* A Distributed Proofreaders Canada eBook *

This eBook is made available at no cost and with very few restrictions. These restrictions apply only if (1) you make a change in the eBook (other than alteration for different display devices), or (2) you are making commercial use of the eBook. If either of these conditions applies, please contact a https://www.fadedpage.com administrator before proceeding. Thousands more FREE eBooks are available at https://www.fadedpage.com.

This work is in the Canadian public domain, but may be under copyright in some countries. If you live outside Canada, check your country's copyright laws. IF THE BOOK IS UNDER COPYRIGHT IN YOUR COUNTRY, DO NOT DOWNLOAD OR REDISTRIBUTE THIS FILE.

Title: Pictures from Brueghel and Other Poems

Date of first publication: 1962

Author: William Carlos Williams (1883-1963)

Date first posted: Nov. 25, 2019

Date last updated: Nov. 25, 2019

Faded Page eBook #20191144

This eBook was produced by: Al Haines, Jen Haines & the online Distributed Proofreaders Canada team at https://www.pgdpcanada.net

Pictures from Brueghel

and other poems by

William Carlos Williams


The Desert Music & Journey to Love


MacGibbon & Kee


© 1949, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1959, 1960, 1961 and 1962

by William Carlos Williams.




Copyright, 1949, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1954, by William Carlos Williams.

Reprinted by permission of Random House, Inc.




© Copyright, 1955, by William Carlos Williams.

Copyright, 1954, by William Carlos Williams.

Reprinted by permission of Random House, Inc.

Of the poems in this volume, the “Pictures from Brueghel” sequence first appeared in The Hudson Review. Others appeared originally in the following magazines, to which acknowledgement is here made: The Atlantic Monthly, Art News Annual, Botteghe Oscure, Chicago Review, College Music Symposium of the Moravian Music Foundation, Inc., East & West, Epoch, Folio, Harper’s, Hudson Review, Imagi, Kavita, The Kenyan Review, Times Literary Supplement, Massachusetts Review, National Review, New England Galaxy, New Poems by American Poets, New Ventures, New World Writing, New York Times Book Review, The New Yorker, Origin, Pennsylvania Literary Review, Poetry, Poetry Australia, Quarterly Review of Literature, Saturday Review, 7 Arts, Transatlantic Review.

Acknowledgement is also made to The Lockwood Memorial Library, University of Buffalo, and The Yale University Library for access to their collections of Williams manuscripts.

First published by New Directions, New York, 1962.

First published in the United Kingdom, 1963.

Printed in the United States of America.


Pictures from Brueghel1
The Desert Music71
Journey to Love121

Pictures from Brueghel


“. . . the form of a man’s rattle may be in accordance with instructions received in the dream by which he obtained his power.”

Frances Densmore

The Study of Indian Music

Pictures from Brueghel




In a red winter hat blue

eyes smiling

just the head and shoulders


crowded on the canvas

arms folded one

big ear the right showing


the face slightly tilted

a heavy wool coat

with broad buttons


gathered at the neck reveals

a bulbous nose

but the eyes red-rimmed


from over-use he must have

driven them hard

but the delicate wrists


show him to have been a

man unused to

manual labor unshaved his


blond beard half trimmed

no time for any-

thing but his painting





According to Brueghel

when Icarus fell

it was spring


a farmer was ploughing

his field

the whole pageantry


of the year was

awake tingling



the edge of the sea


with itself


sweating in the sun

that melted

the wings’ wax



off the coast

there was


a splash quite unnoticed

this was

Icarus drowning





The over-all picture is winter

icy mountains

in the background the return


from the hunt it is toward evening

from the left

sturdy hunters lead in


their pack the inn-sign

hanging from a

broken hinge is a stag a crucifix


between his antlers the cold

inn yard is

deserted but for a huge bonfire


that flares wind-driven tended by

women who cluster

about it to the right beyond


the hill is a pattern of skaters

Brueghel the painter

concerned with it all has chosen


a winter-struck bush for his

foreground to

complete the picture    .    .





From the Nativity

which I have already celebrated

the Babe in its Mother’s arms


the Wise Men in their stolen


and Joseph and the soldiery



with their incredulous faces

make a scene copied we’ll say


from the Italian masters

but with a difference

the mastery


of the painting

and the mind the resourceful mind

that governed the whole


the alert mind dissatisfied with

what it is asked to

and cannot do


accepted the story and painted

it in the brilliant

colors of the chronicler


the downcast eyes of the Virgin

as a work of art

for profound worship





Pour the wine bridegroom

where before you the

bride is enthroned her hair


loose at her temples a head

of ripe wheat is on

the wall beside her the


guests seated at long tables

the bagpipers are ready

there is a hound under


the table the bearded Mayor

is present women in their

starched headgear are


gabbing all but the bride

hands folded in her

lap is awkwardly silent simple


dishes are being served

clabber and what not

from a trestle made of an


unhinged barn door by two

helpers one in a red

coat a spoon in his hatband





The living quality of

the man’s mind

stands out


and its covert assertions

for art, art, art!



that the Renaissance

tried to absorb



it remained a wheat field

over which the

wind played


men with scythes tumbling

the wheat in



the gleaners already busy

it was his own—



the patient horses no one

could take that

from him






the painting is organized

about a young


reaper enjoying his

noonday rest




from his morning labors



in fact sleeping


on his back


the women

have brought him his lunch



a spot of wine

they gather gossiping

under a tree


whose shade


he does not share the



center of

their workaday world





Disciplined by the artist

to go round

& round


in holiday gear

a riotously gay rabble of

peasants and their


ample-bottomed doxies


the market square


featured by the women in

their starched

white headgear


they prance or go openly

toward the wood’s



round and around in

rough shoes and

farm breeches


mouths agape


kicking up their heels





This horrible but superb painting

the parable of the blind

without a red


in the composition shows a group

of beggars leading

each other diagonally downward


across the canvas

from one side

to stumble finally into a bog


where the picture

and the composition ends back

of which no seeing man


is represented the unshaven

features of the des-

titute with their few


pitiful possessions a basin

to wash in a peasant

cottage is seen and a church spire


the faces are raised

as toward the light

there is no detail extraneous


to the composition one

follows the others stick in

hand triumphant to disaster







This is a schoolyard


with children


of all ages near a village

on a small stream

meandering by


where some boys

are swimming



or climbing a tree in leaf


is motion


elder women are looking

after the small



a play wedding a


nearby one leans




an empty hogshead




Little girls

whirling their skirts about

until they stand out flat


tops pinwheels

to run in the wind with

or a toy in 3 tiers to spin


with a piece

of twine to make it go

blindman’s-buff follow the


leader stilts

high and low tipcat jacks

bowls hanging by the knees


standing on your head

run the gauntlet

a dozen on their backs


feet together kicking

through which a boy must pass

roll the hoop or a



made of bricks

some mason has abandoned




The desperate toys

of children



imagination equilibrium

and rocks

which are to be




and games to drag


the other down


to make use of


a swinging


with which


at random

to bash in the

heads about



Brueghel saw it all

and with his grim


humor faithfully




Maybe it’s his wife

the car is an official car



to a petty police officer

I think

but her get-up


was far from official

for that time

of day


beauty is a shell

from the sea

where she rules triumphant

till love has had its way with her


scallops and

lion’s paws

sculptured to the

tune of retreating waves


undying accents

repeated till

the ear and the eye lie

down together in the same bed

The Woodthrush

fortunate man it is not too late

the woodthrush

flies into my garden


before the snow

he looks at me silent without



his dappled breast reflecting

tragic winter

thoughts my love my own

The Polar Bear

his coat resembles the snow

deep snow

the male snow

which attacks and kills


silently as it falls muffling

the world

to sleep that

the interrupted quiet return


to lie down with us

its arms

about our necks

murderously a little while

The Loving Dexterity

The flower


she saw it



it lay

    a pink petal




placed it



its stem


The Chrysanthemum

how shall we tell

the bright petals

from the sun in the

sky concentrically


crowding the branch

save that it yields

in its modesty

to that splendor?

3 Stances




poised for the leap she

is not yet ready for

—save in her eyes


her bare toes

starting over the clipt

lawn where she may


not go emphasize summer

and the curl

of her blonde hair


the tentative smile

for the adult plans laid

to trap her


calves beginning to flex


set for the getaway



II:      ERICA


the melody line is


in this composition


when I first witnessed

your head

and held it


admiringly between

my fingers

I bowed


my approval

at the Scandinavian

name they’d


given you Erica after

your father’s



the rest remains a


your snub nose spinning


on the bridge of it

points the way






your long legs


to carry high


the small head





if he knows




the dance as

your genius


the cleft in


chin’s curl



may it

carry you far




women your age have decided

wars and the beat

of poems your grandfather


is a poet and loves you

pay attention

to your lessons an inkling


of what beauty means to

a girl your age

may dawn soon upon you





life is a flower when it

opens you will

look trembling into it unsure


of what the traditional

mirror may reveal

between hope and despair while


a timorous old man

doubtfully half

turns away his foolish head





a bunch of violets clutched

in your idle

hand gives him a place


beside you which he cherishes

his back turned

from you casually appearing


not to look he yearns after

you protectively

hopelessly wanting nothing





when you shall arrive

as deep

as you will need go


to catch the blackfish

the hook

has been featly baited


by the art you have


you do catch them




with what thoroughness

you know

seize that glistening


body translated


that language you


will understand gut


roast garnish and




serve to yourself who


eat and enjoy


however you


and share


that blackfish heft

and shine

is your own


as for him who

finds fault

may silliness


and sorrow

overtake him

when you wrote


you did not


the power of


your words

To a Woodpecker

December bird in the bare tree

your harsh cry sounds

reminding me


of death we celebrated by lamen-

tations crying out

in the old


days wails of anguish shrieking

wakes curses that the



had been so niggardly sweet

nightingale of the



woods hang out the snow as if

it were gay



I’d rather read an account

of a hidden

Carolina swamp where


the white heron breeds

protected from

the hunters reached only across


half-sunken logs a place

difficult of access the females

building their nests


in the stifling heat the males

in their mating splendor

than to witness


her broad pelvis

making her awkward at the

getaway . . .


but I have forgot beauty

that is no more than a sop

when our time


is spent and infirmities

bring us to

eat out of the same bowl!

The Children

Once in a while

we’d find a patch

of yellow violets


not many

but blue big blue

ones in


the cemetery woods

we’d pick

bunches of them


there was a family

named Foltette

a big family


with lots of children’s graves

so we’d take


bunches of violets

and place one

on each headstone

The Painting

Starting from black or


with it


her defeat stands

a delicate



of blonde hair dictated

by the



this was her last




a portrait of a


to which


she was indifferent




then she married and

moved to

another country

The Stone Crock

In my hand I hold

a postcard

addressed to me

      by a lady


Stoneware crock


a dandelion embossed

      dark blue


She selected it

for me to

admire casually

      in passing


she was a Jewess

intimate of

a man I



We often met in

her studio

and talked

      of him


he loved the early

art of this


      blue stoneware


stamped on the

bulge of it

Albany reminding me

      of him


Now he is dead how

gentle he

was and


He Has Beaten about the Bush Long Enough

What a team

Flossie, Mary, a chemistry prof

and I


make to confront


slowly hardening



of an academician

The most


that can be said

for it



that it has the crystal-

line pattern



new ice on

a country



a burst of iris so that

come down for



we searched through the

rooms for



sweetest odor and at

first could not

find its


source then a blue as

of the sea



startling us from among

those trumpeting



you are forever April

to me

the eternally unready


forsythia a blonde


legged girl


whom I myself


as I was taught


to read the poems

my arms

about your neck


we clung together




more than a young


should know


a burst of frost


yellow flowers


in the spring


the year

The Dance

When the snow falls the flakes

spin upon the long axis

that concerns them most intimately

two and two to make a dance



the mind dances with itself,

taking you by the hand,

your lover follows

there are always two,



yourself and the other,

the point of your shoe setting the pace,

if you break away and run

the dance is over




Breathlessly you will take

another partner

better or worse who will keep

at your side, at your stops



whirls and glides until he too

leaves off

on his way down as if

there were another direction



gayer, more carefree

spinning face to face but always down

with each other secure

only in each other’s arms




But only the dance is sure!

make it your own.

Who can tell

what is to come of it?



in the woods of your

own nature whatever

twig interposes, and bare twigs

have an actuality of their own



this flurry of the storm

that holds us,

plays with us and discards us

dancing, dancing as may be credible.

Jersey Lyric

view of winter trees


one tree



in the foreground


by fresh-fallen




lie 6 woodchunks ready

for the fire

To the Ghost of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

To celebrate your brief life

as you lived it grimly

under attack as it happens

to any common soldier

black or white

surrounded by the heavy scent

of orange blossoms solitary

in your low-lying farm among the young trees


Wise and gentle-voiced

old colored women

attended you among the reeds

and polonia

with its blobs of purple

flowers your pup smelling of

skunk beside your grove-men

lovesick maids and

one friend of the same sex

who knew how to handle a boat in a swamp


Your quick trips to your

New York publisher

beating your brains out

over the composition

under the trees to the tune

of a bull got loose

gathering the fruit and

preparing new fields to be put under the plough


You lived nerves drawn

tense beside dogtooth violets

bougainvillaea swaying

rushes and yellow jasmine

that smells so sweet

young and desperate

as you were taking chances

sometimes that you should be

thrown from the saddle

and get your neck broke

as it must have happened and it did in the end

To Be Recited to Flossie on Her Birthday

Let him who may

among the continuing lines

seek out


that tortured constancy


where I persist


let me say

across cross purposes

that the flower bloomed


struggling to assert itself

simply under

the conflicting lights


you will believe me

a rose

to the end of time

Metric Figure

gotta hold your nose

with the appropriate gesture



back of

the garbage truck

as the complex


city passes

to the confession

or psychiatric couch or booth

The Intelligent Sheepman and the New Cars

I’d like to


the back out


and use

one of them

to take


my “girls”


the fairs in

The Italian Garden

When she married years ago

her romantic ideas dominated

the builders


nightingale and hermit thrush

then the garden

fell into disuse.


Now her son has taken up her

old ideas formally

shut out


by high walls from the sheep run.

It is a scene from Comus



to upper New York State. I remember

it already ruined



early May the trees crowded

with orioles chickadees



brown-thrashers cardinals

in their scarlet



vocal at dawn among pools

reft of their



and rarer plants flowers

given instead to



pampas-grass and cattails by

drought and winter



where now hummingbirds touch

without touching.



benches fallen apart among

sunken gardens



The Faerie Queene was read to

strains from



and the scent of wild strawberries

mingled with that

of eglantine


and verbena. Courtesy has revived

with visitors who



begun to stroll the paths

as in the quattrocentro



Maybe it will drive them to

be more civil



more jocosely (a good word) as

we presume they did

in that famous


garden where Boccaccio and

his friends hid



from the plague and rude manners

in the woods

of that garden


as we would similarly today

to escape the plague



our cars which cannot




The rose fades

and is renewed again

by its seed, naturally

but where


save in the poem

shall it go

to suffer no diminution

of its splendor

A Formal Design

This fleur-de-lis

at a fence rail

where a unicorn is


confined it is a tapestry

deftly woven

a milleflor


design the fleur-de-lis

with its yellow

petals edges


a fruiting tree formally

enough in

this climate


a pomegranate to which

a princely

collar round his


arching neck the beast

is lightly



Bird with outstretched

wings poised

inviolate unreaching


yet reaching

your image this November



to a stop

miraculously fixed in my

arresting eyes

The Gossips

Blocking the sidewalk so

we had to go round

3 carefully coiffured

and perfumed old men

fresh from the barbers

a cartoon by Daumier

reflecting the times were

discussing with a foreign

accent one cupping his

ears not to miss a

syllable the news from

Russia on a view of

the reverse surface of

the moon        .       .

Exercise No. 2

The metal smokestack

of my neighbor’s chimney

greets me among the new leaves


it is a small house

adjacent to my bigger one

I have come in 3 years


to know much of her

an old lady as I am an old man

we greet each other


across the hedge

my wife gives her flowers

we have never visited each other

The World Contracted to a Recognizable Image

at the small end of an illness

there was a picture

probably Japanese

which filled my eye


an idiotic picture

except it was all I recognized

the wall lived for me in that picture

I clung to it as to a fly

The Fruit


I was eating pears!

she said


I sat beside her on the bed


of Picasso


a portrait of

a sensitive young boy



into himself


I was eating pears!


she said

when separate jointly

we embraced

Short Poem

You slapped my face

oh but so gently

I smiled

at the caress


on getting a card

long delayed

from a poet whom I love



with whom I differ


the modern poetic



I was much moved

to hear

from him if

as yet he does not


concede the point

nor is he

indeed conscious of it

no matter


his style

has other outstanding


which delight me

To Flossie

who showed me

        a bunch of garden roses

she was keeping

        on ice


against an appointment

        with friends

for supper

        day after tomorrow


aren’t they beautiful

        you can’t

smell them

        because they’re so cold


but aren’t they

        in wax

paper for the

        moment beautiful

Portrait of a Woman at Her Bath

it is a satisfaction

a joy

to have one of those

in the house


when she takes a bath

she unclothes

herself she is no



I laugh at her

an Inca

shivering at the well

the sun is


glad of a fellow to

marvel at

the birds and the flowers

look in

Some Simple Measures in the American
Idiom and the Variable Foot



the sumac died


the first time


noticed it


There is






the whale

this is



To all the girls

of all ages

who walk up and down on


the streets of this town

silent or gabbing



their feet down

one before the other

one two


one two they

pause sometimes before

a store window and


reform the line

from here

to China everywhere


back and

forth and back and forth

and back and forth


It crouched

just before the take-off



in the cinematograph—


in motion

of the mind wings


just set to spread a

flash a


blue curse

a memory of you


my friend

shrieked at me


—serving art

as usual


I used to follow

the seasons

in this semi-northern



and the warblers

that come


in May knew

the parula from

the myrtle


when I found it

dead on

the lawn there is


no season but

the one

for me now


My pleasant soul

we may not be destined to

survive our guts

let’s celebrate


what we eject


with greatest fervor

I hear it


also from the ladies’ room

what ho!

the source

of all delicious salads


The calves of

the young girls legs

when they are well made



lithely built

in their summer clothes


show them

predisposed toward flight

or the dance


the magenta flower

of the

moth-mullen balanced



tilting her weight

from one foot


to the other


to avoid looking at me


on my way to

mail a letter

smiling to a friend


A young woman

on whose belly I have never

slept though others



met today

at a cocktail party


not drunk

but by love

ignoring the others


we looked in

each other’s eyes

eyes alert to


what we were saying

eyes blinded

breathless by that alone


What I got out of women

was difficult

to assess Flossie


not you

you lived with me

many years you remember


that year

we had the magnificent

stand of peonies


how happy we were

with them

but one night


they were stolen

we shared the

loss together thinking


of nothing else for

a whole day

nothing could have


brought us closer

we had been

married ten years

The High Bridge above the
Tagus River at Toledo

A young man, alone, on the high bridge over the Tagus which

    was too narrow to allow the sheep driven by the lean,

    enormous dogs whose hind legs worked slowly on cogs

to pass easily  .  .  .

        (he didn’t speak the language)


Pressed against the parapet either side by the crowding sheep,

    the relentless pressure of the dogs communicated

    itself to him also

above the waters in the gorge below.


They were hounds to him rather than sheep dogs because of

  their size and savage appearance, dog tired from the day’s


The stiff jerking movement of the hind legs, the hanging

  heads at the shepherd’s heels, slowly followed the excited

  and crowding sheep.


The whole flock, the shepherd and the dogs, were covered

  with dust as if they had been all day long on the road. The

  pace of the sheep, slow in the mass,

governed the man and the dogs. They were approaching the

  city at nightfall, the long journey completed.


In old age they walk in the old man’s dreams and still walk

    in his dreams, peacefully continuing in his verse


15 Years Later

on seeing my own play

Many Loves

on the stage for the first time


I recall

many a passage

of the original con-


versations with my

patients, especially the

women, myself


the interlocutor

laying myself bare for them

all there


in the play but who will

take the trouble

to evaluate


the serious aspects of

the case? One

of the actors by


dint of learning the lines

by heart

has come to me


his face aglow openmouthed

a light in his eyes

Nothing more

The Title

—as in Gauguin’s The Loss of Virginity

how inessential it is to the composition:


the nude body, unattended save by a watchful

hound, forepaw against the naked breast,


there she lies on her back in an open field,

limbs quietly assembled—yet how by its


very unrelatedness it enhances the impact

and emotional dignity of the whole . . .

Mounted as an Amazon

She rides her hips as

it were a horse

such women


tickle me a pat answer

to philosophy

or high heels would


put them on their

cans if fol-

lowed up most women


are more pliant

come of

a far different race

The Snow Begins

A rain of bombs, well placed,

is no less lovely

but this comes gently over all


all crevices are covered

the stalks of

fallen flowers vanish before


this benefice all the garden’s

wounds are healed

white, white, white as death


fallen which dignifies it as

no violence ever can

gently and silently in the night.



Well God is


so love me



is love so

love me God



love so love

me well


Love the sun


up in


the morning




the evening

zippy zappy

it goes


We watched

a red rooster



two hens


of the museum



St. Croix

flap his



zippy zappy

and crow

An Exercise

Sick as I am

confused in the head

I mean I have


endured this April

so far

visiting friends


returning home

late at night

I saw


a huge Negro

a dirty collar

about his


enormous neck

appeared to be




I did not know

whether or not


he saw me though

he was sitting



before me how

shall we

escape this modern



and learn

to breathe again

Three Nahuatl Poems

One by one I proclaim your songs:

    I bind them on, gold crabs, as if they were anklets:

    like emeralds I gather them.

Clothe yourself in them: they are your riches.

    Bathe in feathers of the quetzal,

your treasury of birds’ plumes, black and yellow,

the red feathers of the macaw

beat your drums about the world:

deck yourself out in them: they are your riches.


Where am I to go, whither?

    The road’s there, the road to Two-Gods.

    Well, who checks men here,

here where all lack a body,

at the bottom of the sky?

Or, maybe, it is only on Earth

that we lose the body?

    Cleaned out, rid of it completely,

His House: there remains none on this earth!

Who is it that said:

Where find them? our friends no longer exist!


Will he return will Prince Cuautli ever return?

Will Ayocuan, the one who drove an arrow into the sky?

Shall these two yet gladden you?

    Events don’t recur: we vanish once only.

Hence the cause of my weeping:

Prince Ayocuan, warrior chief

governed us harshly.

His pride waxed more, he grew haughty

here among men.

    But his time is finished . . .


he can no longer come to bow down before Father and

    Mother. . . .

This is the reason for my weeping:

He has fled to the place where all lack a body.

Sonnet in Search of an Author

Nude bodies like peeled logs

sometimes give off a sweetest

odor, man and woman


under the trees in full excess

matching the cushion of


aromatic pine-drift fallen

threaded with trailing woodbine

a sonnet might be made of it


Might be made of it! odor of excess

odor of pine needles, odor of

peeled logs, odor of no odor

other than trailing woodbine that


has no odor, odor of a nude woman

sometimes, odor of a man.

The Gift

As the wise men of old brought gifts

      guided by a star

            to the humble birthplace


of the god of love,

      the devils

            as an old print shows

retreated in confusion.


      What could a baby know

            of gold ornaments

or frankincense and myrrh,

      of priestly robes

            and devout genuflections?


But the imagination

      knows all stories

            before they are told

and knows the truth of this one

      past all defection


The rich gifts

      so unsuitable for a child

            though devoutly preferred,

stood for all that love can bring.


      The men were old

            how could they know

of a mother’s needs

      or a child’s



But as they kneeled

      the child was fed.


            They saw it


      gave praise!


            A miracle

had taken place,

      hard gold to love,

a mother’s milk!


            their wondering eyes.


The ass brayed

      the cattle lowed.

            It was their nature.


All men by their nature give praise.

      It is all

            they can do.


The very devils

      by their flight give praise.

            What is death,

beside this?


      Nothing. The wise men

            came with gifts

and bowed down

      to worship

      this perfection.

The Turtle

(For My Grandson)

Not because of his eyes,

          the eyes of a bird,

                    but because he is beaked,

birdlike, to do an injury,

          has the turtle attracted you.

                    He is your only pet.

When we are together

          you talk of nothing else

                    ascribing all sorts

of murderous motives

          to his least action.

                    You ask me

to write a poem,

          should I have poems to write,

                    about a turtle.


The turtle lives in the mud

          but is not mud-like,

                    you can tell it by his eyes

which are clear.

          When he shall escape

                    his present confinement

he will stride about the world

          destroying all

                    with his sharp beak.

Whatever opposes him

          in the streets of the city

                    shall go down.

Cars will be overturned.

          And upon his back

                    shall ride,

to his conquests,

          my Lord,



You shall be master!

          In the beginning

                    there was a great tortoise

who supported the world.

          Upon him

                    all ultimately


          Without him

                    nothing will stand.

He is all wise

          and can outrun the hare.

                    In the night

his eyes carry him

          to unknown places.

                    He is your friend.

Sappho, Be Comforted

There is only one love

let it be a sparrow

to hold between the breasts

      greets us daily with its small cries


what does it matter?

I, we’ll say, love a woman

but truth to tell

      I love myself more. Sappho loves


the music of her own

songs which men seldom

mean to her, a lovely girl

      of whom she is desperately fond:


This is myself though

my hateful mirror

shows every day my big nose.

      Men are indifferent to me, my sweet


but I would not trade

my skill in composition for

all, a second choice, you

      present for my passionate caresses.

To My Friend Ezra Pound

or he were a Jew or a


I hope they do give you the Nobel Prize

it would serve you right

        —in perpetuity

with such a name


If I were a dog

I’d sit down on a cold pavement

in the rain

to wait for a friend (and so would you)

if it so pleased me

even if it were January or Zukofsky


Your English

is not specific enough

As a writer of poems

you show yourself to be inept not to say



He is no more dead than Finland herself is dead

under the blows of the mass-man who threatened

to destroy her until she felled her forests

about his head, ensnaring him. But, children, you

underestimated the power in your own song, Finlandia!

It holds you up but no more so than has he I celebrate

who had heard the icy wind in his ears and defied

it lovingly with a smile. The power of music,

of composition, the placing of sounds together,

edge against edge, Musorgski the half-mad Russian

had it and Dostoevski who knew the soul. In such

style whistled the winds grateful to be tamed,

we say, by a man. Whee-wow! You stayed up half

the night in your attic room under the eaves, composing

secretly, setting it down, period after period,

as the wind whistled. Lightning flashed! The roof

creaked about your ears threatening to give

way! But you had a composition to finish that could

not wait. The storm entered your mind where all

good things are secured, written down, for love’s

sake and to defy the devil of emptiness. The

children are decked out in ribbons, bunting and

with flags in their hands to celebrate your birthday!

They parade to music! a joyous occasion. Sibelius

has been born and continues to live in all our

minds, all of us, forever. . . .


The plastic surgeon who has

concerned himself

with the repair of the mole


on my ear could not be

more pointedly



let all men confess it

Gauguin or Van Gogh

were intimates


who fell out finally

and parted going

to the ends of the earth


to be apart, wild men

one of them cut

his ear off with a pair of shears


which made him none the less

a surpassing genius

this happened


yesterday forgive him

he was mad

and who among us has retained


his sanity or balance

in the course the

events have taken since those days

Heel & Toe to the End

Gagarin says, in ecstasy,

he could have

gone on forever


he floated

ate and sang

and when he emerged from that


one hundred eight minutes off

the surface of

the earth he was smiling


Then he returned

to take his place

among the rest of us


from all that division and

subtraction a measure

toe and heel


heel and toe he felt

as if he had

been dancing

The Rewaking

Sooner or later

we must come to the end

of striving


to re-establish

the image the image of

the rose


but not yet

you say extending the

time indefinitely



your love until a whole




the violet to the very



and so by

your love the very sun

itself is revived

The Desert Music and Other Poems


To Bill and Paul

The Descent

The descent beckons

          as the ascent beckoned.

                      Memory is a kind

of accomplishment,

          a sort of renewal


an initiation, since the spaces it opens are new places

          inhabited by hordes

                      heretofore unrealized,

of new kinds—

          since their movements

                      are toward new objectives

(even though formerly they were abandoned).


No defeat is made up entirely of defeat—since

the world it opens is always a place


                      unsuspected. A

world lost,

          a world unsuspected,

                      beckons to new places

and no whiteness (lost) is so white as the memory

of whiteness    .


With evening, love wakens

          though its shadows

                      which are alive by reason

of the sun shining—

          grow sleepy now and drop away

                      from desire   .


Love without shadows stirs now

          beginning to awaken

                    as night



The descent

          made up of despairs

                    and without accomplishment

realizes a new awakening:

                    which is a reversal

of despair.

          For what we cannot accomplish, what

is denied to love,

          what we have lost in the anticipation—

                    a descent follows,

endless and indestructible    .

To Daphne and Virginia

The smell of the heat is boxwood

          when rousing us

                    a movement of the air

stirs our thoughts

          that had no life in them

                    to a life, a life in which

two women agonize:

          to live and to breathe is no less.

                    Two young women.

The box odor

          is the odor of that of which

                    partaking separately,

each to herself

          I partake also

                    .     .     separately.


Be patient that I address you in a poem,

          there is no other

                    fit medium.

The mind

          lives there. It is uncertain,

                    can trick us and leave us

agonized. But for resources

          what can equal it?

                    There is nothing. We

should be lost

          without its wings to

                    fly off upon.


The mind is the cause of our distresses

          but of it we can build anew.

                    Oh something more than

it flies off to:

          a woman’s world,

                    of crossed sticks, stopping

thought. A new world

          is only a new mind.

                     And the mind and the poem

are all apiece.

          Two young women

                    to be snared,

odor of box,

          to bind and hold them

                    for the mind’s labors.


All women are fated similarly

          facing men

                    and there is always

another, such as I,

          who loves them,

                    loves all women, but

finds himself, touching them,

          like other men,

                    often confused.


I have two sons,

          the husbands of these women,

                    who live also

in a world of love,


                    Shall this odor of box in

                    the heat

not also touch them

          fronting a world of women

                    from which they are


          by the very scents which draw them on

                    against easy access?


In our family we stammer unless,

            half mad,

                      we come to speech at last


And I am not

            a young man.

                      My love encumbers me.

It is a love

            less than

                      a young man’s love but,

like this box odor

            more penetrant, infinitely

                      more penetrant,

in that sense not to be resisted.


There is, in the hard

            give and take

                      of a man’s life with

                      a woman

a thing which is not the stress itself

            but beyond

                      and above


            something that wants to rise

                      and shake itself

free. We are not chickadees

            on a bare limb

                      with a worm in the mouth.

The worm is in our brains

            and concerns them

                      and not food for our

offspring, wants to disrupt

            our thought

                      and throw it

to the newspapers

            or anywhere.


                        There is, in short,

a counter stress,

            born of the sexual shock,

                        which survives it

consonant with the moon,

            to keep its own mind.

                        There is, of course,



                        are not alone

in that. At least

            while this healing odor is abroad

                        one can write a poem.


Staying here in the country

            on an old farm

                        we eat our breakfasts

on a balcony under an elm.

            The shrubs below us

                        are neglected. And

there, penned in,

            or he would eat the garden,

                        lives a pet goose who

tilts his head


                        and looks up at us,

a very quiet old fellow

            who writes no poems.

                        Fine mornings we sit there

while birds

            come and go.

                        A pair of robins

is building a nest      .

            for the second time

                        this season. Men

against their reason

            speak of love, sometimes,

                        when they are old. It is

all they can do       .

            or watch a heavy goose

                      who waddles, slopping

                      noisily in the mud of

                      his pool.

The Orchestra

The precise counterpart

          of a cacophony of bird calls

                    lifting the sun almighty

into his sphere: wood-winds

          clarinet and violins

                    sound a prolonged A!

Ah! the sun, the sun! is about to rise

          and shed his beams

                    as he has always done

upon us all,

          drudges and those

                    who live at ease,

women and men,

          upon the old,

                    upon children and the sick

who are about to die and are indeed

          dead in their beds,

                    to whom his light

is forever lost. The cello

          raises his bass note

                    manfully in the treble din:

Ah, ah and ah!

          together, unattuned

                    seeking a common tone.

Love is that common tone

          shall raise his fiery head

                    and sound his note.


The purpose of an orchestra

          is to organize those sounds

                    and hold them

to an assembled order    .

          in spite of the

                 “wrong note.” Well, shall we

think or listen? Is there a sound addressed

            not wholly to the ear?

                       We half close

our eyes. We do not

            hear it through our eyes.

                       It is not

a flute note either, it is the relation

            of a flute note

                       to a drum. I am wide

awake. The mind

            is listening. The ear

                       is alerted. But the ear

in a half-reluctant mood


                       .            and yawns.


And so the banked violins

            in three tiers

                       enliven the scene,

pizzicato. For a short

            memory or to

                       make the listener listen

the theme is repeated

            stressing a variant:

                       it is a principle of music

to repeat the theme. Repeat

            and repeat again,

                       as the pace mounts. The

theme is difficult      .

            but no more difficult

                       than the facts to be

resolved. Repeat

            and repeat the theme

                       and all it develops to be

until thought is dissolved

            in tears.

                        Our dreams

have been assaulted

            by a memory that will not

                        sleep. The

French horns


                       .        their voices:

I love you. My heart

            is innocent. And this

                        the first day of the world!


Say to them:

“Man has survived hitherto because he was too ignorant

to know how to realize his wishes. Now that he can realize

them, he must either change them or perish.”


Now is the time  .

            in spite of the “wrong note”

                        I love you. My heart is


            And this the first

                        (and last) day of the world


The birds twitter now anew

            but a design

                        surmounts their twittering.

It is a design of a man

            that makes them twitter.

                        It is a design.

For Eleanor and Bill Monahan

Mother of God! Our Lady!

          the heart

                    is an unruly Master:

Forgive us our sins

          as we


those who have sinned against


                    We submit ourselves

to Your rule

          as the flowers in May

                    submit themselves to

                    Your Holy rule—against

that impossible springtime

          when men

                    shall be the flowers

spread at your feet.


As far as spring is

          from winter

                    so are we

from you now. We have not come


                    to your environs

but painfully

          across sands

                    that have scored our

feet. That which we have suffered

          was for us

                    to suffer. Now,

in the winter of the year,

          the birds who know how

                    to escape suffering

by flight

          are gone. Man alone

                    is that creature who

cannot escape suffering

          by flight      .


I do not come to you

          save that I confess

                      to being

                      half man and half

woman. I have seen the ivy


                      to a piece of crumbled

wall so that

          you cannot tell

                      by which either

stands: this is to say

          if she to whom I cling

                      is loosened both

of us go down.


Mother of God

          I have seen you stoop

                      to a merest flower

and raise it

          and press it to your cheek.

                      I could have called out


          but you were too far off.

                      You are a woman and

it was

          a woman’s gesture.


You have no lovers now

          in the bare skies

                      to bring you flowers,

to whisper to you

          under a hedge


you are young

          and fit to be loved.

                    I declare it boldly

with my heart

          in my teeth

                    and my knees knocking

together. Yet I declare

          it, and by God’s word

                    it is no lie. Make us

humble and obedient to His rule.


There are men

          who as they live

                    fling caution to the

wind and women praise them

          and love them for it.

                    Cruel as the claws of

a cat     .      .


The moon which

          they have vulgarized recently

                    is still

your planet

          as it was Dian’s before

                    you. What

do they think they will attain

          by their ships

                    that death has not

already given

          them? Their ships

                    should be directed

inward upon     .     But I

          am an old man. I

                    have had enough.


The female principle of the world

          is my appeal

                    in the extremity

to which I have come.

          O clemens! O pia! O dolcis!


To a Dog Injured in the Street

It is myself,

            not the poor beast lying there

                        yelping with pain

that brings me to myself with a start—

            as at the explosion

                        of a bomb, a bomb that has laid

all the world waste.

            I can do nothing

                        but sing about it

and so I am assuaged

            from my pain.


A drowsy numbness drowns my sense

            as if of hemlock

                        I had drunk. I think

of the poetry

            of René Char

                        and all he must have seen

and suffered

            that has brought him

                        to speak only of

sedgy rivers,

          of daffodils and tulips

                      whose roots they water,

even to the free-flowing river

          that laves the rootlets

                      of those sweet-scented flowers

that people the


                      way     .


I remember Norma

          our English setter of my childhood

                      her silky ears

and expressive eyes.

          She had a litter

                      of pups one night

in our pantry and I kicked

          one of them

                      thinking, in my alarm,

that they

          were biting her breasts

                      to destroy her.


I remember also

          a dead rabbit

                      lying harmlessly

on the outspread palm

          of a hunter’s hand.

                      As I stood by


          he took a hunting knife

                      and with a laugh

thrust it

          up into the animal’s private parts.

                      I almost fainted.


Why should I think of that now?

          The cries of a dying dog

                    are to be blotted out

as best I can.

          René Char

                    you are a poet who believes

in the power of beauty

          to right all wrongs.

                    I believe it also.

With invention and courage

          we shall surpass

                    the pitiful dumb beasts,

let all men believe it,

          as you have taught me also

                    to believe it.

The Yellow Flower

What shall I say, because talk I must?

            That I have found a cure

                      for the sick?

I have found no cure

            for the sick     .

                      but this crooked flower

which only to look upon

            all men

                      are cured. This

is that flower

            for which all men

                      sing secretly their hymns

of praise. This

            is that sacred



Can this be so?

            A flower so crooked

                      and obscure? It is

a mustard flower

            and not a mustard flower,

                      a single spray

topping the deformed stem

            of fleshy leaves

                      in this freezing weather

under glass.


An ungainly flower and

            an unnatural one,

                      in this climate; what

can be the reason

            that it has picked me out

                      to hold me, openmouthed,

rooted before this window

            in the cold,

                        my will

drained from me

            so that I have only eyes

                      for these yellow,

twisted petals           ?


That the sight,

            though strange to me,

                      must be a common one,

is clear: there are such flowers

            with such leaves

                      native to some climate

which they can call

            their own.


But why the torture

            and the escape through

                      the flower? It is

as if Michelangelo

            had conceived the subject

                      of his Slaves from this

—or might have done so.

            And did he not make

                      the marble bloom? I

am sad

            as he was sad

                      in his heroic mood.

But also

            I have eyes

                      that are made to see and if

they see ruin for myself

            and all that I hold

                      dear, they see


            through the eyes

                      and through the lips

and tongue the power

            to free myself

                      and speak of it, as

Michelangelo through his hands

            had the same, if greater,



Which leaves, to account for,

            the tortured bodies


the slaves themselves


                      the tortured body of my flower

which is not a mustard flower at all

            but some unrecognized

                      and unearthly flower

for me to naturalize

            and acclimate

                      and choose it for my own.

The Host

According to their need,

          this tall Negro evangelist

                      (at a table separate from the

                      rest of his party);

these two young Irish nuns

          (to be described subsequently);

                      and this white-haired Anglican

have come witlessly

          to partake of the host

                      laid for them (and for me)

by the tired waitresses.


It is all

          (since eat we must)

                      made sacred by our common need.

The evangelist’s assistants

          are most open in their praise

                      though covert

as would be seemly

          in such a public

                      place. The nuns

are all black, a side view.

          The cleric,

                      his head bowed to reveal

his unruly poll

          dines alone.


My eyes are restless.

          The evangelists eat well,

                      fried oysters and what not

at this railway restaurant. The Sisters

          are soon satisfied. One

                      on leaving,

looking straight before her under steadfast brows,


                      blue eyes. I myself

have brown eyes

            and a milder mouth.


There is nothing to eat,

            seek it where you will,

                      but of the body of the Lord.

The blessed plants

            and the sea, yield it

                      to the imagination

intact. And by that force

            it becomes real,


to the poor animals

            who suffer and die

                      that we may live.


The well-fed evangels,

            the narrow-lipped and bright-eyed nuns,

                      the tall,

white-haired Anglican,

            proclaim it by their appetites

                      as do I also,

chomping with my worn-out teeth:

            the Lord is my shepherd

                      I shall not want.


No matter how well they are fed,

            how daintily

                      they put the food to their lips,

it is all

            according to the imagination!

Only the imagination

            is real! They have imagined it,

            therefore it is so:

of the evangels,

            with the long legs characteristic of the race—

                      only the docile women

of the party smiled at me

            when, with my eyes

                      I accosted them.

The nuns—but after all

            I saw only a face, a young face

                      cut off at the brows.

It was a simple story.

            The cleric, plainly

                      from a good school,

interested me more,

            a man with whom I might

                      carry on a conversation.


No one was there

            save only for

                      the food. Which I alone,

being a poet,

            could have given them.

                      But I

had only my eyes

            with which to speak.

Deep Religious Faith

Past death

            past rainy days

                        or the distraction

of lady’s-smocks all silver-white;

            beyond the remote borders

                        of poetry itself

if it does not drive us,

            it is vain.

                        Yet it is

that which made El Greco

            paint his green and distorted saints

                        and live


            It is what in life drives us

                        to praise music

and the old

            or sit by a friend

                       in his last hours.



All that which makes the pear ripen

            or the poet’s line

                        come true!

Invention is the heart of it.


Without the quirks

            and oddnesses of invention

                        the paralytic is confirmed

in his paralysis,

            it is from a northern

                        and half-savage country

where the religion

            is hate.



the citizens are imprisoned.

            The rose

                      may not be worshipped

or the poet look to it

            for benefit.


In the night a

            storm of gale proportions came


                      No one was there to envisage

a field of daisies!

            There were bellowings

                      and roarings

from a child’s book

            of fairy tales,

                      the rumble

of a distant bombing

            —or of a bee!

                      Shame on our poets,

they have caught the prevalent fever:


                      by the “laboratory,”

they have forgot

            the flower!

                      which goes beyond all


            They have quit the job

                      of invention. The

imagination has fallen asleep

            in a poppy-cup.

The Mental Hospital Garden

It is far to Assisi,

          but not too far:

                      Over this garden,

brooding over this garden,

          there is a kindly spirit,

                      brother to the poor

and who is poorer than he

          who is in love

                      when birds are nesting

in the spring of the year?

          They came

                      to eat from his hand

who had nothing,

          and yet

                      from his plenty

he fed them all.

          All mankind

                      grew to be his debtors,

a simple story.

          Love is in season.


At such a time,

          hyacinth time


the hospital garden,

          the time

                      of the coral-flowered

and early salmon-pink

          clusters, it is

                      the time also of

abandoned birds’ nests


                      the sparrows start

                      to tear them apart


against the advent of that bounty

            from which

                      they will build anew.


All about them

            on the lawns

                      the young couples

embrace      .

            as in a tale

                      by Boccaccio.

They are careless

            under license of the disease

                      which has restricted them

to these grounds.

            St. Francis forgive them

                      and all lovers

whoever they may be.

            They have seen

                      a great light, it

springs from their own bawdy foreheads.

            The light

                      is sequestered there

by these enclosing walls.

            They are divided

                      from their fellows.

It is a bounty

            from a last year’s bird’s nest.

                      St. Francis,

who befriended the wild birds,

            by their aid,

                      those who

have nothing

            and live

                      by the Holy light of love

that rules,

            blocking despair,

                      over this garden.

Time passes.

          The pace has slackened

                    But with the falling off

of the pace

          the scene has altered.

                    The lovers raise their heads,

at that which has come over them.

          It is summer now.

                    The broad sun


          Blinded by the light

                    they walk bewildered,


          between the leaves

                    for a vantage

from which to view

          the advancing season.

                    They are incredulous

of their own cure

          and half minded

                    to escape

into the dark again.

          The scene

                    indeed has changed.

By St. Francis

          the whole scene

                    has changed.

They glimpse

          a surrounding sky

                    and the whole countryside.

Filled with terror

          they seek

                    a familiar flower

at which to warm themselves,

          but the whole field

                    accosts them.

They hide their eyes


                      before that bounty,

peering through their fingers


                      The saint is watching,

his eyes filled with pity.


The year is still young

          but not so young

                      as they

who face the fears

          with which

                      they are confronted.


          after love’s first folly

                      they resemble children

roused from a long sleep.

          Summer is here,

                      right enough.

The saint

          has tactfully withdrawn.



          parting the leaves before her,

                      stands in the full sunlight,


          shading her eyes

                      as her heart

beats wildly

          and her mind

                      drinks up

the full meaning

          of it


The Artist

Mr. T.


                      in a soiled undershirt

his hair standing out

            on all sides

                      stood on his toes

heels together

            arms gracefully

                      for the moment

curled above his head.

            Then he whirled about


into the air

            and with an entrechat

                      perfectly achieved

completed the figure.

            My mother

                      taken by surprise

where she sat

            in her invalid’s chair

                      was left speechless.

Bravo! she cried at last

            and clapped her hands.

                      The man’s wife

came from the kitchen:

            What goes on here? she said.

                      But the show was over.

Theocritus: Idyl I

A Version from the Greek




The whisper of the wind in

          that pine tree,


is sweet as the murmur of live water;


                      your flute notes. After Pan

you shall bear away second prize.

          And if he

                      take the goat

with the horns,

          the she-goat

                      is yours: but if

he choose the she-goat,

          the kid will fall

                      to your lot.

And the flesh of the kid

          is dainty

                      before they begin milking them.





Your song is sweeter,


                      than the music

of the water as it plashes

          from the high face

                      of yonder rock!

If the Muses

          choose the young ewe

                      you shall receive

a stall-fed lamb

          as your reward,

                      but if

they prefer the lamb


                      shall have the ewe for

                      second prize.





Will you not, goatherd,

          in the Nymph’s name

                      take your place on this

                      sloping knoll

among the tamarisks

          and pipe for me

                      while I tend my sheep.





No, shepherd,

          nothing doing;

                      it’s not for us

to be heard during the noon hush.

          We dread Pan,

                      who for a fact

is stretched out somewhere,

          dog tired from the chase;

                      his mood is bitter,

anger ready at his nostrils.

          But, Thyrsis,

                      since you are good at

singing of The Afflictions of Daphnis,

          and have most deeply

                      meditated the pastoral mode,

come here,

          let us sit down,

                      under this elm

facing Priapus and the fountain fairies,

          here where the shepherds come

                      to try themselves out

by the oak trees.

         Ah! may you sing

                      as you sang that day

facing Chromis out of Libya,

         I will let you milk, yes,

                      three times over,

a goat that is the mother of twins

         and even when

                      she has sucked her kids

her milk fills

         two pails. I will give besides,

                      new made, a two-eared bowl

of ivy-wood,

         rubbed with beeswax

                      that smacks still

of the knife of the carver.

         Round its upper edges

                      winds the ivy, ivy

flecked with yellow flowers

         and about it

                      is twisted

a tendril joyful with the saffron fruit.


                      is limned a girl,

as fair a thing as the gods have made,

         dressed in a sweeping


Her hair

          is confined by a snood.

                      Beside her

two fair-haired youths

          with alternate speech

                      are contending

but her heart is



she glances at one,


                      and now, lightly

she flings the other a thought,

          while their eyes,

                      by reason of love’s

long vigils, are heavy

          but their labors

                      all in vain.

In addition

          there is fashioned there

                      an ancient fisherman

and a rock,

          a rugged rock,

                      on which

with might and main

          the old man poises a great net

                      for the cast

as one who puts his whole heart into it.

          One would say

                      that he was fishing

with the full strength of his limbs

          so big do his muscles stand out

                      about the neck.

Gray-haired though he be,

          he has the strength

                      of a young man.

Now, separated

          from the sea-broken old man

                      by a narrow interval

is a vineyard,


                      with fire-red clusters,

and on a rude wall

          sits a small boy

                      guarding them.

Round him

          two she-foxes are skulking.


goes the length of the vine-rows

          to eat the grapes

                      while the other

brings all her cunning to bear,

          by what has been set down,


she will never quit the lad


                      she leaves him bare

and breakfastless.

          But the boy

                      is plaiting a pretty

cage of locust stalks and asphodel,

          fitting in the reeds

                      and cares less for his scrip

and the vines

          than he takes delight

                      in his plaiting.

All about the cup

          is draped the mild acanthus

                      a miracle of varied work,

a thing for you to marvel at.

          I paid

                      a Caledonian ferryman

a goat and a great white


                      for the bowl.

It is still virgin to me,

          its lip has never touched mine.

                      To gain my desire,

I would gladly

          give this cup

                      if you, my friend,

will sing for me

          that delightful song.

                      I hold nothing back.

Begin, my friend,

          for you cannot,

                      you may be sure,

take your song,

          which drives all things out of mind,

                      with you to the other world.

The Desert Music

—the dance begins: to end about a form

propped motionless—on the bridge

between Juárez and El Paso—unrecognizable

in the semi-dark




The others waited while you inspected it,

on the very walk itself       .


                  Is it alive?


                                     —neither a head,

legs nor arms!


            It isn’t a sack of rags someone

has abandoned here           .         torpid against

the flange of the supporting girder      .       ?


                      an inhuman shapelessness,

knees hugged tight up into the belly




                            What a place to sleep!

on the International Boundary. Where else,

interjurisdictional, not to be disturbed?


How shall we get said what must be said?


Only the poem.


Only the counted poem, to an exact measure:

to imitate, not to copy nature, not

to copy nature


not, prostrate, to copy nature

                              but a dance! to dance

two and two with him—

                    sequestered there asleep,

                                  right end up!


      A music

supersedes his composure, hallooing to us

across a great distance     .    .


                              wakens the dance

who blows upon his benumbed fingers!


                              Only the poem

only the made poem, to get said what must

be said, not to copy nature, sticks

in our throats     .


The law? The law gives us nothing

but a corpse, wrapped in a dirty mantle.

The law is based on murder and confinement,

long delayed,

but this, following the insensate music,

is based on the dance:


                            an agony of self-realization

bound into a whole

by that which surrounds us        .


                                  I cannot escape


I cannot vomit it up


Only the poem!


Only the made poem, the verb calls it

                                    into being.


                —it looks too small for a man.

A woman. Or a very shriveled old man.

Maybe dead. They probably inspect the place

and will cart it away later     .


                    Heave it into the river.

A good thing.


Leaving California to return east, the fertile desert,

                      (were it to get water)

surrounded us, a music of survival, subdued, distant, half

                  heard; we were engulfed

by it as in the early evening, seeing the wind lift

                  and drive the sand, we

passed Yuma. All night long, heading for El Paso to

                  meet our friend,

we slept fitfully. Thinking of Paris, I waked to the tick

                  of the rails. The

jagged desert         .


                                     —to tell

        what subsequently I saw and what heard


                              —to place myself (in

my nature) beside nature


                        —to imitate

nature (for to copy nature would be a

      shameful thing)


                      I lay myself down:

The Old Market’s a good place to begin:

Let’s cut through here—

                             tequila’s only

a nickel a slug in these side streets.

Keep out though. Oh, it’s all right at

this time of day but I saw H. terribly

beaten up in one of those joints. He

asked for it. I thought he was going to

be killed. I do

my drinking on the main drag     .


                        That’s the bull ring

Oh, said Floss, after she got used to the

change of light      .

                        What color! Isn’t it



    —paper flowers (para los santos)

baked red-clay utensils, daubed

with blue, silverware,

dried peppers, onions, print goods, children’s

clothing   .   the place deserted all but

for a few Indians squatted in the

booths, unnoticing (don’t you think it)

as though they slept there    .


        There’s a second tier. Do you

want to go up?


        What makes Texans so tall?

We saw a woman this morning in a mink cape

six feet if she was an inch. What a woman!


Probably a Broadway figure.


—tell you what else we saw: about a million

sparrows screaming their heads off

in the trees of that small park where

the buses stop, sanctuary,

I suppose,

from the wind driving the sand in that way

about the city     .


                              Texas rain they call it


—and those two alligators in the fountain     .


There were four


              I saw only two


                          They were looking

right at you all the time     .


Penny please! Give me penny please, mister.


                  Don’t give them anything.


                               .     instinctively

one has already drawn one’s naked

wrist away from those obscene fingers

as in the mind a vague apprehension speaks

and the music rouses     .


                                  Let’s get in here.

                        a music! cut off as

the bar door closes behind us.


                  We’ve got

another half hour.


                    —returned to the street,

the pressure moves from booth to booth along

the curb. Opposite, no less insistent

the better stores are wide open. Come in

and look around. You don’t have to buy: hats,

riding boots, blankets    .


                    Look at the way,

slung from her neck with a shawl, that young

Indian woman carries her baby!


                    —a stream of Spanish,

as she brushes by, intense, wide-

eyed in eager talk with her boy husband


—three half-grown girls, one of them eating a

pomegranate.   Laughing.


                          and the serious tourist,

man and wife, middle-aged, middle-western,

their arms loaded with loot, whispering

together—still looking for bargains   .


                          and the aniline

red and green candy at the little booth

tended by the old Indian woman.

          Do you suppose anyone actually

buys—and eats the stuff?


My feet are beginning to ache me.


                      We still got a few minutes.

Let’s try here. They had the mayor

up last month for taking $3000 a week from

the whorehouses of the city. Not much left

for the girls.   There’s a show on.


                          Only a few tables

occupied. A conventional orchestra—this

place livens up later—playing the usual local

jing-a-jing—a boy and girl team, she

                          confidential with someone

off stage. Laughing: just finishing the act.


So we drink until the next turn—a strip tease.


Do you mean it? Wow! Look at her.


                            You’d have to be

pretty drunk to get any kick out of that.

She’s no Mexican. Some worn-out trouper from

the States. Look at those breasts    .


          There is a fascination

          seeing her shake

          the beaded sequins from

          a string about her hips


          She gyrates but it’s

          not what you think,

          one does not laugh

          to watch her belly.


          One is moved but not

          at the dull show.    The

          guitarist yawns.   She

          cannot even sing.     She


          has about her painted

          hardihood a screen

          of pretty doves which

          flutter their wings.


          Her cold eyes perfunc-

          torily moan but do not

          smile.    Yet they bill

          and coo by grace of

          a certain candor.   She


          is heavy on her feet.

          That’s good. She

          bends forward leaning

          on the table of the

          balding man sitting

          upright, alone, so that

          everything hangs for-


              What the hell

          are you grinning

          to yourself about?    Not

          at her?

              The music!

          I like her.    She fits


          the music      .


          Why don’t these Indians get over this nauseating

          prattle about their souls and their loves and sing

          us something else for a change?


          This place is rank

          with it. She

          at least knows she’s

          part of another tune,

          knows her customers,

          has the same

          opinion of them as I

          have. That gives her

          one up    .     one up

          following the lying

          music       .


There is another music. The bright-colored candy

of her nakedness lifts her unexpectedly

to partake of its tune      .


                              Andromeda of those rocks,

the virgin of her mind             .            those unearthly

greens and reds

                              in her mockery of virtue

she becomes unaccountably virtuous     .

                              though she in no

way pretends it      .


Let’s get out of this.


                              In the street it hit

me in the face as we started to walk again. Or

am I merely playing the poet? Do I merely invent

it out of whole cloth? I thought     .


              What in the form of an old whore in

              a cheap Mexican joint in Juárez, her bare

              can waggling crazily can be

              so refreshing to me, raise to my ear

              so sweet a tune, built of such slime?


              Here we are. They’ll be along any minute.

              The bar is at the right of the entrance,

              a few tables opposite which you have to pass

              to get to the dining room, beyond.


              A foursome, two oversize Americans, no

              longer young, got up as cowboys,

              hats and all, are drunk and carrying on

              with their gals, drunk also,


              especially one inciting her man, the

              biggest, Yip ee! to dance in

              the narrow space, oblivious to everything

              —she is insatiable and he is trying


              stumblingly to keep up with her.

              Give it the gun, pardner! Yip ee! We

              pushed by them to our table, seven

              of us. Seated about the room


              were quiet family groups, some with

              children, eating. Rather a better

              class than you notice

              on the streets. So here we are. You


              can see through into the kitchen

              where one of the cooks, his shirt sleeves

              rolled up, an apron over

              the well-pressed pants of a street


              suit, black hair neatly parted,

              a tall

              good-looking man, is working

              absorbed, before a chopping block


Old fashioneds all around?


                        So this is William

Carlos Williams, the poet        .


                    Floss and I had half consumed

our quartered hearts of lettuce before

we noticed the others hadn’t touched theirs    .

You seem quite normal. Can you tell me? Why

does one want to write a poem?


            Because it’s there to be written.


Oh. A matter of inspiration then?


                                  Of necessity.


Oh. But what sets it off?


          I am that he whose brains

          are scattered



                                      —and so,

the hour done, the quail eaten, we were on

our way back to El Paso.


                          Good night. Good

night and thank you  .  No. Thank you. We’re

going to walk      .


—and so, on the naked wrist, we feel again

those insistent fingers    .


                            Penny please, mister.

Penny please. Give me penny.


                            Here! now go away.


—but the music, the music has reawakened

as we leave the busier parts of the street

and come again to the bridge in the semi-dark,

pay our fee and begin again to cross     .

seeing the lights along the mountain back of El

Paso and pause to watch the boys calling out

to us to throw more coins to them standing

in the shallow water    .    so that’s

where the incentive lay, with the annoyance

of those surprising fingers.


                          So you’re a poet?

a good thing to be got rid of—half drunk,

a free dinner under your belt, even though you

get typhoid—and to have met people you

can at least talk to     .


              relief from that changeless, endless

inescapable and insistent music     .


              What else, Latins, do you yourselves

seek but relief!

with the expressionless ding dong you dish up

to us of your souls and your loves, which

we swallow. Spaniards! (though these are mostly

Indians who chase the white bastards

through the streets on their Independence Day

and try to kill them)       .


                                    What’s that?


Oh, come on.


            But what’s THAT?


                            the music! the

music! as when Casals struck

and held a deep cello tone

and I am speechless    .


                                    There it sat

in the projecting angle of the bridge flange

as I stood aghast and looked at it—

in the half-light: shapeless or rather returned

to its original shape, armless, legless,

headless, packed like the pit of a fruit into

that obscure corner—or

a fish to swim against the stream—or

a child in the womb prepared to imitate life,

warding its life against

a birth of awful promise. The music

guards it, a mucus, a film that surrounds it,

a benumbing ink that stains the

sea of our minds—to hold us off—shed

of a shape close as it can get to no shape,

a music! a protecting music          .


                                  I am a poet! I

am. I am. I am a poet, I reaffirmed, ashamed


Now the music volleys through as in

a lonely moment I hear it. Now it is all

about me. The dance! The verb detaches itself

seeking to become articulate   .


            And I could not help thinking

            of the wonders of the brain that

            hears that music and of our

            skill sometimes to record it.

Journey to Love


For My Wife

A Negro Woman

carrying a bunch of marigolds


                        in an old newspaper:

She carries them upright,


                        the bulk

of her thighs

            causing her to waddle

                        as she walks

looking into

            the store window which she passes

                        on her way.

What is she

            but an ambassador

                        from another world

a world of pretty marigolds

            of two shades

                        which she announces

not knowing what she does


                        than walk the streets

holding the flowers upright

            as a torch

                        so early in the morning.

The Ivy Crown

The whole process is a lie,


                      crowned by excess,

it break forcefully,

          one way or another,

                      from its confinement—

or find a deeper well.

          Antony and Cleopatra

                      were right;

they have shown

          the way. I love you

                      or I do not live

at all.


Daffodil time

          is past. This is

                      summer, summer!

the heart says,

          and not even the full of it.

                      No doubts

are permitted—

          though they will come

                      and may

before our time

          overwhelm us.

                      We are only mortal

but being mortal

          can defy our fate.

                      We may

by an outside chance

          even win! We do not

                      look to see

jonquils and violets

          come again

                    but there are,


          the roses!


Romance has no part in it.

          The business of love is

                    cruelty which,

by our wills,

          we transform

                    to live together.

It has its seasons,

          for and against,

                    whatever the heart

fumbles in the dark

          to assert

                    toward the end of May.

Just as the nature of briars

          is to tear flesh,

                    I have proceeded

through them.


                    the briars out,

they say.

          You cannot live

                    and keep free of



Children pick flowers.

          Let them.

                    Though having them

in hand

          they have no further use for them

                    but leave them crumpled

at the curb’s edge.


At our age the imagination

            across the sorry facts

                        lifts us

to make roses

            stand before thorns.


love is cruel

            and selfish

                        and totally obtuse—

at least, blinded by the light,

            young love is.

                        But we are older,

I to love

            and you to be loved,

                        we have,

no matter how,

            by our wills survived

                        to keep

the jeweled prize


                        at our finger tips.

We will it so

            and so it is

                        past all accident.

View by Color Photography
on a Commercial Calendar

The church of Vice-Morcate

          in the Canton Ticino

                      with its apple blossoms

is beautiful

          as anything I have ever seen

                      in or out of


          The beauty of holiness

                      the beauty of a man’s anger

reflecting his sex

          or a woman’s either,


or a little stone church

          from a height


close to the camera

          the apple tree in blossom

                      or the far lake


          in the distance—

                      are equal

as they are unsurpassed.


                      after the event

comes from their contemplation,

          a great peace.

                      The sky is cut off,

there is no horizon

          just the mountainside

                      bordered by water

on which tiny waves

          without passion


cover the invisible fish.

          And who but we are concerned

                      with the beauty of apple blossoms

and a small church

          on a promontory,

                      an ancient church—

by the look of its masonry—


                      by a calm lake

in the mountains

          where the sun shines

                      of a springtime

afternoon. Something

          has come to an end here,

                      it has been accomplished.

The Sparrow

(To My Father)


This sparrow

          who comes to sit at my window

                    is a poetic truth

more than a natural one.

          His voice,

                    his movements,

his habits—

          how he loves to

                    flutter his wings

in the dust—

          all attest it;

                    granted, he does it

to rid himself of lice

          but the relief he feels

                    makes him

cry out lustily—

          which is a trait

                    more related to music

than otherwise.

          Wherever he finds himself

                    in early spring,

on back streets

          or beside palaces,

                    he carries on


          his amours.

                    It begins in the egg,

his sex genders it:

          What is more pretentiously


or about which

          we more pride ourselves?

                    It leads as often as not

to our undoing.

          The cockerel, the crow

                    with their challenging voices

cannot surpass

          the insistence

                    of his cheep!


          at El Paso

                    toward evening,

I saw—and heard!—

          ten thousand sparrows

                    who had come in from

the desert

          to roost. They filled the trees

                    of a small park. Men fled

(with ears ringing!)

          from their droppings,

                    leaving the premises

to the alligators

          who inhabit

                    the fountain. His image

is familiar

          as that of the aristocratic

                    unicorn, a pity

there are not more oats eaten


                    to make living easier

for him.

          At that,

                    his small size,

keen eyes,

          serviceable beak

                    and general truculence

assure his survival—

          to say nothing

                    of his innumerable


          Even the Japanese

                    know him

and have painted him


                    with profound insight

into his minor


                    Nothing even remotely


          about his lovemaking.

                    He crouches

before the female,

          drags his wings,


throws back his head

          and simply—

                    yells! The din

is terrific.

          The way he swipes his bill

                    across a plank

to clean it,

          is decisive.

                    So with everything

he does. His coppery


                    give him the air

of being always

          a winner—and yet

                    I saw once,

the female of his species

          clinging determinedly

                    to the edge of

a water pipe,

          catch him

                    by his crown-feathers

to hold him



hanging above the city streets


                    she was through with him.

What was the use

          of that?

                    She hung there


          puzzled at her success.

                    I laughed heartily.

Practical to the end,

          it is the poem

                    of his existence

that triumphed


                    a wisp of feathers

flattened to the pavement,

          wings spread symmetrically

                    as if in flight,

the head gone,

          the black escutcheon of the breast


an effigy of a sparrow,

          a dried wafer only,

                    left to say

and it says it

          without offense,


This was I,

          a sparrow.

                    I did my best;


The King!

Nell Gwyn,

          it says in the dictionary,


and mistress of Charles the Second:

          what a lot

                      of pious rot there is



                      simple statement.

She waked in the morning,

          bathed in

                      the King’s bountiful


          which enveloped her

                      completely and,


          with the grit, took away

                      all her sins.

It was the King’s body

          which was served;

                      the King’s boards which

in the evening

          she capably trod;

                      she fed

the King’s poor

          and when she died,

                      left them some slight moneys

under certain



Happy the woman

          whose husband makes her

                      the “King’s whore.”

All this you will find

          in the dictionary

                      where it has been

preserved forever—

          since it is beautiful

                      and true.

The Lady Speaks

A storm raged among the live oaks

          while my husband and I

                    sat in the semi-dark


          We watched from the windows,

                    the lights off,

saw the moss

          whipped upright

                    by the wind’s force.

Two candles we had lit

          side by side

                    before us

so solidly had our house been built

          kept their tall flames


May it be so

          when a storm sends the moss


back and forth


                    above my head

like flames in the final


Tribute to the Painters

Satyrs dance!

          all the deformities take wing


leading to the rout of the vocables

          in the writings

of Gertrude


                      you cannot be

an artist

          by mere ineptitude      .

The dream

          is in pursuit!


The neat figures of

          Paul Klee

                      fill the canvas

but that

          is not the work

                      of a child       .

The cure began, perhaps,

          with the abstractions

                      of Arabic art


          with his Melancholy

                      was ware of it—

the shattered masonry. Leonardo

          saw it,

                      the obsession,

and ridiculed it

          in La Gioconda.


congeries of tortured souls and devils

          who prey on them



          their own entrails



                      Juan Gris.

The letter from a friend


                      For the last

three nights

          I have slept like a baby


liquor or dope of any sort!

          We know

                      that a stasis

from a chrysalis

          has stretched its wings—

                      like a bull

or the Minotaur

          or Beethoven

                      in the scherzo

of his 9th Symphony


                      his heavy feet      .

I saw love

          mounted naked on a horse

                      on a swan

the back of a fish

          the bloodthirsty conger eel

                      and laughed

recalling the Jew

          in the pit

                      among his fellows

when the indifferent chap

          with the machine gun

                      was spraying the heap.


          had not yet been hit

                      but smiled

comforting his companions.


Dreams possess me

          and the dance

                      of my thoughts

involving animals

          the blameless beasts

and there came to me

          just now

                      the knowledge of

the tyranny of the image

          and how


in their designs

          have learned

                      to shatter it

whatever it may be,

          that the trouble

                      in their minds

shall be quieted,

          put to bed


To a Man Dying on His Feet

—not that we are not all

          “dying on our feet”

                    but the look you give me

and to which I bow,

          is more immediate.

                    It is keenly alert,

suspicious of me—

          as of all that are living—and


Your jaw

          wears the stubble

                    of a haggard beard,

a dirty beard,

          which resembles

                    the snow through which

your long legs

          are conducting you.

                    Whither? Where are you going?

This would be a fine day

          to go on a journey.

                    Say to Florida

where at this season

          all go


There grows the hibiscus,

          the star jasmine

                    and more than I can tell

but the odors

          from what I know

                    must be alluring.

Come with me there!

          you look like a good guy,

                    come this evening.

The plane leaves at 6:30

          or have you another


Come on!

A different kind of thought


                      and more desperate

like that of

            Sergeant So-and-So

                      at the road

in Belleau Wood:

            Come on!

                      Do you want to live



                      is the essence

of poetry.

            But it does not


take the same form.

            For the most part

                      it consists

in listening

            to the nightingale

                      or fools.

The Pink Locust

I’m persistent as the pink locust,

            once admitted

                      to the garden,

you will not easily get rid of it.

            Tear it from the ground,

                      if one hair-thin rootlet


            it will come again.

                      It is

flattering to think of myself

            so. It is also


A modest flower,

            resembling a pink sweet-pea,

                      you cannot help

but admire it

            until its habits

                      become known.

Are we not most of us

            like that? It would be

                      too much

if the public

            pried among the minutiae

                      of our private affairs.


            that we have anything to hide

                      but could they

stand it? Of course

            the world would be gratified

                      to find out

what fools we have made of ourselves.

            The question is,

                      would they

be generous with us—

            as we have been

                      with others? It is,

as I say,

            a flower

                      incredibly resilient

under attack!

            Neglect it

                      and it will grow into a tree.

I wish I could so think of myself

            and of what

                      is to become of me.

The poet himself,

            what does he think of himself

                      facing his world?

It will not do to say,

            as he is inclined to say:

                      Not much. The poem

would be in that betrayed.

            He might as well answer—

                      “a rose is a rose

is a rose” and let it go at that.

            A rose is a rose

                      and the poem equals it

if it be well made.

            The poet

                      cannot slight himself

without slighting

            his poem—

                      which would be


            Life offers

                      no greater reward.

And so,

            like this flower,

                      I persist—

for what there may be in it.

            I am not,

                      I know,

in the galaxy of poets

            a rose

                      but who, among the rest,

will deny me

            my place.

Classic Picture

It is a classic picture,

            women have always fussed with their hair

                      (having no sisters

I never watched the process

            so intimately

                      as this time); the reason for it

is not clear—

            tho’ I acknowledge,

                      an unkempt head of hair,

while not as repulsive as a nest of snakes,

            is repulsive enough

                      in a woman.


            she fusses with her hair


a woman does not want to seem repulsive,

         unless      .

                     to gain for herself     .

she be hungry,


                      as would be a man

and all hunger is repulsive

            and puts on

                      an ugly face.

Their heads are not made as a man’s,

            an ornament

                      in itself. They have

other charms—


                      to enumerate. Under

their ornate coiffures

            lurks a specter,

                      coiling snakes

doubling for tresses     .


A woman’s brains

            which can be keen

                      are condemned,

like a poet’s,

            to what deceptions she can muster

                      to lead men

to their ruin.

            But look more deeply

                      into her maneuvers,

and puzzle as we will about them

            they may mean

                      anything     .


To a look in my son’s eyes—

            I hope he did not see

                      that I was looking—

that I have seen

            often enough

                      in the mirror,

a male look

            approaching despair—

                      there is a female look

to match it

            no need to speak of that:


it was only a dreamy look

            not an unhappy one

                      but absent

from the world—

            such as plagued the eyes

                      of Bobby Burns

in his youth and threw him

            into the arms

                      of women—

in which he could

            forget himself,

                      not defiantly,

but with full acceptance

            of his lot

                      as a man    .    .

His Jean forgave him

            and took him to her heart

                      time after time

when he would be

            too drunk

                      with Scotch

or the love of other women

            to notice

                      what he was doing.

What was he intent upon

            but to drown out

                      that look? What

does it portend?

            A war

                      will not erase it

nor a bank account,


                      amounting to 9 figures.

Flow gently sweet Afton

            among thy green braes—

                      no matter

that he wrote the song

            to another woman

                      it was never for sale.

The Drunk and the Sailor

The petty fury

            that disrupts my life—

                      at the striking of a wrong key

as if it had been

            a woman lost

or a fortune    .    .

            The man was obviously drunk,

                      Christopher Marlowe

could have been no drunker

            when he got himself

                      stuck through the eye

with a poniard.

            The bus station was crowded.

The man


                      about my own age


            was talking privately

                      with a sailor.

He had an ugly jaw on him.


                      sitting there on the bench

too drunk to stand

            he began menacingly

                      his screaming.

The young sailor

            who could have flattened him

                      at one blow

kept merely looking at him.

            The nerve-tingling screeches

                      that sprang


            from that stubble beard

                      would have distinguished

an operatic tenor.

            But me—

                      the shock of it—

my heart leaped in my chest

            so that I saw red


to strangle the guy    .

            The fury of love

                      is no less.

A Smiling Dane

The Danish native

            before the Christian era

                      whose body

features intact

            with a rope

                      also intact

round the neck

            found recently

                      in a peat bog

is dead.

            Are you surprised?

                      You should be.

The diggers

            who discovered him

                      expected more.


            they quit the place


his ghost might walk.


The cast of his features

            shows him

                      to be

a man of intelligence.

            It did him no good.

                      What his eyes saw

cannot be more

            than the male

                      and female

of it—

            if as much.

                      His stomach

its contents examined

            shows him

                      before he died

to have had

            a meal

                      consisting of local grains

swallowed whole

            which he probably enjoyed

                      though he did not

much as we do

            chew them.

                      And what if

the image of his frightened executioners

            is not recorded?

                      Do we not know

their features

            as if

                      it had occurred


            We can still see in his smile

                      their grimaces.



Shadows cast by the street light

          under the stars,

                    the head is tilted back,

the long shadow of the legs

          presumes a world

                    taken for granted

on which the cricket trills.

          The hollows of the eyes

                    are unpeopled.

Right and left

          climb the ladders of night

                    as dawn races

to put out the stars.


                    is the poetic figure

but we know

          better: what is not now

                    will never

be. Sleep secure,

          the little dog in the snapshot

                    keeps his shrewd eyes

pared. Memory

          is liver than sight.

                    A man

looking out,

          seeing the shadows—

                    it is himself

that can be painlessly amputated

          by a mere shifting

                    of the stars.

A comfort so easily not to be

          and to be at once one

                    with every man.

The night blossoms

          with a thousand shadows

                    so long

as there are stars,

          street lights

                    or a moon and

who shall say

          by their shadows

which is different

          from the other

fat or lean.


Ripped from the concept of our lives

          and from all concept

                    somehow, and plainly,

the sun will come up

          each morning

                    and sink again.

So that we experience


                    every day

two worlds

          one of which we share with the

          rose in bloom

                    and one,

by far the greater,

          with the past,

                    the world of memory,

the silly world of history,

          the world

                    of the imagination.

Which leaves only the beasts and trees,


                    with their refractive


and rotting things

          to stir our wonder.

                    Save for the little

central hole

          of the eye itself

                    into which

we dare not stare too hard

          or we are lost.

                    The instant

trivial as it is

          is all we have


things the imagination feeds upon,

          the scent of the rose,

                    startle us anew.

Asphodel, That Greeny Flower


Of asphodel, that greeny flower,

          like a buttercup

                    upon its branching stem—

save that it’s green and wooden—

          I come, my sweet,

                    to sing to you.

We lived long together

          a life filled,

                    if you will,

with flowers. So that

          I was cheered

                    when I came first to know

that there were flowers also

          in hell.


I’m filled with the fading memory of those flowers

          that we both loved,

                    even to this poor

colorless thing—

          I saw it

                    when I was a child—

little prized among the living

          but the dead see,

                    asking among themselves:

What do I remember

          that was shaped

                    as this thing is shaped?

while our eyes fill

          with tears.

                    Of love, abiding love

it will be telling

          though too weak a wash of crimson

                    colors it

to make it wholly credible.

          There is something

                    something urgent

I have to say to you

          and you alone

                    but it must wait

while I drink in

          the joy of your approach,

                    perhaps for the last time.

And so

          with fear in my heart

                    I drag it out

and keep on talking

          for I dare not stop.

                    Listen while I talk on

against time.

          It will not be

                    for long.

I have forgot     .

          and yet I see clearly enough


central to the sky

          which ranges round it.

                    An odor

springs from it!

          A sweetest odor!

                    Honeysuckle! And now

there comes the buzzing of a bee!

          and a whole flood

                    of sister memories!

Only give me time,

          time to recall them

                    before I shall speak out.

Give me time,


When I was a boy

          I kept a book

                    to which, from time

to time,

          I added pressed flowers

                    until, after a time,

I had a good collection.

          The asphodel,


among them.

          I bring you,


a memory of those flowers.

         They were sweet

                    when I pressed them

and retained

         something of their sweetness

                    a long time.

It is a curious odor,

         a moral odor,

                    that brings me

near to you.

         The color

                    was the first to go.

There had come to me

         a challenge,

                    your dear self,

mortal as I was,

         the lily’s thoat

                    to the hummingbird!

Endless wealth,

         I thought,

                    held out its arms to me.

A thousand topics

         in an apple blossom.

                    The generous earth itself

gave us lief.

          The whole world

                    became my garden!

But the sea

          which no one tends

                    is also a garden

when the sun strikes it

          and the waves

                    are wakened.

I have seen it

          and so have you

                    when it puts all flowers

to shame.

          Too, there are the starfish

                    stiffened by the sun

and other sea wrack

          and weeds. We knew that

                    along with the rest of it

for we were born by the sea,

          knew its rose hedges

                    to the very water’s brink.

There the pink mallow grows

          and in their season


and there, later,

          we went to gather

                    the wild plum.

I cannot say

          that I have gone to hell

                    for your love

but often

          found myself there

                    in your pursuit.

I do not like it

          and wanted to be

                    in heaven. Hear me out.


Do not turn away.


I have learned much in my life

          from books

                    and out of them

about love.


                    is not the end of it.

There is a hierarchy

          which can be attained,

                    I think,

in its service.

          Its guerdon

                    is a fairy flower;

a cat of twenty lives.

          If no one came to try it

                    the world

would be the loser.

          It has been

                    for you and me

as one who watches a storm

          come in over the water.

                    We have stood

from year to year

          before the spectacle of our lives

                    with joined hands.

The storm unfolds.


                    plays about the edges of the clouds.

The sky to the north

          is placid,

                    blue in the afterglow

as the storm piles up.

          It is a flower

                    that will soon reach

the apex of its bloom.

          We danced,

                    in our minds,

and read a book together.

          You remember?

                    It was a serious book.

And so books

          entered our lives.

The sea! The sea!


                    when I think of the sea

there comes to mind

          the Iliad

                    and Helen’s public fault

that bred it.

          Were it not for that

                    there would have been

no poem but the world

          if we had remembered,

                    those crimson petals

spilled among the stones,

          would have called it simply


The sexual orchid that bloomed then

          sending so many


men to their graves

          has left its memory

                    to a race of fools

or heroes

          if silence is a virtue.

                    The sea alone

with its multiplicity

          holds any hope.

                    The storm

has proven abortive

          but we remain

                    after the thoughts it roused


          re-cement our lives.

                    It is the mind

the mind

          that must be cured

                    short of death’s


          and the will becomes again

                    a garden. The poem

is complex and the place made

          in our lives

                    for the poem.

Silence can be complex too,

          but you do not get far

                    with silence.

Begin again.

          It is like Homer’s

                    catalogue of ships:

it fills up the time.

          I speak in figures,

                    well enough, the dresses

you wear are figures also,

          we could not meet

                    otherwise. When I speak

of flowers

          it is to recall

                    that at one time

we were young.

          All women are not Helen,

                    I know that,

but have Helen in their hearts.

          My sweet,

                    you have it also, therefore

I love you

          and could not love you otherwise.

                    Imagine you saw

a field made up of women

          all silver-white.

                    What should you do

but love them?

          The storm bursts

                    or fades! it is not

the end of the world.

          Love is something else,

                    or so I thought it,

a garden which expands,

          though I knew you as a woman

                    and never thought otherwise,

until the whole sea

          has been taken up

                    and all its gardens.

It was the love of love,

          the love that swallows up all else,

                    a grateful love,

a love of nature, of people,


                    a love engendering

gentleness and goodness

          that moved me

                    and that I saw in you.

I should have known

          though I did not,

                    that the lily-of-the-valley

is a flower makes many ill

          who whiff it.

                    We had our children,

rivals in the general onslaught.

          I put them aside

                    though I cared for them

as well as any man

          could care for his children

                    according to my lights.

You understand

          I had to meet you

                    after the event

and have still to meet you.


                    to which you too shall bow

along with me—

          a flower

                    a weakest flower

shall be our trust

          and not because

                    we are too feeble

to do otherwise

          but because

                    at the height of my power

I risked what I had to do,

          therefore to prove

                    that we love each other

while my very bones sweated

          that I could not cry to you

                    in the act.

Of asphodel, that greeny flower,

          I come, my sweet,

                    to sing to you!

My heart rouses

          thinking to bring you news

                    of something

that concerns you

          and concerns many men. Look at

                    what passes for the new.

You will not find it there but in

          despised poems.

                    It is difficult

to get the news from poems

          yet men die miserably every day

                    for lack

of what is found there.

          Hear me out

                    for I too am concerned

and every man

          who wants to die at peace in his bed



Approaching death,

          as we think, the death of love,

                    no distinction

any more suffices to differentiate

          the particulars

                    of place and condition

with which we have been long


                    All appears

as if seen

          wavering through water.

                    We start awake with a cry

of recognition

          but soon the outlines

                    become again vague.

If we are to understand our time,

          we must find the key to it,

                    not in the eighteenth

and nineteenth centuries,

          but in earlier, wilder

                    and darker epochs    .    .

So to know, what I have to know

          about my own death,

                    if it be real,

I have to take it apart.

          What does your generation think

                    of Cézanne?

I asked a young artist.

          The abstractions of Hindu painting,

                    he replied,

is all at the moment which interests me.

          He liked my poem

                    about the parts

of a broken bottle,

          lying green in the cinders

                    of a hospital courtyard.

There was also, to his mind,

          the one on gay wallpaper

                    which he had heard about

but not read.

          I was grateful to him

                    for his interest.

Do you remember

          how at Interlaken

                    we were waiting, four days,

to see the Jungfrau

          but rain had fallen steadily.


just before train time

          on a tip from one of the waitresses

                    we rushed

to the Gipfel Platz

          and there it was!

                    in the distance

covered with new-fallen snow.

          When I was at Granada,

                    I remember,

in the overpowering heat

          climbing a treeless hill

                    overlooking the Alhambra.

At my appearance at the summit

          two small boys

                    who had been playing


          made themselves scarce.

                    Starting to come down

by a new path

          I at once found myself surrounded

                    by gypsy women

who came up to me,

          I could speak little Spanish,

                    and directed me,

guided by a young girl,

          on my way.

                    These were the pinnacles.

The deaths I suffered

          began in the heads

                    about me, my eyes

were too keen

          not to see through

                    the world’s niggardliness.

I accepted it

          as my fate.

                    The wealthy

I defied

          or not so much they,

                    for they have their uses,

as they who take their cues from them.

          I lived

                    to breathe above the stench

not knowing how I in my own person

          would be overcome

                    finally. I was lost

failing the poem.

          But if I have come from the sea

                    it is not to be


          fascinated by the glint of waves.

                    The free interchange

of light over their surface

          which I have compared

                    to a garden

should not deceive us

          or prove

                    too difficult a figure.

The poem

          if it reflects the sea

                    reflects only

its dance

          upon that profound depth


it seems to triumph.

          The bomb puts an end

                    to all that.

I am reminded

          that the bomb


is a flower



to our destruction.

          The mere picture

                    of the exploding bomb

fascinates us

          so that we cannot wait

                    to prostrate ourselves

before it. We do not believe

          that love

                    can so wreck our lives.

The end

          will come

                    in its time.


          we are sick to death

                    of the bomb

and its childlike


                    Death is no answer,

no answer—

          to a blind old man

                    whose bones

have the movement

          of the sea,

                    a sexless old man

for whom it is a sea

          of which his verses

                    are made up.

There is no power

          so great as love

                    which is a sea,

which is a garden—

          as enduring

                    as the verses

of that blind old man


                    to live forever.

Few men believe that

          nor in the games of children.

                    They believe rather

in the bomb

          and shall die by

                    the bomb.

Compare Darwin’s voyage of the Beagle,

          a voyage of discovery if there ever was one,

                    to the death


          in the electric chair

                    of the Rosenbergs.

It is the mark of the times

          that though we condemn

                    what they stood for

we admire their fortitude.

          But Darwin

                    opened our eyes

to the gardens of the world,

          as they closed them.

                    Or take that other voyage

which promised so much

          but due to the world’s avarice

                    breeding hatred

through fear,

          ended so disastrously;

                    a voyage

with which I myself am so deeply concerned,

          that of the Pinta,

                    the Niña

and the Santa María.

          How the world opened its eyes!

                    It was a flower

upon which April

          had descended from the skies!

                    How bitter

a disappointment!

          In all,

                    this led mainly

to the deaths I have suffered.

          For there had been kindled

                    more minds

than that of the discoverers

          and set dancing

                    to a measure,

a new measure!

          Soon lost.

                    The measure itself

has been lost

          and we suffer for it.

                    We come to our deaths

in silence.

          The bomb speaks.

                    All suppressions,

from the witchcraft trials at Salem

          to the latest

                    book burnings

are confessions

          that the bomb

                    has entered our lives

to destroy us.

          Every drill

                    driven into the earth

for oil enters my side


                    Waste, waste!

dominates the world.

          It is the bomb’s work.

                    What else was the fire

at the Jockey Club in Buenos Aires

          (malos aires, we should say)

                    when with Perón’s connivance

the hoodlums destroyed,

          along with the books

                    the priceless Goyas

that hung there?

          You know how we treasured

                    the few paintings

we still cling to

          especially the one

                    by the dead

Charlie Demuth.

          With your smiles

                    and other trivia of the sort

my secret life

          has been made up,

                    some baby’s life

which had been lost

          had I not intervened.

                    But the words

made solely of air

          or less,

                    that came to me

out of the air

          and insisted

                    on being written down,

I regret most—

          that there has come an end

                    to them.

For in spite of it all,

          all that I have brought on myself,

                    grew that single image

that I adore

          equally with you

                    and so

it brought us together.


What power has love but forgiveness?

          In other words

                    by its intervention

what has been done

          can be undone.

                    What good is it otherwise?

Because of this

          I have invoked the flower

                    in that

frail as it is

          after winter’s harshness

                    it comes again

to delect us.

          Asphodel, the ancients believed,

                    in hell’s despite

was such a flower.

          With daisies pied

                    and violets blue,

we say, the spring of the year

          comes in!

                    So may it be

with the spring of love’s year


                    if we can but find

the secret word

          to transform it.

                    It is ridiculous

what airs we put on

          to seem profound

                    while our hearts

gasp dying

          for want of love.

                    Having your love

I was rich.

          Thinking to have lost it

                    I am tortured

and cannot rest.

          I do not come to you


with confessions of my faults,

          I have confessed,

                    all of them.

In the name of love

          I come proudly

                    as to an equal

to be forgiven.

          Let me, for I know

                    you take it hard,

with good reason,

          give the steps

                    if it may be

by which you shall mount,

          again to think well

                    of me.

The statue

          of Colleoni’s horse

                    with the thickset little man

on top

          in armor

                    presenting a naked sword

comes persistently

          to my mind.

                    And with him

the horse rampant

          roused by the mare in

                    the Venus and Adonis.

These are pictures

          of crude force.

                    Once at night

waiting at a station

          with a friend

                    a fast freight

thundered through

          kicking up the dust.

                    My friend,

a distinguished artist,

          turned with me

                    to protect his eyes:

That’s what we’d all like to be, Bill,

          he said. I smiled

                    knowing how deeply

he meant it. I saw another man


                    in the subway.

I was on my way uptown

          to a meeting.

                    He kept looking at me

and I at him:

          He had a worn knobbed stick

                    between his knees


          to keep off dogs,

                    a man of perhaps forty.

He wore a beard

          parted in the middle,

                    a black beard,

and a hat,

          a brown felt hat

                    lighter than

his skin. His eyes,

          which were intelligent,

                    were wide open

but evasive, mild.

          I was frankly curious

                    and looked at him

closely. He was slight of build

          but robust enough

                    had on

a double-breasted black coat

          and a vest

                    which showed at the neck

the edge of a heavy and very dirty


                    His trousers

were striped

          and a lively

                    reddish brown. His shoes

which were good

          if somewhat worn

                    had been recently polished.

His brown socks

          were about his ankles.

                    In his breast pocket

he carried

          a gold fountain pen

                    and a mechanical

pencil. For some reason

          which I could not fathom

                    I was unable

to keep my eyes off him.

          A worn leather zipper case

                    bulging with its contents

lay between his ankles

          on the floor.

                    Then I remembered:

When my father was a young man—

          it came to me

                    from an old photograph—

he wore such a beard.

          This man

                    reminds me of my father.

I am looking

          into my father’s

                    face! Some surface

of some advertising sign

          is acting

                    as a reflector. It is

my own.

          But at once

                    the car grinds to a halt.

Speak to him,

          I cried. He

                    will know the secret.

He was gone

          and I did nothing about it.

                    With him

went all men

          and all women too

                    were in his loins.

Fanciful or not

          it seemed to me

                    a flower

whose savor had been lost.

          It was a flower

                    some exotic orchid

that Herman Melville had admired

          in the

                    Hawaiian jungle.

Or the lilacs

          of men who left their marks,

                    by torchlight,

rituals of the hunt,

          on the walls

                    of prehistoric

caves in the Pyrenees—

          what draftsmen they were—

                    bison and deer.

Their women

          had big buttocks.

                    But what

draftsmen they were!

          By my father’s beard,

                    what draftsmen.

And so, by chance,

          how should it be otherwise?

                    from what came to me

in a subway train

          I build a picture

                    of all men.

It is winter

          and there

                    waiting for you to care for them

are your plants.

          Poor things! you say

                    as you compassionately

pour at their roots

          the reviving water.


I say to myself

          kindness moves her

                    shall she not be kind

also to me? At this

          courage possessed me finally

                    to go on.

Sweet, creep into my arms!

          I spoke hurriedly

                    in the spell

of some wry impulse

          when I boasted

                    that there was

any pride left in me.

          Do not believe it.


in a special way,

          a way I shrink to speak of

                    I am proud. After that manner

I call on you

          as I do on myself the same

                    to forgive all women

who have offended you.

          It is the artist’s failing

                    to seek and to yield

such forgiveness.

          It will cure us both.

                    Let us

keep it to ourselves but trust it.

          These heads

                    that stick up all around me

are, I take it,

          also proud.

                    But the flowers

know at least this much,

          that it is not spring

                    and will be proud only

in the proper season.

          A trance holds men.

                    They are dazed

and their faces in the public print

          show it. We follow them

                    as children followed

the Pied Piper

          of Hamelin—but he

                    was primarily

interested only in rats.

          I say to you


that the heads of most men I see

          at meetings

                    or when I come up against them


          are full of cupidity.

                    Let us breed

from those others.

          They are the flowers of the race.

                    The asphodel

poor as it is

          is among them.

                    But in their pride

there come to my mind

          the daisy,

                    not the shy flower

of England but the brilliance

          that mantled

                    with white

the fields

          which we knew

                    as children.

Do you remember

          their spicy-sweet

                    odor? What abundance!

There are many other flowers

          I could recall

                    for your pleasure:

the small yellow sweet-scented violet

          that grew

                    in marshy places!

You were like those

          though I quickly

                    correct myself

for you were a woman

          and no flower

                    and had to face

the problems which confront a woman.

          But you were for all that


and I say this to you now

          and it is the thing

                    which compounded

my torment

          that I never

                    forgot it.

You have forgiven me

          making me new again.

                    So that here

in the place

          dedicated in the imagination

                    to memory

of the dead

          I bring you

                    a last flower. Don’t think

that because I say this

          in a poem

                    it can be treated lightly

or that the facts will not uphold it.

          Are facts not flowers

                    and flowers facts

or poems flowers

          or all works of the imagination,


Which proves

          that love

                    rules them all, for then

you will be my queen,

          my queen of love

                    forever more.


Inseparable from the fire

          its light

                    takes precedence over it.

Then follows

          what we have dreaded—

                    but it can never

overcome what has gone before.

          In the huge gap

                    between the flash

and the thunderstroke

          spring has come in

                    or a deep snow fallen.

Call it old age.

          In that stretch

                    we have lived to see

a colt kick up his heels.

          Do not hasten

                    laugh and play

in an eternity

          the heat will not overtake the light.

                    That’s sure.

That gelds the bomb,


                    that the mind contain it.

This is that interval,

          that sweetest interval,

                    when love will blossom,

come early, come late

          and give itself to the lover.

Only the imagination is real!

          I have declared it

                    time without end.

If a man die

          it is because death

                    has first

possessed his imagination.

          But if he refuse death—

                    no greater evil

can befall him

          unless it be the death of love

                    meet him

in full career.

          Then indeed

                    for him

the light has gone out.

But love and the imagination

          are of a piece,

                    swift as the light

to avoid destruction.

          So we come to watch time’s flight

                    as we might watch

summer lightning

          or fireflies, secure,

                    by grace of the imagination,

safe in its care.

          For if

                    the light itself

has escaped,

          the whole edifice opposed to it

                    goes down.

Light, the imagination

          and love,

                    in our age,

by natural law,

          which we worship,


all of a piece

          their dominance.

So let us love

          confident as is the light

                    in its struggle with darkness

that there is as much to say

          and more

                    for the one side

and that not the darker

          which John Donne

                    for instance

among many men

          presents to us.

                    In the controversy

touching the younger

          and the older Tolstoi,

                    Villon, St. Anthony, Kung,

Rimbaud, Buddha

          and Abraham Lincoln

                    the palm goes

always to the light;

          Who most shall advance the light—

                    call it what you may!

The light

          for all time shall outspeed

                    the thunder crack.

Medieval pageantry

          is human and we enjoy

                    the rumor of it

as in our world we enjoy

          the reading of Chaucer,


a priest’s raiment

          (or that of a savage chieftain).

                    It is all

a celebration of the light.

          All the pomp and ceremony

                    of weddings,

“Sweet Thames, run softly

          till I end

                    my song,”—

are of an equal sort.

For our wedding, too,

          the light was wakened

                    and shone. The light!

the light stood before us


                    I thought the world

stood still.

          At the altar

                    so intent was I

before my vows,

          so moved by your presence

                    a girl so pale

and ready to faint

          that I pitied

                    and wanted to protect you.

As I think of it now,

          after a lifetime,

                    it is as if

a sweet-scented flower

          were poised

                    and for me did open.


          has no odor

                    save to the imagination

but it too

          celebrates the light.

                    It is late

but an odor

          as from our wedding

                    has revived for me

and begun again to penetrate

          into all crevices

                    of my world.




Misspelled words and printer errors have been corrected. Where multiple spellings occur, majority use has been employed.

Punctuation has been maintained except where obvious printer errors occur.

A cover has been created for this ebook. The picture which Williams used as the inspiration for the first poem is the one appearing on the cover created for this ebook. The poem is titled 'Self Portrait'. The intriguing thing is that not only is the person in the painting not Brueghel, it is widely believed to have not been painted by Brueghel.

[The end of Pictures from Brueghel and Other Poems by William Carlos Williams]