9 Barren Woman

Empty, I echo to the least footfall, Museum without statues, grand with pillars, porticoes, rotundas. In my courtyard a fountain leaps and sinks back into itself, Nun-hearted and blind to the world. Marble lilies Exhale their pallor like scent.

I imagine myself with a great public, Mother of a white Nike and several bald-eyed Apollos. Instead, the dead injure me with attentions, and nothing can happen. The moon lays a hand on my forehead, Blank-faced and mum as a nurse.

21 February 1961


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140 Heavy Women

Irrefutable, beautifully smug As Venus, pedestaled on a half-shell Shawled in blond hair and the salt Scrim of a sea breeze, the women Settle in their belling dresses. Over each weighty stomach a face Floats calm as a moon or a cloud.

Smiling to themselves, they meditate Devoutly as the Dutch bulb Forming its twenty petals. The dark still nurses its secret. On the green hill, under the thorn trees, They listen for the millennium, The knock of the small, new heart.

Pink-buttocked infants attend them. Looping wool, doing nothing in particular, They step among the archetypes. Dusk hoods them in Mary-blue While far off, the axle of winter Grinds round, bearing down with the straw, The star, the wise gray men.

26 February ig6i

141 In Plaster

I shall never get out of this! There are two of me now: This new absolutely white person and the old yellow one, And the white person is certainly the superior one. She doesn't need food, she is one of the real saints. At the beginning I hated her, she had no personality— She lay in bed with me like a dead body And I was scared, because she was shaped just the way I was

Only much whiter and unbreakable and with no complaints. I couldn't sleep for a week, she was so cold.


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I blamed her for everything, but she didn't answer. I couldn't understand her stupid behavior! When I hit her she held still, like a true pacifist. Then I realized what she wanted was for me to love her: She began to warm up, and I saw her advantages.

Without me, she wouldn't exist, so of course she was grateful. I gave her a soul, I bloomed out of her as a rose Blooms out of a vase of not very valuable porcelain, And it was I who attracted everybody's attention, Not her whiteness and beauty, as I had at first supposed. I patronized her a little, and she lapped it up — You could tell almost at once she had a slave mentality.

I didn't mind her waiting on me, and she adored it. In the morning she woke me early, reflecting the sun From her amazingly white torso, and I couldn't help but notice Her tidiness and her calmness and her patience: She humored my weakness like the best of nurses, Holding my bones in place so they would mend properly. In time our relationship grew more intense.

She stopped fitting me so closely and seemed offish. I felt her criticizing me in spite of herself, As if my habits offended her in some way. She let in the drafts and became more and more absent-minded. And my skin itched and flaked away in soft pieces Simply because she looked after me so badly. Then I saw what the trouble was: she thought she was immortal.

She wanted to leave me, she thought she was superior, And I'd been keeping her in the dark, and she was resentful — Wasting her days waiting on a half-corpse! And secretly she began to hope I'd die. Then she could cover my mouth and eyes, cover me entirely, And wear my painted face the way a mummy-case Wears the face of a pharaoh, though it's made of mud and water.

I wasn't in any position to get rid of her. She'd supported me for so long I was quite limp — I had even forgotten how to walk or sit,


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So I was careful not to upset her in any way Or brag ahead of time how I'd avenge myself. Living with her was like living with my own coffin: Yet I still depended on her, though I did it regretfully.

I used to think we might make a go of it together— After all, it was a kind of marriage, being so close. Now I see it must be one or the other of us. She may be a saint, and I may be ugly and hairy, But she'll soon find out that that doesn't matter a bit. I'm collecting my strength; one day I shall manage without her, And she'll perish with emptiness then, and begin to miss me.

18 March IQ6I

142 Tulips

The tulips are too excitable, it is winter here. Look how white everything is, how quiet, how snowed-in. I am learning peacefulness, lying by myself quietly As the light lies on these white walls, this bed, these hands. I am nobody; I have nothing to do with explosions. I have given my name and my day-clothes up to the nurses And my history to the anesthetist and my body to surgeons.

They have propped my head between the pillow and the sheet-cuff Like an eye between two white lids that will not shut. Stupid pupil, it has to take everything in. The nurses pass and pass, they are no trouble, They pass the way gulls pass inland in their white caps, Doing things with their hands, one just the same as another, So it is impossible to tell how many there are.

My body is a pebble to them, they tend it as water Tends to the pebbles it must run over, smoothing them gently. They bring me numbness in their bright needles, they bring me sleep. Now I have lost myself I am sick of baggage My patent leather overnight case like a black pillbox, My husband and child smiling out of the family photo; Their smiles catch onto my skin, little smiling hooks.


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I hav^ let things slip, a thirty-year-old cargo boat Stubbornly hanging on to my name and address. They have swabbed me clear of my loving associations. Scared and bare on the green plastic-pillowed trolley I watched my teaset, my bureaus of linen, my books Sink out of sight, and the water went over my head. I am a nun now, I have never been so pure.

I didn't want any flowers, I only wanted To lie with my hands turned up and be utterly empty. How free it is, you have no idea how free The peacefulness is so big it dazes you, And it asks nothing, a name tag, a few trinkets. It is what the dead close on, finally; I imagine them Shutting their mouths on it, like a Communion tablet.

The tulips are too red in the first place, they hurt me. Even through the gift paper I could hear them breathe Lightly, through their white swaddlings, like an awful baby. Their redness talks to my wound, it corresponds. They are subtle: they seem to float, though they weigh me down, Upsetting me with their sudden tongues and their color, A dozen red lead sinkers round my neck.

Nobody watched me before, now I am watched. The tulips turn to me, and the window behind me Where once a day the light slowly widens and slowly thins, And I see myself, flat, ridiculous, a cut-paper shadow Between the eye of the sun and the eyes of the tulips, And I have no face, I have wanted to efface myself. The vivid tulips eat my oxygen.

Before they came the air was calm enough, Coming and going, breath by breath, without any fuss. Then the tulips filled it up like a loud noise. Now the air snags and eddies round them the way a river Snags and eddies round a sunken rust-red engine. They concentrate my attention, that was happy Playing and resting without committing itself.


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The walls, also, seem to be warming themselves. The tulips should be behind bars like dangerous animals; They are opening like the mouth of some great African cat, And I am aware of my heart: it opens and closes Its bowl of red blooms out of sheer love of me. The water I taste is warm and salt, like the sea, And comes from a country far away as health.

18 March ig6i

i43 I Am Vertical

But I would rather be horizontal. I am not a tree with my root in the soil Sucking up minerals and motherly love So that each March I may gleam into leaf, Nor am I the beauty of a garden bed Attracting my share of Ahs and spectacularly painted, Unknowing I must soon unpetal. Compared with me, a tree is immortal And a flower-head not tall, but more startling, And I want the one's longevity and the other's daring.

Tonight, in the infinitesimal light of the stars, The trees and flowers have been strewing their cool odors. I walk among them, but none of them are noticing. Sometimes I think that when I am sleeping I must most perfectly resemble them— Thoughts gone dim. It is more natural to me, lying down. Then the sky and I are in open conversation, And I shall be useful when I lie down finally: Then the trees may touch me for once, and the flowers have time for me.

28 March ig6i


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144 Insomniac

The night sky is only a sort of carbon paper, Blueblack, with the much-poked periods of stars Letting in the light, peephole after peephole — A bonewhite light, like death, behind all things. Under the eyes of the stars and the moon's rictus He suffers his desert pillow, sleeplessness Stretching its fine, irritating sand in all directions.

Over and over the old, granular movie Exposes embarrassments—the mizzling days Of childhood and adolescence, sticky with dreams, Parental faces on tall stalks, alternately stern and tearful, A garden of buggy roses that made him cry. His forehead is bumpy as a sack of rocks. Memories jostle each other for face-room like obsolete film stars.

He is immune to pills: red, purple, blue — How they lit the tedium of the protracted evening! Those sugary planets whose influence won for him A life baptized in no-life for a while, And the sweet, drugged waking of a forgetful baby. Now the pills are worn-out and silly, like classical gods. Their poppy-sleepy colors do him no good.

His head is a little interior of gray mirrors. Each gesture flees immediately down an alley Of diminishing perspectives, and its significance Drains like water out the hole at the far end. He lives without privacy in a lidless room, The bald slots of his eyes stiffened wide-open On the incessant heat-lightning flicker of situations.

Nightlong, in the granite yard, invisible cats Have been howling like women, or damaged instruments. Already he can feel daylight, his white disease, Creeping up with her hatful of trivial repetitions. The city is a map of cheerful twitters now, And everywhere people, eyes mica-silver and blank, Are riding to work in rows, as if recently brainwashed.

May ig6i


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Widow. The word consumes itself— Body, a sheet of newsprint on the fire Levitating a numb minute in the updraft Over the scalding, red topography That will put her heart out like an only eye.

Widow. The dead syllable, with its shadow Of an echo, exposes the panel in the wall Behind which the secret passage lies—stale air, Fusty remembrances, the coiled-spring stair That opens at the top onto nothing at all. . . .

Widow. The bitter spider sits And sits in the center of her loveless spokes. Death is the dress she wears, her hat and collar. The moth-face of her husband, moon white and ill, Circles her like a prey she'd love to kill

A second time, to have him near again — A paper image to lay against her heart The way she laid his letters, till they grew warm And seemed to give her warmth, like a live skin. But it is she who is paper now, warmed by no one.

Widow: that great, vacant estate! The voice of God is full of draftiness, Promising simply the hard stars, the space Of immortal blankness between stars And no bodies, singing like arrows up to heaven.

Widow, the compassionate trees bend in, The trees of loneliness, the trees of mourning. They stand like shadows about the green landscape— Or even like black holes cut out of it. A widow resembles them, a shadow-thing,

Hand folding hand, and nothing in between. A bodiless soul could pass another soul In this clear air and never notice it —


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One soul pass through the other, frail as smoke And utterly ignorant of the way it took.

That is the fear she has—the fear His soul may beat and be beating at her dull sense Like blue Mary's angel, dovelike against a pane Blinded to all but the gray, spiritless room It looks in on, and must go on looking in on.

16 May ig6i

Stars Over the Dordogne

Stars are dropping thick as stones into the twiggy Picket of trees whose silhouette is darker Than the dark of the sky because it is quite starless. The woods are a well. The stars drop silently. They seem large, yet they drop, and no gap is visible. Nor do they send up fires where they fall Or any signal of distress or anxiousness. They are eaten immediately by the pines.

Where I am at home, only the sparsest stars Arrive at twilight, and then after some effort. And they are wan, dulled by much travelling. The smaller and more timid never arrive at all But stay, sitting far out, in their own dust. They are orphans. I cannot see them. They are lost. But tonight they have discovered this river with no trouble, They are scrubbed and self-assured as the great planets.

The Big Dipper is my only familiar. I miss Orion and Cassiopeia's Chair. Maybe they are Hanging shyly under the studded horizon Like a child's too-simple mathematical problem. Infinite number seems to be the issue up there. Or else they are present, and their disguise so bright I am overlooking them by looking too hard. Perhaps it is the season that is not right.


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And what if the sky here is no different, And it is my eyes that have been sharpening themselves ? Such a luxury of stars would embarrass me. The few I am used to are plain and durable; I think they would not wish for this dressy backcloth Or much company, or the mildness of the south. They are too puritan and solitary for that — When one of them falls it leaves a space,

A sense of absence in its old shining place. And where I lie now, back to my own dark star, I see those constellations in my head, Unwarmed by the sweet air of this peach orchard. There is too much ease here; these stars treat me too well. On this hill, with its view of lit castles, each swung bell Is accounting for its cow. I shut my eyes And drink the small night chill like news of home.

The Rival

If the moon smiled, she would resemble you. You leave the same impression Of something beautiful, but annihilating. Both of you are great light borrowers. Her O-mouth grieves at the world; yours is unaffected,

And your first gift is making stone out of everything. I wake to a mausoleum; you are here, Ticking your fingers on the marble table, looking for cigarettes, Spiteful as a woman, but not so nervous, And dying to say something unanswerable.

The moon, too, abases her subjects, But in the daytime she is ridiculous. Your dissatisfactions, on the other hand, Arrive through the mailslot with loving regularity, White and blank, expansive as carbon monoxide.


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No day is safe from news of you, Walking about in Africa maybe, but thinking of me.

July ig6i

148 Wuthering Heights

The horizons ring me like fa*ggots, Tilted and disparate, and always unstable. Touched by a match, they might warm me, And their fine lines singe The air to orange Before the distances they pin evaporate, Weighting the pale sky with a solider color. But they only dissolve and dissolve Like a series of promises, as I step forward.

There is no life higher than the grasstops Or the hearts of sheep, and the wind Pours by like destiny, bending Everything in one direction. I can feel it trying To funnel my heat away. If I pay the roots of the heather Too close attention, they will invite me To whiten my bones among them.

The sheep know where they are, Browsing in their dirty wool-clouds, Gray as the weather. The black slots of their pupils take me in. It is like being mailed into space, A thin, silly message. They stand about in grandmotherly disguise, All wig curls and yellow teeth And hard, marbly baas.

I come to wheel ruts, and water Limpid as the solitudes


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That flee through my fingers. Hollow doorsteps go from grass to grass; Lintel and sill have unhinged themselves. Of people the air only Remembers a few odd syllables. It rehearses them moaningly: Black stone, black stone.

The sky leans on me, me, the one upright Among all horizontals. The grass is beating its head distractedly. It is too delicate For a life in such company; Darkness terrifies it. Now, in valleys narrow And black as purses, the house lights Gleam like small change.

September 1961

149 Blackberrying

Nobody in the lane, and nothing, nothing but blackberries, Blackberries on either side, though on the right mainly, A blackberry alley, going down in hooks, and a sea Somewhere at the end of it, heaving. Blackberries Big as the ball of my thumb, and dumb as eyes Ebon in the hedges, fat With blue-red juices. These they squander on my fingers. I had not asked for such a blood sisterhood; they must love me. They accommodate themselves to my milkbottle, flattening their sides.

Overhead go the choughs in black, cacophonous flocks — Bits of burnt paper wheeling in a blown sky. Theirs is the only voice, protesting, protesting. I do not think the sea will appear at all. The high, green meadows are glowing, as if lit from within. I come to one bush of berries so ripe it is a bush of flies, Hanging their bluegreen bellies and their wing panes in a Chinese screen.


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The honey-feast of the berries has stunned them; they believe in heaven. One more hook, and the berries and bushes end.

The only thing to come now is the sea. From between two hills a sudden wind funnels at me, Slapping its phantom laundry in my face. These hills are too green and sweet to have tasted salt. I follow the sheep path between them. A last hook brings me To the hills' northern face, and the face is orange rock That looks out on nothing, nothing but a great space Of white and pewter lights, and a din like silversmiths Beating and beating at an intractable metal.

2 j September IQ6I

ISO Finisterre

This was the land's end: the last fingers, knuckled and rheumatic, Cramped on nothing. Black Admonitory cliffs, and the sea exploding With no bottom, or anything on the other side of it, Whitened by the faces of the drowned. Now it is only gloomy, a dump of rocks — Leftover soldiers from old, messy wars. The sea cannons into their ear, but they don't budge. Other rocks hide their grudges under the water.

The cliffs are edged with trefoils, stars and bells Such as fingers might embroider, close to death, Almost too small for the mists to bother with. The mists are part of the ancient paraphernalia — Souls, rolled in the doom-noise of the sea. They bruise the rocks out of existence, then resurrect them. They go up without hope, like sighs. I walk among them, and they stuff my mouth with cotton. When they free me, I am beaded with tears.

Our Lady of the Shipwrecked is striding toward the horizon, Her marble skirts blown back in two pink wings.


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A marble sailor kneels at her foot distractedly, and at his foot A peasant woman in black Is praying to the monument of the sailor praying. Our Lady of the Shipwrecked is three times life size, Her lips sweet with divinity. She does not hear what the sailor or the peasant is saying— She is in love with the beautiful formlessness of the sea.

Gull-colored laces flap in the sea drafts Beside the postcard stalls. The peasants anchor them with conches. One is told: 'These are the pretty trinkets the sea hides, Little shells made up into necklaces and toy ladies. They do not come from the Bay of the Dead down there, But from another place, tropical and blue, We have never been to. These are our crepes. Eat them before they blow cold.'

2g September ig6i

151 The Surgeon at 2 a.m.

The white light is artificial, and hygienic as heaven. The microbes cannot survive it. They are departing in their transparent garments, turned aside From the scalpels and the rubber hands. The scalded sheet is a snowfield, frozen and peaceful. The body under it is in my hands. As usual there is no face. A lump of Chinese white With seven holes thumbed in. The soul is another light. I have not seen it; it does not fly up. Tonight it has receded like a ship's light.

It is a garden I have to do with—tubers and fruits Oozing their jammy substances, A mat of roots. My assistants hook them back. Stenches and colors assail me. This is the lung-tree. These orchids are splendid. They spot and coil like snakes.


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The heart is a red-bell-bloom, in distress. I am so small In comparison to these organs! I worm and hack in a purple wilderness.

The blood is a sunset. I admire it. I am up to my elbows in it, red and squeaking. Still it seeps up, it is not exhausted. So magical! A hot spring I must seal off and let fill The intricate, blue piping under this pale marble. How I admire the Romans— Aqueducts, the Baths of Caracalla, the eagle nose! The body is a Roman thing. It has shut its mouth on the stone pill of repose.

It is a statue the orderlies are wheeling off. I have perfected it. I am left with an arm or a leg, A set of teeth, or stones To rattle in a bottle and take home, And tissue in slices—a pathological salami. Tonight the parts are entombed in an icebox. Tomorrow they will swim In vinegar like saints' relics. Tomorrow the patient will have a clean, pink plastic limb.

Over one bed in the ward, a small blue light Announces a new soul. The bed is blue. Tonight, for this person, blue is a beautiful color. The angels of morphia have borne him up. He floats an inch from the ceiling, Smelling the dawn drafts. I walk among sleepers in gauze sarcophagi. The red night lights are flat moons. They are dull with blood. I am the sun, in my white coat, Gray faces, shuttered by drugs, follow me like flowers.

2g September ig6i


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2 Last Words

I do not want a plain box, I want a sarcophagus With tigery stripes, and a face on it Round as the moon, to stare up. I want to be looking at them when they come Picking among the dumb minerals, the roots. I see them already—the pale, star-distance faces. Now they are nothing, they are not even babies. I imagine them without fathers or mothers, like the first gods. They will wonder if I was important. I should sugar and preserve my days like fruit! My mirror is clouding over— A few more breaths, and it will reflect nothing at all. The flowers and the faces whiten to a sheet.

I do not trust the spirit. It escapes like steam In dreams, through mouth-hole or eye-hole. I can't stop it. One day it won't come back. Things aren't like that. They stay, their little particular lusters Warmed by much handling. They almost purr. When the soles of my feet grow cold, The blue eye of my turquoise will comfort me. Let me have my copper cooking pots, let my rouge pots Bloom about me like night flowers, with a good smell. They will roll me up in bandages, they will store my heart Under my feet in a neat parcel. I shall hardly know myself. It will be dark, And the shine of these small things sweeter than the face of Ishtar.

21 October igdi

3 The Moon and the Yew Tree

This is the light of the mind, cold and planetary. The trees of the mind are black. The light is blue. The grasses unload their griefs on my feet as if I were God, Prickling my ankles and murmuring of their humility. Fumy, spiritous mists inhabit this place


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Separated from my house by a row of headstones. I simply cannot see where there is to get to.

The moon is no door. It is a face in its own right, White as a knuckle and terribly upset. It drags the sea after it like a dark crime; it is quiet With the O-gape of complete despair. I live here. Twice on Sunday, the bells startle the sky Eight great tongues affirming the Resurrection. At the end, they soberly bong out their names.

The yew tree points up. It has a Gothic shape. The eyes lift after it and find the moon. The moon is my mother. She is not sweet like Mary. Her blue garments unloose small bats and owls. How I would like to believe in tenderness The face of the effigy, gentled by candles, Bending, on me in particular, its mild eyes.

I have fallen a long way. Clouds are flowering Blue and mystical over the face of the stars. Inside the church, the saints will be all blue, Floating on their delicate feet over the cold pews, Their hands and faces stiff with holiness. The moon sees nothing of this. She is bald and wild. And the message of the yew tree is blackness—blackness and silence.

22 October ig6i

*54 Mirror

I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions. Whatever I see I swallow immediately Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike. I am not cruel, only truthful— The eye of a little god, four-cornered. Most of the time I meditate on the opposite wall. It is pink, with speckles. I have looked at it so long I think it is a part of my heart. But it flickers. Faces and darkness separate us over and over.


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Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me, Searching my reaches for what she really is. Then she turns to those liars, the candles or the moon. I see her back, and reflect it faithfully. She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands. I am important to her. She comes and goes. Each morning it is her face that replaces the darkness. In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish.

23 October ig6i

155 The Babysitters

It is ten years, now, since we rowed to Children's Island. The sun flamed straight down that noon on the water off Marblehead. That summer we wore black glasses to hide our eyes. We were always crying, in our spare rooms, little put-upon sisters, In the two huge, white, handsome houses in Swampscott. When the sweetheart from England appeared, with her cream skin and

Yardley cosmetics, I had to sleep in the same room with the baby on a too-short cot, And the seven-year-old wouldn't go out unless his jersey stripes Matched the stripes of his socks.

O it was richness!—eleven rooms and a yacht With a polished mahogany stair to let into the water And a cabin boy who could decorate cakes in six-colored frosting. But I didn't know how to cook, and babies depressed me. Nights, I wrote in my diary spitefully, my fingers red With triangular scorch marks from ironing tiny ruchings and puffed

sleeves. When the sporty wife and her doctor husband went on one of their

cruises They left me a borrowed maid named Ellen, 'for protection', And a small Dalmatian.

In your house, the main house, you were better off. You had a rose garden and a guest cottage and a model apothecary shop


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And a cook and a maid, and knew about the key to the bourbon. I remember you playing 'Ja Da' in a pink pique dress On the gameroom piano, when the 'big people' were out, And the maid smoked and shot pool under a green-shaded lamp. The cook had one wall eye and couldn't sleep, she was so nervous. On trial, from Ireland, she burned batch after batch of cookies Till she was fired.

0 what has come over us, my sister! On that day-off the two of us cried so hard to get We lifted a sugared ham and a pineapple from the grownups' icebox And rented an old green boat. I rowed. You read Aloud, crosslegged on the stern seat, from the Generation of Vipers. So we bobbed out to the island. It was deserted — A gallery of creaking porches and still interiors, Stopped and awful as a photograph of somebody laughing, But ten years dead.

The bold gulls dove as if they owned it all. We picked up sticks of driftwood and beat them off, Then stepped down the steep beach shelf and into the water. We kicked and talked. The thick salt kept us up. 1 see us floating there yet, inseparable—two cork dolls. What keyhole have we slipped through, what door has shut ? The shadows of the grasses inched round like hands of a clock, And from our opposite continents we wave and call. Everything has happened.

2g October ig6i


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is6 New Year on Dartmoor

This is newness: every little tawdry Obstacle glass-wrapped and peculiar, Glinting and clinking in a saint's falsetto. Only you Don't know what to make of the sudden slippiness, The blind, white, awful, inaccessible slant. There's no getting up it by the words you know. No getting up by elephant or wheel or shoe. We have only come to look. You are too new To want the world in a glass hat.

157 Three Women A Poem for Three Voices

Setting: A Maternity Ward and round about

FIRST VOICE: I am slow as the world. I am very patient, Turning through my time, the suns and stars Regarding me with attention. The moon's concern is more personal: She passes and repasses, luminous as a nurse. Is she sorry for what will happen ? I do not think so. She is simply astonished at fertility.

When I walk out, I am a great event. I do not have to think, or even rehearse. What happens in me will happen without attention. The pheasant stands on the hill; He is arranging his brown feathers.


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I cannot help smiling at what it is I know. Leaves and petals attend me. I am ready.

SECOND VOICE: When I first saw it, the small red seep, I did not believe it. I watched the men walk about me in the office. They were so flat! There was something about them like cardboard, and now I had caught it, That flat, flat, flatness from which ideas, destructions, Bulldozers, guillotines, white chambers of shrieks proceed, Endlessly proceed—and the cold angels, the abstractions. I sat at my desk in my stockings, my high heels,

And the man I work for laughed: 'Have you seen something awful ? You are so white, suddenly.' And I said nothing. I saw death in the bare trees, a deprivation. I could not believe it. Is it so difficult For the spirit to conceive a face, a mouth ? The letters proceed from these black keys, and these black keys proceed From my alphabetical fingers, ordering parts,

Parts, bits, cogs, the shining multiples. I am dying as I sit. I lose a dimension. Trains roar in my ears, departures, departures! The silver track of time empties into the distance, The white sky empties of its promise, like a cup. These are my feet, these mechanical echoes. Tap, tap, tap, steel pegs. I am found wanting.

This is a disease I carry home, this is a death. Again, this is a death. Is it the air, The particles of destruction I suck up ? Am I a pulse That wanes and wanes, facing the cold angel ? Is this my lover then ? This death, this death ? As a child I loved a lichen-bitten name. Is this the one sin then, this old dead love of death ?


I remember the minute when I knew for sure. The willows were chilling, The face in the pool was beautiful, but not mine— It had a consequential look, like everything else,


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And all I could see was dangers: doves and words, Stars and showers of gold—conceptions, conceptions! I remember a white, cold wing

And the great swan, with its terrible look, Coming at me, like a castle, from the top of the river. There is a snake in swans. He glided by; his eye had a black meaning. I saw the world in it—small, mean and black, Every little word hooked to every little word, and act to act. A hot blue day had budded into something.

I wasn't ready. The white clouds rearing Aside were dragging me in four directions. I wasn't ready. I had no reverence. I thought I could deny the consequence— But it was too late for that. It was too late, and the face Went on shaping itself with love, as if I was ready.


It is a world of snow now. I am not at home. How white these sheets are. The faces have no features. They are bald and impossible, like the faces of my children, Those little sick ones that elude my arms. Other children do not touch me: they are terrible. They have too many colors, too much life. They are not quiet, Quiet, like the little emptinesses I carry.

I have had my chances. I have tried and tried. I have stitched life into me like a rare organ, And walked carefully, precariously, like something rare. I have tried not to think too hard. I have tried to be natural. I have tried to be blind in love, like other women, Blind in my bed, with my dear blind sweet one, Not looking, through the thick dark, for the face of another.

I did not look. But still the face was there, The face of the unborn one that loved its perfections, The face of the dead one that could only be perfect In its easy peace, could only keep holy so.


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And then there were other faces. The faces of nations, Governments, parliaments, societies, The faceless faces of important men.

It is these men I mind: They are so jealous of anything that is not flat! They are jealous gods That would have the whole world flat because they are. I see the Father conversing with the Son. Such flatness cannot but be holy. 'Let us make a heaven,' they say. 'Let us flatten and launder the grossness from these souls.'


I am calm. I am calm. It is the calm before something awful: The yellow minute before the wind walks, when the leaves Turn up their hands, their pallors. It is so quiet here. The sheets, the faces, are white and stopped, like clocks. Voices stand back and flatten. Their visible hieroglyphs Flatten to parchment screens to keep the wind off. They paint such secrets in Arabic, Chinese!

I am dumb and brown. I am a seed about to break. The brownness is my dead self, and it is sullen: It does not wish to be more, or different. Dusk hoods me in blue now, like a Mary. 0 color of distance and forgetfulness! — When will it be, the second when Time breaks And eternity engulfs it, and I drown utterly ?

1 talk to myself, myself only, set apart— Swabbed and lurid with disinfectants, sacrificial. Waiting lies heavy on my lids. It lies like sleep, Like a big sea. Far off, far off, I feel the first wave tug Its cargo of agony toward me, inescapable, tidal. And I, a shell, echoing on this white beach Face the voices that overwhelm, the terrible element.


I am a mountain now, among mountainy women. The doctors move among us as if our bigness Frightened the mind. They smile like fools.


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They are to blame for what I am, and they know it. They hug their flatness like a kind of health. And what if they found themselves surprised, as I did ? They would go mad with it.

And what if two lives leaked between my thighs ? I have seen the white clean chamber with its instruments. It is a place of shrieks. It is not happy. 'This is where you will come when you are ready.' The night lights are flat red moons. They are dull with blood. I am not ready for anything to happen. I should have murdered this, that murders me.


There is no miracle more cruel than this. I am dragged by the horses, the iron hooves. I last. I last it out. I accomplish a work. Dark tunnel, through which hurtle the visitations, The visitations, the manifestations, the startled faces. I am the center of an atrocity. What pains, what sorrows must I be mothering ?

Can such innocence kill and kill ? It milks my life. The trees wither in the street. The rain is corrosive. I taste it on my tongue, and the workable horrors, The horrors that stand and idle, the slighted godmothers With their hearts that tick and tick, with their satchels of instruments. I shall be a wall and a roof, protecting. I shall be a sky and a hill of good: O let me be!

A power is growing on me, an old tenacity. I am breaking apart like the world. There is this blackness, This ram of blackness. I fold my hands on a mountain. The air is thick. It is thick with this working. I am used. I am drummed into use. My eyes are squeezed by this blackness. I see nothing.


I am accused. I dream of massacres. I am a garden of black and red agonies. I drink them,


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Hating myself, hating and fearing. And now the world conceives Its end and runs toward it, arms held out in love. It is a love of death that sickens everything. A dead sun stains the newsprint. It is red. I lose life after life. The dark earth drinks them.

She is the vampire of us all. So she supports us, Fattens us, is kind. Her mouth is red. I know her. I know her intimately— Old winter-face, old barren one, old time bomb. Men have used her meanly. She will eat them. Eat them, eat them, eat them in the end. The sun is down. I die. I make a death.


Who is he, this blue, furious boy, Shiny and strange, as if he had hurtled from a star? He is looking so angrily! He flew into the room, a shriek at his heel. The blue color pales. He is human after all. A red lotus opens in its bowl of blood; They are stitching me up with silk, as if I were a material.

What did my fingers do before they held him ? What did my heart do, with its love ? I have never seen a thing so clear. His lids are like the lilac-flower And soft as a moth, his breath. I shall not let go. There is no guile or warp in him. May he keep so.


There is the moon in the high window. It is over. How winter fills my soul! And that chalk light Laying its scales on the windows, the windows of empty offices, Empty schoolrooms, empty churches. O so much emptiness! There is this cessation. This terrible cessation of everything. These bodies mounded around me now, these polar sleepers — What blue, moony ray ices their dreams ?


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I feel it enter me, cold, alien, like an instrument. And that mad, hard face at the end of it, that O-mouth Open in its gape of perpetual grieving. It is she that drags the blood-black sea around Month after month, with its voices of failure. I am helpless as the sea at the end of her string. I am restless. Restless and useless. I, too, create corpses.

I shall move north. I shall move into a long blackness. I see myself as a shadow, neither man nor woman, Neither a woman, happy to be like a man, nor a man Blunt and flat enough to feel no lack. I feel a lack. I hold my fingers up, ten white pickets. See, the darkness is leaking from the cracks. I cannot contain it. I cannot contain my life.

I shall be a heroine of the peripheral. I shall not be accused by isolate buttons, Holes in the heels of socks, the white mute faces Of unanswered letters, coffined in a letter case. I shall not be accused, I shall not be accused. The clock shall not find me wanting, nor these stars That rivet in place abyss after abyss.


I see her in my sleep, my red, terrible girl. She is crying through the glass that separates us. She is crying, and she is furious. Her cries are hooks that catch and grate like cats. It is by these hooks she climbs to my notice. She is crying at the dark, or at the stars That at such a distance from us shine and whirl.

I think her little head is carved in wood, A red, hard wood, eyes shut and mouth wide open. And from the open mouth issue sharp cries Scratching at my sleep like arrows, Scratching at my sleep, and entering my side. My daughter has no teeth. Her mouth is wide. It utters such dark sounds it cannot be good.


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What is it that flings these innocent souls at us ? Look, they are so exhausted, they are all flat out In their canvas-sided cots, names tied to their wrists, The little silver trophies they've come so far for. There are some with thick black hair, there are some bald. Their skin tints are pink or sallow, brown or red; They are beginning to remember their differences.

I think they are made of water; they have no expression. Their features are sleeping, like light on quiet water. They are the real monks and nuns in their identical garments. I see them showering like stars on to the world — On India, Africa, America, these miraculous ones, These pure, small images. They smell of milk. Their footsoles are untouched. They are walkers of air.

Can nothingness be so prodigal ? Here is my son. His wide eye is that general, flat blue. He is turning to me like a little, blind, bright plant. One cry. It is the hook I hang on. And I am a river of milk. I am a warm hill.


I am not ugly. I am even beautiful. The mirror gives back a woman without deformity. The nurses give back my clothes, and an identity. It is usual, they say, for such a thing to happen. It is usual in my life, and the lives of others. I am one in five, something like that. I am not hopeless. I am beautiful as a statistic. Here is my lipstick.

I draw on the old mouth. The red mouth I put by with my identity A day ago, two days, three days ago. It was a Friday. I do not even need a holiday; I can go to work today. I can love my husband, who will understand. Who will love me through the blur of my deformity As if I had lost an eye, a leg, a tongue.


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And so I stand, a little sightless. So I walk Away on wheels, instead of legs, they serve as well. And learn to speak with fingers, not a tongue. The body is resourceful. The body of a starfish can grow back its arms And newts are prodigal in legs. And may I be As prodigal in what lacks me.


She is a small island, asleep and peaceful, And I am a white ship hooting: Goodbye, goodbye. The day is blazing. It is very mournful. The flowers in this room are red and tropical. They have lived behind glass all their lives, they have been cared for

tenderly. Now they face a winter of white sheets, white faces. There is very little to go into my suitcase.

There are the clothes of a fat woman I do not know. There is my comb and brush. There is an emptiness. I am so vulnerable suddenly. I am a wound walking out of hospital. I am a wound that they are letting go. I leave my health behind. I leave someone Who would adhere to me: I undo her fingers like bandages: I go.


I am myself again. There are no loose ends. I am bled white as wax, I have no attachments. I am flat and virginal, which means nothing has happened, Nothing that cannot be erased, ripped up and scrapped, begun again. These little black twigs do not think to bud, Nor do these dry, dry gutters dream of rain. This woman who meets me in windows—she is neat.

So neat she is transparent, like a spirit. How shyly she superimposes her neat self On the inferno of African oranges, the heel-hung pigs. She is deferring to reality. It is I. It is I — Tasting the bitterness between my teeth. The incalculable malice of the everyday.


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How long can I be a wall, keeping the wind off? How long can I be Gentling the sun with the shade of my hand, Intercepting the blue bolts of a cold moon? The voices of loneliness, the voices of sorrow Lap at my back ineluctably. How shall it soften them, this little lullaby ?

How long can I be a wall around my green property ? How long can my hands Be a bandage to his hurt, and my words Bright birds in the sky, consoling, consoling ? It is a terrible thing To be so open: it is as if my heart Put on a face and walked into the world.


Today the colleges are drunk with spring. My black gown is a little funeral : It shows I am serious. The books I carry wedge into my side. I had an old wound once, but it is healing. I had a dream of an island, red with cries. It was a dream, and did not mean a thing.


Dawn flowers in the great elm outside the house. The swifts are back. They are shrieking like paper rockets. I hear the sound of the hours Widen and die in the hedgerows. I hear the moo of cows. The colors replenish themselves, and the wet Thatch smokes in the sun. The narcissi open white faces in the orchard.

I am reassured. I am reassured. These are the clear bright colors of the nursery, The talking ducks, the happy lambs. I am simple again. I believe in miracles. I do not believe in those terrible children Who injure my sleep with their white eyes, their fingerless hands. They are not mine. They do not belong to me.


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I shall meditate upon normality. I shall meditate upon my little son. He does not walk. He does not speak a word. He is still swaddled in white bands. But he is pink and perfect. He smiles so frequently. I have papered his room with big roses, I have painted little hearts on everything.

I do not will him to be exceptional. It is the exception that interests the devil. It is the exception that climbs the sorrowful hill Or sits in the desert and hurts his mother's heart. I will him to be common, To love me as I love him, And to marry what he wants and where he will.


Hot noon in the meadows. The buttercups Swelter and melt, and the lovers Pass by, pass by. They are black and flat as shadows. It is so beautiful to have no attachments! I am solitary as grass. What is it I miss? Shall I ever find it, whatever it is ?

The swans are gone. Still the river Remembers how white they were. It strives after them with its lights. It finds their shapes in a cloud. What is that bird that cries With such sorrow in its voice ? I am young as ever, it says. What is it I miss?


I am at home in the lamplight. The evenings are lengthening. I am mending a silk slip: my husband is reading. How beautifully the light includes these things. There is a kind of smoke in the spring air, A smoke that takes the parks, the little statues With pinkness, as if a tenderness awoke, A tenderness that did not tire, something healing.


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I wait and ache. I think I have been healing. There is a great deal else to do. My hands Can stitch lace neatly on to this material. My husband Can turn and turn the pages of a book. And so we are at home together, after hours. It is only time that weighs upon our hands. It is only time, and that is not material.

The streets may turn to paper suddenly, but I recover From the long fall, and find myself in bed, Safe on the mattress, hands braced, as for a fall. I find myself again. I am no shadow Though there is a shadow starting from my feet. I am a wife. The city waits and aches. The little grasses Crack through stone, and they are green with life.

March ig62

158 Little Fugue

The yew's black fingers wag; Cold clouds go over. So the deaf and dumb Signal the blind, and are ignored.

I like black statements. The featurelessness of that cloud, now! White as an eye all over! The eye of the blind pianist

At my table on the ship. He felt for his food. His fingers had the noses of weasels. I couldn't stop looking.

He could hear Beethoven: Black yew, white cloud, The horrific complications. Finger-traps—a tumult of keys.


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Empty and silly as plates, So the blind smile. I envy the big noises, The yew hedge of the Grosse Fuge.

Deafness is something else. Such a dark funnel, my father! I see your voice Black and leafy, as in my childhood,

A yew hedge of orders, Gothic and barbarous, pure German. Dead men cry from it. I am guilty of nothing.

The yew my Christ, then. Is it not as tortured ? And you, during the Great War In the California delicatessen

Lopping the sausages! They color my sleep, Red, mottled, like cut necks. There was a silence!

Great silence of another order. I was seven, I knew nothing. The world occurred. You had one leg, and a Prussian mind.

Now similar clouds Are spreading their vacuous sheets. Do you say nothing ? I am lame in the memory.

I remember a blue eye, A briefcase of tangerines. This was a man, then! Death opened, like a black tree, blackly.


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I survive the while, Arranging my morning. These are my fingers, this my baby. The clouds are a marriage dress, of that pallor.

2 April ig62

An Appearance

The smile of iceboxes annihilates me. Such blue currents in the veins of my loved one! I hear her great heart purr.

From her lips ampersands and percent signs Exit like kisses. It is Monday in her mind: morals

Launder and present themselves. What am I to make of these contradictions ? I wear white cuffs, I bow.

Is this love then, this red material Issuing from the steel needle that flies so blindingly ? It will make little dresses and coats,

It will cover a dynasty. How her body opens and shuts — A Swiss watch, jeweled in the hinges!

O heart, such disorganization! The stars are flashing like terrible numerals. ABC, her eyelids say.

4 April ig62


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Crossing the Water

Black lake, black boat, two black, cut-paper people. Where do the black trees go that drink here ? Their shadows must cover Canada.

A little light is filtering from the water flowers. Their leaves do not wish us to hurry: They are round and flat and full of dark advice.

Cold worlds shake from the oar. The spirit of blackness is in us, it is in the fishes. A snag is lifting a valedictory, pale hand;

Stars open among the lilies. Are you not blinded by such expressionless sirens ? This is the silence of astounded souls.

4 April ig62

Among the Narcissi Spry, wry, and gray as these March sticks, Percy bows, in his blue peajacket, among the narcissi. He is recuperating from something on the lung.

The narcissi, too, are bowing to some big thing: It rattles their stars on the green hill where Percy Nurses the hardship of his stitches, and walks and walks.

There is a dignity to this; there is a formality— The flowers vivid as bandages, and the man mending. They bow and stand: they suffer such attacks!

And the octogenarian loves the little flocks. He is quite blue; the terrible wind tries his breathing. The narcissi look up like children, quickly and whitely.

5 April ig62


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162 Pheasant

You said you would kill it this morning. Do not kill it. It startles me still, The jut of that odd, dark head, pacing

Through the uncut grass on the elm's hill. It is something to own a pheasant, Or just to be visited at all.

I am not mystical: it isn't As if I thought it had a spirit. It is simply in its element.

That gives it a kingliness, a right. The print of its big foot last winter, The tail-track, on the snow in our court—

The wonder of it, in that pallor, Through Crosshatch of sparrow and starling. Is it its rareness, then ? It is rare.

But a dozen would be worth having, A hundred, on that hill—green and red, Crossing and recrossing: a fine thing!

It is such a good shape, so vivid. It's a little cornucopia. It unclaps, brown as a leaf, and loud,

Settles in the elm, and is easy. It was sunning in the narcissi. I trespass stupidly. Let be, let be.

7 April 1962


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Elm For Ruth Fainlight

I know the bottom, she says. I know it with my great tap root: It is what you fear. I do not fear it: I have been there.

Is it the sea you hear in me, Its dissatisfactions ? Or the voice of nothing, that was your madness?

Love is a shadow. How you lie and cry after it Listen: these are its hooves: it has gone off, like a horse.

All night I shall gallop thus, impetuously, Till your head is a stone, your pillow a little turf, Echoing, echoing.

Or shall I bring you the sound of poisons ? This is rain now, this big hush. And this is the fruit of it: tin-white, like arsenic.

I have suffered the atrocity of sunsets. Scorched to the root My red filaments burn and stand, a hand of wires.

Now I break up in pieces that fly about like clubs. A wind of such violence Will tolerate no bystanding: I must shriek.

The moon, also, is merciless: she would drag me Cruelly, being barren. Her radiance scathes me. Or perhaps I have caught her.

I let her go. I let her go Diminished and flat, as after radical surgery. How your bad dreams possess and endow me.


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I am inhabited by a cry. Nightly it flaps out Looking, with its hooks, for something to love.

I am terrified by this dark thing That sleeps in me; All day I feel its soft, feathery turnings, its malignity.

Clouds pass and disperse. Are those the faces of love, those pale irretrievables ? Is it for such I agitate my heart ?

I am incapable of more knowledge. What is this, this face So murderous in its strangle of branches ?

Its snaky acids kiss. It petrifies the will. These are the isolate, slow faults That kill, that kill, that kill.

ig April ig62

The Rabbit Catcher

It was a place of force— The wind gagging my mouth with my own blown hair, Tearing off my voice, and the sea Blinding me with its lights, the lives of the dead Unreeling in it, spreading like oil.

I tasted the malignity of the gorse, Its black spikes, The extreme unction of its yellow candle-flowers. They had an efficiency, a great beauty, And were extravagant, like torture.

There was only one place to get to. Simmering, perfumed, The paths narrowed into the hollow.


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ig62 And the snares almost effaced themselves— Zeros, shutting on nothing,

Set close, like birth pangs. The absence of shrieks Made a hole in the hot day, a vacancy. The glassy light was a clear wall, The thickets quiet.

I felt a still busyness, an intent. I felt hands round a tea mug, dull, blunt, Ringing the white china. How they awaited him, those little deaths! They waited like sweethearts. They excited him.

And we, too, had a relationship — Tight wires between us, Pegs too deep to uproot, and a mind like a ring Sliding shut on some quick thing, The constriction killing me also.

21 May ig62

165 E v e n t

How the elements solidify! — The moonlight, that chalk cliff In whose rift we lie

Back to back. I hear an owl cry From its cold indigo. Intolerable vowels enter my heart.

The child in the white crib revolves and sighs, Opens its mouth now, demanding. His little face is carved in pained, red wood.

Then there are the stars—ineradicable, hard. One touch: it burns and sickens. I cannot see your eyes.


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Where apple bloom ices the night I walk in a ring, A groove of old faults, deep and bitter.

Love cannot come here. A black gap discloses itself. On the opposite lip

A small white soul is waving, a small white maggot. My limbs, also, have left me. Who has dismembered us ?

The dark is melting. We touch like cripples.

21 May ig62

166 Apprehensions

There is this white wall, above which the sky creates itself— Infinite, green, utterly untouchable. Angels swim in it, and the stars, in indifference also. They are my medium. The sun dissolves on this wall, bleeding its lights.

A gray wall now, clawed and bloody. Is there no way out of the mind ? Steps at my back spiral into a well. There are no trees or birds in this world, There is only a sourness.

This red wall winces continually: A red fist, opening and closing, Two gray, papery bags — This is what I am made of, this and a terror Of being wheeled off under crosses and a rain of pietas.

On a black wall, unidentifiable birds Swivel their heads and cry.


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There is no talk of immortality among these! Cold blanks approach us: They move in a hurry.

28 May ig62

167 Berck-Plage


This is the sea, then, this great abeyance. How the sun's poultice draws on my inflammation.

Electrifyingly-colored sherbets, scooped from the freeze By pale girls, travel the air in scorched hands.

Why is it so quiet, what are they hiding ? I have two legs, and I move smilingly.

A sandy damper kills the vibrations; It stretches for miles, the shrunk voices

Waving and crutchless, half their old size. The lines of the eye, scalded by these bald surfaces,

Boomerang like anchored elastics, hurting the owner. Is it any wonder he puts on dark glasses ?

Is it any wonder he affects a black cassock ? Here he comes now, among the mackerel gatherers

Who wall up their backs against him. They are handling the black and green lozenges like the parts of a body.

The sea, that crystallized these, Creeps away, many-snaked, with a long hiss of distress.


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This black boot has no mercy for anybody. Why should it, it is the hearse of a dead foot,

The high, dead, toeless foot of this priest Who plumbs the well of his book,

The bent print bulging before him like scenery. Obscene bikinis hide in the dunes,

Breasts and hips a confectioner's sugar Of little crystals, titillating the light,

While a green pool opens its eye, Sick with what it has swallowed

Limbs, images, shrieks. Behind the concrete bunkers Two lovers unstick themselves.

O white sea-crockery, What cupped sighs, what salt in the throat. . . .

And the onlooker, trembling, Drawn like a long material

Through a still virulence, And a weed, hairy as privates.


On the balconies of the hotel, things are glittering. Things, things

Tubular steel wheelchairs, aluminum crutches. Such salt-sweetness. Why should I walk

Beyond the breakwater, spotty with barnacles ? I am not a nurse, white and attendant,


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ig62 I am not a smile. These children are after something, with hooks and cries,

And my heart too small to bandage their terrible faults. This is the side of a man: his red ribs,

The nerves bursting like trees, and this is the surgeon: One mirrory eye

A facet of knowledge. On a striped mattress in one room

An old man is vanishing. There is no help in his weeping wife.

Where are the eye-stones, yellow and valuable, And the tongue, sapphire of ash.


A wedding-cake face in a paper frill. How superior he is now.

It is like possessing a saint. The nurses in their wing-caps are no longer so beautiful;

They are browning, like touched gardenias. The bed is rolled from the wall.

This is what it is to be complete. It is horrible. Is he wearing pajamas or an evening suit

Under the glued sheet from which his powdery beak Rises so whitely unbufFeted ?

They propped his jaw with a book until it stiffened And folded his hands, that were shaking: goodbye, goodbye.

Now the washed sheets fly in the sun, The pillow cases are sweetening.


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It is a blessing, it is a blessing: The long coffin of soap-colored oak,

The curious bearers and the raw date Engraving itself in silver with marvelous calm.


The gray sky lowers, the hills like a green sea Run fold upon fold far off, concealing their hollows,

The hollows in which rock the thoughts of the wife Blunt, practical boats

Full of dresses and hats and china and married daughters. In the parlor of the stone house

One curtain is flickering from the open window, Flickering and pouring, a pitiful candle.

This is the tongue of the dead man: remember, remember. How far he is now, his actions

Around him like livingroom furniture, like a decor. As the pallors gather

The pallors of hands and neighborly faces, The elate pallors of flying iris.

They are flying off into nothing: remember us. The empty benches of memory look over stones,

Marble facades with blue veins, and jelly-glassfuls of daffodils. It is so beautiful up here: it is a stopping place.


The natural fatness of these lime leaves! Pollarded green balls, the trees march to church.


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The voice of the priest, in thin air, Meets the corpse at the gate,

Addressing it, while the hills roll the notes of the dead bell; A glitter of wheat and crude earth.

What is the name of that color ? Old blood of caked walls the sun heals,

Old blood of limb stumps, burnt hearts. The widow with her black pocketbook and three daughters,

Necessary among the flowers, Enfolds her face like fine linen,

Not to be spread again. While a sky, wormy with put-by smiles,

Passes cloud after cloud. And the bride flowers expend a freshness,

And the soul is a bride In a still place, and the groom is red and forgetful, he is featureless.


Behind the glass of this car The world purrs, shut-off" and gentle.

And I am dark-suited and still, a member of the party, Gliding up in low gear behind the cart.

And the priest is a vessel, A tarred fabric, sorry and dull,

Following the coffin on its flowery cart like a beautiful woman, A crest of breasts, eyelids and lips

Storming the hilltop. Then, from the barred yard, the children

2 0 0

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Smell the melt of shoe-blacking, Their faces turning, wordless and slow,

Their eyes opening On a wonderful thing

Six round black hats in the grass and a lozenge of wood, And a naked mouth, red and awkward.

For a minute the sky pours into the hole like plasma. There is no hope, it is given up.

30 June 1Q62

168 The Other

You come in late, wiping your lips. What did I leave untouched on the doorstep—

White Nike, Streaming between my walls ?

Smilingly, blue lightning Assumes, like a meathook, the burden of his parts.

The police love you, you confess everything. Bright hair, shoe-black, old plastic,

Is my life so intriguing? Is it for this you widen your eye-rings ?

Is it for this the air motes depart ? They are not air motes, they are corpuscles.

Open your handbag. What is that bad smell ? It is your knitting, busily

Hooking itself to itself, It is your sticky candies.


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I have your head on my wall. Navel cords, blue-red and lucent,

Shriek from my belly like arrows, and these I ride. 0 moon-glow, o sick one,

The stolen horses, the fornications Circle a womb of marble.

Where are you going That you suck breath like mileage ?

Sulfurous adulteries grieve in a dream. Cold glass, how you insert yourself

Between myself and myself. 1 scratch like a cat.

The blood that runs is dark fruit— An effect, a cosmetic.

You smile. No, it is not fatal.

2 July 1962

169 Words heard, by accident, over the phone

O mud, mud, how fluid! — Thick as foreign coffee, and with a sluggy pulse. Speak, speak! Who is it ? It is the bowel-pulse, lover of digestibles. It is he who has achieved these syllables.

What are these words, these words ? They are plopping like mud. O god, how shall I ever clean the phone table?

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They are pressing out of the many-holed earpiece, they are looking for a listener.

Is he here ?

Now the room is ahiss. The instrument Withdraws its tentacle. But the spawn percolate in my heart. They are fertile. Muck funnel, muck funnel — You are too big. They must take you back!

II July ig62

o Poppies in July

Little poppies, little hell flames, Do you do no harm ?

You flicker. I cannot touch you. I put my hands among the flames. Nothing burns.

And it exhausts me to watch you Flickering like that, wrinkly and clear red, like the skin of a mouth.

A mouth just bloodied. Little bloody skirts!

There are fumes that I cannot touch. Where are your opiates, your nauseous capsules ?

If I could bleed, or sleep! If my mouth could marry a hurt like that!

Or your liquors seep to me, in this glass capsule, Dulling and stilling.

But colorless. Colorless.

20 July ig62


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I Burning the Letters I made a fire; being tired Of the white fists of old Letters and their death rattle When I came too close to the wastebasket. What did they know that I didn't? Grain by grain, they unrolled Sands where a dream of clear water Grinned like a getaway car. I am not subtle Love, love, and well, I was tired Of cardboard cartons the color of cement or a dog pack Holding in its hate Dully, under a pack of men in red jackets, And the eyes and times of the postmarks.

This fire may lick and fawn, but it is merciless: A glass case My fingers would enter although They melt and sag, they are told Do not touch. And here is an end to the writing, The spry hooks that bend and cringe, and the smiles, the smiles. And at least it will be a good place now, the attic. At least I won't be strung just under the surface, Dumb fish With one tin eye, Watching for glints, Riding my Arctic Between this wish and that wish.

So I poke at the carbon birds in my housedress. They are more beautiful than my bodiless owl, They console me — Rising and flying, but blinded. They would flutter off, black and glittering, they would be coal an Only they have nothing to say to anybody. I have seen to that. With the butt of a rake I flake up papers that breathe like people,


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I fan them out Between the yellow lettuces and the German cabbage Involved in its weird blue dreams, Involved as a foetus. And a name with black edges

Wilts at my foot, Sinuous orchis In a nest of root-hairs and boredom— Pale eyes, patent-leather gutturals! Warm rain greases my hair, extinguishes nothing. My veins glow like trees. The dogs are tearing a fox. This is what it is like— A red burst and a cry That splits from its ripped bag and does not stop With the dead eye And the stuffed expression, but goes on Dyeing the air, Telling the particles of the clouds, the leaves, the water What immortality is. That it is immortal.

13 August ig62

172 For a Fatherless Son

You will be aware of an absence, presently, Growing beside you, like a tree, A death tree, color gone, an Australian gum tree— Balding, gelded by lightning—an illusion, And a sky like a pig's backside, an utter lack of attention.

But right now you are dumb. And I love your stupidity, The blind mirror of it. I look in And find no face but my own, and you think that's funny. It is good for me

To have you grab my nose, a ladder rung. One day you may touch what's wrong


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The small skulls, the smashed blue hills, the godawful hush. Till then your smiles are found money.

26 September 1Q62

i A Birthday Present

What is this, behind this veil, is it ugly, is it beautiful ? It is shimmering, has it breasts, has it edges ?

I am sure it is unique, I am sure it is just what I want. When I am quiet at my cooking I feel it looking, I feel it thinking

'Is this the one I am to appear for, Is this the elect one, the one with black eye-pits and a scar?

Measuring the flour, cutting off the surplus, Adhering to rules, to rules, to rules.

Is this the one for the annunciation ? My god, what a laugh!'

But it shimmers, it does not stop, and I think it wants me. I would not mind if it was bones, or a pearl button.

I do not want much of a present, anyway, this year. After all I am alive only by accident.

I would have killed myself gladly that time any possible way. Now there are these veils, shimmering like curtains,

The diaphanous satins of a January window White as babies' bedding and glittering with dead breath. O ivory!

It must be a tusk there, a ghost-column. Can you not see I do not mind what it is.

Can you not give it to me ? Do not be ashamed—I do not mind if it is small.


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Do not be mean, I am ready for enormity. Let us sit down to it, one on either side, admiring the gleam,

The glaze, the mirrory variety of it. Let us eat our last supper at it, like a hospital plate.

I know why you will not give it to me, You are terrified

The world will go up in a shriek, and your head with it, Bossed, brazen, an antique shield,

A marvel to your great-grandchildren. Do not be afraid, it is not so.

I will only take it and go aside quietly. You will not even hear me opening it, no paper crackle,

No falling ribbons, no scream at the end. I do not think you credit me with this discretion.

If you only knew how the veils were killing my days. To you they are only transparencies, clear air.

But my god, the clouds are like cotton. Armies of them. They are carbon monoxide.

Sweetly, sweetly I breathe in, Filling my veins with invisibles, with the million

Probable motes that tick the years off my life. You are silver-suited for the occasion. O adding machine

Is it impossible for you to let something go and have it go whole ? Must you stamp each piece in purple,

Must you kill what you can ? There is this one thing I want today, and only you can give it to me.

It stands at my window, big as the sky. It breathes from my sheets, the cold dead center


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Where spilt lives congeal and stiffen to history. Let it not come by the mail, finger by finger.

Let it not come by word of mouth, I should be sixty By the time the whole of it was delivered, and too numb to use it.

Only let down the veil, the veil, the veil. If it were death

I would admire the deep gravity of it, its timeless eyes. I would know you were serious.

There would be a nobility then, there would be a birthday. And the knife not carve, but enter

Pure and clean as the cry of a baby, And the universe slide from my side.

j o September ig62

The Detective

What was she doing when it blew in Over the seven hills, the red furrow, the blue mountain ? Was she arranging cups ? It is important. Was she at the window, listening ? In that valley the train shrieks echo like souls on hooks.

That is the valley of death, though the cows thrive. In her garden the lies were shaking out their moist silks And the eyes of the killer moving sluglike and sidelong, Unable to face the fingers, those egotists. The fingers were tamping a woman into a wall,

A body into a pipe, and the smoke rising. This is the smell of years burning, here in the kitchen, These are the deceits, tacked up like family photographs, And this is a man, look at his smile, The death weapon? No one is dead.


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ig62 There is no body in the house at all. There is the smell of polish, there are plush carpets. There is the sunlight, playing its blades, Bored hoodlum in a red room Where the wireless talks to itself like an elderly relative.

Did it come like an arrow, did it come like a knife ? Which of the poisons is it? Which of the nerve-curlers, the convulsors? Did it electrify? This is a case without a body. The body does not come into it at all.

It is a case of vaporization. The mouth first, its absence reported In the second year. It had been insatiable And in punishment was hung out like brown fruit To wrinkle and dry.

The breasts next. These were harder, two white stones. The milk came yellow, then blue and sweet as water. There was no absence of lips, there were two children, But their bones showed, and the moon smiled.

Then the dry wood, the gates, The brown motherly furrows, the whole estate. We walk on air, Watson. There is only the moon, embalmed in phosphorus. There is only a crow in a tree. Make notes.

/ October ig62

The Courage of Shutting-Up

The courage of the shut mouth, in spite of artillery! The line pink and quiet, a worm, basking. There are black disks behind it, the disks of outrage, And the outrage of a sky, the lined brain of it. The disks revolve, they ask to be heard —


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Loaded, as they are, with accounts of bastardies. Bastardies, usages, desertions and doubleness, The needle journeying in its groove, Silver beast between two dark canyons, A great surgeon, now a tattooist,

Tattooing over and over the same blue grievances, The snakes, the babies, the tit* On mermaids and two-legged dreamgirls. The surgeon is quiet, he does not speak. He has seen too much death, his hands are full of it.

So the disks of the brain revolve, like the muzzles of cannon. Then there is that antique billhook, the tongue, Indefatigable, purple. Must it be cut out ? It has nine tails, it is dangerous. And the noise it flays from the air, once it gets going!

No, the tongue, too, has been put by, Hung up in the library with the engravings of Rangoon And the fox heads, the otter heads, the heads of dead rabbits. It is a marvelous object— The things it has pierced in its time.

But how about the eyes, the eyes, the eyes ? Mirrors can kill and talk, they are terrible rooms In which a torture goes on one can only watch. The face that lived in this mirror is the face of a dead man. Do not worry about the eyes —

They may be white and shy, they are no stool pigeons, Their death rays folded like flags Of a country no longer heard of, An obstinate independency Insolvent among the mountains.

2 October 1962


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176 The Bee Meeting Who are these people at the bridge to meet me ? They are the

villagers The rector, the midwife, the sexton, the agent for bees. In my sleeveless summery dress I have no protection, And they are all gloved and covered, why did nobody tell me? They are smiling and taking out veils tacked to ancient hats.

I am nude as a chicken neck, does nobody love me ? Yes, here is the secretary of bees with her white shop smock, Buttoning the cuffs at my wrists and the slit from my neck to my knees. Now I am milkweed silk, the bees will not notice. They will not smell my fear, my fear, my fear.

Which is the rector now, is it that man in black ? Which is the midwife, is that her blue coat? Everybody is nodding a square black head, they are knights in visors, Breastplates of cheesecloth knotted under the armpits. Their smiles and their voices are changing. I am led through a beanfield.

Strips of tinfoil winking like people, Feather dusters fanning their hands in a sea of bean flowers, Creamy bean flowers with black eyes and leaves like bored hearts. Is it blood clots the tendrils are dragging up that string ? No, no, it is scarlet flowers that will one day be edible.

Now they are giving me a fashionable white straw Italian hat And a black veil that molds to my face, they are making me one of them. They are leading me to the shorn grove, the circle of hives. Is it the hawthorn that smells so sick ? The barren body of hawthorn, etherizing its children.

Is it some operation that is taking place ? It is the surgeon my neighbors are waiting for, This apparition in a green helmet, Shining gloves and white suit. Is it the butcher, the grocer, the postman, someone I know?

I cannot run, I am rooted, and the gorse hurts me With its yellow purses, its spiky armory.

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I could not run without having to run forever. The white hive is snug as a virgin, Sealing off her brood cells, her honey, and quietly humming.

Smoke rolls and scarves in the grove. The mind of the hive thinks this is the end of everything. Here they come, the outriders, on their hysterical elastics. If I stand very still, they will think I am cow-parsley, A gullible head untouched by their animosity,

Not even nodding, a personage in a hedgerow. The villagers open the chambers, they are hunting the queen. Is she hiding, is she eating honey ? She is very clever. She is old, old, old, she must live another year, and she knows it. While in their fingerjoint cells the new virgins

Dream of a duel they will win inevitably, A curtain of wax dividing them from the bride flight, The upflight of the murderess into a heaven that loves her. The villagers are moving the virgins, there will be no killing. The old queen does not show herself, is she so ungrateful ?

I am exhausted, I am exhausted Pillar of white in a blackout of knives. I am the magician's girl who does not flinch. The villagers are untying their disguises, they are shaking hands. Whose is that long white box in the grove, what have they accomplished,

why am I cold.

j October ig62

The Arrival of the Bee Box

I ordered this, this clean wood box Square as a chair and almost too heavy to lift. I would say it was the coffin of a midget Or a square baby Were there not such a din in it.

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The box is locked, it is dangerous. I have to live with it overnight And I can't keep away from it. There are no windows, so I can't see what is in there. There is only a little grid, no exit.

I put my eye to the grid. It is dark, dark, With the swarmy feeling of African hands Minute and shrunk for export, Black on black, angrily clambering.

How can I let them out ? It is the noise that appalls me most of all, The unintelligible syllables. It is like a Roman mob, Small, taken one by one, but my god, together!

I lay my ear to furious Latin. I am not a Caesar. I have simply ordered a box of maniacs. They can be sent back. They can die, I need feed them nothing, I am the owner.

I wonder how hungry they are. I wonder if they would forget me If I just undid the locks and stood back and turned into a tree. There is the laburnum, its blond colonnades, And the petticoats of the cherry.

They might ignore me immediately In my moon suit and funeral veil. I am no source of honey So why should they turn on me ? Tomorrow I will be sweet God, I will set them free.

The box is only temporary.

4 October IQ62


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i go 2


Bare-handed, I hand the combs. The man in white smiles, bare-handed, Our cheesecloth gauntlets neat and sweet, The throats of our wrists brave lilies. He and I

Have a thousand clean cells between us, Eight combs of yellow cups, And the hive itself a teacup, White with pink flowers on it, With excessive love I enameled it

Thinking 'Sweetness, sweetness'. Brood cells gray as the fossils of shells Terrify me, they seem so old. What am I buying, wormy mahogany ? Is there any queen at all in it ?

If there is, she is old, Her wings torn shawls, her long body Rubbed of its plush Poor and bare and unqueenly and even shameful. I stand in a column

Of winged, unmiraculous women, Honey-drudgers. I am no drudge Though for years I have eaten dust And dried plates with my dense hair.

And seen my strangeness evaporate, Blue dew from dangerous skin. Will they hate me, These women who only scurry, Whose news is the open cherry, the open clover ?

It is almost over. I am in control. Here is my honey-machine,


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It will work without thinking, Opening, in spring, like an industrious virgin

To scour the creaming crests As the moon, for its ivory powders, scours the sea. A third person is watching. He has nothing to do with the bee-seller or with me. Now he is gone

In eight great bounds, a great scapegoat. Here is his slipper, here is another, And here the square of white linen He wore instead of a hat. He was sweet,

The sweat of his efforts a rain Tugging the world to fruit. The bees found him out, Molding onto his lips like lies, Complicating his features.

They thought death was worth it, but I Have a self to recover, a queen. Is she dead, is she sleeping ? Where has she been, With her lion-red body, her wings of glass ?

Now she is flying More terrible than she ever was, red Scar in the sky, red comet Over the engine that killed her The mausoleum, the wax house.

6 October 1962

The Swarm

Somebody is shooting at something in our town— A dull pom, pom in the Sunday street. Jealousy can open the blood,


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It can make black roses. Who are they shooting at?

It is you the knives are out for At Waterloo, Waterloo, Napoleon, The hump of Elba on your short back, And the snow, marshaling its brilliant cutlery Mass after mass, saying Shh!

Shh! These are chess people you play with, Still figures of ivory. The mud squirms with throats, Stepping stones for French bootsoles. The gilt and pink domes of Russia melt and float off

In the furnace of greed. Clouds, clouds. So the swarm balls and deserts Seventy feet up, in a black pine tree. It must be shot down. Pom! Pom! So dumb it thinks bullets are thunder.

It thinks they are the voice of God Condoning the beak, the claw, the grin of the dog Yellow-haunched, a pack-dog, Grinning over its bone of ivory Like the pack, the pack, like everybody.

The bees have got so far. Seventy feet high! Russia, Poland and Germany! The mild hills, the same old magenta Fields shrunk to a penny Spun into a river, the river crossed.

The bees argue, in their black ball, A flying hedgehog, all prickles. The man with gray hands stands under the honeycomb Of their dream, the hived station Where trains, faithful to their steel arcs,


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Leave and arrive, and there is no end to the country. Pom! Pom! They fall Dismembered, to a tod of ivy. So much for the charioteers, the outriders, the Grand Army! A red tatter, Napoleon!

The last badge of victory. The swarm is knocked into a co*cked straw hat. Elba, Elba, bleb on the sea! The white busts of marshals, admirals, generals Worming themselves into niches.

How instructive this is! The dumb, banded bodies Walking the plank draped with Mother France's upholstery Into a new mausoleum, An ivory palace, a crotch pine.

The man with gray hands smiles— The smile of a man of business, intensely practical. They are not hands at all But asbestos receptacles. Pom! Pom! 'They would have killed me.'

Stings big as drawing pins! It seems bees have a notion of honor, A black intractable mind. Napoleon is pleased, he is pleased with everything. O Europe! O ton of honey!

7 October ig62


This is the easy time, there is nothing doing. I have whirled the midwife's extractor,

* I have my honey, Six jars of it, Six cat's eyes in the wine cellar,


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Wintering in a dark without window At the heart of the house Next to the last tenant's rancid jam And the bottles of empty glitters Sir So-and-so's gin.

This is the room I have never been in. This is the room I could never breathe in. The black bunched in there like a bat, No light But the torch and its faint

Chinese yellow on appalling objects Black asininity. Decay. Possession. It is they who own me. Neither cruel nor indifferent,

Only ignorant. This is the time of hanging on for the bees—the bees So slow I hardly know them, Filing like soldiers To the syrup tin

To make up for the honey I've taken. Tate and Lyle keeps them going, The refined snow. It is Tate and Lyle they live on, instead of flowers. They take it. The cold sets in.

Now they ball in a mass, Black Mind against all that white. The smile of the snow is white. It spreads itself out, a mile-long body of Meissen,

Into which, on warm days, They can only carry their dead. The bees are all women, Maids and the long royal lady. They have got rid of the men,

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The blunt, clumsy stumblers, the boors. Winter is for women The woman, still at her knitting, At the cradle of Spanish walnut, Her body a bulb in the cold and too dumb to think.

Will the hive survive, will the gladiolas Succeed in banking their fires To enter another year ? What will they taste of, the Christmas roses ? The bees are flying. They taste the spring.

9 October ig62

181 A Secret

A secret! A secret! How superior. You are blue and huge, a traffic policeman, Holding up one palm —

A difference between us ? I have one eye, you have two. The secret is stamped on you, Faint, undulant watermark.

Will it show in the black detector? Will it come out Wavery, indelible, true Through the African giraffe in its Edeny greenery,

The Moroccan hippopotamus ? They stare from a square, stiff frill. They are for export, One a fool, the other a fool.

A secret... An extra amber Brandy finger Roosting and cooing 'You, you' Behind two eyes in which nothing is reflected but monkeys.


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A knife that can be taken out To pare nails, To lever the dirt. 'It won't hurt.'

An illegitimate baby— That big blue head— How it breathes in the bureau drawer! 'Is that lingerie, pet?

'It smells of salt cod, you had better Stab a few cloves in an apple, Make a sachet or Do away with the bastard.

'Do away with it altogether.' 'No, no, it is happy there.' 'But it wants to get out! Look, look! It is wanting to crawl.'

My god, there goes the stopper! The cars in the Place de la Concorde— Watch out! A stampede, a stampede!

Horns twirling and jungle gutturals! An exploded bottle of stout, Slack foam in the lap. You stumble out,

Dwarf baby, The knife in your back. 'I feel weak.' The secret is out.

10 October ig62

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182 The Applicant First, are you our sort of a person ? Do you wear A glass eye, false teeth or a crutch, A brace or a hook, Rubber breasts or a rubber crotch,

Stitches to show something's missing? No, no? Then How can we give you a thing ? Stop crying. Open your hand. Empty ? Empty. Here is a hand

To fill it and willing To bring teacups and roll away headaches And do whatever you tell it. Will you marry it ? It is guaranteed

To thumb shut your eyes at the end And dissolve of sorrow. We make new stock from the salt. I notice you are stark naked. How about this suit

Black and stiff, but not a bad fit. Will you marry it ? It is waterproof, shatterproof, proof Against fire and bombs through the roof. Believe me, they'll bury you in it.

Now your head, excuse me, is empty. I have the ticket for that. Come here, sweetie, out of the closet. Well, what do you think of that ? Naked as paper to start

But in twenty-five years she'll be silver, In fifty, gold. A living doll, everywhere you look.

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It can sew, it can cook, It can talk, talk, talk.

It works, there is nothing wrong with it. You have a hole, it's a poultice. You have an eye, it's an image. My boy, it's your last resort. Will you marry it, marry it, marry it.

/ / October ig62

183 Daddy

You do not do, you do not do Any more, black shoe In which I have lived like a foot

*-:' For thirty years, poor and white, Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.

Daddy, I have had to kill you. You died before I had time

S Marble-heavy, a bag full of God, Ghastly statue with one gray toe Big as a Frisco seal

And a head in the freakish Atlantic Where it pours bean green over blue In the waters off beautiful Nauset. I used to pray to recover you.

/ < Ach, du.

In the German tongue, in the Polish town Scraped flat by the roller Of wars, wars, wars. But the name of the town is common. My Polack friend

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Says there are a dozen or two. So I never could tell where you Put your foot, your root, I never could talk to you. The tongue stuck in my jaw.

It stuck in a barb wire snare. Ich, ich, ich, ich, I could hardly speak. I thought every German was you. And the language obscene

An engine, an engine Chuffing me off like a Jew. A Jew to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen. I began to talk like a Jew. I think I may well be a Jew.

The snows of the Tyrol, the clear beer of Vienna Are not very pure or true. With my gipsy ancestress and my weird luck And my Taroc pack and my Taroc pack I may be a bit of a Jew.

I have always been scared of you, With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo. And your neat mustache And your Aryan eye, bright blue. Panzer-man, panzer-man, O You

Not God but a swastika So black no sky could squeak through. Every woman adores a Fascist, The boot in the face, the brute Brute heart of a brute like you.

You stand at the blackboard, daddy, In the picture I have of you, A cleft in your chin instead of your foot But no less a devil for that, no not Any less the black man who


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Bit my pretty red heart in two. I was ten when they buried you. At twenty I tried to die And get back, back, back to you. I thought even the bones would do.

But they pulled me out of the sack, And they stuck me together with glue. And then I knew what to do. I made a model of you, A man in black with a Meinkampf look

And a love of the rack and the screw. And I said I do, I do. So daddy, I'm finally through. The black telephone's off at the root, The voices just can't worm through.

If I've killed one man, I've killed two The vampire who said he was you And drank my blood for a year, Seven years, if you want to know. Daddy, you can lie back now.

There's a stake in your fat black heart And the villagers never liked you. They are dancing and stamping on you. They always knew it was you. Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I'm through.

12 October ig62

184 Medusa

Off that landspit of stony mouth-plugs, Eyes rolled by white sticks, Ears cupping the sea's incoherences, You house your unnerving head—God-ball, Lens of mercies,


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Your stooges Plying their wild cells in my keel's shadow, Pushing by like hearts, Red stigmata at the very center, Riding the rip tide to the nearest point of departure,

Dragging their Jesus hair. Did I escape, I wonder? My mind winds to you Old barnacled umbilicus, Atlantic cable, Keeping itself, it seems, in a state of miraculous repair.

In any case, you are always there, Tremulous breath at the end of my line, Curve of water upleaping To my water rod, dazzling and grateful, Touching and sucking.

I didn't call you. I didn't call you at all. Nevertheless, nevertheless You steamed to me over the sea, Fat and red, a placenta

Paralysing the kicking lovers. Cobra light Squeezing the breath from the blood bells Of the fuchsia. I could draw no breath, Dead and moneyless,

Overexposed, like an X-ray. Who do you think you are ? A Communion wafer ? Blubbery Mary ? I shall take no bite of your body, Bottle in which I live,

Ghastly Vatican. I am sick to death of hot salt.


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Green as eunuchs, your wishes Hiss at my sins. Off, off, eely tentacle!

There is nothing between us.

16 October ig62

The Jailer

My night sweats grease his breakfast plate. The same placard of blue fog is wheeled into position With the same trees and headstones. Is that all he can come up with, The rattler of keys ?

I have been drugged and raped. Seven hours knocked out of my right mind Into a black sack Where I relax, foetus or cat, Lever of his wet dreams.

Something is gone. My sleeping capsule, my red and blue zeppelin Drops me from a terrible altitude. Carapace smashed, I spread to the beaks of birds.

0 little gimlets — What holes this papery day is already full of! He has been burning me with cigarettes, Pretending I am a negress with pink paws. 1 am myself. That is not enough.

The fever trickles and stiffens in my hair. My ribs show. What have I eaten ? Lies and smiles. Surely the sky is not that color, Surely the grass should be rippling.


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ig62 All day, gluing my church of burnt matchsticks, I dream of someone else entirely. And he, for this subversion, Hurts me, he With his armor of fakery,

His high cold masks of amnesia. How did I get here ? Indeterminate criminal, I die with variety— Hung, starved, burned, hooked.

I imagine him Impotent as distant thunder, In whose shadow I have eaten my ghost ration. I wish him dead or away. That, it seems, is the impossibility.

That being free. What would the dark Do without fevers to eat ? What would the light Do without eyes to knife, what would he Do, do, do without me ?

17 October ig62

186 Lesbos

Viciousness in the kitchen! The potatoes hiss. It is all Hollywood, windowless, The fluorescent light wincing on and off like a terrible migraine, Coy paper strips for doors — Stage curtains, a widow's frizz. And I, love, am a pathological liar, And my child—look at her, face down on the floor, Little unstrung puppet, kicking to disappear— Why she is schizophrenic, Her face red and white, a panic, You have stuck her kittens outside your window In a sort of cement well


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Where they crap and puke and cry and she can't hear. You say you can't stand her, The bastard's a girl. You who have blown your tubes like a bad radio Clear of voices and history, the staticky Noise of the new. You say I should drown the kittens. Their smell! You say I should drown my girl. She'll cut her throat at ten if she's mad at two. The baby smiles, fat snail, From the polished lozenges of orange linoleum. You could eat him. He's a boy. You say your husband is just no good to you. His Jew-Mama guards his sweet sex like a pearl. You have one baby, I have two. I should sit on a rock off Cornwall and comb my hair. I should wear tiger pants, I should have an affair. We should meet in another life, we should meet in air, Me and you.

Meanwhile there's a stink of fat and baby crap. I'm doped and thick from my last sleeping pill. The smog of cooking, the smog of hell Floats our heads, two venomous opposites, Our bones, our hair. I call you Orphan, orphan. You are ill. The sun gives you ulcers, the wind gives you T.B. Once you were beautiful. In New York, in Hollywood, the men said: 'Through ? Gee baby, you are rare.' You acted, acted, acted for the thrill. The impotent husband slumps out for a coffee. I try to keep him in, An old pole for the lightning, The acid baths, the skyfuls off of you. He lumps it down the plastic cobbled hill, Flogged trolley. The sparks are blue. The blue sparks spill, Splitting like quartz into a million bits.


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0 jewel! O valuable! That night the moon Dragged its blood bag, sick Animal Up over the harbor lights. And then grew normal, Hard and apart and white. The scale-sheen on the sand scared me to death. We kept picking up handfuls, loving it, Working it like dough, a mulatto body, The silk grits. A dog picked up your doggy husband. He went on.

Now I am silent, hate Up to my neck, Thick, thick. 1 do not speak. I am packing the hard potatoes like good clothes, I am packing the babies, I am packing the sick cats. 0 vase of acid, It is love you are full of. You know who you hate. He is hugging his ball and chain down by the gate That opens to the sea Where it drives in, white and black, Then spews it back. Every day you fill him with soul-stufF, like a pitcher. You are so exhausted. Your voice my ear-ring, Flapping and sucking, blood-loving bat. That is that. That is that. You peer from the door, Sad hag. 'Every woman's a whor*. 1 can't communicate.'

I see your cute decor Close on you like the fist of a baby Or an anemone, that sea Sweetheart, that kleptomaniac. I am still raw.


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I say I may be back. You know what lies are for.

Even in your Zen heaven we shan't meet.

j 8 October 1Q62

Stopped Dead

A squeal of brakes. Or is it a birth cry ? And here we are, hung out over the dead drop Uncle, pants factory Fatso, millionaire. And you out cold beside me in your chair.

The wheels, two rubber grubs, bite their sweet tails. Is that Spain down there ? Red and yellow, two passionate hot metals Writhing and sighing, what sort of a scenery is it ? It isn't England, it isn't France, it isn't Ireland.

It's violent. We're here on a visit, With a goddam baby screaming off somewhere. There's always a bloody baby in the air. I'd call it a sunset, but Whoever heard a sunset yowl like that ?

You are sunk in your seven chins, still as a ham. Who do you think I am, Uncle, uncle? Sad Hamlet, with a knife ? Where do you stash your life ?

Is it a penny, a pearl — Your soul, your soul ? I'll carry it off like a rich pretty girl, Simply open the door and step out of the car And live in Gibraltar on air, on air.

ig October ig62


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Fever 1030

Pure ? What does it mean ? The tongues of hell Are dull, dull as the triple

Tongues of dull, fat Cerberus Who wheezes at the gate. Incapable Of licking clean

The aguey tendon, the sin, the sin. The tinder cries. The indelible smell

Of a snuffed candle! Love, love, the low smokes roll From me like Isadora's scarves, I'm in a fright

One scarf will catch and anchor in the wheel. Such yellow sullen smokes Make their own element. They will not rise,

But trundle round the globe Choking the aged and the meek, The weak

Hothouse baby in its crib, The ghastly orchid Hanging its hanging garden in the air,

Devilish leopard! Radiation turned it white And killed it in an hour.

Greasing the bodies of adulterers Like Hiroshima ash and eating in. The sin. The sin.

Darling, all night I have been flickering, off, on, off, on. The sheets grow heavy as a lecher's kiss.


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i go 2

Three days. Three nights. Lemon water, chicken Water, water make me retch.

I am too pure for you or anyone. Your body Hurts me as the world hurts God. I am a lantern-

My head a moon Of Japanese paper, my gold beaten skin Infinitely delicate and infinitely expensive.

Does not my heat astound you. And my light. All by myself I am a huge camellia Glowing and coming and going, flush on flush.

I think I am going up, I think I may rise The beads of hot metal fly, and I, love, I

Am a pure acetylene Virgin Attended by roses,

By kisses, by cherubim, By whatever these pink things mean. Not you, nor him

Not him, nor him (My Selves dissolving, old whor* petticoats)-To Paradise.

20 October 1Q62


No use, no use, now, begging Recognize! There is nothing to do with such a beautiful blank but smooth it. Name, house, car keys,


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The little toy wife— Erased, sigh, sigh. Four babies and a cooker!

Nurses the size of worms and a minute doctor Tuck him in. Old happenings

Peel from his skin. Down the drain with all of it! Hugging his pillow

Like the red-headed sister he never dared to touch, He dreams of a new one— Barren, the lot are barren!

And of another color. How they'll travel, travel, travel, scenery Sparking off their brother-sister rears

A comet tail! And money the sperm fluid of it all. One nurse brings in

A green drink, one a blue. They rise on either side of him like stars. The two drinks flame and foam.

0 sister, mother, wife, Sweet Lethe is my life. 1 am never, never, never coming home!

21 October ig62

*9o Lyonnesse

No use whistling for Lyonnesse! Sea-cold, sea-cold it certainly is. Take a look at the white, high berg on his forehead —


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There's where it sunk. The blue, green, Gray, indeterminate gilt

Sea of his eyes washing over it And a round bubble Popping upward from the mouths of bells

People and cows. The Lyonians had always thought Heaven would be something else,

But with the same faces, The same places. . . It was not a shock—

The dear, green, quite breathable atmosphere, Cold grits underfoot, And the spidery water-dazzle on field and street.

It never occurred that they had been forgot, That the big God Had lazily closed one eye and let them slip

Over the English cliff and under so much history! They did not see him smile, Turn, like an animal,

In his cage of ether, his cage of stars. He'd had so many wars! The white gape of his mind was the real Tabula Rasa.

21 October ig62


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gi Cut

For Susan O'Neill Roe

What a thrill My thumb instead of an onion. The top quite gone Except for a sort of a hinge

Of skin, A flap like a hat, Dead white. Then that red plush.

Little pilgrim, The Indian's axed your scalp. Your turkey wattle Carpet rolls

Straight from the heart. I step on it, Clutching my bottle Of pink fizz.

A celebration, this is. Out of a gap A million soldiers run, Redcoats, every one.

Whose side are they on ? 0 my Homunculus, I am ill. 1 have taken a pill to kill

The thin Papery feeling. Saboteur, Kamikaze man

The stain on your Gauze Ku Klux Klan


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Babushka Darkens and tarnishes and when

The balled Pulp of your heart Confronts its small Mill of silence

How you jump Trepanned veteran, Dirty girl, Thumb stump.

24 October ig62

By Candlelight

This is winter, this is night, small love— A sort of black horsehair, A rough, dumb country stuff Steeled with the sheen Of what green stars can make it to our gate. I hold you on my arm. It is very late. The dull bells tongue the hour. The mirror floats us at one candle power.

This is the fluid in which we meet each other, This haloey radiance that seems to breathe And lets our shadows wither Only to blow Them huge again, violent giants on the wall. One match scratch makes you real. At first the candle will not bloom at all— It snuffs its bud To almost nothing, to a dull blue dud.

I hold my breath until you creak to life, Balled hedgehog,


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Small and cross. The yellow knife Grows tall. You clutch your bars. My singing makes you roar. I rock you like a boat Across the Indian carpet, the cold floor, While the brass man Kneels, back bent, as best he can

Hefting his white pillar with the light That keeps the sky at bay, The sack of black! It is everywhere, tight, tight! He is yours, the little brassy Atlas — Poor heirloom, all you have, At his heels a pile of five brass cannonballs, No child, no wife. Five balls! Five bright brass balls! To juggle with, my love, when the sky falls.

24 October ig62

The Tour

O maiden aunt, you have come to call. Do step into the hall! With your bold Gecko, the little flick! All cogs, weird sparkle and every cog solid gold. And I in slippers and housedress with no lipstick!

And you want to be shown about! Yes, yes, this is my address. Not a patch on your place, I guess, with the Javanese Geese and the monkey trees. It's a bit burnt-out, A bit of a wild machine, a bit of a mess!

O I shouldn't put my finger in that Auntie, it might bite! That's my frost box, no cat, Though it looks like a cat, with its fluffy stuff, pure white.


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You should see the objects it makes! Millions of needly glass cakes!

Fine for the migraine or the bellyache. And this Is where I kept the furnace, Each coal a hot cross-stitch—a lovely light! It simply exploded one night, It went up in smoke. And that's why I have no hair, auntie, that's why I choke

Off and on, as if I just had to retch. Coal gas is ghastly stuff. Here's a spot I thought you'd love— Morning Glory Pool! The blue's a jewel. It boils for forty hours at a stretch.

0 I shouldn't dip my hankie in, it hurts\ Last summer, my God, last summer It ate seven maids and a plumber And returned them steamed and pressed and stiff as shirts. 1 am bitter? I'm averse? Here's your specs, dear, here's your purse.

Toddle on home to tea now in your flat hat. It'll be lemon tea for me, Lemon tea and earwig biscuits—creepy-creepy. You'd not want that. Toddle on home, before the weather's worse. Toddle on home, and don't trip on the nurse! —

She may be bald, she may have no eyes, But auntie, she's awfully nice. She's pink, she's a born midwife— She can bring the dead to life With her wiggly fingers and for a very small fee. Well I hope you've enjoyed it, auntie!

Toddle on home to tea!

25 October


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Stasis in darkness. Then the substanceless blue Pour of tor and distances.

God's lioness, How one we grow, Pivot of heels and knees!—The furrow

Splits and passes, sister to The brown arc Of the neck I cannot catch,

nigg*r-eye Berries cast dark Hooks

Black sweet blood mouthfuls, Shadows. Something else

Hauls me through air Thighs, hair; Flakes from my heels.

White Godiva, I unpeel Dead hands, dead stringencies.

And now I Foam to wheat, a glitter of seas. The child's cry

Melts in the wall. And I Am the arrow,


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The dew that flies Suicidal, at one with the drive Into the red

Eye, the cauldron of morning.

2 j October ig62

Poppies in October

Even the sun-clouds this morning cannot manage such skirts. Nor the woman in the ambulance Whose red heart blooms through her coat so astoundingly

A gift, a love gift Utterly unasked for By a sky

Palely and flamily Igniting its carbon monoxides, by eyes Dulled to a halt under bowlers.

O my God, what am I That these late mouths should cry open In a forest of frost, in a dawn of cornflowers.

27 October ig62

ig6 Nick and the Candlestick

I am a miner. The light burns blue. Waxy stalactites Drip and thicken, tears

The earthen womb Exudes from its dead boredom. Black bat airs


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Wrap me, raggy shawls, Cold homicides. They weld to me like plums.

Old cave of calcium Icicles, old echo*r. Even the newts are white,

Those holy Joes. And the fish, the fish Christ! they are panes of ice,

A vice of knives, A piranha Religion, drinking

Its first communion out of my live toes. The candle Gulps and recovers its small altitude,

Its yellows hearten. O love, how did you get here? 0 embryo

Remembering, even in sleep, Your crossed position. The blood blooms clean

In you, ruby. The pain You wake to is not yours.

Love, love, 1 have hung our cave with roses, With soft rugs

The last of Victoriana. Let the stars Plummet to their dark address,


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Let the mercuric Atoms that cripple drip Into the terrible well,

You are the one Solid the spaces lean on, envious. You are the baby in the barn.

29 October 1962

197 Purdah

Jade— Stone of the side, The agonized

Side of green Adam, I Smile, cross-legged, Enigmatical,

Shifting my clarities. So valuable! How the sun polishes this shoulder!

And should The moon, my Indefatigable cousin

Rise, with her cancerous pallors, Dragging trees— Little bushy polyps,

Little nets, My visibilities hide. I gleam like a mirror.

At this facet the bridegroom arrives Lord of the mirrors! It is himself he guides


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ig62 In among these silk Screens, these rustling appurtenances. I breathe, and the mouth

Veil stirs its curtain My eye Veil is

A concatenation of rainbows. I am his. Even in his

Absence, I Revolve in my Sheath of impossibles,

Priceless and quiet Among these parakeets, macaws! 0 chatterers

Attendants of the eyelash! 1 shall unloose One feather, like the peaco*ck.

Attendants of the lip! I shall unloose One note

Shattering The chandelier Of air that all day flies

Its crystals A million ignorants. Attendants!

Attendants! And at his next step I shall unloose


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7962 I shall unloose — From the small jeweled Doll he guards like a heart—

The lioness, The shriek in the bath, The cloak of holes.

29 October 1962

198 Lady Lazarus

I have done it again. One year in every ten I manage it

A sort of walking miracle, my skin Bright as a Nazi lampshade, My right foot

A paperweight, My face a featureless, fine Jew linen.

Peel off the napkin 0 my enemy. Do I terrify?

The nose, the eye pits, the full set of teeth ? The sour breath Will vanish in a day.

Soon, soon the flesh The grave cave ate will be At home on me

And I a smiling woman. 1 am only thirty. And like the cat I have nine times to die.


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This is Number Three. What a trash To annihilate each decade.

What a million filaments. The peanut-crunching crowd Shoves in to see

Them unwrap me hand and foot The big strip tease. Gentlemen, ladies

These are my hands My knees. I may be skin and bone,

Nevertheless, I am the same, identical woman. The first time it happened I was ten. It was an accident.

The second time I meant To last it out and not come back at all. I rocked shut

As a seashell. They had to call and call And pick the worms off me like sticky pearls.

Dying Is an art, like everything else. I do it exceptionally well.

I do it so it feels like hell. I do it so it feels real. I guess you could say I've a call.

It's easy enough to do it in a cell. It's easy enough to do it and stay put. It's the theatrical


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Comeback in broad day To the same place, the same face, the same brute Amused shout:

'A miracle!' That knocks me out. There is a charge

For the eyeing of my scars, there is a charge For the hearing of my heart It really goes.

And there is a charge, a very large charge For a word or a touch Or a bit of blood

Or a piece of my hair or my clothes. So, so, Herr Doktor. So, Herr Enemy.

I am your opus, I am your valuable, The pure gold baby

That melts to a shriek. I turn and burn. Do not think I underestimate your great concern.

Ash, ash — You poke and stir. Flesh, bone, there is nothing there

A cake of soap, A wedding ring, A gold filling.

Herr God, Herr Lucifer Beware Beware.


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Out of the ash I rise with my red hair And I eat men like air.

23-2Q October ig62

igg The Couriers

The word of a snail on the plate of a leaf? It is not mine. Do not accept it.

Acetic acid in a sealed tin ? Do not accept it. It is not genuine.

A ring of gold with the sun in it ? Lies. Lies and a grief.

Frost on a leaf, the immaculate Cauldron, talking and crackling

All to itself on the top of each Of nine black Alps.

A disturbance in mirrors, The sea shattering its gray one-

Love, love, my season.

200 Getting There

How far is it ? How far is it now ? The gigantic gorilla interior

4 November ig62


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Of the wheels move, they appall me The terrible brains Of Krupp, black muzzles Revolving, the sound Punching out Absence! like cannon. It is Russia I have to get across, it is some war or other. I am dragging my body Quietly through the straw of the boxcars. Now is the time for bribery. What do wheels eat, these wheels Fixed to their arcs like gods, The silver leash of the will Inexorable. And their pride! All the gods know is destinations. I am a letter in this slot I fly to a name, two eyes. Will there be fire, will there be bread ? Here there is such mud. It is a trainstop, the nurses Undergoing the faucet water, its veils, veils in a nunnery, Touching their wounded, The men the blood still pumps forward, Legs, arms piled outside The tent of unending cries A hospital of dolls. And the men, what is left of the men Pumped ahead by these pistons, this blood Into the next mile, The next hour Dynasty of broken arrows!

How far is it ? There is mud on my feet, Thick, red and slipping. It is Adam's side, This earth I rise from, and I in agony. I cannot undo myself, and the train is steaming. Steaming and breathing, its teeth Ready to roll, like a devil's. There is a minute at the end of it A minute, a dewdrop. How far is it ?


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ig62 It is so small The place I am getting to, why are there these obstacles The body of this woman, Charred skirts and deathmask Mourned by religious figures, by garlanded children. And now detonations Thunder and guns. The fire's between us. Is there no still place Turning and turning in the middle air, Untouched and untouchable. The train is dragging itself, it is screaming An animal Insane for the destination, The bloodspot, The face at the end of the flare. I shall bury the wounded like pupas, I shall count and bury the dead. Let their souls writhe in a dew, Incense in my track. The carriages rock, they are cradles. And I, stepping from this skin Of old bandages, boredoms, old faces

Step to you from the black car of Lethe, Pure as a baby.

6 November 1Q62

Mi The Night Dances

A smile fell in the grass. Irretrievable!

And how will your night dances Lose themselves. In mathematics?

Such pure leaps and spirals Surely they travel


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ig62 The world forever, I shall not entirely Sit emptied of beauties, the gift

Of your small breath, the drenched grass Smell of your sleeps, lilies, lilies.

Their flesh bears no relation. Cold folds of ego, the calla,

And the tiger, embellishing itself Spots, and a spread of hot petals.

The comets Have such a space to cross,

Such coldness, forgetfulness. So your gestures flake off

Warm and human, then their pink light Bleeding and peeling

Through the black amnesias of heaven. Why am I given

These lamps, these planets Falling like blessings, like flakes

Six-sided, white On my eyes, my lips, my hair

Touching and melting. Nowhere.

6 November 1Q62


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Over your body the clouds go High, high and icily And a little flat, as if they

Floated on a glass that was invisible. Unlike swans, Having no reflections;

Unlike you, With no strings attached. All cool, all blue. Unlike you

You, there on your back, Eyes to the sky. The spider-men have caught you,

Winding and twining their petty fetters, Their bribes So many silks.

How they hate you. They converse in the valley of your fingers, they are inchworms. They would have you sleep in their cabinets,

This toe and that toe, a relic. Step off! Step off seven leagues, like those distances

That revolve in Crivelli, untouchable. Let this eye be an eagle, The shadow of this lip, an abyss.

6 November ig62


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O half moon—

Half-brain, luminosity— Negro, masked like a white,

Your dark Amputations crawl and appall—

Spidery, unsafe. What glove

What leatheriness Has protected

Me from that shadow— The indelible buds,

Knuckles at shoulder-blades, the Faces that

Shove into being, dragging The lopped

Blood-caul of absences. All night I carpenter

A space for the thing I am given, A love

Of two wet eyes and a screech. White spit

Of indifference! The dark fruits revolve and fall.

The glass cracks across, The image

Flees and aborts like dropped mercury. 8 November 1962


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Letter in November

Love, the world Suddenly turns, turns color. The streetlight Splits through the rat's-tail Pods of the laburnum at nine in the morning. It is the Arctic,

This little black Circle, with its tawn silk grasses—babies' hair. There is a green in the air, Soft, delectable. It cushions me lovingly.

I am flushed and warm. I think I may be enormous, I am so stupidly happy, My Wellingtons Squelching and squelching through the beautiful red.

This is my property. Two times a day I pace it, sniffing The barbarous holly with its viridian Scallops, pure iron,

And the wall of old corpses. I love them. I love them like history. The apples are golden, Imagine it

My seventy trees Holding their gold-ruddy balls In a thick gray death-soup, Their million Gold leaves metal and breathless.


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O love, O celibate. Nobody but me Walks the waist-high wet. The irreplaceable Golds bleed and deepen, the mouths of Thermopylae.

/ / November ig62

205 Death & Co.

Two, of course there are two. It seems perfectly natural now-The one who never looks up, whose eyes are lidded And balled, like Blake's, Who exhibits

The birthmarks that are his trademark The scald scar of water, The nude Verdigris of the condor. I am red meat. His beak

Claps sidewise: I am not his yet. He tells me how badly I photograph. He tells me how sweet The babies look in their hospital Icebox, a simple

Frill at the neck, Then the flutings of their Ionian Death-gowns, Then two little feet. He does not smile or smoke.

The other does that, His hair long and plausive. Bastard Masturbating a glitter, He wants to be loved.


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I do not stir. The frost makes a flower, The dew makes a star, The dead bell, The dead bell.

Somebody's done for.

14 November ig62


They enter as animals from the outer Space of holly where spikes Are not the thoughts I turn on, like a Yogi, But greenness, darkness so pure They freeze and are.

0 God, I am not like you In your vacuous black, Stars stuck all over, bright stupid confetti. Eternity bores me, 1 never wanted it.

What I love is The piston in motion My soul dies before it. And the hooves of the horses, Their merciless churn.

And you, great Stasis What is so great in that! Is it a tiger this year, this roar at the door ? Is it a Christus, The awful

God-bit in him Dying to fly and be done with it ? The blood berries are themselves, they are very still.


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The hooves will not have it, In blue distance the pistons hiss.

16 November 1962

The Fearful

This man makes a pseudonym And crawls behind it like a worm.

This woman on the telephone Says she is a man, not a woman.

The mask increases, eats the worm, Stripes for mouth and eyes and nose,

The voice of the woman hollows— More and more like a dead one,

Worms in the glottal stops. She hates

The thought of a baby— Stealer of cells, stealer of beauty—

She would rather be dead than fat, Dead and perfect, like Nefertit,

Hearing the fierce mask magnify The silver limbo of each eye

Where the child can never swim, Where there is only him and him.

16 November ig62


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208 Mary's Song

The Sunday lamb cracks in its fat. The fat Sacrifices its opacity. . . .

A window, holy gold. The fire makes it precious, The same fire

Melting the tallow heretics, Ousting the Jews. Their thick palls float

Over the cicatrix of Poland, burnt-out Germany. They do not die.

Gray birds obsess my heart, Mouth-ash, ash of eye. They settle. On the high

Precipice That emptied one man into space The ovens glowed like heavens, incandescent.

It is a heart, This holocaust I walk in, O golden child the world will kill and eat.

ig November 1962

209 Winter Trees

The wet dawn inks are doing their blue dissolve. On their blotter of fog the trees Seem a botanical drawing— Memories growing, ring on ring, A series of weddings.


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ig62 Knowing neither abortions nor bitchery, Truer than women, They seed so effortlessly! Tasting the winds, that are footless, Waist-deep in history—

Full of wings, otherworldliness. In this, they are Ledas. O mother of leaves and sweetness Who are these pietas ? The shadows of ringdoves chanting, but easing nothing.


26 November ig62


Will they occur, These people with torsos of steel Winged elbows and eyeholes

Awaiting masses Of cloud to give them expression, These super-people! —

And my baby a nail Driven, driven in. He shrieks in his grease

Bones nosing for distances. And I, nearly extinct, His three teeth cutting

Themselves on my thumb — And the star, The old story.

In the lane I meet sheep and wagons, Red earth, motherly blood. O You who eat


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People like light rays, leave This one Mirror safe, unredeemed

By the dove's annihilation, The glory The power, the glory.

/ December ig62

Childless Woman

The womb Rattles its pod, the moon Discharges itself from the tree with nowhere to go.

My landscape is a hand with no lines, The roads bunched to a knot, The knot myself,

Myself the rose you achieve— This body, This ivory

Ungodly as a child's shriek. Spiderlike, I spin mirrors, Loyal to my image,

Uttering nothing but blood— Taste it, dark red! And my forest

My funeral, And this hill and this Gleaming with the mouths of corpses.

/ December ig62


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Your brother will trim my hedges! They darken your house, Nosy grower, Mole on my shoulder, To be scratched absently, To bleed, if it comes to that. The stain of the tropics Still urinous on you, a sin. A kind of bush-stink.

You may be local, But that yellow! Godawful! Your body one Long nicotine-finger On which I, White cigarette, Burn, for your inhalation, Driving the dull cells wild.

Let me roost in you! My distractions, my pallors. Let them start the queer alchemy That melts the skin Gray tallow, from bone and bone. So I saw your much sicker Predecessor wrapped up, A six and a half foot wedding-cake. And he was not even malicious.

Do not think I don't notice your curtain— Midnight, four o'clock, Lit (you are reading), Tarting with the drafts that pass, Little whor* tongue, Chenille beckoner, Beckoning my words in— The zoo yowl, the mad soft Mirror talk you love to catch me at.


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How you jumped when I jumped on you! Arms folded, ear co*cked, Toad-yellow under the drop That would not, would not drop In a desert of cow people Trundling their udders home To the electric milker, the wifey, the big blue eye That watches, like God, or the sky The ciphers that watch it.

I called. You crawled out, A weather figure, boggling, Beige troll, the low Church smile Spreading itself, like butter. This is what I am in for— Flea body! Eyes like mice

Flicking over my property, Levering letter flaps, Scrutinizing the fly Of the man's pants Dead on the chair back, Opening the fat smiles, the eyes Of two babies Just to make sure— Toad-stone! Sister-bitch! Sweet neighbor!

15 October 1962, 31 December 1962


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213 Sheep in Fog

The hills step off into whiteness. People or stars Regard me sadly, I disappoint them.

The train leaves a line of breath. O slow Horse the color of rust,

Hooves, dolorous bells All morning the Morning has been blackening,

A flower left out. My bones hold a stillness, the far Fields melt my heart.

They threaten To let me through to a heaven Starless and fatherless, a dark water.

2 December ig62, 28 January ig6j

214 The Munich Mannequins

Perfection is terrible, it cannot have children. Cold as snow breath, it tamps the womb

Where the yew trees blow like hydras, The tree of life and the tree of life


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Unloosing their moons, month after month, to no purpose. The blood flood is the flood of love,

The absolute sacrifice. It means: no more idols but me,

Me and you. So, in their sulfur loveliness, in their smiles

These mannequins lean tonight In Munich, morgue between Paris and Rome,

Naked and bald in their furs, Orange lollies on silver sticks,

Intolerable, without mind. The snow drops its pieces of darkness,

Nobody's about. In the hotels Hands will be opening doors and setting

Down shoes for a polish of carbon Into which broad toes will go tomorrow.

O the domesticity of these windows, The baby lace, the green-leaved confectionery,

The thick Germans slumbering in their bottomless Stolz. And the black phones on hooks

Glittering Glittering and digesting

Voicelessness. The snow has no voice.

28 January 7963


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The engine is killing the track, the track is silver, It stretches into the distance. It will be eaten nevertheless.

Its running is useless. At nightfall there is the beauty of drowned fields,

Dawn gilds the farmers like pigs, Swaying slightly in their thick suits,

White towers of Smithfield ahead, Fat haunches and blood on their minds.

There is no mercy in the glitter of cleavers, The butcher's guillotine that whispers: 'How's this, how's this?'

In the bowl the hare is aborted, Its baby head out of the way, embalmed in spice,

Flayed of fur and humanity. Let us eat it like Plato's afterbirth,

Let us eat it like Christ. These are the people that were important

Their round eyes, their teeth, their grimaces On a stick that rattles and clicks, a counterfeit snake.

Shall the hood of the cobra appall me The loneliness of its eye, the eye of the mountains

Through which the sky eternally threads itself? The world is blood-hot and personal

Dawn says, with its blood-flush. There is no terminus, only suitcases

Out of which the same self unfolds like a suit Bald and shiny, with pockets of wishes,


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1963 Notions and tickets, short circuits and folding mirrors. I am mad, calls the spider, waving its many arms.

And in truth it is terrible, Multiplied in the eyes of the flies.

They buzz like blue children In nets of the infinite,

Roped in at the end by the one Death with its many sticks.

28 January ig6j

216 Child

Your clear eye is the one absolutely beautiful thing. I want to fill it with color and ducks, The zoo of the new

Whose names you meditate— April snowdrop, Indian pipe, Little

Stalk without wrinkle, Pool in which images Should be grand and classical

Not this troublous Wringing of hands, this dark Ceiling without a star.

28 January ig6j


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It happens. Will it go on? My mind a rock, No fingers to grip, no tongue, My god the iron lung

That loves me, pumps My two Dust bags in and out, Will not

Let me relapse While the day outside glides by like ticker tape. The night brings violets, Tapestries of eyes,

Lights, The soft anonymous Talkers:'You all right?' The starched, inaccessible breast.

Dead egg, I lie Whole On a whole world I cannot touch, At the white, tight

Drum of my sleeping couch Photographs visit me My wife, dead and flat, in 1920 furs, Mouth full of pearls,

Two girls As flat as she, who whisper 'We're your daughters.' The still waters Wrap my lips,

Eyes, nose and ears, A clear Cellophane I cannot crack. On my bare back


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I smile, a buddha, all Wants, desire Falling from me like rings Hugging their lights.

The claw Of the magnolia, Drunk on its own scents, Asks nothing of life.

2g January ig6j

218 Gigolo

Pocket watch, I tick well. The streets are lizardy crevices Sheer-sided, with holes where to hide. It is best to meet in a cul-de-sac,

A palace of velvet With windows of mirrors. There one is safe, There are no family photographs,

No rings through the nose, no cries. Bright fish hooks, the smiles of women Gulp at my bulk And I, in my snazzy blacks,

Mill a litter of breasts like jellyfish. To nourish The cellos of moans I eat eggs — Eggs and fish, the essentials,

The aphrodisiac squid. My mouth sags, The mouth of Christ When my engine reaches the end of it.


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The tattle of my Gold joints, my way of turning Bitches to ripples of silver Rolls out a carpet, a hush.

And there is no end, no end of it. I shall never grow old. New oysters Shriek in the sea and I Glitter like Fontainebleau

Gratified, All the fall of water an eye Over whose pool I tenderly Lean and see me.

29 January 1963

219 Mystic

The air is a mill of hooks— Questions without answer, Glittering and drunk as flies Whose kiss stings unbearably In the fetid wombs of black air under pines in summer.

I remember The dead smell of sun on wood cabins, The stiffness of sails, the long salt winding sheets. Once one has seen God, what is the remedy ? Once one has been seized up

Without a part left over, Not a toe, not a finger, and used, Used utterly, in the sun's conflagrations, the stains That lengthen from ancient cathedrals What is the remedy ?

The pill of the Communion tablet, The walking beside still water ? Memory ?


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1963 Or picking up the bright pieces Of Christ in the faces of rodents, The tame flower-nibblers, the ones

Whose hopes are so low they are comfortable — The humpback in his small, washed cottage Under the spokes of the clematis. Is there no great love, only tenderness ? Does the sea

Remember the walker upon it ? Meaning leaks from the molecules. The chimneys of the city breathe, the window sweats, The children leap in their cots. The sun blooms, it is a geranium.

The heart has not stopped.

/ February ig6j

220 Kindness

Kindness glides about my house. Dame Kindness, she is so nice! The blue and red jewels of her rings smoke In the windows, the mirrors Are filling with smiles.

What is so real as the cry of a child ? A rabbit's cry may be wilder But it has no soul. Sugar can cure everything, so Kindness says. Sugar is a necessary fluid,

Its crystals a little poultice. O kindness, kindness Sweetly picking up pieces! My Japanese silks, desperate butterflies, May be pinned any minute, anesthetized.


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1963 And here you come, with a cup of tea Wreathed in steam. The blood jet is poetry, There is no stopping it. You hand me two children, two roses.

/ February ig6j

22 J Words Axes After whose stroke the wood rings, And the echoes! Echoes traveling Off from the center like horses.

The sap Wells like tears, like the Water striving To re-establish its mirror Over the rock

That drops and turns, A white skull, Eaten by weedy greens. Years later I Encounter them on the road

Words dry and riderless, The indefatigable hoof-taps. While From the bottom of the pool, fixed stars Govern a life.

/ February ig6^


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222 Contusion

Color floods to the spot, dull purple. The rest of the body is all washed out, The color of pearl.

In a pit of rock The sea sucks obsessively, One hollow the whole sea's pivot.

The size of a fly, The doom mark Crawls down the wall.

The heart shuts, The sea slides back, The mirrors are sheeted.

4 February ig6j

223 Bal loons

Since Christmas they have lived with us, Guileless and clear, Oval soul-animals, Taking up half the space, Moving and rubbing on the silk

Invisible air drifts, Giving a shriek and pop When attacked, then scooting to rest, barely trembling. Yellow cathead, blue fish Such queer moons we live with

Instead of dead furniture! Straw mats, white walls And these traveling Globes of thin air, red, green, Delighting


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The heart like wishes or free Peaco*cks blessing Old ground with a feather Beaten in starry metals. Your small

Brother is making His balloon squeak like a cat. Seeming to see A funny pink world he might eat on the other side of it, He bites,

Then sits Back, fat jug Contemplating a world clear as water. A red Shred in his little fist.

5 February ig6j

224 Edge

The woman is perfected. Her dead

Body wears the smile of accomplishment, The illusion of a Greek necessity

Flows in the scrolls of her toga, Her bare

Feet seem to be saying: We have come so far, it is over.

Each dead child coiled, a white serpent, One at each little

Pitcher of milk, now empty. She has folded


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I&3 Them back into her body as petals Of a rose close when the garden

Stiffens and odors bleed From the sweet, deep throats of the night flower.

The moon has nothing to be sad about, Staring from her hood of bone.

She is used to this sort of thing. Her blacks crackle and drag.

5 February jg6j


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Notes on Poems 1956-1963

1956 In this year, Sylvia Plath (SP) began to write the poems of her first published collection.

At the beginning of the year she was in England, at Cambridge University, reading English on a Fulbright Fellowship and living in Whitstead, an annexe of Newnham College. In February she met her future husband, Ted Hughes (TH). In April, she was in Rome and Paris, touring alone.

On 16 June she married, and lived until September in Spain, mainly in the fishing village of Benidorm (at that time still undeveloped as a tourist resort).

Through September she was in West Yorkshire with her husband, returning to Cambridge in October to live again in Whitstead until December, when she and T H moved into a flat in the town. At Christmas they returned to West Yorkshire.

1 CONVERSATION AMONG THE RUINS. On the painting by Giorgio de Chirico, a postcard reproduction of which was pinned to the door of the poet's room.

2 WINTER LANDSCAPE, W I T H ROOKS. On 20 February 1956, SP noted: 'Wrote one good poem: "Winter Landscape, with Rooks": it moves, and is athletic: a psychic landscape.'

5 TALE OF A TUB. On 20 February 1956, she had written: 'Began another big one, more abstract [than 'Winter Landscape, with Rooks'; cf. note on No. 2], written from the bathtub: take care it doesn't get too general.'

34 SPIDER. Anansi is the famous spider trickster hero of West African and Caribbean folklore. Towards the end of this year SP became interested in African folklore in general, with results that can be detected throughout the rest of her work.

43 NOVEMBER GRAVEYARD. At Heptonstall, West Yorkshire, where the poet is buried.

1957 In this year SP completed her M.A. degree at Cambridge University.

In June, she and her husband moved to the United States, where she had been invited to teach at her old college, Smith, in Northampton, Massachusetts. They spent the summer on Cape Cod.

In October she took up her teaching post at Smith College.

48 THE EVERLASTING MONDAY. Monday held an ominous symbolic significance for SP (cf. the poem 'An Appearance' [No. 159], and elsewhere).

49 HARDCASTLE CRAGS. Valley of the Hebden River, a deep wooded gorge lying below the high road in the West Yorkshire moorland.

54 THE LADY AND THE EARTHENWARE HEAD. The 'head' in question was lodged in a


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[Nos. 54-62] Notes: 1Q57

willow, on the banks of the Cam, and never reclaimed. (Cf. her later opinion of this poem, quoted in the Introduction, p. 13.)

57 TWO VIEWS OF WITHENS. Top Withens is a ruinous farmhouse under the moor's edge above Ha worth, West Yorkshire—allegedly the model for Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights. SP approached it from the south, over some miles of moorland, on her first visit.

58 THE GREAT CARBUNCLE. On an odd phenomenon sometimes observed on high moorland for half an hour or so at evening, when the hands and faces of people seem to become luminous.

60 THE DISQUIETING MUSES. Reading this poem on a BBC radio programme, SP commented: 'It borrows its title from the painting by Giorgio de Chirico — The Disquieting Muses. All through the poem I have in mind the enigmatic figures in this painting—three terrible faceless dressmaker's dummies in classical gowns, seated and standing in a weird, clear light that casts the long strong shadows characteristic of de Chirico's early work. The dummies suggest a twentieth-century version of other sinister trios of women—the Three Fates, the witches in Macbeth, de Quincey's sisters of madness.'

62 ou 1 jA. SP occasionally amused herself, with one or two others, by holding her finger on an upturned glass, in a ring of letters laid out on a smooth table, and questioning the 'spirits'.

The following 'Dialogue Over a Ouija Board', which she never showed, though it must have been written some time in 1957-8, used the actual 'spirit' text of one of the ouija sessions. The spirit named here was the one regularly applied to. His news could be accurate. (The first time he was guided through Littlewood's football coupon, he predicted all thirteen of the draws made on the following Saturday—but anticipated them, throughout, by just one match. The first dividend at that time, in 1956, was £75,000. The spirit's later attempts were progressively less accurate and very soon no better than anyone else's.) Usually his communications were gloomy and macabre, though not without wit.



Characters: SIBYL LEROY


Go get the glass, then. But I know tonight will be In every respect like every other night: While we're sitting, face to face across the coffee-Table, trying our luck, index fingers set On the round base of the inverted wine-glass here, They'll go by, trundling like marble statues way out In the wings somewhere, or like heirloom furniture

Moving, being moved. And we'll imagine A great frieze, Egyptian, perhaps, or Greek, And their eyes looking out of it: keen, With the cold burn dry ice has. Yet the clock Has never failed to see our fabling sheared Down to a circle of letters: twenty-six In all. Plus Yes. Plus No. And this bare board.

2 7 6

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Notes: igs7 [No. 62]


That 's how you always talk before we start. But I've brought brandy and built the fire up So the artful glass won't change its chill for heart's Blood and bank wrist, elbow, shoulder, lip With winter as you claim it does. The coal Cracks red. SYBIL : Nothing happens. LEROY : Wait. Its trip Begins. A jerk. And now the first slow ramble

Around the ring. I think it must be making sure The letters live in the same place. Or else Each time must learn the letters new. Are You to ask who's home, or I? SYBIL: I will. Is anybody there? It goes. It goes Direct to Yes. I bet it's Pan. Who'll Come on call like that but Pan? He's

Signing in. Just P this time. And off, And back to P, as if he knew us well Enough for nicknames. LEROY: Horn are you, Pan? SIBYL: F -

I-N-E, he says. You feel him pull Under your finger? I mean, you don't push Even a little? LEROY : You know I don't, and still . . . SIBYL : And still I'm skeptic. I know. I'm being foolish

I suppose. If I didn't trust you at this I wouldn't trust myself. The fault's my faith In Pan: it's been ebbing ever since the mess He made of the football pools—teasing us with Near wins, week by week, waiting until We thought we'd trained him, before going haywire. Truth Isn't in him. LEROY : Maybe. But maybe the pools

Bored him. He's more philosopher, it seems, Than financier. SIBYL : What good is he, if not For fortune-telling? And where is it fortune comes From, if not the pools? LEROY : Oh, from a lot Of places: the oil well my uncle owns, for one; Or your white-haired benefactress, who may see fit To alter her will our way. Shall we go on

Asking about money? SIBYL : I'm sick of that.


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[No. 62] Notes: 1957 LEROY:

Well what, then? SIBYL : That 's the trouble. Let's say he Really can see into the future. What, Pools aside, wills aside, do we Really want to know about? LEROY : Everything. Our work. Love. The after-life . . . SIBYL: Do you

Honestly want to find if you'll have a fling

At fame or not? As for love, I figure when we're Out of it will be time and plenty for us To court remorse. Or someone else. I'd rather Sift him about the after-life than this : It's not so imminent. At least I feel Less dread of the world beyond than ours. LEROY : That's because You don't quite believe in it. You're deaf to real

Dangers, but don't mind hearing about the ones In hell, since hell's a fairytale. SIBYL: I would Believe, if they could manage to convince Me. LEROY : Ask, anyhow.

SIBYL: I admit it: I'm afraid, Always, the glass will blurt what I don't want To know at all. And yet I go ahead. Pan, are you still there? LEROY : See, his sprint

To Yes says he is ready. SIBYL: Pan, is there A life after this life? He shoots so swift To Yes, his sureness must be his, not ours. Do you know how my father is? LEROY : He's left For Yes, dragging our fingers after. SIBYL: How

Is he, then? He spells. I-N. He'll lift The glass yet as he glides. P-L-U-

M-A-G-E. In plumage. I'd never have thought To say that. That must be his: his word. LEROY : You see,

You're melting now, because you think he's hit An original note. If he'd said, however, merely : Dead, you'd swear him a victim of our own vain Ventriloquy. But wings neither you nor I Would traffic in. SIBYL : Let him finish what he began.


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Notes: ig^j [No. 62]

Plumage of what. Pan? P . . . He starts again, Tugging us through plumage. I almost feel Feathers winnowing the room. A thin Column of dazzle draws my eyes to the wall As if the air were laboring to produce An angel. Plumage. O-F-R. He'll Jog off in jabberwocky now and lose us,

Lapsing into Russian or Serbo-Croat. A-W-W. He's gone off: what English Word wears two W's.? O-R. Or what? M-S. Manuscript? He stops. I wish Those letters separated into sense Instead of brewing us such a balderdash Of half-hints. LEROY : You persist in spelling half-hints

Out of a wholeness. Worms, not wings is what Pan said. A plumage of raw worms. SIBYL: HOW

Tedious. That's what we'd say. About rot Feeding at the root of things. He stole that, too, As he stole our perplexities about the pools And tricked us to trust his vision, while night after night he Palmed off our own hunches as oracles.

I was perfectly right: Pan's a mere puppet Of our two intuitions. LEROY : And i fhe i s? That's something to study even if it's not The Faith-Maker, fisted in his cloud, or the chorus Of mandatory voices you half expect To fracture these four walls. Your faith flies Like an olive-beaked dove above the engulfing fact:

Tables and chairs can elbow us with ease Out of our very countenance by simply Bulking more real than we think we are: we face Obliteration hourly unless our eye Can whipcrack the tables into tigers and foist Castles upon the smug-shaped chairs. SIBYL: All this I

Know: which is why I, when the wondrous fist

Fails to appear, turn, and, turning, shrink The size of my demand to magic: no more Than against gravity's grip, tables rising; the drink Drunk, and tea-leaves candid; the clairvoyant seizure Predicting three boys an hour hence will play Some paltry scene on the soup-kitchen stair: These gifts are given. LEROY : And when withheld, you'll say


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[No. 62] Notes: igs7 Gods grow too proud to practice doorman duties At the whim of a wine-glass and let us into worlds Saved for the acorn-stomached saint or eyes Burning like knotholes from a nun's shroud-circled Smirk. SIBYL : Saints' door apart, backdoor's a door, And I'd sooner be staked for a witch, kindled, and curled To a cinder, than meet a poor upstart of our nether

Selves posing as prophet and slyly poaching Pebbles we preserve in our own cupboards To build his canting towers. While you, you long To view how versatile we are: you've pampered Pan as if he were our first-breached brat Fusing two talents, a sort of psychic bastard Sprung to being on our wedding night

Nine months too soon for comfort, but a bright Boy, prone to compose queer poetry In apt iambics, if prodded to recite By scoldings, or by subtle praise. Only I, Even if you seem pacified, prefer To picture some other party speaking through Our separate veins and this glass mouth. LEROY : Oh you're

Going to get Gabriel's thumb into the pie If you must butcher Mother Goose to do it. Gabriel or Beelzebub: I see, Now, you really don't much care which, or what Minor imps pipe up, so long as each May testify to drive your doubting out. I never knew such credulity to pitch

Such skeptic cracks. With sense sealed watertight So, you'll scoff, and yet you'd drop to kneel If that elderberry bush beside the gate Belched into blaze and, though red-hot, kept whole And hale its green latticework of leaves. You need Nothing short of a miracle to nail Faith fast: a miracle and the smell of blood

To prove it genuine. SIBYL: You'd kneel, too, If a bush borrowed tongues and spoke to you. You'd kneel Until it finished, and then look furtively For loudspeaker wires running like a logical Argument to the house next door. Or if Your Sherlock Holmesing steered to a blank wall You'd presume your inner voice god-plumed enough

To people the boughs with talking birds. LEROY : I'd plant Gods and rear them like beanstalks from out these ribs


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Notes: igS7 [No. 62]

Before one heaved himself through heaven's tent To contradict me. SIBYL : Your shouldering words outstrip The stint of Sisyphus. LEROY : Ask Pan, then, where He lives. His answer will put an end to gibes And get us clear of this. SIBYL : Oh, he'll go clever

Like all the others and swear that he's a puma In Tibet, or a llama in Zanzibar As if tempting our gross gullibility To give another inch. LEROY : If you prefer, I'll ask. SIBYL: Do. We've kept him waiting long Enough. But be polite. You're too severe On him sometimes. LEROY : He's lazy. Like any young

Boy, he needs a beating now and then To quicken his sluggard's blood. SIBYL : But he needn't come To collect his beatings. And if he's a go-between Our world and theirs we'd best play safe and groom Our questions in humble habit to gain grace And chance of a true answer. LEROY : You waste no time Eating your words: you'll revoke his godhood soon as

His drift endorses your inklings of a doom Descended on your favorites, and yet You'll issue him his pass to angeldom Before he spells again, should his next writ Warrant him whelped in the wake of two shooting Stars, not our cheeseparing psyches. SIBYL: It

Pays to be politic. Oh, I'm not one to hang

Bled white with briars by a busy conscience If nothing comes of it. On the other hand, What greenhorn vents his venom against giants Outside the cave whose contours most remind One of a giant's ear? LEROY : I guess this glass Might do as a god's mouthpiece if a whirlwind Did. It's small, but the volume of the voice

Is small these days. SIBYL : Don't be so smart. LEROY : I'll ask,

And we'll see who's smartest. Pan, tell us now: Where do you live?


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[No. 62] Notes: 1957 SIBYL: He moves. LEROY : He's moving brisk Like a good boy. SIBYL : Be careful. I'm not sure that he Can spell sarcasm through our fingertips. LEROY:

He goes . . . SIBYL: I-N-G-O-D-P-I-


Godpie! That's rich. The jackanapes

Is joking at the pie-in-the-sky mirage Which props you through this desert like a dream Of water. SIBYL: Wait. LEROY : Godpie I don't begrudge You: a priest-baked pasty stuffed to the brim With blackbirds—twenty-four, and every one A devil. SIBYL : Wait: he shifts. He hasn't come To the end of it. He starts again: I-N-

G-O-D-H-E-A-D. There, see! I knew he'd got it mixed before: visions Aren't vouchsafed to antique virgins only: It takes patience. If veronicas and fountains Can once in a blue moon catch the shadows of Their passing on a perishable screen Of cambric or waterdrops, who knows what belief

Might work on this glass medium. LEROY : Belief, yes, If either of us had it: but not the half-Hearted gambling-game you warily practice Under the guise of nonchalance. Pan's laugh Is on the two of us for lending heat To propel his playfulness, but on you, above All, if you'll hide hopes of heaven in a hat

Of formal scorn, until the first sign of an Angel's eye in the audience, then whisk them out Like live white rabbits, ready to begin Running neck and neck with the most devout Rabbits in the lot. SIBYL: You're in a huff Because Pan bluntly spelt out god's head, not Your head after all. It seems his laugh

Is on you now, for planning to dredge up Pools, prophecies and such from the unfathomed Bottom of your brain. By some mishap, Instead of fat fish on the line, you've plumbed


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Notes: igs7 [No. 62] Deeper than your own ocean floor, and got A barnacle-pated, moss-wigged, lobster-limbed Chimera on the hook, who claims he's late

Of Davy's locker, and the lord's to home, And not extinct, as everyone supposed. LEROY:

If you can hang religion on the rim Of one wine-glass, you'll pin it like a prize Tail on each toy donkey that will bray God-pie. SIBYL : Why, then, did you deign to introduce Pan as our evening guest if he's so free

With fibs? LEROY : The fibs are ours, not his. Pan's fine For sounding syllables we haven't yet Surfaced in ourselves: he'll spell a line Of poetry from these letters, but the beat Will be our beat, just as the gift is ours, And tongue, and thought, as well as the blood-heat He leeches by our lenience. SIBYL: He still bores

You to taunts though, when he reflects a face Other than your own. LEROY : As he bores you When he recites one of my similes For rot. SIBYL : Don't think you had me fooled. I knew Where those worms came from. LEROY : I swear I didn't expect Them any more than you did. SIBYL: Oh, let it go.

You say he's told two lies . . . LEROY : Call them two plucked

Fruits of your willful tree: god-head, god-pie Feed your own wishful thinking. SIBYL : Try asking him To name his home a third time. Give your will three Chances to master mine. They say the third time Counts. LEROY : Such duels infect best friendships. SIBYL: Pan

Tell us the truth this time: tell us the kingdom You inhabit. LEROY : Plainly as you can,

Tell us the truth. SIBYL: Where do you live ? LEROY : He starts As if bloodhounds bore him down.


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Notes: IQ$J

SIBYL: I-N-C-O . . .

Does he write C for G.?

LEROY : No. He darts

To R now. E. SIBYL: In core . . . LEROY : O-F-N-E-


In core of nerve! I hope You're satisfied. My will has evidently Curtseyed to yours. LEROY : Too bad you called Pan up

A third time. SIBYL : Don't gloat. Your will misfired twice Before it made the bull's-eye. LEROY : Do we have to battle Like rival parents over a precocious Child to see which one of us can call Pan's prowess our own creation, and not the other's Work at all? SIBYL : How can we help but battle If our nerves are the sole nourishers

Of Pan's pronouncements, and our nerves are strung To such cross-purposes? LEROY : At last you glimpse Some light. SIBYL : I glimpse no light at all as long As we two glower from our separate camps, This board our battlefield. Let's give Pan up As a bad job. LEROY : Wait. S IBYL: He stirs. LEROY : He romps Round to earn his pay: he'll have us keep

Him yet, and give us good reason. SIBYL : No, he's on

A binge of jeers. Look. He's running through His book of insults. LEROY : Nerve or noumenon, His manners are atrocious. SIBYL: A-P-E-S. LEROY:

He calls us apes. SIBYL: I'll settle him! {Breaking glass) There! That shuts him up! LEROY : So. Better so, My wish one with your aim.


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Notes: 1957 [No. 62] SIBYL : Once, in a dream,

I smashed a glass, and ever since that dream I've dreamed of doing it again. And now It's done. LEROY : It's done, and there's no mending him. SIBYL:

It was his tongue that wanted mending. LEROY : You know, Those glass bits in the grate strike me chill: As if I'd half-believed in him, and he, Being not you, nor I, nor us at all,

Must have been whoMy someone else. SIBYL: It's absurd, But now that anger cools, I've a sense of sorrow Adrift in the guise of some great-taloned bird Over my mind, casting a shadow. Sorrow Settles in the room now. Its wings blacken the table. The chairs belong to its darkness. I smell decay Like the underside of mushrooms. Do you feel

Wiser for tonight's wise words ? LEROY : I felt drawn Deeper within the dark, and as I pitched further Into myself and into my conviction A rigor seized me: I saw cracks appear, Dilating to craters in this livingroom, And you, shackled ashen across the rift, a specter Of one I loved. SIBYL : I saw division bloom

On darkness, more vivid and unnatural Than any orchid. LEROY : You broke him then. SIBYL: I broke The image of you, transfixed by roots, wax-pale, Under a stone. LEROY: Those two dreamed deaths took Us in: a third undid them. SIBYL : And we grew one As the glass flew to its fragments. LEROY : Let us stake Death's two dreams down with the body that bled the vein,

As is the use with vampires, and resign our stand At the unreal frontier. SIBYL : Let our backs, now bold, Oppose what we faced earlier. Feel my hand. LEROY:

Why, your hand's cold as ice! SIBYL : Then chafe the cold Out of it. There. The room returns


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[No. 62] Notes: igS7 To normal. Let's close the curtains. LEROY : It looks wild Beyond the window-frame tonight. S IBYL: Wind warns

November's done with. The blown leaves make bat-shapes, Web-winged and furious. LEROY : The full moonlight Strikes the tiles of the neighbors' gable-tops Blue as lizard-scales. SIBYL : Frost sheens the street. LEROY:

I am resolved. No reason could untwist That skein of voices. SIBYL : We promised to forget The labyrinth and ignore what manner of beast

Might range in it. LEROY : I only shut the door And bolt it up by taking oath no guess Could grope its way to gospel through that welter Of contending words. SIBYL: Some pythoness In her prophetic fit heard what we heard, Stuck to her tripod, over the fuming crevice, Breathing the god's word, or the devil's word,

Or her own word, ambushed in an equivocal Thicket of words. LEROY : The curtain's drawn on that. SIBYL:

The table looks as if it would stay a table All night long, even should our eyes shut In sleep. LEROY : The chairs won't vanish or become Castles when we glance aside. SIBYL: That's that. As sure as those coals burn, the livingroom

Is itself again, and ours. LEROY : The dream Of dreamers is dispelled. Once more we cut A solid shape on air. SIBYL : May the decorum Of our days sustain us. LEROY : May each thought And act bear witness, in the crux of time, To our meaning well. BOTH : When lights go out May two real people breathe in a real room.


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Notes: igs7 [Nos. 63-83]

ON THE DECLINE OF ORACLES. SP frequently mentioned flashes of prescience—always about something unimportant. 1. 5 Old Bbcklin: Arnold Bocklin, Swiss late-Romantic painter.

1958 In the early months of this year SP continued to teach at Smith College, while her husband taught at the University of Massachusetts. Some time in the spring they made the decision to leave teaching and attempt to live on their earnings as writers.

During the summer they were again on Cape Cod, and returned to a flat in Boston, at 9 Willow Street, where they remained until the following June.

Throughout this time SP found writing difficult. She resorted to set themes, and deliberate exercises in style, in her efforts to find release.

6°~8,73 ArtNervs had asked SP for poems based on paintings, V I R G I N I N A T R E E ( N O . 66) is on a drawing by Paul Klee, as is PERSEUS ( N O . 67); BATTLE-SCENE . . .(No. 68) and THE GHOST'S LEAVETAKING ( N O . 73) are on paintings by Klee.

69 YADWIGHA, ON A RED COUCH, AMONG LILIES. On a painting, The Dream, by the

Douanier Rousseau. SP wrote of it, on 27 March 1958, 'my first and only good sestina'. 74 SCULPTOR. Bronze dead men lay in numbers around the house and studio of the

sculptor Leonard Baskin. 75 FULL FATHOM FIVE. Her first poem about her father in his mythic role as 'father-sea

god-muse' (cf. Introduction, p. 13). She composed the poem while reading one of Cousteau's books about the submarine world, alternating reading and writing without moving her position.

76 LORELEI . On 3 July, SP and T H had a session with the ouija oracle (cf. note on No. 62), 'for the first time in America'. She noted at the time: 'Among other penetrating observations, Pan said I should write on the poem-subject "Lorelei" because they are "my own kin". So today [4 July], for fun, I did so, remembering the plaintive German song Mother used to play and sing to us beginning "Ich weiss nicht was soil es bedeuten . . .". The subject appealed to me doubly (or triply): the German legend of the Rhine Sirens, the sea-childhood symbol, and the death-wish involved in the song's beauty. The poem devoured my day, but I feel it is a book poem and am pleased with it.'

1. 32 Drunkenness of the great depths: a phrase from the book of Cousteau's she was reading as she wrote 'Full Fathom Five' (No. 75) some time earlier. It describes the euphoric visionary state of acute oxygen shortage in which divers blissfully forget all precautions and danger.

77 MUSSEL HUNTER AT ROCK HARBOR. Rock Harbor on Cape Cod. On 4 July 1958 SP noted: 'I suppose now my star piece is "Mussel Hunter at Rock Harbor". '

82 CHILD'S PARK STONES. Child's Park, the setting of several poems from this period, lay next door to the house where SP lived in Elm Street, Northampton, Massachusetts. She wrote on 11 June 1958: 'I have just written a good syllabic poem on the Child's Park Stones as juxtaposed to the ephemeral orange and fuchsia azaleas and feel the park is my favorite place in America.'

83 OWL. On 26 June 1958, she noted: 'Wrote a brief poem this morning—"Owl over Main Street"—in "syllabic" verse. Could be better. The beginning is a bit lyrical for the subject and the last verse might be expanded.' This poem eventually became 'Owl', and in Boston on 23 April 1959, looking back over her poems, she wrote: 'I have forty


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[Nos. 83-101] Notes: 1958 unattackable poems. I think. And a joy about them of sorts. Although I would love more potent ones. All the Smith ones are miserable death-wishes. The ones here, however gray ("Companionable Ills" [No. 87], "Owl"), have a verve and life-joy.'

84 WHITENESS 1 REMEMBER. On 9 July 1958, she noted: 'I wrote what I consider a "book poem" about my runaway ride in Cambridge on the horse Sam: a "hard" subject for me, horses alien to me, yet the daredevil change in Sam and my hanging on God knows how is a kind of revelation: it worked well.'

87 GREEN ROCK, W I N T H R O P BAY. SP spent her first years on the Winthrop peninsula, where her grandparents lived.

1959 SP and her husband lived in Boston until June 1959. During this period she worked as a secretary in the records office at the Massachusetts General Hospital. She also began to see her old psychiatrist Ruth Beutscher (cf. note on No. roi), and attended—along with Anne Sexton and George Starbuck—a writing course given by Robert Lowell.

Setting off in July, she and T H drove around the United States, from Canada to San Francisco to New Orleans and back, camping on the way—a journey of about nine weeks. In September they accepted an invitation to Yaddo, the artists' colony near Saratoga Springs, in upstate New York.

In this year T H had received a Guggenheim Foundation award, and adding this cash to what they had saved from their teaching and other work, they sailed for Europe in December.

92 THE BULL OF BENDYLAW. Cf. English and Scottish Popular Ballads, edited by F. J. Child (1883), where the following occurs as a 'fragment':

The great bull of Bendy-law Has broken his band and run awa And the King and a his court Canna turn that bull about

94 P O I N T SHIRLEY. The end of the Winthrop peninsula; cf. note on No. 86. On 20 January 1959 SP wrote: 'Finished a poem this weekend, "Point Shirley", revisited, on my grandmother. Oddly powerful and moving to me in spite of rigid formal structure. Evocative. Not so one-dimensional.'

95 GOATSUCKER. Nightjar, fern-owl, etc. —nocturnal bird of many names. Esther Baskin was collecting material for a book about night creatures, and this poem was SP's contribution. On 20 January she noted: 'Spent a really pleasant afternoon, rainy, in the library looking up goatsuckers for a poem for Esther's night creature book. Much more than on frogs and a much more congenial subject. I have eight lines of a sonnet on the bird, very alliterative and colored.' She collected several pages of detailed notes.

96 WATERCOLOR OF GRANTCHESTER MEADOWS. On 19 February, she noted: 'Wrote a Grantchester poem of pure description . . . a fury of frustration. Some inhibition keeping me from writing what I really feel.' Grantchester meadows lie along the river Cam, towards Grantchester, near Cambridge.

99 TWO VIEWS OF A CADAVER ROOM. The Brueghel painting is The Triumph of Death. 101 THE RAVAGED FACE. On 9 March, she wrote: 'After a lugubrious session with RB

[Ruth Beutscher, her psychiatrist] much freed. Good weather, good bits of news. If I don't stop crying she'll have me tied up. Got idea on trolley for a poem because of my ravaged face: called "The Ravaged Face". A line came, too. Wrote it down and then

2 8 8

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Notes: IQSQ [ N O S . 1 0 1 - 1 3 0 ]

the [other] five lines of a sestet. Wrote the first eight lines after coming back from a fine day in Winthrop yesterday. I rather like it—it has all the forthrightness of "Suicide off Egg Rock".' From her earlier suicide attempt SP carried a broad patch of scar tissue across her cheek.

103 ELECTRA ON AZALEA PATH. Azalea Path was the name of the cemetery path beside which SP's father's grave lies. On 9 March she wrote: 'A clear blue day in Winthrop. Went to my father's grave, a very depressing sight. Three graveyards separated by streets, all made within the last fifty years or so, ugly crude black stones, headstones together, as if the dead were sleeping head to head in a poorhouse. In the third yard, on a flat grassy area looking across a sallow barren stretch to rows of wooden tenements I found the flat stone: Otto E. Plath: 1885-1940. Right beside the path, where it would be walked over. Felt cheated. My temptation to dig him up. To prove he existed and really was dead. How far gone would he be ? No trees, no peace, his headstone jammed up against the body on the other side. Left shortly. It is good to have the place in mind.'

On 20 March she wrote: 'Finished . . . "Electra on Azalea Path". They are never perfect but I think have goodnesses.' And on 23 April: 'Must do justice to my father's grave. Have rejected the Electra poem from my book. Too forced and rhetorical.'

104 THE BEEKEEPER'S DAUGHTER. The detail in the last verse is mentioned in her father's book Bumblebees and Their Ways, and had been demonstrated to her by him.

105 THE HERMIT AT OUTERMOST HOUSE. The Outermost House: a popular classic about Cape Cod.

113 THE MANOR GARDEN. The setting is the gardens of the manor at Yaddo. SP called this a poem 'for Nicholas', but her first child, born five months later, was a girl.

119 POEM FOR A BIRTHDAY. In Boston, earlier in the year, she had tried for a way out through Robert Lowell's earlier manner of writing (as in 'Point Shirley'). She had always responded strongly to Theodore Roethke's poems, but it was only at Yaddo, in October, that she realized how he could help her. This sequence began as a deliberate Roethke pastiche, a series of exercises which would be light and throwaway to begin with, but might lead to something else. On 22 October she wrote: 'Ambitious seeds of a long poem made up of separate sections. Poem on her Birthday. [Her own birthday fell on 27 October.] To be a dwelling on madhouse, nature: meanings of tools, greenhouses, florists' shops, tunnels vivid and disjointed. An adventure. Never over. Developing. Rebirth. Despair. Old women. Block it out.' And then on 4 November: 'Miraculously I wrote seven poems in my "Poem for a Birthday" sequence. . . .'

120 THE BURNT-OUT SPA. The old health spa at Saratoga Springs remained only as a burned-out ruin.

121 MUSHROOMS. On 14 November: 'Wrote an exercise on Mushrooms yesterday which Ted likes. And I do too. My absolute lack of judgment when I've written something: whether it's trash or genius.'


Back in England before Christmas 1959, the poet and her husband found a flat at 3 Chalcot Square, near Primrose Hill, in London.

In February she signed a contract with Heinemann for the publication of her first collection of poems, The Colossus. On 1 April, her daughter Frieda was born at home. In October The Colossus was published in London.

130 MAGI. 'Abstractions, by definition, are withdrawn from life and formulated in despite


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[Nos. 130-134] Notes: IQ6O

of life's minute and vital complexities. In this poem, "Magi", I imagine the great absolutes of the philosophers gathered around the crib of a newborn baby girl who is nothing but life.' So SP introduced this poem in a BBC radio broadcast reading.

133 WAKING IN WINTER. This poem has been extracted from a tangle of heavily corrected manuscript lines, and must be regarded as unfinished.

Another poem from this same period which she seems to have finished but which she never included in her own file is the following:


In this day before the day nobody is about. A sea of dreams washes the edge of my green island In the center of the garden named after Queen Mary. The great roses, many of them scentless, Rule their beds like beheaded and resurrected and all silent royalty, The only fare on my bare breakfast plate.

Such a waste of brightness I can't understand. It is six in the morning and finer than any Sunday — Yet there is no walker and looker but myself. The sky of the city is white; the light from the country. Some ducks step down off their green-reeded shelf And into the silver element of the pond.

I see them start to cruise and dip for food Under the bell-jar of a wonderland. Hedged in and evidently inviolate Though hundreds of Londoners know it like the palm of their hand. The roses are named after queens and people of note Or after gay days, or colors the grower found good.

And I have no intention of disparaging them For being too well-bred and smelless and liking the city. I enjoy petticoats and velvets and gossip of court, And a titled lady may frequently be a beauty. A Devon meadow might offer a simpler sort Of personage—single-skirted, perfumed, a gem — But I am content with this more pompous lot.


In the spring and early summer of this year SP wrote her autobiographical novel The Bell Jar. During the summer, after a visit to the Dordogne, she and TH bought a house in a small

town in Devon, and moved there in September.

134 PARLIAMENT HILL FIELDS. Part of Hampstead Heath, in north London. Introducing this poem in a BBC broadcast, SP said: 'This poem is a monologue. I imagine the landscape of Parliament Hill Fields in London seen by a person overwhelmed by an emotion so powerful as to color and distort the scenery. The speaker here is caught between the old and the new year, between the grief caused by the loss of a child


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Notes: ig6i [Nos. 134-153] (miscarriage) and the joy aroused by the knowledge of an older child safe at home. Gradually the first images of blankness and silence give way to images of convalescence and healing as the woman turns, a bit stiffly and with difficulty, from her sense of bereavement to the vital and demanding part of her world which still survives.' zoo KEEPER'S WIFE. Chalcot Square is close to Regent's Park Zoo, which she visited regularly. FACE LIFT. The experience of an acquaintance, requisitioned for the poet's myth of self-renewal. IN PLASTER. In March of this year SP spent a week in hospital undergoing an appendectomy. The patient in complete plaster lay on a neighbouring bed. This and the next poem, 'Tulips' (No. 142), were written during this week. THE RIVAL. This poem originally had two further sections, as follows:

(2) Compared to you, I am corruptible as a loaf of bread. While I sleep, the black spores nod Their magnified heads and plan to kill me as soon as possible.

The wrinkles creep up like waves, One camouflaging itself behind another. I should have a steel complexion like yours In which the minutes could admire their reflections and forget about me.

(3) I try to think of a place to hide you As a desk drawer hides a poison pen letter, But there is no drawer to hold you. Blue sky or black You preoccupy my horizon. What good is all that space if it can't draw you off? You are the one eye out there.

The sea, also, is ineffectual. It keeps washing you up like an old bone. And I, on the sky-mirroring, bland sands Find you over and over, lipped like a skate and smiling, With the sound of the sea in your mouth. Angel of coldness, Surely it is not I you want so badly.

I thought Earth might use you. She has a terrible way with minerals, But even her tonnage doesn't impress a diamond. Your facets are indestructible; Their lights whiten my heart. Toad-stone! I see I must wear you in the centre of my forehead And let the dead sleep as they deserve.

149 BLACKBERRYING. In a cliff cove looking out on to the Atlantic. 150 FINISTERRE. The westernmost tip of Brittany: the same outlook as 'Blackberrying'

(No. 149), but a different country. 153 THE MOON AND THE YEW TREE. The yew tree stands in a churchyard to the west of the

house in Devon, and visible from SP's bedroom window. On this occasion, the full moon, just before dawn, was setting behind this yew tree and her husband assigned her to write a verse 'exercise' about it.


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[Nos. 153-163] Notes: 1Q62

Speaking about this poem in a BBC radio broadcast, she said: 'I do not like to think of all the things, familiar, useful and worthy things, I have never put into a poem. I did, once, put a yew tree in. And that yew tree began, with astounding egotism, to manage and order the whole affair. It was not a yew tree by a church on a road past a house in a town where a certain woman lived . . . and so on, as it might have been in a novel. Oh no. It stood squarely in the middle of my poem, manipulating its dark shades, the voices in the churchyard, the clouds, the birds, the tender melancholy with which I contemplated it—everything! I couldn't subdue it. And, in the end, my poem was a poem about a yew tree. The yew tree was just too proud to be a passing black mark in a novel.'


On 17 January, SP's second child, a son, Nicholas, was born. In May The Colossus was published in the U.S. by Knopf.

In this year she signed a contract with Heinemann for the publication in England of her novel The Bell Jar. Both Harpers and Knopf in the U.S. rejected the novel.

She and her husband separated in October. Thereafter she was dependent on home help. In December she moved with her two children to London, to a flat at 23 Fitzroy Road, N.W.3, close to Chalcot Square.

156 NEW YEAR ON DARTMOOR. A fragment extracted from a tangle of corrected manuscript, this poem must be regarded as unfinished.

157 THREE WOMEN. This piece was written for radio at the invitation of Douglas Cleverdon, who produced it with great effect on the BBC's Third Programme, on 19 August 1962. The text was published by Turret Books in 1968, in a limited edition of 180 copies.

158 LITTLE FUGUE. Although never until now showing more than a general interest in music, about this time SP became keenly interested in Beethoven's late quartets, the Grosse Fuge in particular.

161 AMONG THE NARCISSI. Percy Key was the next-door neighbour whose eventual death is commemorated in 'Berck-Plage' (No. 167). The orchard in Devon was thick with daffodils and narcissi.

163 ELM. The house in Devon was overshadowed by a giant wych-elm, flanked by two others in a single mass, growing on the shoulder of a moated prehistoric mound.

This poem grew (21 sheets of working drafts) from a slightly earlier fragment:

She is not easy, she is not peaceful; She pulses like a heart on my hill. The moon snags in her intricate nervous system. I am excited, seeing it there. It is like something she has caught for me.

The night is a blue pool; she is very still. At the center she is still, very still with wisdom. The moon is let go, like a dead thing. Now she herself is darkening Into a dark world I cannot see at all.

These lines were a premature crystallization out of four densely crowded pages of manuscript. In her next attempt, some days later, she took them up and developed out of them the final poem 'Elm'.


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Notes: 1962 [Nos. 167-188] 167 BERCK-PLAGE. A beach on the coast of Normandy, which SP visited in June 1961.

Overlooking the sea there was a large hospital for mutilated war veterans and accident victims—who took their exercise along the sands. The funeral in the poem is that of Percy Key (cf. note on No. 161), who died in June 1962, exactly a year after her visit to Berck-Plage. st. 7,1. 7 flowery cart: The old-fashioned funeral hand-cart on which the coffin, piled with wreaths, was wheeled through the town, ahead of the mourning cars, st. 7, 1. 16 mouth, red and awkward: The soil and subsoil of the graveyard is red.

176 THE BEE MEETING. SP kept one hive of bees, and attended meetings of the local Beekeepers Association. This poem draws on her experience of the first meeting she attended.

178 STINGS. The first stirring of this sequence of poems appeared on 2 August, when SP attempted to write a poem, which she never finalized in any way, titled 'Stings'. The following can be extracted from a mass of corrected manuscript:

What honey summons these animalcules ? What fear? It has set them zinging On envious strings, and you are the center. They are assailing your brain like numerals, They contort your hair

Beneath the flat handkerchief you wear instead of a hat. They are making a cat's cradle, they are suicidal. Their death-pegs stud your gloves, it is no use running. The black veil molds to your lips: They are fools.

After, they stagger and weave, under no banner. After, they crawl Dispatched, into trenches of grass. Ossifying like junked statues — Gelded and wingless. Not heroes. Not heroes.

179 THE SWARM. When bees swarm, they sometimes cluster in a ball high in a tree, while they make up their minds where to go. Any loud sudden noise, such as gunfire, can make them come down to a much lower level where the beekeeper can reach them, and collect them into a box or skip. He then shakes the whole lot out on to a broad surface that slopes up into a fresh empty hive. The bees obediently march up into the hive, as described towards the end of this poem.

The poet uses an incident she watched in a neighbouring beekeeper's garden. 182 THE APPLICANT. Introducing this poem in a reading prepared for BBC radio, SP

commented: 'In this poem, . . . the speaker is an executive, a sort of exacting super-salesman. He wants to be sure the applicant for his marvelous product really needs it and will treat it right.'

183 DADDY. In a reading prepared for BBC radio, she said of this poem: 'Here is a poem spoken by a girl with an Electra complex. Her father died while she thought he was God. Her case is complicated by the fact that her father was also a Nazi and her mother very possibly part Jewish. In the daughter the two strains marry and paralyse each other—she has to act out the awful little allegory once over before she is free of it.'

188 FEVER 103°. In a BBC radio reading she prepared, SP introduced this poem as follows: '[It] is about two kinds of fire—the fires of hell, which merely agonize, and the fires of heaven, which purify. During the poem, the first sort of fire suffers itself into the second.'


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[Nos. 188-212] Notes: 1962

She had made a somewhat earlier (but undated) attempt to break through to the substance of this poem. After several pages of what looks like feverish exploration of the theme, her earlier controls took over, and reduced the confusion to the following, which she left in manuscript, unfinalized :

Four o'clock, and the fever soaks from me like honey. O ignorant heart! All night I have heard

The meaningless cry of babies. Such a sea Broods in the newsprint! Fish-grease, fish-bones, refuse of atrocities.

Bleached and finished, I surface Among the blanched, boiled instruments, the virginal curtains. Here is a white sky. Here is the beauty

Of cool mouths and hands open and natural as roses. My glass of water refracts the morning. My baby is sleeping.

192 BY CANDLELIGHT. The candlestick was a small brass image of Hercules, in his lion's pelt, kneeling under the candle. Behind his heels, five brass balls completed the design. (Cf. the poem 'Nick and the Candlestick', No. 196.)

194 ARIEL. The name of a horse which she rode, at a riding school on Dartmoor, in Devonshire.

196 NICK AND THE CANDLESTICK. 'In this poem,' she said in a reading prepared for BBC radio, '. . . a mother nurses her baby son by candlelight and finds in him a beauty which, while it may not ward off the world's ill, does redeem her share of it.'

198 LADY LAZARUS. In a reading prepared for BBC radio, SP introduced this poem: 'The speaker is a woman who has the great and terrible gift of being reborn. The only trouble is, she has to die first. She is the Phoenix, the libertarian spirit, what you will. She is also just a good, plain, very resourceful woman.'

201 THE NIGHT DANCES. A revolving dance which her baby son performed at night in his crib.

203 THALIDOMIDE. By the time this poem was written, the connection between the tranquillizing drug thalidomide and the 1960-1 crop of deformed babies was well established.

205 DEATH & CO. Introducing this poem in a reading prepared for BBC radio, she said: 'This poem is about the double or schizophrenic nature of death—the marmoreal coldness of Blake's death mask, say, hand in glove with the fearful softness of worms, water and other katabolists. I imagine these two aspects of death as two men, two business friends, who have come to call.'

The actual occasion was a visit by two well-meaning men who invited T H to live abroad at a tempting salary, and whom she therefore resented.


1. 10 Over the cicatrix of Poland: In one of the final typescripts of this poem (a carbon), this line is corrected, in SP's hand, to:

Over scoured Poland, burnt-out Germany.

The earlier reading has been kept, as in all published versions. 212 EAVESDROPPER. This poem was written in slightly longer form on 15 October 1962,

but reduced to its present length, by simple deletions, on 31 December. No final copy was made.


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Notes: 1963 [Nos. 213-215]


From the beginning of this year, in what was to be the coldest winter in England since 1947, SP lived at 23 Fitzroy Road.

On 23 January her novel The Bell Jar, published under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas, came out in London.

On 11 February she died by her own hand.

213 SHEEP IN FOG. Introducing this poem in a reading prepared for BBC radio, SP said: 'In this poem, the speaker's horse is proceeding at a slow, cold walk down a hill of macadam to the stable at the bottom. It is December. It is foggy. In the fog there are sheep.'

It was first written on 2 December 1962. The last three lines of the original version were replaced by the present final three-line verse on 28 January 1963.

215 TOTEM. She explained this poem in conversation as 'a pile of interconnected images, like a totem pole'. I.5 Damn gilds the farmers . . .: She imagines the West country farmers in the early morning train, on their way up to London to the great meat market at Smithfield, whose 'white towers' she had been able to see from Primrose Hill during her first residence in London. 1. 11 In the bowl. . .: A pyrex bowl, used on different occasions both for her son's afterbirth and the cleaned body of a hare. I.18 a counterfeit snake: an articulated toy snake of scorch-patterned bamboo joints.

The 'Ariel' Poems

Sylvia Plath's own prepared collection of poems, titled Ariel, was ordered as follows:

1 Morning Song 22 The Courage of Shutting-Up 2 The Couriers 23 Nick and the Candlestick 3 The Rabbit Catcher 24 Berck-Plage 4 Thalidomide 25 Gulliver 5 The Applicant 26 Getting There 6 Barren Woman 27 Medusa 7 Lady Lazarus - 28 Purdah 8 Tulips 29 The Moon and the Yew Tree 9 A Secret 30 A Birthday Present

10 The Jailer 31 Letter in November 11 Cut 32 Amnesiac 12 Elm 33 The Rival 13 The Night Dances 34 Daddy 14 The Detective 35 You're 15 Ariel 36 Fever 1030

16 Death & Co. 37 The Bee Meeting 17 Magi 38 The Arrival of the Bee Box 18 Lesbos 39 Stings 19 The Other 40 The Swarm 20 Stopped Dead 41 Wintering 21 Poppies in October


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The only translations by Sylvia Plath that survive are four sonnets of Ronsard and one poem by Rilke, made in the course of studying French and German literature. Following is her literal rendering of Rilke's 'A Prophet', made about 1954:

Dilated by immense visions bright with the firelight from the outcome of judgments, which never destroy him, are his eyes, gazing out from under thick brows. And in his inmost soul already words are raising themselves again.

Not his words (for what would his be and how indulgently would they be lavished ?) but others, severe: pieces of iron, stones, which he must dissolve like a volcano

in order to cast them forth in the outburst from his mouth, which curses and damns; while his forehead, like the face of a hound seeks to transmit that

which the Master chooses within his mind: this One, this One, whom they all might find if they followed the great pointing hand which reveals him as he is: enraged.

A Concordance with Published Volumes

Following are the contents of the four previously published volumes of Sylvia Plath's poetry, with the poems listed according to the numbers they have been given in the present collected edition:

The Colossus (London, i960; New York, 1962): Nos. 13, 15, 17,35,37,38,44,47,49,50,55, 59, 60, 61, 63, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 87, 89, 91, 92, 93, 94, 96, 97, 98, 99, 100, 102, 104, 105, 106, 112, 113, 114, 117, 119, 120, 121

Ariel (London and New York, 1965): Nos. 122, 123, 138, 142, 147, 153, 158, 163, 167, 170, J73> J76,177,178,180,182,183,184,188,191,194,195,196,198,199,200,201,202,204, 205, 206, 213, 214, 215, 217, 220, 221, 222, 223, 224

Crossing the Water (London and New York, 1971): Nos. 124, 125, 126, 127, 128, 129, 130,

131,132,134,135, 136,137,140,141,143,144,145,148,149,150,151,152,154,155, r59> 160, 161, 162, 165, r66, 193

Winter Trees (London, 1971; New York, 1972): Nos. 157, 164, 168, 172, 175, 179, 186, 187, 190, 192, 197, 203, 208, 209, 210, 211, 216, 218, 219


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A Selection of Fifty Early Poems

The fifty poems printed here are a selection from Sylvia Plath's work produced mainly in the three or four years preceding 1956. Many of them were written as class assignments for her English professor at Smith College, Alfred Young Fisher, and the typescripts bear his profuse and detailed comments. In most cases, she seems to have followed his textual suggestions.

Bitter Strawberries

All that morning in the strawberry field They talked about the Russians. Squatted down between the rows We listened. We heard the head woman say, 'Bomb them off the map.'

Horseflies buzzed, paused and stung. And the taste of strawberries Turned thick and sour.

Mary said slowly, 'I've got a fella Old enough to go. If anything should happen . . .'

The sky was high and blue. Two children laughed at tag In the tall grass, Leaping awkward and long-legged Across the rutted road. The fields were full of bronzed young men Hoeing lettuce, weeding celery.

'The draft is passed,' the woman said. 'We ought to have bombed them long ago.' 'Don't, ' pleaded the little girl With blond braids.


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Her blue eyes swam with vague terror. She added pettishly, 'I can't see why You're always talking this way . . .' 'Oh, stop worrying, Nelda,' Snapped the woman sharply. She stood up, a thin commanding figure In faded dungarees. Businesslike she asked us, 'How many quarts?' She recorded the total in her notebook, And we all turned back to picking.

Kneeling over the rows, We reached among the leaves With quick practiced hands, Cupping the berry protectively before Snapping off the stem Between thumb and forefinger.

Family Reunion

Outside in the street I hear A car door slam; voices coming near; Incoherent scraps of talk And high heels clicking up the walk; The doorbell rends the noonday heat With copper claws; A second's pause.

The dull drums of my pulses beat Against a silence wearing thin. The door now opens from within. Oh, hear the clash of people meeting — The laughter and the screams of greeting:

Fat always, and out of breath, A greasy smack on every cheek From Aunt Elizabeth; There, that's the pink, pleased squeak Of Cousin Jane, our spinster with The faded eyes And hands like nervous butterflies; While rough as splintered wood

Across them all Rasps the jarring baritone of Uncle Paul;


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The youngest nephew gives a fretful whine And drools at the reception line.

Like a diver on a lofty spar of land Atop the flight of stairs I stand. A whirlpool leers at me, Absorbent as a sponge; I cast off my identity And make the fatal plunge.

Female Author

All day she plays at chess with the bones of the world: Favored (while suddenly the rains begin Beyond the window) she lies on cushions curled And nibbles an occasional bonbon of sin.

Prim, pink-breasted, feminine, she nurses Chocolate fancies in rose-papered rooms Where polished highboys whisper creaking curses And hothouse roses shed immoral blooms.

The garnets on her fingers twinkle quick And blood reflects across the manuscript; She muses on the odor, sweet and sick, Of festering gardenias in a crypt,

And lost in subtle metaphor, retreats From gray child faces crying in the streets.

April 18

the slime of all my yesterdays rots in the hollow of my skull

and if my stomach would contract because of some explicable phenomenon such as pregnancy or constipation

I would not remember you


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or that because of sleep infrequent as a moon of greencheese that because of food nourishing as violet leaves that because of these

and in a few fatal yards of grass in a few spaces of sky and treetops

a future was lost yesterday as easily and irretrievably as a tennis ball at twilight

Gold mouths cry

Gold mouths cry with the green young certainty of the bronze boy remembering a thousand autumns and how a hundred thousand leaves came sliding down his shoulderblades persuaded by his bronze heroic reason. We ignore the coming doom of gold and we are glad in this bright metal season. Even the dead laugh among the goldenrod.

The bronze boy stands kneedeep in centuries, and never grieves, remembering a thousand autumns, with sunlight of a thousand years upon his lips and his eyes gone blind with leaves.

Dirge for a Joker

Always in the middle of a kiss Came the profane stimulus to cough; Always from the pulpit during service Leaned the devil prompting you to laugh.

Behind mock-ceremony of your grief Lurked the burlesque instinct of the ham; You never altered your amused belief That life was a mere monumental sham.


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Juvenilia From the comic accident of birth To the final grotesque joke of death Your malady of sacrilegious mirth Spread gay contagion with each clever breath.

Now you must play the straight man for a term And tolerate the humor of the worm.

To Eva Descending the Stair A Villanelle

Clocks cry: stillness is a lie, my dear; The wheels revolve, the universe keeps running. (Proud you halt upon the spiral stair.)

The asteroids turn traitor in the air, And planets plot with old elliptic cunning; Clocks cry: stillness is a lie, my dear.

Red the unraveled rose sings in your hair: Blood springs eternal if the heart be burning. (Proud you halt upon the spiral stair.)

Cryptic stars wind up the atmosphere, In solar schemes the tilted suns go turning; Clocks cry: stillness is a lie, my dear.

Loud the immortal nightingales declare: Love flames forever if the flesh be yearning. (Proud you halt upon the spiral stair.)

Circling zodiac compels the year. Intolerant beauty never will be learning. Clocks cry: stillness is a lie, my dear. (Proud you halt upon the spiral stair.)


The prince leans to the girl in scarlet heels, Her green eyes slant, hair flaring in a fan Of silver as the rondo slows; now reels Begin on tilted violins to span


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Juvenilia The whole revolving tall glass palace hall* Where guests slide gliding into light like wine; Rose candles flicker on the lilac wall Reflecting in a million flagons' shine,

And gilded couples all in whirling trance Follow holiday revel begun long since, Until near twelve the strange girl all at once Guilt-stricken halts, pales, clings to the prince

As amid the hectic music and co*cktail talk She hears the caustic ticking of the clock.


My thoughts are crabbed and sallow, My tears like vinegar,

Or the bitter blinking yellow Of an acetic star.

Tonight the caustic wind, love, Gossips late and soon,

And I wear the wry-faced pucker of The sour lemon moon.

While like an early summer plum, Puny, green, and tart,

Droops upon its wizened stem My lean, unripened heart.

Sonnet: To Eva

All right, let's say you could take a skull and break it The way you'd crack a clock; you'd crush the bone Between steel palms of inclination, take it, Observing the wreck of metal and rare stone.

This was a woman: her loves and stratagems Betrayed in mute geometry of broken Cogs and disks, inane mechanic whims, And idle coils of jargon yet unspoken.


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Juvenilia Not man nor demigod could put together The scraps of rusted reverie, the wheels Of notched tin platitudes concerning weather, Perfume, politics, and fixed ideals.

The idiot bird leaps up and drunken leans To chirp the hour in lunatic thirteens.


I am sending back the key that let me into bluebeard's study; because he would make love to me I am sending back the key; in his eye's darkroom I can see my X-rayed heart, dissected body: I am sending back the key that let me into bluebeard's study.

Aquatic Nocturne

deep in liquid indigo turquoise slivers

of dilute light

quiver in thin streaks of bright tinfoil

on mobile jet:

pale flounder waver by tilting silver:

in the shallows agile minnows

flicker gilt :

grapeblue mussels dilate lithe and

pliant valves:


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Juvenilia dull lunar globes

of bulbous jellyfish glow milkgreen:

eels twirl in wily spirals

on elusive tails:

adroit lobsters amble darkly olive

on shrewd claws:

down where sound comes blunt and wan

like the bronze tone of a sunken gong.

Notes to a Neophyte

Take the general mumble, blunt as the faceless gut of an anonymous clam, vernacular as the strut of a slug or small preamble by snail under hump of home:

metamorphose the mollusk of vague vocabulary with structural discipline: stiffen the ordinary malleable mask to the granite grin of bone.

For such a tempering task, heat furnace of paradox in an artifice of ice; make love and logic mix, and remember, if tedious risk seems to jeopardize this:

it was a solar turbine gave molten earth a frame,


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Juvenilia and it took the diamond stone a weight of world and time being crystallized from carbon to the hardest substance known.

Metamorphoses of the Moon

Cold moons withdraw, refusing to come to terms with the pilot who dares all heaven's harms

to raid the zone where fate begins, flings silver gauntlet of his plane at space, demanding satisfaction; no duel takes place:

the mute air merely thins and thins.

Sky won't be drawn closer: absolute, it holds aloof, a shrouded parachute

always the same distance from the falling man who never will abstain from asking, but inventive, hopes; in vain

challenges the silent dome.

No violation but gives dividends of slow disaster: the bitten apple ends

the eden of bucolic eve: understanding breaks through the skull's shell and like a cuckoo in the nest makes hell

for naive larks who starve and grieve.

What prince has ever seized the shining grail but that it turned into a milking pail ?

It's likely that each secret sought will prove to be some common parlor fake: a craft with paint and powder that can make

cleopatra from a slu*t.

For most exquisite truths are artifice framed in disciplines of fire and ice

which conceal incongruous elements like dirty socks and scraps of day-old bread and egg-stained plates; perhaps

such sophistry can placate us.


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Juvenilia But yet the perverse imp within will probe beneath the fringes of forbidden robe,

seduced by curiosity, until in disenchantment our eyes glut themselves on the clay toes and short clubfoot

which mar the idol's sanctity.

The choice between the mica mystery of moonlight or the pockmarked face we see

through the scrupulous telescope is always to be made: innocence is a fairy-tale; intelligence

hangs itself on its own rope.

Either way we choose, the angry witch will punish us for saying which is which;

in fatal equilibrium we poise on perilous poles that freeze us in a cross of contradiction, racked between the fact of doubt, the faith of dream.

Dialogue En Route

'If only something would happen!' sighed Eve, the elevator-girl ace, to Adam the arrogant matador as they shot past the forty-ninth floor in a rocketing vertical clockcase, fast as a fallible falcon.

'I wish millionaire uncles and aunts would umbrella like liberal toadstools in a shower of Chanel, Dior gowns, filet mignon and walloping wines, a pack of philanthropical fools to indulge my extravagant wants.'

Erect in his folderol cloak sham Adam the matador cried: 'O may G-men all die of the choler, and my every chimerical dollar breed innumerable bills, bona fide: a hot hyperbolical joke!'


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Juvenilia Said Eve: 'I wish venomous nematodes were bewitched to assiduous lovers, each one an inveterate gallant with Valentino's crack technical talent for recreation down under the covers: erotic and elegant episodes.'

Added Adam, that simian swell, with his modish opposable thumb: 'O for ubiquitous free aphrodisiacs, and for pumpkins to purr into Cadillacs and voluptuous Venus to come waltzing up to me out of her co*ckle-shell.'

Breaking through gravity's garrison, Eve, the elevator-girl ace, and Adam the arrogant matador shot past the ninety-fourth floor to corral the conundrum of space at its cryptic celestial origin.

They both watched the barometer sink as the world swiveled round in its orbit and thousands were born and dropped dead, when, from the inane overhead (too quick for the pair to absorb it), came a gargantuan galactic wink.

To a Jilted Lover

Cold on my narrow cot I lie and in sorrow look

through my window-square of black:

figured in the midnight sky, a mosaic of stars

diagrams the falling years,

while from the moon, my lover's eye chills me to death

with radiance of his frozen faith.


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Juvenilia Once I wounded him with so

small a thorn I never thought his flesh would burn

or that the heat within would grow until he stood

incandescent as a god;

now there is nowhere I can go to hide from him:

moon and sun reflect his flame.

In the morning all shall be the same again:

stars pale before the angry dawn;

the gilded co*ck will turn for me the rack of time

until the peak of noon has come

and by that glare, my love will see how I am still

blazing in my golden hell.

The Dream

'Last night,' he said, ' I slept well except for two uncanny dreams that came before the change of weather when I rose and opened all the shutters to let warm wind feather with wet plumage through my rooms.

'In the first dream I was driving down the dark in a black hearse with many men until I crashed a light, and right away a raving woman followed us and rushed to halt our car in headlong course.


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Juvenilia 'Crying, she came to the island where we stopped, and with a curse demanded that I pay a fine for being such a rude assailant and damaging the whole unseen lighting plant of the universe.

'Behind me then I heard a voice warning me to hold her hand and kiss her on the mouth for she loved me and a brave embrace would avoid all penalty. "I know, I know," I told my friend.

'But yet I waited to be fined and took the woman's bright subpoena (while she washed the way with tears), then drove to you upon the wind. . . . I do not tell you the nightmare which occurred to me in China.'

Sonnet: To Time

Today we move in jade and cease with garnet Amid the ticking jeweled clocks that mark Our years. Death comes in a casual steel car, yet We vaunt our days in neon and scorn the dark.

But outside the diabolic steel of this Most plastic-windowed city, I can hear The lone wind raving in the gutter, his Voice crying exclusion in my ear.

So cry for the pagan girl left picking olives Beside a sunblue sea, and mourn the flagon Raised to toast a thousand kings, for all gives Sorrow; weep for the legendary dragon.

Time is a great machine of iron bars That drains eternally the milk of stars.

3 "

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The Trial of Man

The ordinary milkman brought that dawn Of destiny, delivered to the door

In square hermetic bottles, while the sun Ruled decree of doomsday on the floor.

The morning paper clocked the headline hour You drank your coffee like original sin,

And at the jet-plane anger of God's roar Got up to let the suave blue policeman in.

Impaled upon a stern angelic stare You were condemned to serve the legal limit

And burn to death within your neon hell.

Now, disciplined in the strict ancestral chair, You sit, solemn-eyed, about to vomit,

The future an electrode in your skull.

April Aubade

Worship this world of watercolor mood in glass pagodas hung with veils of green where diamonds jangle hymns within the blood and sap ascends the steeple of the vein.

A saintly sparrow jargons madrigals to waken dreamers in the milky dawn, while tulips bow like a college of cardinals before that papal paragon, the sun.

Christened in a spindrift of snowdrop stars, where on pink-fluted feet the pigeons pass and jonquils sprout like Solomon's metaphors, my love and I go garlanded with grass.

Again we are deluded and infer that somehow we are younger than we were.

3 1 2

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Go get the goodly squab

Go get the goodly squab in gold-lobed corn And pluck the droll-flecked quail where thick they lie; Reap the round blue pigeon from roof ridge, But let the fast-feathered eagle fly.

Let the fast-feathered eagle fly And the skies crack through with thunder; Hide, hide, in the deep nest Lest the lightning strike you to cinder.

Go snare the sleeping bear in leaf-lined den And trap the muskrat napping in slack sun; Dupe the dull sow lounging snout in mud, But let the galloping antelope run.

Let the galloping antelope run And the snow blow up behind; Hide, hide, in the safe cave Lest the blizzard drive you blind.

Go cull the purple snails from slothful shells And bait the drowsing trout by the brook's brim; Gather idle oysters from green shoals, But let the quicksilver mackerel swim.

Let the quicksilver mackerel swim Where the black wave topples down; Hide, hide, in the warm port Lest the water drag you to drown.

Trio of Love Songs


Major faults in granite mark a mortal lack,

yet individual planet directs all zodiac.

Diagram of mountains graphs a fever chart,


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Juvenilia yet astronomic fountains

exit from the heart.

Tempo of strict ocean metronomes the blood,

yet ordered lunar motion proceeds from private flood.

Drama of each season plots doom from above,

yet all angelic reason moves to our minor love.


My love for you is more athletic than a verb,

agile as a star the tents of sun absorb.

Treading circus tightropes of each syllable,

the brazen jackanapes would fracture if he fell.

Acrobat of space, the daring adjective

plunges for a phrase describing arcs of love.

Nimble as a noun, he catapults in air;

a planetary swoon could climax his career,

but adroit conjunction eloquently shall

link to his lyric action a periodic goal.


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If you dissect a bird to diagram the tongue,

you'll cut the chord articulating song.

If you flay a beast to marvel at the mane,

you'll wreck the rest from which the fur began.

If you assault a fish to analyse the fin,

your hands will crush the generating bone.

If you pluck out my heart to find what makes it move,

you'll halt the clock that syncopates our love.

Lament A Villanelle

The sting of bees took away my father who walked in a swarming shroud of wings

and scorned the tick of the falling weather.

Lightning licked in a yellow lather but missed the mark with snaking fangs:

the sting of bees took away my father.

Trouncing the sea like a raging bather, he rode the flood in a pride of prongs

and scorned the tick of the falling weather.

A scowl of sun struck down my mother, tolling her grave with golden gongs,

but the sting of bees took away my father.

He counted the guns of god a bother, laughed at the ambush of angels' tongues,

and scorned the tick of the falling weather.


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Juvenilia O ransack the four winds and find another

man who can mangle the grin of kings: the sting of bees took away my father who scorned the tick of the falling weather.


The idiot bird leaps out and drunken leans Atop the broken universal clock :

The hour is crowed in lunatic thirteens.

Our painted stages fall apart by scenes While all the actors halt in mortal shock:

The idiot bird leaps out and drunken leans.

Streets crack through in havoc-split ravines As the doomstruck city crumbles block by block:

The hour is crowed in lunatic thirteens.

Fractured glass flies down in smithereens; Our lucky relics have been put in hock:

The idiot bird leaps out and drunken leans.

God's monkey wrench has blasted all machines; We never thought to hear the holy co*ck:

The hour is crowed in lunatic thirteens.

Too late to ask if end was worth the means, Too late to calculate the toppling stock:

The idiot bird leaps out and drunken leans, The hour is crowed in lunatic thirteens.

Moonsong at Morning

O moon of illusion, enchanting men

with tinsel vision along the vein,

co*cks crow up a rival to mock your face


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Juvenilia and eclipse that oval

which conjured us

to leave our reason and come to this

fabled horizon of caprice.

Dawn shall dissever your silver veil

which let lover think lover beautiful;

the light of logic will show us that

all moonstruck magic is dissolute:

no sweet disguises withstand that stare

whose candor exposes love's paling sphere.

In gardens of squalor the sleepers wake

as their golden jailer turns the rack;

each sacred body night yielded up

is mangled by study of microscope :

facts have blasted the angel's frame

and stern truth twisted the radiant limb.

Reflect in terror the scorching sun:

dive at your mirror and drown within.


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Doom of Exiles

Now we, returning from the vaulted domes Of our colossal sleep, come home to find A tall metropolis of catacombs Erected down the gangways of our mind.

Green alleys where we reveled have become The infernal haunt of demon dangers; Both seraph song and violins are dumb; Each clock tick consecrates the death of strangers.

Backward we traveled to reclaim the day Before we fell, like Icarus, undone; All we find are altars in decay And profane words scrawled black across the sun.

Still, stubbornly we try to crack the nut In which the riddle of our race is shut.

16 April ig$4

The Dispossessed

The enormous mortgage must be paid somehow, so if you can dream up any saving plan

tell me quick, darling, tell me now.

An odd disease has hit our holy cow, no milk or honey fills the empty can;

the enormous mortgage must be paid somehow.

If you've a plot to halt the lethal flow of weevil tribe and locust caravan

tell me quick, darling, tell me now.

Our creditor advances with a bow to cast lock, stock and barrel under ban;

the enormous mortgage must be paid somehow.

If you can think of means to mend the vow we broke the minute that the world began

tell me quick, darling, tell me now.

3 i 8

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Juvenilia We've squandered all the banker will allow

and mislaid every vital talisman; the enormous mortgage must be paid somehow: tell me quick, darling, tell me now!


Oh never try to knock on rotten wood or play another card game when you've won;

never try to know more than you should.

The magic golden apples all look good although the wicked witch has poisoned one.

oh never try to knock on rotten wo>i.

From here the moon seems smooth as angel-food, from here you can't see spots upon the sun;

never try to know more than you should.

The suave dissembling cobra wears a hood and swaggers like a proper gentleman;

oh never try to knock on rotten wood.

While angels wear a wakeful attitude disguise beguiles and mortal mischiefs done:

never try to know more than you should.

For deadly secrets strike when understood and lucky stars all exit on the run :

never try to knock on rotten wood, never try to know more than you should.

Never try to trick me with a kiss

Never try to trick me with a kiss Pretending that the birds are here to stay; The dying man will scoff in scorn at this.

A stone can masquerade where no heart is And virgins rise where lustful Venus lay : Never try to trick me with a kiss.


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Juvenilia Our noble doctor claims the pain is his, While stricken patients let him have his say; The dying man will scoff in scorn at this.

Each virile bachelor dreads paralysis, The old maid in the gable cries all day: Never try to trick me with a kiss.

The suave eternal serpents promise bliss To mortal children longing to be gay; The dying man will scoff in scorn at this.

Sooner or later something goes amiss; The singing birds pack up and fly away; So never try to trick me with a kiss: The dying man will scoff in scorn at this.

The Dead

Revolving in oval loops of solar speed, Couched in cauls of clay as in holy robes, Dead men render love and war no heed, Lulled in the ample womb of the full-tilt globe.

No spiritual Caesars are these dead; They want no proud paternal kingdom come; And when at last they blunder into bed World-wrecked, they seek only oblivion.

Rolled round with goodly loam and cradled deep, These bone shanks will not wake immaculate To trumpet-toppling dawn of doomstruck day: They loll forever in colossal sleep; Nor can God's stern, shocked angels cry them up From their fond, final, infamous decay.

Danse macabre

Down among strict roots and rocks, eclipsed beneath blind lid of land

goes the grass-embroidered box.


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Juvenilia Arranged in sheets of ice, the fond

skeleton still craves to have fever from the world behind.

Hands reach back to relics of nippled moons, extinct and cold,

frozen in designs of love.

At twelve, each skull is aureoled with recollection's ticking thorns

winding up the raveled mold.

Needles nag like unicorns, assault a sleeping virgin's shroud

till her stubborn body burns.

Lured by brigands in the blood, shanks of bone now resurrect,

inveigled to forsake the sod.

Eloping from their slabs, abstract couples court by milk of moon:

sheer silver blurs their phantom act.

Luminous, the town of stone anticipates the warning sound

of co*ckcrow crying up the dawn.

With kiss of cinders, ghosts descend, compelled to deadlock underground.

Circus in Three Rings

In the circus tent of a hurricane designed by a drunken god my extravagant heart blows up again in a rampage of champagne-colored rain and the fragments whir like a weather vane while the angels all applaud.

Daring as death and debonair I invade my lion's den; a rose of jeopardy flames in my hair


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Juvenilia yet I flourish my whip with a fatal flair defending my perilous wounds with a chair while the gnawings of love begin.

Mocking as Mephistopheles, eclipsed by magician's disguise, my demon of doom tilts on a trapeze, winged rabbits revolving about his knees, only to vanish with devilish ease in a smoke that sears my eyes.

Prologue to Spring

The winter landscape hangs in balance now, Transfixed by glare of blue from gorgon's eye;

The skaters freeze within a stone tableau.

Air alters into glass and the whole sky Grows brittle as a tilted china bowl;

Hill and valley stiffen row on row.

Each fallen leaf is trapped by spell of steel, Crimped like fern in the quartz atmosphere;

Repose of sculpture holds the country still.

What countermagic can undo the snare Which has stopped the season in its tracks

And suspended all that might occur?

Locked in crystal caskets are the lakes, Yet as we wonder what can come of ice

Green-singing birds explode from all the rocks.

Song for a Revolutionary Love

O throw it away, throw it all away on the wind: first let the heavenly foliage go, and page by pride the good books blow;

scatter smug angels with your hand.


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Juvenilia Undo the doings of the fathering age:

chuck the broken acropolis out, fling the seven wonders after that

with struts and props of the holy stage.

Disrupt the calendars next; send the duteous packing without a compass or scale to chart the measure of fortune's wheel;

let nothing be left to swaddle us.

Unravel antique samplers, unwind the clocks, till unruly children stream down the sky and old maids on impromptu petticoats fly

with begonia and building blocks.

Now empty boxes of the hoodwinked dead upon the pouring air until god hears from his great sunstruck hell

the chittering crackpots that he made.

Then hurl the bare world like a bluegreen ball back into the holocaust to burn away the humbug rust

and again together begin it all.

Sonnet to Satan

In darkroom of your eye the mo<jnly mind somersaults to counterfeit eclipse : bright angels black out over logic's land under shutter of their handicaps.

Commanding that corkscrew comet jet forth ink to pitch the white world down in swiveling flood, you overcast all order's noonday rank and turn god's radiant photograph to shade.

Steepling snake in that contrary light invades the dilate lens of genesis to print your flaming image in birthspot with characters no co*ckcrow can deface.

O maker of proud planet's negative, obscure the scalding sun till no clocks move.


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A Sorcerer Bids Farewell to Seem

I'm through with this grand looking-glass hotel where adjectives play croquet with flamingo nouns; methinks I shall absent me for a while from rhetoric of these rococo queens. Item: chuck out royal rigmarole of props and auction off each rare white-rabbit verb; send my muse Alice packing with gaudy scraps of mushroom simile and gryphon garb.

My native sleight-of-hand is wearing out: mad hatter's hat yields no new metaphor, the jabberwock will not translate his songs: it's time to vanish like the Cheshire cat alone to that authentic island where cabbages are cabbages; kings: kings.

Midsummer Mobile

Begin by dipping your brush into clear light. Then syncopate a sky of Dufy-blue With tilted spars of sloops revolved by white Gulls in a feathered fugue of wings. Outdo

Seurat: fleck schooner flanks with sun and set A tremolo of turquoise quivering in The tessellated wave. Now nimbly let A tinsel pizzicato on fish fin

Be plucked from caves of dappled amber where A mermaid odalisque lolls at her ease With orange scallops tangled in wet hair, Fresh from the mellow palette of Matisse:

Suspend this day, so singularly designed, Like a rare Calder mobile in your mind.


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On Looking into the Eyes of a Demon Lover

Here are two pupils whose moons of black

transform to cripples all who look:

each lovely lady who peers inside

takes on the body of a toad.

Within these mirrors the world inverts:

the fond admirer's burning darts

turn back to injure the thrusting hand

and inflame to danger the scarlet wound.

I sought my image in the scorching glass,

for what fire could damage a witch's face ?

So I stared in that furnace where beauties char

but found radiant Venus reflected there.

Insolent storm strikes at the skull

Insolent storm strikes at the skull, assaults the sleeping citadel, knocking the warden to his knees

— in impotence, to sue for peace, while wantonly amused by this, wind wakes the whole metropolis. Skeptic cyclones try the bone of strict and sacred skeleton; polemic gales prove point by point


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Juvenilia how flesh cleaves fast to frozen joint, and a hurricane headache rocks the temples of the orthodox.

Abracadabra of the rain drowns Noah's prayers with distain, drives priest and prostitute in doorways, bereft of Moses and of mores; no ancient blueprint builds an ark to navigate this final dark. River floods transcend the level demarcating good from evil, and casuist arguments run riot inundating Eden's quiet: all absolutes that angels give flounder in the relative.

Lightning conjures God's globe off" its orbit; neither law nor prophets can rectify truant intent to doublecross the firmament. Now earth rejects communication with heaven's autocratic station, and violates celestial custom by seceding from the solar system. Scintillant irony inspires independent rebel fires till the Announcer's voice is lost in heresies of holocaust.


The telegram says you have gone away And left our bankrupt circus on its own; There is nothing more for me to say.

The maestro gives the singing birds their pay And they buy tickets for the tropic zone; The telegram says you have gone away.

The clever woolly dogs have had their day They shoot the dice for one remaining bone; There is nothing more for me to say.


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The lion and the tigers turn to clay And Jumbo sadly trumpets into stone; The telegram says you have gone away.

The morbid cobra's wits have run astray; He rents his poisons out by telephone; There is nothing more for me to say.

The colored tents all topple in the bay; The magic sawdust writes: address unknown. The telegram says you have gone away; There is nothing more for me to say.

Two Lovers and a Beachcomber by the Real Sea

Cold and final, the imagination Shuts down its fabled summer house;

Blue views are boarded up; our sweet vacation Dwindles in the hour-glass.

Thoughts that found a maze of mermaid hair Tangling in the tide's green fall

Now fold their wings like bats and disappear Into the attic of the skull.

We are not what we might be; what we are Outlaws all extrapolation

Beyond the interval of now and here: White whales are gone with the white ocean.

A lone beachcomber squats among the wrack Of kaleidoscopic shells

Probing fractured Venus with a stick Under a tent of taunting gulls.

No sea-change decks the sunken shank of bone That chuckles in backtrack of the wave;

Though the mind like an oyster labors on and on, A grain of sand is all we have.

Water will run by rule; the actual sun Will scrupulously rise and set;

No little man lives in the exacting moon And that is that, is that, is that.


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Black Pine Tree in an Orange Light

Tell me what you see in it: the pine tree like a Rorschach-blot

black against the orange light:

Plant an orange pumpkin patch which at twelve will quaintly hatch

nine black mice with ebon coach,

or walk into the orange and make a devil's cataract of black

obscure god's eye with corkscrew fleck;

put orange mistress half in sun, half in shade, until her skin

tattoos black leaves on tangerine.

Read black magic or holy book or lyric of love in the orange and black

till dark is conquered by orange co*ck,

but more pragmatic than all of this, say how crafty the painter was

to make orange and black ambiguous.


Riding home from credulous blue domes, the dreamer reins his waking appetite in panic at the crop of catacombs sprung up like plague of toadstools overnight: refectories where he reveled have become the hostelry of worms, rapacious blades who weave within the skeleton's white womb a caviare decay of rich brocades.

Turning the tables of this grave gourmet, the fiendish butler saunters in and serves for feast the sweetest meat of hell's chef d'oeuvres: his own pale bride upon a flaming tray: parsleyed with elegies, she lies in state waiting for his grace to consecrate.


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Love Is a Parallax

'Perspective betrays with its dichotomy: train tracks always meet, not here, but only

in the impossible mind's eye; horizons beat a retreat as we embark on sophist seas to overtake that mark

where wave pretends to drench real sky.'

'Well then, if we agree, it is not odd that one man's devil is another's god

or that the solar spectrum is a multitude of shaded grays; suspense on the quicksands of ambivalence

is our life's whole nemesis.'

So we could rave on, darling, you and I, until the stars tick out a lullaby

about each cosmic pro and con; nothing changes, for all the blazing of our drastic jargon, but clock hands that move

implacably from twelve to one.

We raise our arguments like sitting ducks to knock them down with logic or with luck

and contradict ourselves for fun; the waitress holds our coats and we put on the raw wind like a scarf; love is a faun

who insists his playmates run.

Now you, my intellectual leprechaun, would have me swallow the entire sun

like an enormous oyster, down the ocean in one gulp: you say a mark of comet hara-kiri through the dark

should inflame the sleeping town.

So kiss: the drunks upon the curb and dames in dubious doorways forget their monday names,

caper with candles in their heads; the leaves applaud, and santa claus flies in scattering candy from a zeppelin,

playing his prodigal charades.


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Juvenilia The moon leans down to look; the tilting fish in the rare river wink and laugh; we lavish

blessings right and left and cry hello, and then hello again in deaf churchyard ears until the starlit stiff

graves all carol in reply.

Now kiss again: till our strict father leans to call for curtain on our thousand scenes;

brazen actors mock at him, multiply pink harlequins and sing in gay ventriloquy from wing to wing

while footlights flare and houselights dim.

Tell now, we taunt, where black or white begins and separate the flutes from violins :

the algebra of absolutes explodes in a kaleidoscope of shapes that jar, while each polemic jackanapes

joins his enemies' recruits.

The paradox is that 'the play's the thing': though prima donna pouts and critic stings,

there burns throughout the line of words, the cultivated act, a fierce brief fusion which dreamers call real, and realists, illusion:

an insight like the flight of birds:

Arrows that lacerate the sky, while knowing the secret of their ecstasy's in going;

some day, moving, one will drop, and, dropping, die, to trace a wound that heals only to reopen as flesh congeals:

cycling phoenix never stops.

So we shall walk barefoot on walnut shells of withered worlds, and stamp out puny hells

and heavens till the spirits squeak surrender: to build our bed as high as jack's bold beanstalk; lie and love till sharp scythe hacks

away our rationed days and weeks.

Then let the blue tent topple, stars rain down, and god or void appall us till we drown

in our own tears: today we start


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Juvenilia to pay the piper with each breath, yet love knows not of death nor calculus above

the simple sum of heart plus heart.


Each night, this adroit young lady Lies among sheets Shredded fine as snowflakes Until dream takes her body From bed to strict tryouts In tightrope acrobatics.

Nightly she balances Cat-clever on perilous wire In a gigantic hall, Footing her delicate dances To whipcrack and roar Which speak her maestro's will.

Gilded, coming correct Across that sultry air, She steps, halts, hung In dead center of her act As great weights drop all about her And commence to swing.

Lessoned thus, the girl Parries the lunge and menace Of every pendulum; By deft duck and twirl She draws applause; bright harness Bites keen into each brave limb

Then, this tough stint done, she curtsies And serenely plummets down To traverse glass floor And get safe home; but, turning with trained eyes, Tiger-tamer and grinning clown Squat, bowling black balls at her.

Tall trucks roll in With a thunder like lions; all aims And lumbering moves


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Juvenilia To trap this outrageous nimble queen And shatter to atoms Her nine so slippery lives.

Sighting the stratagem Of black weight, black ball, black truck, With a last artful dodge she leaps Through hoop of that hazardous dream To sit up stark awake As the loud alarmclock stops.

Now as penalty for her skill, By day she must walk in dread Steel gauntlets of traffic, terror-struck Lest, out of spite, the whole Elaborate scaffold of sky overhead Fall racketing finale on her luck.

Morning in the Hospital Solarium

Sunlight strikes a glass of grapefruit juice, flaring green through philodendron leaves in this surrealistic house of pink and beige, impeccable bamboo, patronized by convalescent wives; heat shadows waver noiseless in bright window-squares until the women seem to float like dream-fish in the languid limbo of an undulant aquarium.

Morning: another day, and talk taxis indolent on whispered wheels; the starched white coat, the cat's paw walk, herald distraction: a flock of pastel pills, turquoise, rose, sierra mauve; needles that sting no more than love: a room where time ticks tempo to the casual climb of mercury in graded tubes, where ills slowly concede to sun and serum.

Like petulant parakeets corked up in cages of intricate spunglass routine, the women wait, fluttering, turning pages of magazines in elegant ennui,


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Juvenilia hoping for some incredible dark man to assault the scene and make some gaudy miracle occur, to come and like a burglar steal their fancy: at noon, anemic husbands visit them.

The Princess and the Goblins


From fabrication springs the spiral stair up which the wakeful princess climbs to find

the source of blanching light that conjured her

to leave her bed of fever and ascend a visionary ladder toward the moon

whose holy blue anoints her injured hand.

With finger bandaged where the waspish pin flew from the intricate embroidery

and stung according to the witch's plan,

she mounts through malice of the needle's eye, trailing her scrupulously simple gown

along bright asterisks by milky way.

Colonnades of angels nod her in where ancient, infinite, and beautiful,

her legendary godmother leans down,

spinning a single stubborn thread of wool which all the artful wizards cannot crimp

to keep the young girl from her crowning goal.

Initiated by the lunar lamp, kindling her within a steepled flame,

the princess hears the thunder and the pomp

of squadrons underground abducting him who is the destination of the cord

now bound around her wrist till she redeem this miner's boy from goblin bodyguard.


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Guided only by the tug and twitch of that mercurial strand, the girl goes down

the darkening stair, undoes the palace latch

and slips unseen past watchmen on the lawn dozing around their silvered sentry box.

Across the frosted grass she marks the sheen

of thread conducting her to the worn tracks made by miners up the mountainside

among the jagged mazes of the rocks.

Laboring on the tilt of that steep grade behind which the declining moon has set,

she recalls queer stories her nurse read

about a goblin raid on miner's hut because new excavations came too near

the chambers where their fiendish queen would sit.

Hearing a weird cackle from afar, she clutches at the talismanic cord

and confronts a cairn of iron ore.

Suddenly a brazen song is heard from the pragmatic boy confined within,

gaily cursing the whole goblin horde.

Inviolate in the circle of that skein, looping like faith about her bleeding feet,

the princess frees the miner, stone by stone, and leads him home to be her chosen knight.


The princess coaxes the incredulous boy through candid kitchens in the rising sun

to seek the staircase by the glare of day.

Hand in hand, they scale meridian, clambering up the creaking heights of heat

until she hears the twittering machine


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Juvenilia which quaintly wove the fabric of her fate

behind the zodiac on attic door with abracadabra from the alphabet.

Pointing toward the spindle's cryptic whir, she tells the greenhorn miner to bow down

and honor the great goddess of the air

suspended aloft within her planet-shine. Laughing aloud, the dazzled boy demands

why he should kneel before a silly scene

where pigeons promenade the gable-ends and coo quadrilles about the blighted core

in a batch of raveled apple rinds.

At his words, the indignant godmother vanishes in a labyrinth of hay

while sunlight winds its yarn upon the floor.

O never again will the extravagant straw knit up a gilded fable for the child

who weeps before the desolate tableau of clockwork that makes the royal blood run cold.


Sing praise for statuary: For those anchored attitudes And staunch stone eyes that stare Through lichen-lid and passing bird-foot At some steadfast mark Beyond the inconstant green Gallop and flick of light In this precarious park

Where vivid children twirl Like colored tops through time Nor stop to understand How all their play is touch-and-go: But, Go! they cry, and the swing Arcs up to the tall tree tip; Go! and the merry-go-round Hauls them round with it.


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Juvenilia And I, like the children, caught In the mortal active verb, Let my transient eye break a tear For each quick, flaring game Of child, leaf and cloud, While on this same fugue, unmoved, Those stonier eyes look, Safe-socketed in rock.

Temper of Time

An ill wind is stalking While evil stars whir

And all the gold apples Go bad to the core.

Black birds of omen Now prowl on the bough;

With a hiss of disaster Sibyl's leaves blow.

Through closets of copses Tall skeletons walk;

Nightshade and nettles Tangle the track.

In the ramshackle meadow Where Kilroy would pass

Lurks the sickle-shaped shadow Of snake in the grass.

Approaching his cottage By crooked detour,

He hears the gruff knocking Of the wolf at the door.

His wife and his children Hang riddled with shot,

There's a hex on the cradle And death in the pot.


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Epitaph in Three Parts


Rocking across the lapis lazuli sea comes a flock of bottle battleships

each with a telegram addressed to me.

'Destroy your mirror and avoid mishaps,' chirps the first; 'live on a silent island

where the water blots out all footsteps.'

The second sings: 'Receive no roving gallant who seeks to dally in the port till dawn,

for your fate involves a dark assailant.'

The third cries out as all the ships go down: 'There is more than one good way to drown.'

In the air above my island flies a crowd of shining gulls that plunge to launch

an accurate assault upon the eyes

of the bold sailor falling under drench and hunger of the surf that plucks the land,

devouring green gardens inch by inch.

Blood runs in a glissando from the hand that lifts to consecrate the sunken man.

Aloft, a lone gull halts upon the wind,

announcing after glutted birds have flown: 'There is more than one good way to drown.'


Grasshopper goblins with green pointed ears caper on leafstalk legs across my doorsill,

and mock the jangling rain of splintered stars.

My room is a twittering gray box with a wall there and there and there again, and then

a window which proves the sky sheer rigmarole


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Juvenilia that happens to conceal the lid of one enormous box of gray where god has gone

and hidden all the bright angelic men.

A wave of grass engraves upon the stone: 'There is more than one good way to drown.'


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Uncollected Juvenilia

A complete list of poems composed before 1Q56

This alphabetical list includes all the poems Sylvia Plath composed before 1956. The texts of all but half a dozen of these early pieces are in the Sylvia Plath Archive of juvenilia in the Lilly Library at Indiana University. The rest are with the Sylvia Plath Estate. The bracketed date following certain titles indicates the year of composition, where it is known. An asterisk before a title indicates that it is included in the selection of fifty early poems printed above, p. 299.

*Admonitions Adolescence (1949) Advice for an Artificer

*Aerialist All I Can Tell You Is About the Fog Alone and Alone in the Woods Was

I (1948) Among the Tall Deep-rooted

Grasses Apology for an April Satyr Apparel for April (1953) Apple Blossom (1943)

*April Aubade * April 18 *Aquatic Nocturne

August Night Autumn Portrait

A Ballad Ballade banale Bereft (1947)

*Bitter Strawberries *Black Pine Tree in an Orange Light

Blue-shingled Rooftops (1947). *Bluebeard

The Bronze Boy

Camp Helen Storrow (1945) Carnival (1948) Carnival Nocturne (1953) Checkmate (1948) Chef a" ceuvre

*Cinderella *Circus in Three Rings

City Streets City Wife Class Song (1950) Closet Drama Complaint The Complex Couch Crime Doesn't Pay Crossing the Equator

*Danse macabre The Dark River (1949)

*The Dead *Denouement

Desert Song The Desperate Hours

*Dialogue En Route Dirge

*Dirge for a Joker Dirge for Abigail


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Juvenilia Dirge in Three Parts

*The Dispossessed *Doom of Exiles (1954) *Doomsday *The Dream

Dreams (1945)

The Earth Had Wilted in the Heat Earthbound (1948) Elegy Elizabeth's April Enchantment (1945) Ennui (I) Ennui (II)

*Epitaph in Three Parts Eve Describes Her Birthday Party

The Fairy Scarf (1945) Fall Fall Guy

*Family Reunion The Farewell

*Female Author Finality (1947) Fog (1948)

*Go get the goodly squab Gold Leaves Stir (1950)

*Gold mouths cry Golden Afternoon (1946) Gone Is the River The Grackles Green as a Melon My Sweet World


Harlequin Love Song Have You Forgotten Housewife Humoresque Humpty Dumpty

I Am an American I Do What You Wish J Have Found My Perfect World

(1948) I Put My Fingers in My Ears (1949)

I Reach Out I Thought That I Could Not Be

Hurt (1946) Ice Age (I) Ice Age (II) In the Corner of My Garden (1944) In Memoriam (1946) Incident

* Insolent storm strikes at the skull Interlude (1947) The Invalid Item: stolen, one suitcase

*Jilted Joy (1948)

*Lament Let the Rain Fall Gently (1948) Lonely Song (1949)

*Love Is a Parallax

March (1945) March 15 Muse March 21 Marcia May (1947)

*Metamorphoses of the Moon Midnight Snow (1946)

*Midsummer Mobile Million Dollar Month The Mistake (1948)

*Moonsong at Morning *Morning in the Hospital Solarium

Mornings of Mist (1946) Motherly Love (1946) My Extravagant Heart Blows Up


Neither Moonlight nor Starlight *Never try to trick me with a kiss

Never You New England Library (1947) New England Winter Without Snow Not Here Notes on Zarathustra's Prologue

*Notes to a Neophyte


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Obsession (1948) October (1946) Ode to a Bitten Plum (1950)

*On Looking into the Eyes of a Demon Lover

On the Futility of a Lexicon

P.N. Paradox Patience (1948) Pearls of Dew (1940) Pigeon Post Portrait (1948) Portrait d'une jeune fille

*The Princess and the Goblins *Prologue to Spring

Question (1949)

The Rain (1945) Recognition (1948) Reflection (1948) Reflections at Twelve Reverie (1947) Riddle (1948) Riverside Reverie (1952) Rondeau Rondeau redouble

The Scarlet Beacon (1946) Sea Symphony (1947) Second Winter Sleepers Slow, Slow the Rhythm of the Moon

(1950) The Snowflake Star (1946) Solo

*Song for a Revolutionary Love Song for a Thaw Song of Eve Song of the Daydreamer (1948) Song of the Superfluous Spring Sonnet for a Green-eyed Sailor Sonnet: The Suitcases Are Packed

Again Sonnet: To a Shade

* Sonnet: To Eva *Sonnet to Satan *Sonnet: To Time *A Sorcerer Bids Farewell to Seem

Sorrow (1947) Spring Again (1947) The Spring Parade (1945) Spring Sacrament Spring Song to a Housewife Steely Blue Crags (1947) The Stoic The Stranger (1947) The Stream Summer Street (1948)

*Temper of Time *Terminal

Thy Kingdom Come To a Dissembling Spring

*To a Jilted Lover To Ariadne To Eva

*To Eva Descending the Stair To Miss Cox To the Boy Inscrutable as God To Time Torch Song

*Touch-and-Go The Traveller (1948)

*The Trial of Man *Trio of Love Songs

Triolet frivole Tulips at Dawn (1948) Twilight

*Two Lovers and a Beachcomber by the Real Sea

Valentine: Lines to a Rich Bachelor Van Winkle's Village Virus T.V. Voices

Wallflower Warning Wayfaring at the Whitney Wellfleet Beach Plums


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Juvenilia When the Stars Are Pale and Cool White Girl Between Yellow Curtains White Phlox (1950) Why Must the Slim Spring Rains Fall

Now Wild Geese (1948) A Winter Sunset (1946) Winter Words

A Wish Upon a Star (1944) Words Fall to Winter Words of Advice to an English Prof

Youth (1947) Youth's Appeal for Peace (1948)

Zeitgeist at the Zoo


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Index of Titles and First Lines

Poems 1956-1963

A dream tree, Polly's tree, 128 A garden of mouthings. Purple, scarlet-

speckled, black, 118

A secret! A secret!, 219 A smile fell in the grass, 249 A squeal of brakes, 230 Above the Oxbow, 87 Above whorled, spindling gorse, 71 Aftermath, 113 Alicante Lullaby, 43 All summer we moved in a villa brimful of

echoes, 68

All the Dead Dears, 70 Amnesiac, 232 Among orange-tile rooftops, 28 Among the Narcissi, 190 An old beast ended in this place, 137 Anansi, black busybody of the folktales, 48 An Appearance, 189 The Applicant, 221 Apprehensions, 195 Arena dust rusted by four bulls' blood to a

dull redness, 47 Ariel, 239 The Arrival of the Bee Box, 212 As the gods began one world, and man

another, 79 At this wharf there are no grand landings

to speak of, 112 Axes/After whose stroke the wood rings,


The Babysitters, 174 Balloons, 271 Bare-handed, I hand the combs, 214 Barren Woman, 157 Battle-Scene from the Comic Operatic

Fantasy The Seafarer, 84 The Beast (Poem for a Birthday: 4), 134 The Bee Meeting, 211 The Beekeeper's Daughter, 118 The Beggars, 47 Behind him the hotdogs split and drizzled,

115 Berck-Plage, 196 Better that every fiber crack, 40 A Birthday Present, 206 Black lake, black boat, two black, cut-

paper people, 190 Black Rook in Rainy Weather, 56

Blackberry ing, 168 Blameless as daylight I stood looking, 109 Blue Moles, 126 Born green we were, 30 Brasilia, 258 Bucolics, 23 The Bull of Bendylaw, 108 Burning the Letters, 204 The Burnt-out Spa, 137 But I would rather be horizontal, 162 By a mad miracle I go intact, 35 By Candlelight, 236 By the gate with star and moon, 124


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Index By the roots of my hair some god got hold

of me, 141

Candles, 148 Channel Crossing, 26

Child, 265 Childless Woman, 259 Child's Park Stones, 100 Clocks belled twelve. Main Street showed

otherwise, 101 Clownlike, happiest on your hands, 141 Color floods to the spot, dull purple, 271 Color of lemon, mango, peach, 26 The Colossus, 129 'Come lady, bring that pot, 34 The Companionable Ills, 105 Compelled by calamity's magnet, 113 Contusion, 271

Conversation Among the Ruins, 21 The Courage of Shutting-Up, 209 The Couriers, 247 Crossing the Water, 190 Crystal Gazer, 54 Cut, 235

Dark House (Poem for a Birthday: 2), 132 Dark Wood, Dark Water, 127 Day of mist: day of tarnish, 52 Death & Co., 254 The Death of Myth-Making, 104 Departure, 51 The Detective, 208 Dialogue Between Ghost and Priest, 38 Dialogue Over a Ouija Board, 276 The Disquieting Muses, 74 Dream with Clam-Diggers, 43

Eavesdropper, 260 Edge, 272 Electra on Azalea Path, 116 Ella Mason and Her Eleven Cats, 53 Elm, 192 Empty, I echo to the least footfall, 157 Enter the chilly no-man's land of about,

90 Epitaph for Fire and Flower, 45

Even the sun-clouds this morning cannot manage such skirts, 240

Event, 194 The Everlasting Monday, 62 The Eye-mote, 109

Fable of the Rhododendron Stealers, 103 Face Lift, 155 Faun, 35 The Fearful, 256 Fever 1030, 231 Fiesta Melons, 46 Finisterre, 169 Fired in sanguine clay, the model head, 69 Firesong, 30 First, are you our sort of person?, 221 First frost, and I walk among the rose-

fruit, the marble toes, 130 Flintlike, her feet struck, 62 Flute Notes from a Reedy Pond (Poem for

a Birthday: 5), 134 For a Fatherless Son, 205 Frog Autumn, 99 From my rented attic with no earth, 53 From under crunch of my man's boot, 29 From Water-Tower Hill to the brick

prison, n o Full Fathom Five, 92

Gerd sits spindle-shanked in her dark tent,

54 Getting There, 247 The Ghost's Leavetaking, 90 Gigolo, 267 The Glutton, 40 Go get the glass, then. But I know tonight

will be, 276 Goatsucker, i n God knows how our neighbor managed to

breed, 60 The Goring, 47 The Great Carbuncle, 72 Green Rock, Winthrop Bay, 104 Grub-white mulberries redden among

leaves, 98 Gulliver, 251


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Index Halfway up from the little harbor of

sardine boats, 121 The Hanging Man, 141 Hardcastle Crags, 62 Haunched like a faun, he hooed, 35 He, hunger-stung, hard to slake, 40 He was bullman earlier, 134 Head alone shows you in the prodigic>us

act, 82 Hearing a white saint rave, 67 Heavy Women, 158 Here in this valley of discreet academies,

87 The Hermit at Outermost House, 118 How far is it?, 247 How the elements solidify!—, 194 How this tart fable instructs, 81

I ?/I walk alone, 37 I am a miner. The light burns blue, 24° I am silver and exact. I have no

preconceptions, 173 I am slow as the world. I am very patient,

176 I Am Vertical, 162 I came before the water-, 95 I can stay awake all night, if need b e ^ i

154 I can taste the tin of the sky—the rea^ tin

thing, 151 I do not want a plain box, I want a

sarcophagus, 172 I have done it again, 244 I know the bottom, she says. I know it

with my great tap root, 192 I made a fire; being tired, 204 I ordered this, this clean wood box, 2 1 2

I shall never get out of this! There afe two of me now, 158

I shall never get you put together entirely, 129

I walked the unwalked garden of ros£-beds, 103

I Want, I Want, 106 If the moon smiled, she would resemble


I'm a riddle in nine syllables, 116 In Alicante they bowl the barrels, 43 In Benidorm there are melons, 46 In Midas' Country, 99 In Plaster, 158 In ruck and quibble of courtfolk, 28 In sunless air, under pines, 100 In the dour ages, 80 In the marketplace they are piling the dry

sticks, 135 In the rectory garden on his evening walk,

38 In this country there is neither measure

nor balance, 144 In this day before the day nobody is about,


Incommunicado, 100 Insomniac, 163 Irrefutable, beautifully smug, 158 It beguiles—, 84 It happens. Will it go on? , 266 It is a chilly god, a god of shades, 77 It is no night to drown in, 94 It is ten years, now, since we rowed to

Children's Island, 174

It was a place of force—, 193 It was not a heart, beating, 76 I've got a stubborn goose whose gut's, 50

Jade—/Stone of the side, 242 The Jailer, 226

Kindness, 269 Kindness glides about my house, 269

The Lady and the Earthenware Head, 69 Lady Lazarus, 244 Lady, your room is lousy with flowers, 145

Landowners, 53 Last Words, 172 Leaving Early, 145 Lesbos, 227 A Lesson in Vengeance, 80 Letter in November, 253 Letter to a Purist, 36 A Life, 149


Sylvia Plath - The Collected Poems - [PDF Document] (344)

Index Little Fugue, 187 Little poppies, little hell flames, 203

Lorelei, 94 Love Letter, 147 Love set you going like a fat gold watch,

156 Love, the world, 253 Lyonnesse, 233

Maenad (Poem for a Birthday: 3), 133

Magi, 148 Magnolia Shoals, 121 Man in Black, 119 The Manor Garden, 125 Mary's Song, 257 Maudlin, 51 Mayday: two came to field in such wise, 23 Mayflower, 60

Meadows of gold dust. The silver, 99 Medallion, 124 Medusa, 224 Memoirs of a Spinach-Picker, 89 Metaphors, 116 Midnight in the mid-Atlantic. On deck,


Mirror, 173 Miss Drake Proceeds to Supper, 41 Monologue at 3 a.m., 40 The Moon and the Yew Tree, 172 Moonrise, 98 Morning Song, 156 Mother, mother, what illbred aunt, 74 Mud-mattressed under the sign of the hag,

The Munich Mannequins, 262 Mushrooms, 139 Mussel Hunter at Rock Harbor, 95 My father kept a vaulted conch, 78 My night sweats grease his breakfast plate,

226 Mystic, 268

Natural History, 71 The Net-Menders, 121 New Year on Dartmoor, 176 Nick and the Candlestick, 240

The Night Dances, 249 Night Shift, 76 Nightfall, cold eye—neither disheartens,

47 No lame excuses can gloss over, 104 No map traces the street, 122 No novice, 41 No use, no use, now, begging Recognize!,


No use whistling for Lyonnesse!, 233 Nobody in the lane, and nothing, nothing

but blackberries, 168 Not easy to state the change you made, 147 November Graveyard, 56 Now coldness comes sifting down, layer

after layer, 134 Now this particular girl, 49

O half moon—, 252 O maiden aunt, you have come to call, 237 O mud, mud, how fluid!—, 202 Ode for Ted, 29 Off that landspit of stony mouth-plugs,


Old Ella Mason keeps cats, eleven at last count, 53

Old goatherds swear how all night long

they hear, i n Old Ladies' Home, 120 Old man, you surface seldom, 92 On Boston Common a red star, 86 On Deck, 142 On storm-struck deck, wind sirens

caterwaul, 26 On the Decline of Oracles, 78 On the Difficulty of Conjuring Up a

Dryad, 65 On the Plethora of Dryads, 67 On the stiff twig up there, 56 On this bald hill the new year hones its

edge, 152 Once I was ordinary, 133 Open-mouthed, the baby god, 106 The Other, 201 The Other Two, 68 Ouija, 77


Sylvia Plath - The Collected Poems - [PDF Document] (345)

Index Out here there are no hearthstones, 143 Outlandish as a circus, the ravaged face


Over your body the clouds go, 251 Overnight, very, 139 Owl, 101

Paralytic, 266 Parliament Hill Fields, 152

Perfection is terrible, it cannot have children, 262

Perseus: The Triumph of Wit Over Suffering, 82

Pheasant, 191 Pocket watch, I tick well, 267 Poem for a Birthday, 131 Poems, Potatoes, 106 Point Shirley, n o Polly's Tree, 128 Poppies in July, 203 Poppies in October, 240 Private Ground, 130 Prospect, 28 Purdah, 242

Pure? What does it mean?, 231 Pursuit, 22

Queen Mary's Rose Garden, 290 The Queen's Complaint, 28

The Rabbit Catcher, 193 The Ravaged Face, 115 Ravening through the persistent bric-a-

brac, 65 Recantation, 41 Resolve, 52 Rhyme, 50

Rigged poker-stiff on her back, 70 The Rival, 166 Rosebud, knot of worms, 73

Sculptor, 91 A Secret, 219 Sharded in black, like beetfes, 120 Sheep in Fog, 262 The Shrike, 42

Since Christmas they have lived with us, 271

Sky and sea, horizon-hinged, 118 Sleep in the Mojave Desert, 143 The Sleepers, 122 Snakecharmer, 79 The Snowman on the Moor, 58 Soliloquy of the Solipsist, 37 Somebody is shooting at something in our

town—, 215 Song for a Summer's Day, 30 Southern Sunrise, 26 Sow, 60 Spider, 48 Spinster, 49 Spry, wry, and gray as these March sticks,


Stalemated their armies stood, with tottering banners, 58

Stars are dropping thick as stones into the twiggy, 165

Stars Over the Dordogne, 165 Stasis in darkness, 239 Stillborn, 142 Stings, 214

The Stones (Poem for a Birthday: 7), 136 Stopped Dead, 230 Street Song, 35 Strumpet Song, 33 Suicide off Egg Rock, 115 Summer grows old, cold-blooded mother,

99 The Surgeon at 2 a.m., 170 The Swarm, 215

Tale of a Tub, 24 'Tea leaves I've given up, 41 Thalidomide, 252 That grandiose colossus who, 36 That lofty monarch, Monarch Mind, 71 The abstracts hover like dull angels, 148 The air is a mill of hooks—, 268 The black bull bellowed before the sea,

108 The courage of the shut mouth, in spite of

artillery!, 209


Sylvia Plath - The Collected Poems - [PDF Document] (346)

Index The day she visited the dissecting room,

114 The day you died I went into the dirt, 116 The engine is killing the track, the track is

silver, 264 The figs on the fig tree in the yard are

green, 51 The fountains are dry and the roses over,

125 The groundhog on the mountain did not

run, 100 The hills step off into whiteness, 262 The horizons ring me like fa*ggots, 167 The month of flowering's finished. The

fruit's in, 131 The moon's man stands in his shell, 62 The night sky is only a sort of carbon

paper, 163 The nose-end that twitches, the old

imperfections—, 105 The photographic chamber of the eye, 24 The scene stands stubborn: skinflint trees,

56 The smile of iceboxes annihilates me, 189 The Sunday lamb cracks in its fat, 257 The tulips are too excitable, it is winter

here, 160 The wet dawn inks are doing their blue

dissolve, 257 The white light is artificial, and hygienic as

heaven, 170 The woman is perfected, 272 The womb, 259 The word, defining, muzzles; the drawn

line, 106 The word of a snail on the plate of a leaf?,

247 The yew's black fingers wag, 187 There is a panther stalks me down, 22 There is this white wall, above which the

sky creates itself—, 195 There, spring lambs jam the sheepfold. In

air, i n These poems do not live: it's a sad

diagnosis, 142 They are always with us, the thin people, 64

They are the last romantics, these candles, 148

They called the place Lookout Farm, 89 They enter as animals from the outer, 255 They're out of the dark's ragbag, these

two, 126 The Thin People, 64 This dream budded bright with leaves

around the edges, 43 This is a dark house, very big, 132 This is newness: every little tawdry, 176 This is not what I meant, 153 This is the city where men are mended,

136 This is the easy time, there is nothing

doing, 217 This is the light of the mind, cold and

planetary, 172 This is the sea, then, this great abeyance,

196 This is winter, this is night, small love—,

236 This man makes a pseudonym, 256 This was the land's end: the last fingers,

knuckled and rheumatic, 169 This wood burns a dark, 127 Three Women, 176 Through fen and farmland walking, 30 Through frost-thick weather, 32 Through portico of my elegant house you

stalk, 21 Throughout black winter the red haws

withstood, 60 The Times Are Tidy, 107 Tinker Jack and the Tidy Wives, 34 To his house the bodiless, 91 Totem, 264 Touch it: it won't shrink like an eyeball,

149 The Tour, 237 Tulips, 160 Two Campers in Cloud Country, 144 Two girls there are: within the house, 31 Two, of course there are two, 254 Two Sisters of Persephone, 31 Two Views of a Cadaver Room, 114


Sylvia Plath - The Collected Poems - [PDF Document] (347)

Index Two Views of Withens, 71 Two virtues ride, by stallion, by nag, 104

Unlucky the hero born, 107 Up here among the gull cries, 121

Vanity Fair, 32

Viciousness in the kitchen!, 227 Virgin in a Tree, 81

Waking in Winter, 151 Water in the millrace, through a sluice of

stone, 21 Watercolor of Grantchester Meadows, 111 We came over the moor-top, 72

What a thrill , 235 What is this, behind this veil, is it ugly, is it

beautiful ?, 206 What though green leaves only witness,

44 What was she doing when it blew in, 208 When night comes black, 42 Where the three magenta, 119 Whiteness being what I remember, 102 Whiteness I Remember, 102 Whitsun, 153 Who (Poem for a Birthday: 1), 131 Who are these people at the bridge to meet

me? They are the villagers , 211 Widow, 164 Widow. The word consumes itself—, 164 Will they occur, 258 Winter Landscape, with Rooks, 21 A Winter Ship, 112

Admonitions, 319 Aerialist, 331 All day she plays at chess with the bones of

the world, 301 All right, let's say you could take a skull

and break it, 304 All that morning in the strawberry field,


Winter Trees, 257 Wintering, 217 A Winter's Tale, 86 Witch Burning (Poem for a Birthday: 6),

135 With white frost gone, 33 Woodsmoke and a distant loudspeaker, 123 Words, 270 Words for a Nursery, 73 Words heard, by accident, over the phone,

202 Wreath for a Bridal, 44 Wuthering Heights, 167

Yaddo: The Grand Manor, 123 Yadwigha, on a Red Couch, Among Lilies,

85 Yadwigha, the literalists once wondered

how you, 85 Years, 255 You bring me good news from the clinic,

155 You come in late, wiping your lips, 201 You might as well haul up, 45 You said you would kill it this morning,

191 You will be aware of an absence, presently,

205 Your brother will trim my hedges!, 260 Your clear eye is the one absolutely

beautiful thing, 265 You're, 141

Zoo Keeper's Wife, 154

Always in the middle of a kiss, 302 An ill wind is stalking, 336 April Aubade, 312 April 18, 301 Aquatic Nocturne, 305

Begin by dipping your brush into clear light, 324

Fifty Early Poems


Sylvia Plath - The Collected Poems - [PDF Document] (348)

Index Bitter Strawberries, 299 Black Pine Tree in an Orange Light, 328 Bluebeard, 305

Cinderella, 303 Circus in Three Rings, 321 Clocks cry: stillness is a lie, my dear, 303 Cold and final, the imagination, 327 Cold moons withdraw, refusing to come

to terms, 307 Cold on my narrow cot I lie, 309

Danse macabre, 320

The Dead, 320 deep in liquid indigo, 305 Denouement, 326 Dialogue En Route, 308

Dirge for a Joker, 302 The Dispossessed, 318 Doom of Exiles, 318 Doomsday, 316 Down among strict roots and rocks, 320 The Dream, 310

Each night, this adroit young lady, 331 Epitaph in Three Parts, 337

Family Reunion, 300 Female Author, 301 From fabrication springs the spiral stair,


Go get the goodly squab in gold-lobed corn,313

Gold mouths cry with the green young, 302

Here are two pupils, 325

I am sending back the key, 305 'If only something would happen!', 308 I'm through with this grand looking-glass

hotel, 324 In darkroom of your eye the moonly mind,

323 In the circus tent of a hurricane, 321

Insolent storm strikes at the skull, 325

Jilted, 304

Lament, 315 'Last night,' he said, 'I slept well, 310 Love Is a Parallax, 329

Major faults in granite, 313 Metamorphoses of the Moon, 307 Midsummer Mobile, 324 Moonsong at Morning, 316 Morning in the Hospital Solarium, 332 My thoughts are crabbed and sallow, 304

Never try to trick me with a kiss, 319 Notes to a Neophyte, 306 Now we, returning from the vaulted

domes, 318

O moon of illusion, 316 O throw it away, throw it all away on the

wind,322 Oh never try to knock on rotten wood, 319 On Looking into the Eyes of a Demon

Lover, 325 Outside in the street I hear, 300

'Perspective betrays with its dichotomy,

329 The Princess and the Goblins, 333 Prologue to Spring, 322

Revolving in oval loops of solar speed, 320 Riding home from credulous blue domes,

328 Rocking across the lapis lazuli sea, 337

Sing praise for statuary, 335 Song for a Revolutionary Love, 322 Sonnet: To Eva, 304 Sonnet to Satan, 323 Sonnet: To Time, 311 A Sorcerer Bids Farewell to Seem, 324 Sunlight strikes a glass of grapefruit juice,



Sylvia Plath - The Collected Poems - [PDF Document] (349)

Index Take the general mumble, 306 Tell me what you see in it, 328 Temple of Time, 336 Terminal, 328

The enormous mortgage must be paid somehow, 318

The idiot bird leaps out and drunken

leans, 316 The ordinary milkman brought that dawn,


The prince leans to the girl in scarlet heels,

303 the slime of all my yesterdays, 301 The sting of bees took away my father,


The telegram says you have gone away, 326 The winter landscape hangs in balance

now, 322 To a Jilted Lover, 309 To Eva Descending the Stair, 303 Today we move in jade and cease with

garnet, 311 Touch-and-Go, 335 The Trial of Man, 312 Trio of Love Songs, 313 Two Lovers and a Beachcomber by the

Real Sea, 327

Worship this world of watercolor mood, 312


Sylvia Plath - The Collected Poems - [PDF Document] (2024)


What is the summary of The Collected Poems by Sylvia Plath? ›

Strongly autobiographical, the book describes the mental breakdown and eventual recovery of a young college girl and parallels Plath's own breakdown and hospitalization in 1953. During her last three years Plath abandoned the restraints and conventions that had bound much of her early work.

How to understand Sylvia Plath's poems? ›

1> Read Biographical Information: Understanding the life experiences of the poet can provide valuable insights into their work. Knowing about Sylvia Plath's struggles with mental health, her tumultuous relationships, and her views on societal expectations can shed light on the themes she explores in her poetry.

What is the emotion of child by Sylvia Plath? ›

Overall, "Child" by Sylvia Plath is a poem that reflects the speaker's longing for innocence and beauty in the midst of her own emotional pain and despair.

How does Plath use imagery? ›

Plath's use of imagery does not just shed an interesting light on the external world; it also highlights, in an intense fashion, the deeply disturbed inner landscape of the poet's troubled soul. This is perhaps best exemplified by her poem “Elm” which is with crowded with desolate, disturbing imagery.

What is the main message of the poem? ›

The theme of a poem is the message an author wants to communicate through the piece. The theme differs from the main idea because the main idea describes what the text is mostly about. Supporting details in a text can help lead a reader to the main idea.

What are Sylvia Plath's poems mainly about? ›

In the New York Times Book Review, Joyce Carol Oates described Plath as “one of the most celebrated and controversial of postwar poets writing in English.” Intensely autobiographical, Plath's poems explore her own mental anguish, her troubled marriage to fellow poet Ted Hughes, her unresolved conflicts with her parents ...

Why do people like Sylvia Plath so much? ›

Consciousness, Depth, and Suffering. Sylvia Plath is undoubtedly one of my favorite humans. It's not just because she was an extremely skilled writer and poet, but rather because of the way her mind worked. I'm yet to come across another writer who was so obsessed with questions of meaning, purpose, and love.

What is Sylvia Plath's first line in The Bell Jar? ›

Likewise, the first sentence of Sylvia Plath's only novel, The Bell Jar, locates its narrative in time, place and, most powerfully, mood: “It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn't know what I was doing in New York.” Its eerie aimlessness is made still more affecting for ...

What Sylvia Plath should I read first? ›

The recommendations are mostly for prose and I find Plath far more compelling as a poet than a prose writer. A nod to the Collected Poems is both too brief, and too overwhelming. I'd point new readers towards some individual poems: Daddy, Lady Lazarus, You're, Morning Song, Edge, Cut, Ariel for starters.

What does the wringing of hands mean in Plath? ›

The mood of the poem changes as the poet fears that she cannot provide the love and care that she wants to but can only provide 'troublous wringing of hands', suggesting mental anguish. The final image of a 'dark ceiling without a star' is bleak and unsettling.

What happened to Sylvia Plath's children? ›

Plath's daughter Frieda Hughes is a writer and artist. On March 16, 2009, Plath's son Nicholas Hughes died by suicide at his home in Fairbanks, Alaska, following a history of depression.

How did Sylvia Plath feel about being a mother? ›

Plath's ambivalence towards motherhood is frequently expressed in her journals: “For a woman to be deprived of the Great Experience her body is formed to partake of, to nourish, is a great and wasting death” (Davey 20).

What does little bloody skirts mean? ›

The Poppies

But all of those images also suggest injury: “l*ttle bloody skirts,” “a mouth just bloodied.” Symbolically, this suggests that the speaker feels hurt in a way that might be related to womanhood—perhaps sexual violence or betrayal.

How did Sylvia Plath feel? ›

For most of this time she had remained professionally active, writing daily, correcting proofs and recording poetry for the BBC. Now, however, her mood had deepened into a severe depression marked by constant agitation, suicidal thoughts and inability to cope with everyday life.

What is Sylvia Plath remembered for? ›

Sylvia Plath was an American writer whose best-known works, including the poems “Daddy” and “Lady Lazarus” and the novel The Bell Jar, starkly express a sense of alienation and self-destruction that has resonated with many readers since the mid-20th century.

What is the summary of the poem why? ›

The poem 'Why? ' talks about a curious boy who has a lot of questions in his mind. He wants to know why the wood swims but the lead and marble sink. The little boy is curious to know why the sun shines and the wind blows and why it is necessary to eat and drink.

What is the meaning of write the summary of the poem? ›

It tells you what the poem is about and aspects of the poem, such as nature, type, and tone. It prepares you with the right mood for the poem. Main body- as the name suggests, the main body captures the poem's central idea or flesh.

What is the theme of the poem unclaimed? ›

The poem 'Homeless' raises a question of identity—to which country he belongs to. In 'Unclaimed', he criticizes the institution of marriage and family, which bind a man to a circumference, out of which he never comes.

Which is the collection of Sylvia Plath poetry? ›

Her books include the poetry collections The Colossus, Crossing the Water, Winter Trees, Ariel, and The Collected Poems, which won the Pulitzer Prize. Plath is credited with being a pioneer of the 20th-century style of writing called confessional poetry.


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