Now I shall spy on beauty as none has
Spied on it yet. Now I shall cry out as
None has cried out. Now I shall try what none
Has tried. Now I shall do what none has done.
And speaking of this wonderful machine:
840 I’m puzzled by the difference between
Two methods of composing: A, the kind
Which goes on solely in the poet’s mind,
A testing of performing words, while he
Is soaping third time one leg, and B,
The other kind, much more decorous, when
He’s in his study writing with a pen.
In method B the hand supports the thought,
The abstract battle is concretely fought.
The pen stops in mid-air, then swoops to bar
850 A canceled sunset or restore a star,
And thus it physically guides the phrase
Toward faint daylight through the inky maze.
But method A is agony! The brain
Is soon enclosed in a steel cap of pain.
A muse in overalls directs the drill
Which grinds and which no effort of the will
Can interrupt, while the automaton
Is taking off what he has just put on
Or walking briskly to the corner store
860 To buy the paper he has read before.
Why is it so? Is it, perhaps because
In penless work there is no pen-poised pause
And one must use three hands at the same time,
Having to choose the necessary rhyme,
Hold the completed line before one’s eyes,
And keep in mind all the preceding tries?
Or is the process deeper with no desk
To prop the false and hoist the poetesque?
For there are those mysterious moments when
870 Too weary to delete, I drop my pen;
I ambulate—and by some mute command
The right word flutes and perches on my hand.
My best time is the morning; my preferred
Season, midsummer. I once overheard
Myself awakening while half of me
Still slept in bed. I tore my spirit free,
And caught up with myself—upon the lawn
Where clover leaves cupped the topaz of dawn,
And where Shade stood in nightshirt and one shoe.
880 And then I realized that this half too
Was fast asleep; both laughed and I awoke
Safe in my bed as day its eggshell broke,
And robins walked and stopped, and on the damp
Gemmed turf a brown shoe lay! My secret stamp,
The Shade impress, the mystery inborn.
Mirages, miracles, midsummer morn.
Since my biographer may be too staid
Or know to little to affirm that Shade
Shaved in his bath, here goes:
“He’d fixed a sort
890 Of hinge-and-screw affair, a steel support
Running across the tub to hold in place
The shaving mirror right before his face
And with his toe renewing tap-warmth, he’d
Sit like a king there, and like Marat bleed.”
The more I weigh, the less secure my skin:
In places it’s ridiculously thin;
Thus near the mouth: the space between its wick
And my grimace, invites the wicked nick.
Or this dewlap: some day I must set free
900 The Newport Frill inveterate in me.
My Adam’s apple is a prickly pear:
Now I shall speak of evil and despair
As none has spoken. Five, six, seven, eight,
Nine strokes are not enough. Ten, I palpate
Through strawberry-and-cream the gory mess
And find unchanged that patch of prickliness.
I have my doubts about the one-armed bloke
Who in commercials with one gliding stroke
Clears a smooth path of flesh from ear to chin,
910 Then wipes his face and fondly tries his skin.
I’m in the class of fussy bimanists.
As a discreet ephebe in tights assists
A female in an acrobatic dance,
My left hand helps, and holds. And shifts its stance.
Now I shall speak . . . Better than any soap
Is the sensation for which poets hope
When inspiration and its icy blaze,
The sudden image, the immediate phrase
Over the skin a triple ripple send
920 Making the little hairs all stand on end
As in the enlarged animated scheme
Of whiskers mowed when held up by Our Cream.
Now I shall speak of evil as none has
Spoken before. I loathe such things as jazz;
The white-hosed moron torturing a black
Bull, rayed with red; abstractist bric-a-brac;
Primitivist folk masks; progressive schools;
Music in supermarkets; swimming pools;
Brutes, bores, class-conscious Philistines, Freud, Marx,
930 Fake thinkers, puffed-up poets, frauds and sharks.
And while the safety blade with scrape and screak
Travels across the country of my cheek,
Cars on the highway pass, and up the steep
Incline big trucks around my jawbone creep,
And now a silent liner docks, and now
Sunglassers tour Beirut, and now I plough
Old Zembla’s fields where my gray stubble grows,
And slaves make hay between my mouth and nose.
Man’s life as commentary to abstruse
940 Unfinished poem. Note for further use.
Dressing in all the rooms, I rhyme and roam
Throughout the house with, in my fist, a comb
Or a shoehorn, which turns into the spoon
I eat my egg with. In the afternoon
You drive me to the library. We dine
At half past six. And that odd muse of mine,
My versipel, is with me everywhere,
In carrel and in car, and in my chair.
And all the time, and all the time, my love,
950 You too are there, beneath the word, above
The syllable, to underscore and stress
The vital rhythm. One heard a woman’s dress
Rustle in days of yore. I’ve often caught
The sound and sense of your approaching thought.
And all in you is youth, and you make new,
But quoting them, old things I made for you.
Dim Gulf was my first book (free verse); Night Rote
Came next; then Hebe’s Cup, my final float
In that damp carnival, for now I term
960 Everything “Poems,” and no longer squirm.
(But this transparent thingum does require
Some moondrop title. Help me, Will! Pale Fire.)
Gently the day has passed in a sustained
Low hum of harmony. The brain is drained
And a brown ament, and the noun I meant
To use but did not, dry on the cement.
Maybe my sensual love for the consonne
D’appui, Echo’s fey child, is based upon
A feeling of fantastically planned,
970 Richly rhymed life.
I feel I understand
Existence, or at least a minute part
Of my existence, only through my art,
In terms of combinational delight;
And if my private universe scan right,
So does the verse of galaxies divine
Which I suspect is an iambic line.
I’m reasonably sure that we survive
And that my darling somewhere is alive,
As I am reasonable sure that I
980 Shall wake at six tomorrow, on July
The twenty-second, nineteen fifty-nine,
And that the day will probably be fine;
So this alarm clock let me set myself,
Yawn, and put back Shade’s “Poems” on their shelf.
But it’s not bedtime yet. The sun attains
Old Dr. Sutton’s last two windowpanes.
The man must be—what? Eighty? Eighty-two?
Was twice my age the year I married you.
Where are you? In the garden. I can see
990 Part of your shadow near the shagbark tree.
Somewhere horseshoes are being tossed. Click. Clunk.
(Leaning against its lamppost like a drunk.)
A dark Vanessa with a crimson band
Wheels in the low sun, settles on the sand
And shows its ink-blue wingtips flecked with white.
And through the flowing shade and ebbing light
A man, unheedful of the butterfly—
Some neighbor’s gardener, I guess—goes by
Trundling an empty barrow up the lane.