Thursday, March 30, 2006

John Berger on Storytelling

Most, if not all, stories begin with the death of the principal protagonist. It is in this sense that one can say that storytellers are Death’s secretaries. It is Death who hands them the file. The file is full of uniformly black paper but they have eyes for reading them and from this file they construct a story for the living. Here the question of invention, so much insisted upon by certain schools of modern critics and professors, becomes patently absurd. All that the storyteller needs or has is the capacity to read what is written in black.

Excerpt; "The Secretary of Death" from The Sense of Sight

Monday, March 27, 2006

Music for Chameleons

by Truman Capote

She is tall and slender, perhaps seventy, silver-haired, soigné, neither black nor white, a pale golden rum colour. She is a Martinique aristocrat who lives in Fort de France but also has an apartment in Paris. We are sitting on the terrace of her house, an airy, elegant house that looks as if it was made of wooden lace: it reminds me of certain old New Orleans houses. We are drinking iced mint tea slightly flavoured with absinthe.

Three green chameleons race one another across the terrace; one pauses at Madame’s feet, flicking its forked tongue, and she comments: “Chameleons. Such exceptional creatures. The way they change colour. Red. Yellow. Lime. Pink. Lavender. And did you know they are very fond of music?” She regards me with her fine black eyes. “You don’t believe me?”

During the course of the afternoon she had told me many curious things. How at night her garden was filled with mammoth night-flying moths. That her chauffeur, a dignified figure who had driven me to her house in a dark green Mercedes, was a wife-poisoner who had escaped from Devil’s Island. And she had described a village high in the northern mountains that is entirely inhabited by albinos: “Little pink-eyed people white as chalk. Occasionally one sees a few on the streets of Fort de France.”

“Yes, of course I believe you.”

She tilts her her silver head. “No, you don’t. But I shall prove it.”

So saying, she drifts into her cool Caribbean salon, a shadowy room with gradually turning ceiling fans, and poses herself at a well-tuned piano. I am still sitting on the terrace, but I can observe her, this chic, elderly woman, the product of varied bloods. She begins to perform a Mozart sonata.

Eventually the chameleons accumulated: a dozen, a dozen more, most of them green, some scarlet, lavender. They skittered across the terrace and scampered into the salon, a sensitive, absorbed audience for the music played. And then not played, for suddenly my hostess stood up and stamped her foot, and the chameleons scattered like sparks from an exploding star.

Now she regards me. “Et maintenant? C’est vrai?”

“Indeed. But it seems so strange.”

She smiles. “Alors. The whole island floats in strangeness. This very house is haunted. Many ghosts dwell here. And not in darkness. Some appear in the bright light of noon, saucy as you please. Impertinent.”

“That’s common in Haiti, too. The ghosts there often stroll about in daylight. I once saw a horde of ghosts working in a field near Petionville. They were picking bugs off coffee plants.”

She accepts this as fact, and continues: “Oui. Oui. The Haitians work their dead. They are well known for that. Ours we leave to their sorrows. And their frolics. So coarse, the Haitians. So Creole. And one can’t bathe there, they sharks are so intimidating. And their mosquitoes: the size, the audacity! Here in Martinque we have no mosquitoes. None.”

“I’ve noticed that; I wondered about it.”

(to be continued . . . )

Truman Capote

Preface to Music for Chameleons [excerpt]

My life – as an artist, at least – can be charted as precisely as a fever: the highs and lows, the very definite cycles.

I started writing when I was eight – out of the blue, uninspired by an example. I’d never known anyone who wrote; indeed I knew few people who read. But the fact was, the only four things that interested me were: reading books, going to the movies, tap dancing, and drawing pictures. Then one day I started writing, not knowing that I had chained myself for life to a noble and merciless master. When God hands you a gift, he also hands you a whip; and the whip is intended solely for self-flagellation.

But of course I didn’t know that. I wrote adventure stories, murder mysteries, comedy skits, tales that had been told me by former slaves and Civil War veterans. It was a lot of fun – at first. It stopped being fun when I discovered the difference between good and bad writing, and then I made an even more alarming discovery: the difference between good writing and art; it is subtle, but savage. And after that, the whip came down!

(to be continued . . . )

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Ted Hughes: poems


Here is the fern’s frond, unfurling a gesture,
Like a conductor whose music will now be pause
And the one note of silence
To which the whole earth dances gravely –

A dancer, leftover, among crumbs and remains
Of God’s drunken supper,
Dancing to start things up again.
And they do start up – to the one note of silence.

The mouse’s ear unfurls its trust.
The spider takes up her bequest.
And the retina
Reins the Creation with a bridle of water.

How many went under? Everything up to this point went under.
Now they start up again
Dancing gravely, like the plume
Of a warrior returning, under the low hills,

Into his own kingdom.


With their lithe, long, strong legs,
Some frogs are able
To thump upon double-
Bass strings, though pond water deadens and clogs.

But you, bullfrog, you pump out
Whole fogs full of horn – a threat
As of a liner looming. True
That, first hearing you
Disgorging your gouts of darkness like a wounded god,
Not utterly fantastically, I expected
(As in some antique tale depicted)
A broken-down bull up to its belly in mud,
Sucking black swamp up, belching out black cloud

And a squall of gudgeon and lilies.

A surprise

Now, to see you, a boy’s prize,
No bigger than a rat, with all dumb silence
In your little old woman’s hands.


Better disguised than the leaf insect,

A sort of subtler armadillo,
The lake turns with me as I walk,

Snuffles at my feet for what I might drop or kick up,
Sucks and slobbers the stones, snorts through its lips

Into broken glass, smacks its chops.
It has eaten several my size

Without developing a preference –
Prompt, with a splash, to whatever I offer.

It ruffles in its wallow, or lies sunning,
Digesting old, senseless bicycles

And a few shoes. The fish down there
Do not know they have been swallowed,

And more than the girl out there, who over the stern of a rowboat
Tests its depth with her reflection.

How the outlet fears it – dragging it out,
Black and yellow, a maniac eel,

Battering it to death with sticks and stones!


She gives him his eyes, she found them
Among some rubble, among some beetles

He gives her her skin
He just seemed to pull it down out of the air and lay it over her
She weeps with fearfulness and astonishment

She has found his hands for him, and fitted them freshly at the wrists
They are amazed at themselves, they go feeling all over her

He has assembled her spine, he cleaned each piece carefully
And sets them in perfect order
A superhuman puzzle but he is inspired
She leans back twisting this way and that, using it and laughing

Now she has brought his feet, she is connecting them
So that his whole body lights up

And he has fashioned her new hips
With all fittings complete and with newly wound coils, all shiningly oiled
He is polishing every part, he himself can hardly believe it

They keep taking each other to the sun, they find they can easily
To test each new thing at each new step

And now she smoothes over him the plates of his skull
So that the joints are invisible

And now he connects her throat, her breasts and the pit of her stomach
With a single wire

She gives him his teeth, tying the the roots to the centrepin of his body

He sets the little circlets on her fingertips

She stiches his body here and there with steely purple silk

He oils the delicate cogs of her mouth

She inlays with deep cut scrolls the nape of his neck

He sinks into place the inside of her thighs

So, gasping with joy, with cries of wonderment
Like two gods of mud
Sprawling in the dirt, but with infinite care
They bring each other to perfection.

Friday, March 24, 2006

James Wright: poems



The beautiful cashier’s white face has risen once more
Behind a young manager’s shoulder.
They whisper together, and stare
Straight into my face.
I feel like grabbing a stray child
And diving into a cellar, crouching
Under a stone bridge, praying myself sick,
Till the troops pass.


Why should he care? He goes.
I slump deeper.
In my frayed coat, I am pinned down
By debt. He nods
Commending my flesh to the pity of the daws of God.


Am I dead? And, if not, why not?
For she sails there, alone, looming in the heaven of the beautiful.
She knows
The bulldozers will scrape me up
After dark, behind
The officer’s club.
Beneath her terrible blaze, my skeleton
Glitters out. I am the dark. I am the dark
Bone I was born to be.


Tu Fu woke shuddering on a battlefield
Once, in the dead of night, and made out
The mangled women, sorting
The haggard slant-eyes.
The moon was up.


I am hungry. In two more days
It will be Spring. So: this
Is what it feels like.

* * *


Relieved, I let the book fall behind a stone.
I climb a slight rise of grass.
I do not want to disturb the ants
Who are walking single file up the fence post,
Carrying small white petals,
Casting shadows so frail that I can see through them.
I close my eyes for a moment and listen.
The old grasshoppers
Are tired, they leap heavily now,
Their thighs are burdened.
I want to hear them, they have clear sounds to make.
Then lovely, far off, a dark cricket begins
In the maple trees.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Jorge Luis Borges: poem


It is well that time can be measured
With the harsh shadow a column in summer
Casts, or the water of that river
In which Heraclitus saw our folly,

Since both to time and destiny
The two seem alike: the unweighable daytime
Shadow, and the irrevocable course
Of water following its own path.

It is well, but time in the desert
Found another substance, smooth and heavy,
That seems to have been imagined
For measuring dead men’s time.

Hence the allegorical instrument
Of the dictionary illustrations,
The thing that grey antiquaries
Will consign to the red-ash world

Of the odd chess-bishop, of the sword
Defenceless, of the telescope bleared,
Of sandalwood eroded by opium,
Of dust, of hazard, of the nada.

Who has not paused before the severe
And sullen instrument accompanying
The scythe in the god’s right hand
Whose outlines Dürer etched?

Through the open apex the inverted cone
Let the minute sand fall down,
Gradual gold that loosens itself and fills
The concave crystal of its universe.

There is pleasure in watching the recondite
Sand that slides away and slopes
And, at the falling-point, piles up
With an urgency wholly human.

The sand of the cycles is the same,
And infinite, the history of sand;
Thus, deep beneath your joys and pain,
Unwoundable eternity is still the abyss.

Never is there a halt in the fall.
It is I lose blood, not the glass. The ceremony
Of drawing off the sand goes on forever
And with the sand our life is leaving us.

In the minutes of the sand I believe
I feel the cosmic time: the history
That memory locks up in its mirrors
Or that magic Lethe has dissolved.

The pillar of smoke and the pillar of fire,
Carthage and Rome and their crushing war,
Simon Magus, the seven feet of earth
That the Saxon proffered the Norway king,

The tireless subtle thread of unnumbered
Sand degrades all down to loss.
I cannot save myself, a come-by-chance
Of time, being mattered that is crumbling.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Antonio Frasconi: Lorca's Oda a Walt Whitman; 1919

Rose Ausländer: poems


My mother was a doe in another time.
Her honey-brown eyes
and her loveliness
survive from that moment.
Here she was --
half an angel and half humankind --
the center was mother.
When I asked her once what she would have wanted to be
she made this answer to me: a nightingale.
Now she is a nightingale.
Every night, night after night, I hear her
in the garden of my sleepless dream.
She is singing the Zion of her ancestors.
She is singing the long-ago Austria.
She is singing the hills and beech-woods
of Bukowina.
My nightingale
sings lullabies to me
night after night
in the garden of my sleepless dream.


Meine Mutter war einmal ein Reh
Die goldbraunen Augen
die Anmut
blieben ihr aus der Rehzeit

Hier war sie
halb Engel halb Mensch-
die Mitte war Mutter
Als ich sie fragte was sie gern geworden wäre
sagte sie: eine Nachtigall

Jetzt ist sie eine Nachtigall
Nacht um Nacht höre ich sie
im Garten meines schlaflosen Traumes
Sie singt das Zion der Ahnen
sie singt das alte Österreich
sie singt die Berge und Buchenwälder
der Bukowina
singt mir Nacht um Nacht
meine Nachtigall
im Garten meines schlaflosen Traumes

* * *


My Fatherland is dead.
They buried it
in fire

I live
in my Motherland --


Mein Vaterland ist tot
sie haben es begraben
im Feuer

Ich lebe
in meinem Mutterland

Gabriela Mistral: poems


A Margot Arce.

Por si nunca más yo vuelvo
de la santa mar amarga
y no alcanza polvo tuyo
a la puerta de mi casa,
en el mar de los regresos,
con la sal en la garganta,
voy cantándote al perderme:
-¡Gracias, gracias!

Por si ahora hay más silencio
en la entraña de tu casa,
y se vuelve, anocheciendo,
la diorita sin mirada,
de la joven mar te mando,
en cien olas verdes y altas,
Beatrices y Leonoras,
y Leonoras y Beatrices
a cantar sobre tu costa:
-¡Gracias, gracias!

Por si pones al comer
plato mío, miel, naranjas;
por si cantas para mí,
con la roja fe insensata;
por si mis espaldas ves
en el claro de las palmas,
para ti dejo en el mar:
-¡Gracias, gracias!

Por si roban tu alegría
como casa transportada;
por si secan en tu rostro
el maná que es de tu raza,
para que en un hijo tuyo
vuelvas, en segunda albada,
digo vuelta hacia el Oeste:
-¡Gracias, gracias!

Por si no hay después encuentros
en ninguna Vía Láctea,
ni país donde devuelva
tu piedad de blanco llama,
en el hoyo que es sin párpado
ni pupila, de la nada,
oigas tú mis dobles gritos,
y te alumbren como lámparas
y te sigan como canes:
-¡Gracias, gracias!

Para tallarte
gruta de plata
o hacerte el puño
de la granada,
en donde duermas
profunda y alta,
y de la muerte seas librada,
mitad del mar yo canto:
-¡Gracias, gracias!

Para mandarte
oro en la ráfaga,
y hacer metal
mi bocanada,
y crearte ángeles
de una palabra,
canto vuelta al Oeste:
-¡Gracias, gracias!

* * *


A Max Daireaux


Amo las cosas que nunca tuve
con las otras que ya no tengo:

Yo toco un agua silenciosa,
parada en pastos friolentos,
que sin un viento tiritaba
en el huerto que era mi huerto.

La miro como la miraba;
me da un extraño pensamiento,
y juego, lenta, con esa agua
como con pez o con misterio.


Pienso en umbral donde dejé
pasos alegres que ya no llevo,
y en el umbral veo una llaga
llena de musgo y de silencio.


Me busco un verso que he perdido
que a los siete años me dijeron.
Fue una mujer haciendo el pan
y yo su santa boca veo.


Viene un aroma roto en ráfagas;
soy muy dichosa si lo siento;
de tal delgado no es aroma,
siendo el olor de los almendros.

Me vuelve niños los sentidos:
le busco un nombre y no lo acierto,
y huelo el aire y los lugares
buscando almendros que no encuentro.


Un río suena siempre cerca.
Ha cuarenta años que lo siento.
Es canturía de mi sangre
o bien un ritmo que me dieron.

O el río Elqui de mi infancia
que me repecho y me vadeo.
Nunca lo pierdo; pecho a pecho,
como dos niños nos tenemos.


Cuando sueño la Cordillera,
camino por desfiladeros,
y voy oyéndoles, sin tregua,
un silbo casi juramento.


Veo al remate del Pacífico
amoratado mi archipiélago,
y de una isla me ha quedado
y de una isla me ha quedado
un olor acre de alción muerto...


Un dorso, un dorso grave y dulce,
remata el sueño que yo sueño.
Es al final de mi camino
y me descanso cuando llego.

Es tronco muerto o es mi padre,
el vago dorso ceniciento.
Yo no pregunto, no lo turbo.
Me tiendo junto, callo y duermo.


Amo una piedra de Oaxaca
o Guatemala, a que me acerco,
roja y fija como mi cara
y cuya grieta da un aliento.

Al dormirme queda desnuda;
no sé por qué yo la volteo.
Y tal vez nunca la he tenido
y es mi sepulcro lo que veo...

Ted Hughes: Birthday Letters [2]


What happened to Howard’s portrait of you?
I wanted that painting.
Spirits helped Howard. ‘Sometimes
When I’m painting, I hear a voice, a woman’s.
Calling Howard, Howard – faint, far-off,
He got carried away
When he started feeding his colours
Into your image. He glowed
At his crucible, on its tripod.
How many sessions?
Yaddo fall. Woodstoves. Rain,
Rain, rain in the conifers. Tribal conflict
Of crows and their echoes. You deepened,
Molten, luminous, looking at us
From that window of Howard’s vision of you.
Yourself lifted out of yourself
In a flaming of oils, your lips exact.

Suddenly – ‘What’s that? Who’s that?’
Out of the gloomy neglected chamber behind you
Somebody had emerged, hunched, gloating at you,
Just behind your shoulder – a cowled
Humanoid of raggy shadows. Who?
Howard was surprised. He smiled at it.
‘If I see it there, I paint it. I like it
when things like that happen. He just came.’

Came from where? Mystery smudges extra,
Stalking the glaze wetness
Of your new-fired idol brilliance.

I saw it with horrible premonition.
You were alone there, pregnant, unprotected
In some inaccessible dimension.

* * *


The morning we set out to drive around America
She started with us. She was our lightest
Bit of luggage. And you had dealt with Death.
You had come to an agreement finally:
He could keep your Daddy and you could have a child.

Macabre debate. Yet it had cost you
Two years, three years, desperate days and weepings.
Finally you had stripped the death-dress off,
Burned it on Daddy’s grave.
Did it so resolutely, made
Such successful magic of it, Life
Was attracted and swerved down –
Unlikely, like a wild dove, to land on your head.
Day of America’s Independence
You set out. And I, not Death,
Drove the car.

Was Death, too, part of our luggage?
Unemployed for a while, fellow traveller?
Did he ride on the car top, on the bonnet?
Did he meet us now and again on the road,
Smiling in a café, at a gas station?
Stowaway in our ice-box?
Did he run in the wheel’s shadow?

Or did he sulk in your papers, back in your bedroom,
Waiting for your habits
To come back and remember him? You had hidden him
But your blossom had fruited and in England
It ripened. There your midwife,
The orchardisr, was a minature Indian lady
Black and archaic, half-Gond,
With her singing manner and her lucky voice charm,
A priestess of fruits.
Our Black Isis had stepped off the wall
Shaking her sistrum –
Polymorphus Daemon,
Magnae Deorum Matris – with the moon
Between her hip-bones and crowned with ears of corn.

The great goddess in person
Had put on your body, waxing full,
Using your strainings
Like a surgical glove, to create with,
Like a soft mask to triumph and be grotesque in
On the bed of birth.

It was not Death
Weeping in you then, when you lay among bloody cloths
Holding what had come out of you to cry.

It was not poetic death
Lifted you from the blood and set you
Straightaway lurching – exultant –
To the phone, to announce to the world
What Life had made you,
Your whole body borrowed
By immortality and its promise,
Your arms filled
With what had never died, never known Death.

Else Lasker-Schüler: poems


At home I have a blue piano
but cannot play a single note.
It stands in the dark of the cellar door
since the world went savage.

"Four starry hands play,"
Moon Woman sang in her boat.
Now rats dance in a clatter.
The keyboard is shattered.
I weep over the dead blue thing.

Dearest Angel, I have eaten
such bitter bread. Please open
for me while still alive— even though
it is forbidden—Heaven’s door.


Ich habe zu Hause ein blaues Klavier
Und kenne doch keine Note.

Es steht im Dunkel der Kellertür,
Seitdem die Welt verrohte.

Es spielten Sternenhände vier
-Die Mondfrau sang im Boote-
Nun tanzen die Ratten im Geklirr.

Zerbrochen ist die Klaviatür.....
Ich beweine die blaue Tote.

Ach liebe Engel öffnet mir
-Ich aß vom bitteren Brote-
Mir lebend schon die Himmelstür-
Auch wider dem Verbote.

Paul Verlaine: On Decadence

“all shimmering with purple and gold. . . it throws out the brilliance of flowers and the gleam of precious stones, made up of carnal spirits and unhappy flesh and all the violent splendours of the Lower Empire; it conjures up the paint of the courtesans, the sports of the circus, the breath of the tamers of animals, the hounding of wild beasts, the collapse among the flames of races exhausted by the power of feeling, to the invading sound of enemy trumpets. The decadence is Sardanapalus lighting the fire in the midst of his women, it is Seneca declaiming poetry as he opens his veins, it is Petronius masking his agony with flowers.”

Sartre: Consciousness of Existence

2. Contingency

All at once the veil is torn away, I have understood, I have seen. . . . The roots of the chestnut tree sank into the ground just beneath my bench. I couldn’t remember it was a root anymore. Words had vanished and with them the meaning of things, they way things are to be used, the feeble points of reference which men have traced on their surface. I was sitting, stooping over, head bowed, alone in front of the black, knotty lump, entirely raw, frightening me. Then I had this vision.

It took my breath away. Never, up until these last few days, had I suspected the meaning of “existence.” I was like the others, the ones walking along the seashore, wearing their spring clothes. I said, like them, “The sea is green; that white speck up there is a seagull,” but I didn’t feel that it existed or that the seagull was an “existing seagull”; usually existence conceals itself. It is there, around us, in us, you can’t say two words without mentioning it, but you can never touch it. When I believed I was thinking about it, I was thinking nothing, my head was empty, or there was just one word in my head, the word, “being.” Or else I was thinking–how can I put it? I was thinking of properties. I was telling myself that the sea belonged to the class of green objects, or that green was one of the qualities of the sea. Even when I looked at things, I was miles from dreaming that they existed: they looked like scenery to me. I picked them up in my hands, they served me as tools, I foresaw their resistance. But that all happened on the surface. If anyone had asked me what existence was, I would have answered in good faith, that it was nothing, simply an empty form added to things from the outside, without changing anything in their nature. And then all at once, there it was, clear as day: existence had suddenly unveiled itself. It had lost the harmless look of an abstract category: it was the dough out of which things were made, this root was kneaded into existence. Or rather the root, the park gates, the bench, the patches of grass, all that had vanished: the diversity of things, their individuality, were only an appearance, a veneer. This veneer had melted, leaving soft, monstrous lumps, in disorder–naked, with a frightful and obscene nakedness.

(to be continued. . . )

Tender is the Night [excerpt]

Rosemary, as dewy with belief as a child from one of Mrs. Burnett’s vicious tracts, had a conviction of homecoming, of a return from the derisive and salacious improvisations of the frontier. There were fireflies riding on the dark air and a dog baying on some low and far-away ledge of the cliff toward the sky like a mechanical dancing platform, giving the people around it a sense of being alone with each other in the dark universe, nourished by its only food, warmed by its only lights. And, as if a curious hushed laugh from Mrs. McKisco were a signal that such a detachment from the world had been attained, the two Divers began suddenly to warm and glow and expand, as if to make up to their guests, already so subtly assured of their importance, so flattered with politeness, for anything they might still miss from that country well left behind. Just for a moment they seemed to speak to everyone at the table, singly and together, assuring them of their friendliness, their affection. And for a moment the faces turned up toward them were like the faces of poor children at a Christmas tree. Then abruptly the table broke up–the moment when the guests had been daringly lifted above conviviality into the rarer atmosphere of sentiment was over before it could be irreverently breathed, before they had half realized it was there.
But the diffused magic of the hot sweet South had withdrawn into them–the soft-pawed night and the ghostly wash of the Mediterranean far below–the magic left these things and melted into the two Divers and became part of them. Rosemary watched Nicole pressing upon her mother a yellow evening bag she had admired, saying, “I think things ought to belong to the people that like them” – and then sweeping into it all the yellow articles she could find, a pencil, a lipstick, a little note book, “because they all go together.”

Tender is the Night; F. Scott Fitzgerald; pg. 44

John Berger: poems


In the morning
folded with its wild flowers
washed and ironed
it takes up little space in the drawer.

Shaking it open
she ties it round her head.

In the evening she pulls it off
and lets it fall
still knotted to the floor.

On a cotton scarf
among printed flowers
a working day
has written its dream.


You have filled the thermos with coffee
packed our footprints if needed
to throw into the jaws
of the untestifying
eternal snow.

Together as carpenters with hammers
we have taught the distance
how to build a roof
from the trees
we run between.

In the silence behind
we no more hear the faraway
question of the summer house:
And tomorrow where
shall we go?

At dusk the harnessed dogs fear
there is no end to the forest.
And each night in the snow
we calm them
with our surprising laughter.


In a pocket of earth
I buried all the accents
of my mother tongue

there they lie
like needles of pine
assembled by ants

one day the stumbling cry
of another wanderer
may set them alight

then warm and comforted
he will hear all night
the truth as lullaby

Ted Hughes: Birthday Letters


I had let it all grow. I had supposed
It was all OK. Your life
Was a liner I voyaged in.
Costly education had fitted you out.
Financiers and committees and consultants
Effaced themselves in the gleam of your finish.
You trembled with the new life of those engines.

That first morning,
Before your first class at College, you sat there
Sipping coffee. Now I know, as I did not,
What eyes waited at the back of the class
To check your first professional performance
Against their expectations. What assessors
Waited to see you justify the cost
And redeem their gamble. What a furnace
Of eyes waited to prove your metal. I watched
The strange dummy stiffness, the misery,
Of your blue flannel suit, its straitjacket, ugly
Half-approximation to your idea
Of the properties you hoped to ease into,
And your horror in it. And the tanned
Almost green undertinge of your face
Shrunk to its wick, your scar lumpish, your plaited
Head pathetically tiny.

You waited,
Knowing yourself helpless in the tweezers
Of the life that judges you, and I saw
The flayed nerve, the unhealable face-wound
Which was all you had for courage.
I saw that what you gripped, as you sipped,
Were terrors that killed you once already.
Now I see, I saw, sitting, the lonely
Girl who was going to die.
That blue suit,
A mad, execution uniform,
Survived your sentence. But then I sat, stilled,
Unable to fathom what stilled you
As I looked at you, as I am stilled
Permanently now, permanently
Bending so briefly at your open coffin.

John Berger: Once in Auxonne


The post office at Auxonne is small and the postmistress has blue eyes. I have been there only twice.
The first time was to send you a parcel; as the postmistress weighed it on the scale, I imagined your hands opening it.
“Four kilos, three hundred grams.”
In a parcel, wrapped by hand, there is a message weighing nothing: the receiver’s fingers may unknot the string which the sender’s tied.
In the post office I saw in my mind’s eye your fingers untying the knot I tied at Auxonne.
Ten days later I again stopped in the town, and went to the post office, this time to post you a letter. I remembered the day when I sent off the parcel and I felt a twinge of loss. Yet what had I lost? The parcel arrived safely. You had made soup with the beetroots. And the bottle of distilled water from the flowers of the orange trees you had placed on its shelf, above your dresses in the cupboard. All that had been lost was the little future of the parcel.
What we mourn for the dead is the loss of their hopes. The man-with-the-parcel was as if dead; he could hope no more. The man-with-the-letter had taken his place.

-Excerpt; And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos; pgs. 32 – 33

Wallace Stevens


by Wallace Stevens

Among twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the blackbird.


I was of three minds,
Like a tree
In which there are three blackbirds.


The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.
It was a small part of the pantomime.


A man and a woman
Are one.
A man and a woman and a blackbird
Are one.


I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.


Icicles filled the long window
With barbaric glass.
The shadow of the blackbird
Crossed it, to and fro.
The mood
Traced in the shadow
An indecipherable cause.


O thin men of Haddam,
Why do you imagine golden birds?
Do you not see how the blackbird
Walks around the feet
Of the women about you?

I know noble accents
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the blackbird is involved
In what I know.


When the blackbird flew out of sight,
It marked the edge
Of one of many circles.


At the sight of blackbirds
Flying in a green light,
Even the bawds of euphony
Would cry out sharply.


He rode over Connecticut
In a glass coach.
Once, a fear pierced him,
In that he mistook
The shadow of his equipage
For blackbirds.


The river is moving.
The blackbird must be flying.


It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing
And it was going to snow.
The blackbird sat
In the cedar-limbs.

* * *


One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

* * *


Call the roller of big cigars,
The muscular one, and bid him whip
In kitchen cups concupiscent curds.
Let the wenches dawdle in such dress
As they are used to wear, and let the boys
Bring flowers in last month's newspapers.
Let be be finale of seem.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

Take from the dresser of deal.
Lacking the three glass knobs, that sheet
On which she embroidered fantails once
And spread it so as to cover her face.
If her horny feet protrude, they come
To show how cold she is, and dumb.
Let the lamp affix its beam.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.


As the immense dew of Florida
Brings forth
The big-finned palm
And green vine angering for life,

As the immense dew of Florida
Brings forth hymn and hymn
From the beholder,
Beholding all these green sides
And gold sides of green sides,

And blessed mornings,
Meet for the eye of the young alligator,
And lightning colors
So, in me, come flinging
Forms, flames, and the flakes of flames.

* * *

The Letters of Robert Lowell [selection]

To Ezra Pound

A-12 Wigglesworth Hall

Harvard College

Cambridge, Mass.

May 2, [1936]

Dear Mr. Pound:

I have been wanting to write you for several months, but haven't quite had the courage to until now. You will probably think that I am very impudent and presumptuous, but I want to come to Italy and work under you and forge my way into reality. I have no right [to] ask this of you, yet let me try to describe myself and explain my desire.

I am 19, a freshman at Harvard, and some relation, I don't know what, to Amy Lowell. All my life I have been eccentric according to normal standards. I had violent passions for various pursuits usually taking the form of collecting: tools; names of birds; marbles; catching butterflies, snakes, turtles etc; buying books on Napoleon. None of this led anywhere, I was more interested in collecting large numbers than in developing them. I caught over thirty turtles and put them in a well where they died of insufficient feeding. I won more agates and marbles than anyone in school, and gradually amassed hundreds of soldiers; finally leaving them to clutter up unreachable shelves. I could identify scores of birds, at first on charts, later it led me into nature. Sometime overcome by the collecting mania I would steal things I wanted. At 14 I went to St. Mark's and never mixed well or really lived in the usual realities. At one point I became very strong but never got very far in athletics because I didn't think in terms of the necessary technique. I was proud, somewhat sullen and violent.

The summer before last I was a counsellor at a charity camp, hit the swing of it, and felt for the first time that I was driving ahead and breathing thru all my pores. I determined to keep it rolling tried very hard at football, didn't make the team but did well and gained a tremendous amount from the experience, then drifted along till winter. At that time I began reading Homer thru the dish-water of Bryant's 19th century translation. I mulled over the ideas for some time, and somehow they gradually became very real. The tremendous growth of Achilles and above all Zeus the universal symbol which has [begin strikethrough]begun[end strikethrough] become almost a religion with me. I had always chafed against what I thought was Christianity, the immortality of the soul, the idealistic unreal morality and the insipid blackness of the Episcopalian church. Homer's world contained a God higher than anything I had ever known, and yet his world blinked at no realities. The whoring of Zeus and the savagery of the heroes. I know that the beauty and richness of Homer are what impress you most. I found this later in Chaucer, but a poor translation is an ugly photograph.

Last spring I began reading English poetry and writing myself. All my life I had thought of poets as the most contemptible moth so you can see how violently I was molded and bent. I was encouraged by Richard Eberhart, whom you have perhaps heard of. I spent the summer alone with a friend reading and writing. Since then I have been sucking in atmosphere, reading; and [begin strikethrough]writing[end strikethrough] dreaming. Writing and trying to help one or two friends have been the only real things in life for me. At college I have yearned after iron and have been choked with cobwebs. I have had a good chance to read, I have gained a lot of inevitable experience; but no one here is really fighting. The courses are catalogues rather than windows.

I am enclosing a few poems as samples, you will probably think they are not enough to prove me. I pray you to take me! I can bring sufficient money to support myself, in a few year[s] I'll have to make my own living and am glad of it. I am ignorant of languages, but want to do nothing more than to learn. Your Cantos have re-created what I have imagined to be the blood of Homer. Again I ask you to have me. You shan't be sorry, I will bring the steel and fire, I am not theatric, and my life is sober not sensational.

Very sincerely yours,

R. T.S. Lowell

To Peter Taylor

Southern Review

Louisiana State University

Baton Rouge, Louisiana

[July 1941]

Dear Peter:

The problem of Proust's memory fascinates me. Jean is writing a Proustian novel and you have turned to remembrance. I'll dash off a few definitions and aversions, not to Proust who is one of the world's few tremendous writers but to his method and its implications.

Memory is not an end but an invaluable means for selecting and accumulating, for holding an experience as in a pair of tongs so that the intellect may intuit from many angles, distort, refine, invent and develop etc. Memory is only a power for summoning images and consequently subintellectual and a fortiori sub-mystical. As an idol, as "something terribly important" (precious?), it leads to illusions. 1) The nostalgia of recapturing mentally what can never be recaptured in life, i.e. the past as passed, there mysterious, pathetic. 2) A perilous severance from substantial objects, a subjective state to be distinguished from Plato's realism viz. the Ideals are external, more in opposition to Aristotle by terminology than intention. 3) A solipsism: What I think, what I reconstruct, what I feel is reality. This results in hideous violence to nature and tendencies to pamper one's faculties of introspection and self-criticism. Proust has five or six marvelous stratagems for escaping such pit-falls.

If you must use religious vocabulary, don't use it with such luxuriant abandon. Many people we know will undoubtedly go to Hell. But what insolence and arrogance to say so-and-so is a lost-soul. Actions and operations not people are "lost." Who are the damned? Unless you have some criteria other than talent and sensibility your language is mere, ornery, perverse, insipid name-calling.

There! I have made my retreat and would give my left arm to have had you with me. At least you are not military. I am exempted on account of my eyes.

Love, Cal

To George Santayana

Library of Congress

Washington, D. C.

Feb. 2, [1948]

My Dear Friend--

(For so it is after your letter) In the last few hours I have been contemplating what you have written me, and it moves tears of joy.


So well have you understood all that I hoped my two poems would become! Down to the versification, even! Yes, the Trojans and Italians are meant to have the barbarous dignity of Red-Skins--of the Germans, for the devil must have justice.

I think Browning had all the right ideas about what the poetry of his time should take in--people and time. But (this is presumptuous) how he muffed it all! The ingenious, terrific metrics, shaking the heart out of what he was saying; the invented language; the short-cuts; the hurry; and (one must say it) the horrible self-indulgence--the attitudes, the cheapness! I write strongly, for he should, with patience, have been one of the great poets of the world. Anyway, he was on the side of the angels a lot of the time.

You're very right about me too; I marvel that you could have intuited so much from my crude summary.

I suppose it's the will of adolescence to be self-centered, Calvinist and blind. We believe that unless things come hard, they are somehow phony. It's only in the last two or three years that I have begun to know and treasure patience and pity and "the sacredness of [begin strikethrough]nature[end strikethrough] things." I was talking to a lady last night, and we agreed that only age brought these things. Those poor blind years--and perhaps it's always that way, but less so.

I was a Catholic, when I went to jail, and my confessors said what you said they would, only they allowed that in the end a man must do what he believes, even if it's heresy and madness. So they did well enough by me.

I love my country, because it's mine, and all I know. And [I] think our culture can stand comparison with others of the last 150 years--it's better than most, probably. And, of course, we have Roman virtues--energy, and even clarity of a kind. But there are times ... Oh yes, when one trembles, and wonders if a people have ever been so dehumanized, when "the man in the street" lacked so much--had so little chance for grace and ability. But one must accept this too; and life is good after all.

I don't regret my Latin--some of the writers are marvelous: Propertius, Vergil, Horace, Catullus, Tacitus, Petronius, and some of Juvenal. And it connects with us historically through the church. And how can one understand what English words mean without it? And yet to read Homer fluently, what a happiness that would be!

This is such a pretentious letter I'm writing. I'm mailing it though because I imagine it will tell you more about me than if I'd written in a more fitting style. I can't very well express my awe at being so understood by you. I "take it right kind" that you have written.

Yours sincerely,

Robert Lowell

P.S. Looking forward to your new dialogues. I'll mail you my new poem later this month--not the long one, now about 550 lines, that will be another year yet.

To Flannery O'Connor

2901 Clifton Ave.

Cincinnati, Ohio

Wednesday, March 24th, [1954]

Dear Flannery:

I'd better give you my news. Elizabeth and I have separated. The event has been brewing for years, and we are both better off and still good friends. I am not sure you won't want me to dilate on this subject, I am not, however, rejoining the flock. I'm sure I do more good outside, at least for myself. Henry Adams called himself a conservative, Catholic anarchist; I would take this for myself, only adding agnostic. I don't think my prayers would cut much ice for you, so I omit them.

However, you have my good wishes. I have been hearing many fine things said about you. Jim Powers who was staying with me a month ago is wild about your novel and stories. I said, "Wise Blood is even better than Taylor's Woman of Means." A real compliment: you know how highly I think of Peter Taylor, a much wiser and bigger writer potentially than you or I, my Dear. And he's getting better all the time. Caroline, according to Robert, says you have the best ear since James, or was it Homer she meant? One thistle, however, to throw among your bouquets--Bowden Broadwater says, "I still can't read Flannel Mouth." He went to work during Christmas vacation at Macy's packing cartons (after Mary had supported him for ten years). Each night coming home weary and worthy, he had a nervous breakdown.

What the hell do I care about your damned poultry? Even if they are all geese, even if one is named Claire Booth Luce Goose. I don't think she should breed even god-children. Allen, by the way, says she is a "remarkable woman." She's also pretty, which your goose isn't. She's also a goose, which your goose is. I sound like Charles Lamb.

Flannery, I love you very much (this isn't a proposal; I have other eggs to fry) and think you can write English, as Omar Pound would say. Sometime let me tell you about Pound's menage at Rapallo. His Doctor, a very good and conventional one (Ezra's, not Omar's) was my Mother's.



To William Carlos Williams

[McLean Hospital]

Wednesday, February 19, 1958

Dear Bill:

Thanks for your card. I am afraid I won't be able to see you and Flossie just yet. I am still resting off my attack and am actually staying at McLean's hospital in Waverly. It's all rather free and comfortable--not unlike Yaddo without race courses, night life and literati. I have a sunny private room, read, listen to good music on my radio, and am writing poems, revising my autobiography, etc.

I hope you will send me Paterson V. In a month or so I'll mail you another little group of my own stuff, God willing. I now have four or five things you haven't seen. I wouldn't like ever to completely give up meter; it's wonderful opposition to wrench against and revise with. Yet now that I've joined you in unscanned verse, I am struck by how often the classics get boxed up in their machinery, the sonority of the iambic pentameter line, the apparatus of logic and conceit and even set subjects. Still, the muscle is there in the classics, we reread them with joy, and in a sense wherever a man has really worked his stuff outbraves time and novel methods. We would always rather read a good old sonneteer, such as Raleigh or Sidney, than some merely competent fellow who is on the right track. The excellent speak to the excellent.

You're very famous now, but I have been thinking a lot about how boneheaded most of the popular and even good critics have been about you most of your lifetime. It must be fearful to have done something with deadly originality and lucidity and beauty, and then be ignored, scolded, patronized!

Love to Flossie, it will be good to talk to you again.


To Allen Ginsberg

239 Marlborough Street

Boston 16, Massachusetts

April 10, 1959

Dear Allen:

I think letters ought to be written the way you think poetry ought be. So let this be breezy, brief, incomplete, but spontaneous and not dishonestly holding back.

Creeley and Levertov are careful, disciplined poets. If I were writing to them, I could truthfully say a good deal for their [begin strikethrough]honest[end strikethrough] sensitive care. But in the rough and tumble of what is alive today? Creeley is [the] tamest imitation of Williams' tricks, tone, mannerisms, rhythms. I guess poetry as a technique means much less to me than to you. I can hear Creeley's polite, dim halting voice behind the barrage of Williams--I can just hear it, and not to much purpose, while Williams' manner drones at me in Creeley. Levertov with more observation and less skill also seems to come from Williams. Also I find everywhere a bit intangibly the humor and quirks of Pound--the hardest of masters, if you yourself are a quiet little person and so unlike him.

Well, I enjoy Kaddish much more. It's really melodious, nostalgic, moving, liturgical. Maybe it ought to be shorter--the manner sometimes almost writes itself--probably there's too much Whitman. And I do find it a bit too conventional, eloquent and liturgical. Well, it's well done, felt and a good poem.

Your letter says a good deal I sympathize with, and of course reams more that I don't. Yet I rather wonder if I didn't say most of my objections the other night. It's not a matter of argument, but of experience--what one's mind, heart, soul and stamina have gone through. I couldn't make you agree with me in a million years. We can, however, tolerate each other, at least I can tolerate you, and hope you'll put up with my rather splenetic joshing.


Robert Lowell

P.S. A reason for the rough brusqueness of my letter is this. I see a great deal that fascinates me in your wave of writers. Yet as a whole? There's so much that is timid, conservative, intolerant of other kinds of writing. The times are bad? But not as bad as you think. 10,000 noodles to one competent writer; 10,000 competent writers to one interesting writer; 10,000 interesting, honest writers to one inspired writer; 100 inspired writers to one of great moment. But why drown out what there is? Just to name Americans in this century: James, Frost, Robinson, Wharton, Drieser, Ring Lardner, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Nathaniel West, Salinger, Saul Bellow, Mary McCarthy, Flannery O'Connor, J. F. Powers, K. A. Porter, Pound, Williams, Ransom, Tate, Warren, Jarrell, Crane, Kunitz, Roethke, Eliz. Bishop, Faulkner, Winters, Blackmur, James Baldwin, Santayana, Eliot? I've given these people in no particular order. They differ enormously in interest. There [are] others just as good I've intentionally or absentmindedly passed over. But all these are first rate, nor should they be taken for granted in the welter of commercial writing, movies etc that we live in. Your wave of people may add a name or two to this list--or more than a name or two; who can foretell the future--you can't drown out what is already there.


To Anne Sexton

15 West 67th St.

New York 23, N. Y.

December 1, 1961

Dear Anne:

Let me pour out my scattered general impressions first. If they are inconsistent, that won't matter. The best things about your book is its unstoppered fullness. I get an impression of increasing supply and weight; indeed your first book, especially the best poems, spills into the second and somehow adds to it. Perhaps, you shouldn't be too critical, and should have no fears, except the fear of losing your material and screaming off into vagueness. This you haven't done. My favorite still is the Hudson one on your Father, print perhaps helps, but I feel a passion and concentration here. You have any number of poems that roll along in something I'd call your version of my Life Studies style; the method, and often the emotions, (this comes from similar experience not imitation--I often think, I've felt this too, but never written about it) are familiar to me, and now that I've lost the supply I envy you. I'm glad you've tried new things, the religious poems and character sketches. They are variously successful, I guess, but give the book a professional air of not just confessing, but of liking to write poems. Your final "Letter" is a good idea, and reads like one of your own letters. I doubt if it's your best poem. Maybe I'll find myself imitating it too.

Faults? I don't think they matter. Or perhaps they are unavoidable human limitations--yours! There are loose edges, a certain monotony of tone, a way of writing that sometimes seems to let everything in too easily, bald spots, uninspired moments that roll off disguised by the same certainty of voice, poems that all one can say about them is they are Sexton and therefore precious. I sometimes feel that you are one of the few people who could write a whole book, like the Spoon River Anthology, where the little moments would prop the big moments and there'd be little waste. To an extent, you have done this, and have made your life your treasury. This sounds very gnomic! After all these years Spoon River doesn't really do this, and survives in a large handful of its best moments. Still it was a grand stab at writing a whole book of short poems!

I have been struck lately by the fact that we can do this and that, but we are always the same. Most people, however, don't begin to get out what's in them. When some one does that as you have and gotten out more than even you probably imagined was there, it seems absurd to carp at little faults. You have many, but they really don't matter, and the book gives the impression generally of laborious revision, I mean of having already made the essential reworkings. I tend to think that further effort should now go into your third book.

I'll be in Boston from the 7th through the 9th staying at Bill Alfred's. I'm afraid I'll be in a terrible rush of engagements, but we might work in something, say Saturday or Sunday, otherwise it would be better to talk on the phone or for you to come here for a day. I doubt though if a poem by poem discussion would be worth your time. You are riding the tide and really are on your own. I'd love to see you though.[...]

Thanks for your letter and book.



To John Berryman

15 West 67 St.

New York 23, N.Y.

March 18, [1962]

Dear John:

I meant to write immediately and thank you for your sympathetic and inspired piece on me and "Skunk Hour." During the first reading, I started out saying, "Why it doesn't mean that at all. Nothing's let out about the author." But you've made an amazing guess, more or less a bull's-eye thrust into what was going on when the poem was written--all very dazzling and disturbing.

I'll limit myself here mostly to a few impersonal notes. The "sob in each blood-cell" is meant to have a haggard, romantic profilish exaggerated quality--true, but in the rhetoric of destitution, here the more matter of fact descriptive style gives out, won't do, and there's only the stagey for the despair. Then one leaves it for the skunk vision. Most people take the skunks as cheerful, one of my cousins said in disgust they were the only happy note--however, they are horrible blind energy, at the same time as in Herbert's "I wish I were a tree" there's both a wish and a fear of annihilation, i.e. dropping to a simpler form of life, and a hopeful wish for that simpler energy. My feelings about Christianity are confused, and I'll have to say something in my printed comment. My Ovid stanza looks better I'm afraid in your essay than in the original poem, though I think I'll put it back. It somehow won't stand by itself, or quite fit the poem.

I hear, mostly I guess from the Tates, that you have a charming wife, and are flourishing. Congratulations! It's almost ten years since I've seen you. Remember that night at the opera in Giroux's tails? When you said Lizzie wouldn't know me? I've felt very near you through that time, and fed on the various contradictory rumors that came--mostly that you had just given a dazzling lecture somewhere.

I've been through a wearying mid-winter, tonsillitis, flu, bronchitis, one little fever giving ailment after another, so that for a month I've gone to bed every other night with a temperature. In two days we are all going to Puerto Rico. In about a month we are coming to Minnesota to read and lecture, and stay with the Tates. I hope we can get off together at length. This summer, we are going to Brazil. This started as a visit to E. Bishop but now it's a sort of Cultural Congress tour with readings and lectures in several countries for us both.

I've written a long play out of Hawthorne and Melville: "Endecott and the Red Cross," "Major Molineux," and "Benito Cereno"--three plays that make one and are called The Old Glory. They are rather Brechtian and different in tone and meaning from their sources, and are pretty strong, but need technical changes to act--which I've done with one, but keep putting off for the others. As I put them off, I write poems, and now have a third of a book, small clear half anguished things that I want to show you.

All winter I've had an uncomfortable feeling of dying into rebirth. Not at all the sick, dizzy allegorized thing such words suggest and which I've felt going off my rocker. But the flat prose of coming to the end of one way of life--whittled down and whittled down, and picking up nothing new though always about to. I had a dream the other night about Philip Rahv, who has just married a society lady and bought a house on Beacon Street. He was picking up everything I had carefully thrown away all my life--golden keys of social ease, till at the end, I think his two sons had just entered Groton. I said to myself, "What['s] the point of throwing away so much?" Well, that isn't what I want to pick up, but I feel the time has come for some kind of Yeatsian somersault.

What you said about the other poets of our generation is something I've brooded much on. What queer lives we've had even for poets! There seems something generic about it, and determined beyond anything we could do. You and I have had so many of the same tumbles and leaps. We must have a green old age. We both have drunk the downward drag as deeply as is perhaps bearable. I feel we have better work and better lives ahead.

What a Longfellow-note after your searching essay! Forgive me, I am trying to break the ice and start talking where we left off ten years ago. In our insides we never stopped. Still one has to grunt and sweat a bit to get the talk going. I feel we are very close and see things with the same mixture of cheerfulness and sourness that make life livable.

I have an incredible little daughter. Also Lizzie, who sends her love and whom you'll soon see.



To the Editors, Partisan Review

[n.d., Fall 1966]

1. Yes, nothing could matter more than who is in the White House. It's not like the arts. Two very foolish novelists with opposed beliefs or temperaments would write equally foolish novels, but two equally foolish presidents would have widely differing effects on our lives, the difference between life and death. Yet a great president somehow honors his country, even if what he effects is debatable. I suppose Lincoln was our most noble and likeable president. The country is somehow finer for having had him, yet much that he accomplished was terrifying and might have been avoided by the run-of-the-mill Douglas. I wish Stevenson had been elected. Maybe he would have done nothing (I don't believe this) but at least he would have registered what he was doing. I can't imagine him not losing a night's sleep over Hiroshima, even if he did drop the bomb. I think he might not have.

2. Inflation is over my head, but I think we can never again forget poverty. Man throughout time has been very lighthearted about poverty in a way that we can never, with decency, be again.

3. I don't know what the split between the President and the intellectuals means. Something very horrifying about our country has been brought home to us. I don't know how profound this is, or how much it is a passing twinge of remorse, how much is due to Johnson and how much was almost inevitable with almost any president. We've swallowed worse things than Vietnam, yet it's hopeful that we are now appalled. We may be going through a deep change of heart as to what can be allowed to nation-states, or maybe our present mood is only a sort of temporary, superficial and hangover "profundity."


4. As far as honor goes, I think white America is committed to granting equality to the negro. How much equality actually will be granted is another darker and unanswerable question.

5. I think our foreign policies are quite likely leading us to the third and worst world war, not right away probably, but over a stretch of time, within twenty or thirty years. When we have said the worst we can about our American foreign policy, and I think as citizens we must say this, still it must be admitted that the future depends on other countries besides ourselves. Who can be happy, when he looks at the great contenders?

6. I have mostly answered this question, I have a gloomy premonition though that we will soon look back on this troubled moment as a golden time of freedom and license to act and speculate. One feels the steely sinews of the tiger, an ascetic, "moral" and authoritarian reign of piety and iron.

7. Doom or promise must be found in youth. I think perhaps the young hope for things that neither we nor any previous generation dared hope for. But how much like us, and what a slender reed, they often seem!

To Mrs. John F. Kennedy

15 West 67 St.


June 10, 1968

Dear Jackie:

I have been thinking of writing you a long letter, a letter of mourning, but also of apology, because I think I might have done something for Bobby that might have helped, a word of caution. Many times I tried, not by conscious intention but by instinct. Still he knew well enough how the cards were stacked for him, and chose--a life glorious though brief. And perhaps this was best. I hope you won't hold my business in McCarthy's campaign against me. I could do nothing else, and wouldn't have. I think I was perhaps one of the few people in either party who ardently wanted either your Brother-in-law or McCarthy.

Because I cannot in this tired moment write a long letter, please take this short poem (it's part of a long series, 120, in this form, called Notebook of a Year) as a tribute.


Here in my study, in its listlessness
of Vacancy, some old Victorian house,
air-tight and sheeted for old summers,
far from the hornet yatter of the bond--
is loneliness, a thin smoke threat of vital
air. What can I catch from you now?
Doom was woven in your nerves, your shirt,
woven in the great clan; they too were loyal,
you too were more than loyal to them ...
to death.
For them, like a prince, you daily left
your tower
to walk through dirt in your best cloth.
Here now,
alone, in my Plutarchan bubble, I miss
you sorely, you out of Plutarch, made
by hand--
forever approaching our maturity.
I can't say more. I share your sorrow.
As ever affectionately,


To Jean Stafford

Milgate Park

Bearsted, Maidstone, Kent, Eng.

October 30, 1974

Dear Jean--

I must clear up one thing--I didn't drink on top of antabuse knowingly. I may have taken an orange juice with vodka or something. It's impossible to tell. It's hard at a big party to be sure what one is handed. Or the fainting may have been something else entirely. I am Ok, lungs and heart, as far as tests can tell. I am alarmed about your drinking, but it might be more dangerous to stop. For all your varied physical troubles, your life must be a triumph of defying doctors and going your own way. Sometimes they seem to forget our poor lives, the lives we must actually get through and try to enjoy. All this is lost in their solutions of craft.

The last two days here have been cold and bright for England, almost like New England. We keep from freezing by coal, electric heaters, and an inaudible oil furnace. I am reminded of Damariscotta Mills: two cook-stove-oil-burners, two airtights, one plug-in radiator, electric heaters, something with coal. How did I keep it all going--I was even more inert and unhandy then.

Well I pray for your novel, and even more for you, the book a part of you. Do you realize all of us are the older, not yet senile, generation, the long-on-view whose shadow falls on all who are younger? What can we do about it? I write about being 57. This morning I. A. Richards told me he had written three poems on Allen Tate--"curious poems, not on him particularly, but age." I said, "The grand subject." But started to add, I'm writing on it too, when I realized I could not say this to a man of 82.

[begin strikethrough]May we have that far to go.[end strikethrough]

Caroline sends her love--is that peculiar from [someone] you've never met?



Did you notice I live in Bearsted?

To Caroline Blackwood

Dunster House

Harvard University

Cambridge, Mass.

May 3, 1977


I'm writing about three or four hours after your call--in great confusion, not knowing how or what to say. I am afraid of your visit, because I am afraid nothing will be done except causing pain. How many lovely moments, weeks, months, we had. Sunday I sat by the Charles River watching the strollers, the joggers, the sunners--and the river. And I seemed to follow it back through our seven years, the great multitude of restaurants, the moment when everyone was in the bathroom when I bathed, the long summer of your swelling pregnancy, the rush to London, the little red man's appearance--or earlier trapped in All Souls, and a thousand things more. But the last two years have been terrifying for us both--and neither of us have made it any better for the other. It hasn't been a quarrel, but two eruptions, two earthquakes crashing.

Well, we should talk ... always. I really can't do anything till June in New York or the end of May here, or I could visit Ireland mid- or later summer. I feel you ended things during my Irish visit, ended them wisely and we can't go back. I have had so much dread--the worst in my life--that I would do something, by my mere presence I would do something to hurt you, to drive you to despair. Who knows cause ...

Excerpted from The Letters of Robert Lowell by Robert Lowell, edited by Saskia Hamilton, to be published in June by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. Copyright [c] 2005 by Harriet Lowell and Sheridan Lowell. All rights reserved.

Neruda's Yellow Heart


From so often traveling in a region
not charted in books
I grew accustomed to stubborn lands
where nobody asked me whether I like lettuces
or if I prefer mint like the elephants devour.
And from offering no answers,
I have a yellow heart.

De tanto andar una región
que no figuraba en los libros
me acostumbré a las tierras tercas
en que nadie me preguntaba
si me gustaban las lechugas
o si prefería la menta
que devoravan los elefantes.
Y de tanto no responder



The last leaves' embers in total immolation
Rise into the sky; this whole forest
Seethes with irritation, just as we did
That last year we lived together.

The path you take 's reflected in our tear-filled eyes,
As bushes are reflected in the murky flood-lands.
Don't be difficult, don't touch, don't threaten,
Don't offend the forest silence by the Volga.

You can hear the old life breathing:
Clumps of mushrooms growing in damp grass -
Though gnawed to the very core by slugs,
They still inflame the skin.

All our past is like a threat -
Look, I'm coming, watch, I'll kill you!
The sky shivers and holds a maple, like a rose, -
May it burn still stronger - right into your eyes.

'I waited for you yesterday since morning'

I waited for you yesterday since morning,
They guessed you wouldn't come,
Do you remember the weather? Like a holiday!
I went out without a coat.

Today came, and they fixed for us
A somehow specially dismal day,
It was very late, and it was raining,
The drops cascading down the chilly branches.

No word of comfort, tears undried...

* * *


We celebrated every moment
Of our meetings as epiphanies,
Just we two in all the world.
Bolder, lighter than a bird's wing,
You hurtled like vertigo
Down the stairs, leading
Through moist lilac to your realm
Beyond the mirror.

When night fell, grace was given me,
The sanctuary gates were opened,
Shining in the darkness
Nakedness bowed slowly;
Waking up, I said:
'God bless you!', knowing it
To be daring: you slept,
The lilac leaned towards you from the table
To touch your eyelids with its universal blue,
Those eyelids brushed with blue
Were peaceful, and your hand was warm.

And in the crystal I saw pulsing rivers,
Smoke-wreathed hills, and glimmering seas;
Holding in your palm that crystal sphere,
You slumbered on the throne,
And - God be praised! - you belonged to me.
Awaking, you transformed
The humdrum dictionary of humans
Till speech was full and running over
With resounding strength, and the word you
Revealed its new meaning: it meant king.
Everything in the world was different,
Even the simplest things - the jug, the basin -
When stratified and solid water
Stood between us, like a guard.

We were led to who knows where.
Before us opened up, in mirage,
Towns constructed out of wonder,
Mint leaves spread themselves beneath our feet,
Birds came on the journey with us,
Fish leapt in greeting from the river,
And the sky unfurled above...

While behind us all the time went fate,
A madman brandishing a razor.

* * *


I don't believe in omens or fear
Forebodings. I flee from neither slander
Nor from poison. Death does not exist.
Everyone's immortal. Everything is too.
No point in fearing death at seventeen,
Or seventy. There's only here and now, and light;
Neither death, nor darkness, exists.
We're all already on the seashore;
I'm one of those who'll be hauling in the nets
When a shoal of immortality swims by.


If you live in a house - the house will not fall.
I'll summon any of the centuries,
Then enter one and build a house in it.
That's why your children and your wives
Sit with me at one table, -
The same for ancestor and grandson:
The future is being accomplished now,
If I raise my hand a little,
All five beams of light will stay with you.
Each day I used my collar bones
For shoring up the past, as though with timber,
I measured time with geodetic chains
And marched across it, as though it were the Urals.


I tailored the age to fit me.
We walked to the south, raising dust above the steppe;
The tall weeds fumed; the grasshopper danced,
Touching its antenna to the horse-shoes - and it prophesied,
Threatening me with destruction, like a monk.
I strapped my fate to the saddle;
And even now, in these coming times,
I stand up in the stirrups like a child.

I'm satisfied with deathlessness,
For my blood to flow from age to age.
Yet for a corner whose warmth I could rely on
I'd willingly have given all my life,
Whenever her flying needle
Tugged me, like a thread, around the globe.

'And this I dreamt, and this I dream'

And this I dreamt, and this I dream,
And some time this I will dream again,
And all will be repeated, all be re-embodied,
You will dream everything I have seen in dream.

To one side from ourselves, to one side from the world
Wave follows wave to break on the shore,
On each wave is a star, a person, a bird,
Dreams, reality, death - on wave after wave.

No need for a date: I was, I am, and I will be,
Life is a wonder of wonders, and to wonder
I dedicate myself, on my knees, like an orphan,
Alone - among mirrors - fenced in by reflections:
Cities and seas, iridescent, intensified.
A mother in tears takes a child on her lap.

* * *


Earth swallows herself
And, knocking her head against the sky,
Patches the gaps in her memory
With humankind and grass.

Grass hides under the horse-shoes,
Soul in an ivory box;
Only word beneath the moon
Looms in the steppe

Which sleeps like a corpse.
Boulders on burial mounds -
Tsars playing at watchmen -
Drunk stupid on moonlight.

Word is the last to die.
When the drill of water pushes up
Through the subsoil's tough integument,
Sky will stir

And burdock's eyelash sigh,
Grasshopper's saddle flash,
Bird of the steppe comb,
Sleepy, its rainbow wing.

Then up to his shoulders in blue-grey milk
See Adam enter the steppe from paradise,
Restoring both to bird and stone
The gift of intelligent speech;

He recreated while they slept
Their palpitating names,
And now he breathes delirium of consciousness,
Loving, like soul, into grass.

* * *


If I'd been destined at birth
To lie in the lap of the gods,
I'd have been reared by a heavenly wet-nurse
On the holy milk of the clouds.

I'd be god of a stream or a garden,
Keeping watch over graves or the corn, -
But no - I'm a man, I don't need immortality:
A heavenly fate would be awful.

I'm glad no one stitched my lips in a smile,
Remote from earth's bile and salt.
So off you go, violin of Olympus,
I can do without your song.

* * *


I dreamed this dream and I still dream of it
and I will dream of it sometime again.
Everything repeats itself and everything will be reincarnated,
and my dreams will be your dreams.

There, to one side of us, to one side of the world
wave after wave breaks on the shore:
there's a star on the wave, and a man, and a bird,
reality and dreams and death - wave after wave.

Dates are irrelevant. I was, I am, I will be.
Life is a miracle of miracles, and I kneel
before the miracle alone like an orphan,

alone in the mirrors, enclosed in reflections,
seas and towns, shining brightly through the smoke.

A mother cries and takes her baby on her knee.

Selected Poems of Robert Lowell


The night attendant, a B.U. sophomore,
rouses from the mare's-nest of his drowsy head
propped on The Meaning of Meaning.
He catwalks down our corridor.
Azure day
makes my agonized blue window bleaker.
Crows maunder on the petrified fairway.
Absence! My hearts grows tense
as though a harpoon were sparring for the kill.
(This is the house for the "mentally ill.")

What use is my sense of humour?
I grin at Stanley, now sunk in his sixties,
once a Harvard all-American fullback,
(if such were possible!)
still hoarding the build of a boy in his twenties,
as he soaks, a ramrod
with a muscle of a seal
in his long tub,
vaguely urinous from the Victorian plumbing.
A kingly granite profile in a crimson gold-cap,
worn all day, all night,
he thinks only of his figure,
of slimming on sherbert and ginger ale--
more cut off from words than a seal.
This is the way day breaks in Bowditch Hall at McLean's;
the hooded night lights bring out "Bobbie,"
Porcellian '29,
a replica of Louis XVI
without the wig--
redolent and roly-poly as a sperm whale,
as he swashbuckles about in his birthday suit
and horses at chairs.

These victorious figures of bravado ossified young.

In between the limits of day,
hours and hours go by under the crew haircuts
and slightly too little nonsensical bachelor twinkle
of the Roman Catholic attendants.
(There are no Mayflower
screwballs in the Catholic Church.)

After a hearty New England breakfast,
I weigh two hundred pounds
this morning. Cock of the walk,
I strut in my turtle-necked French sailor's jersey
before the metal shaving mirrors,
and see the shaky future grow familiar
in the pinched, indigenous faces
of these thoroughbred mental cases,
twice my age and half my weight.
We are all old-timers,
each of us holds a locked razor.

* * *


(For Elizabeth Bishop)

Nautilus Island's hermit
heiress still lives through winter in her Spartan cottage;
her sheep still graze above the sea.
Her son's a bishop. Her farmer
is first selectman in our village,
she's in her dotage.

Thirsting for
the hierarchic privacy
of Queen Victoria's century,
she buys up all
the eyesores facing her shore,
and lets them fall.

The season's ill--
we've lost our summer millionaire,
who seemed to leap from an L. L. Bean
catalogue. His nine-knot yawl
was auctioned off to lobstermen.
A red fox stain covers Blue Hill.

And now our fairy
decorator brightens his shop for fall,
his fishnet's filled with orange cork,
orange, his cobbler's bench and awl,
there is no money in his work,
he'd rather marry.

One dark night,
my Tudor Ford climbed the hill's skull,
I watched for love-cars. Lights turned down,
they lay together, hull to hull,
where the graveyard shelves on the town. . . .
My mind's not right.

A car radio bleats,
'Love, O careless Love . . . .' I hear
my ill-spirit sob in each blood cell,
as if my hand were at its throat . . . .
I myself am hell,
nobody's here--

only skunks, that search
in the moonlight for a bite to eat.
They march on their soles up Main Street:
white stripes, moonstruck eyes' red fire
under the chalk-dry and spar spire
of the Trinitarian Church.

I stand on top
of our back steps and breathe the rich air--
a mother skunk with her column of kittens swills the garbage
She jabs her wedge-head in a cup
of sour cream, drops her ostrich tail,
and will not scare.

* * *


At Beverly Farms, a portly, uncomfortable boulder
bulked in the garden’s center–
an irregular Japanese touch.
After his Bourbon “old fashioned,” Father,
bronzed, breezy, a shade too ruddy,
swayed as if on deck duty
under his six pointed star-lantern–
last July’s birthday present.
He smiled his oval Lowell smile,
he wore his cream gabardine dinner-jacket,
and indigo cummerbund.
His head was efficient and hairless,
his newly dieted figure was vitally thin.

Father and Mother moved to Beverly Farms
to be a two-minute walk from the station,
half an hour by train from the Boston doctors.
They had no sea view,
but sky-blue tracks of the commuters’ railroad shone
like a double-barreled shotgun
through the scarlet late August sumac,
multiplying like cancer
at their garden’s border.

Father had had two coronaries.
He still treasured underhand economies,
but his best friend was his little black Chevy,
garaged like a sacrificial steer
with gilded hooves,
yet sensationally sober,
and with less side than an old dancing pump.
The local dealer, a “buccaneer,”
had been bribed a “king’s ransom”
to quickly deliver a car without chrome.

Each morning at eight-thirty,
inattentive and beaming,
loaded with his “calc” and “trig” books,
his clipper ship statistics,
and his ivory slide rule,
Father stole off with the Chevy
to loaf in the Maritime Museum at Salem.
He called the curator
“the commander of the Swiss Navy.”

Father’s death was abrupt and unprotesting.
His vision was still twenty-twenty.
After a morning of anxious repetitive smiling,
his last words to Mother were:
“I feel awful.”

* * *


My Dolphin, you only guide me by surprise,
captive as Racine, the man of craft,
drawn through his maze of iron composition
by the incomparable wandering voice of Phèdre.
When I was troubled in mind, you made for my body
caught in its hangman’s-knot of sinking lines,
the glassy bowing and scraping of my will. . . .
I have sat and listened to too many
words of the collaborating muse,
and plotted perhaps too freely with my life,
not avoiding injury to others,
not avoiding injury to myself–
to ask compassion . . . this book, half fiction,
an eelnet made by man for the eel fighting–

My eyes have seen what my hand did.

* * *


"Relinquunt Omnia Servare Rem Publicam."

The old South Boston Aquarium stands
in a Sahara of snow now. Its broken windows are boarded.
The bronze weathervane cod has lost half its scales.
The airy tanks are dry.

Once my nose crawled like a snail on the glass;
my hand tingled
to burst the bubbles
drifting from the noses of the cowed, compliant fish.

My hand draws back. I often sigh still
for the dark downward and vegetating kingdom
of the fish and reptile. One morning last March,
I pressed against the new barbed and galvanized

fence on the Boston Common. Behind their cage,
yellow dinosaur steamshovels were grunting
as they cropped up tons of mush and grass
to gouge their underworld garage.

Parking spaces luxuriate like civic
sandpiles in the heart of Boston.
A girdle of orange, Puritan-pumpkin colored girders
braces the tingling Statehouse,

shaking over the excavations, as it faces Colonel Shaw
and his bell-cheeked Negro infantry
on St. Gaudens' shaking Civil War relief,
propped by a plank splint against the garage's earthquake.

Two months after marching through Boston,
half the regiment was dead;
at the dedication,
William James could almost hear the bronze Negroes breathe.

Their monument sticks like a fishbone
in the city's throat.
Its Colonel is as lean
as a compass-needle.

He has an angry wrenlike vigilance,
a greyhound's gently tautness;
he seems to wince at pleasure,
and suffocate for privacy.

He is out of bounds now. He rejoices in man's lovely,
peculiar power to choose life and die--
when he leads his black soldiers to death,
he cannot bend his back.

On a thousand small town New England greens,
the old white churches hold their air
of sparse, sincere rebellion; frayed flags
quilt the graveyards of the Grand Army of the Republic.

The stone statues of the abstract Union Soldier
grow slimmer and younger each year--
wasp-waisted, they doze over muskets
and muse through their sideburns . . .

Shaw's father wanted no monument
except the ditch,
where his son's body was thrown
and lost with his "niggers."

The ditch is nearer.
There are no statues for the last war here;
on Boylston Street, a commercial photograph
shows Hiroshima boiling

over a Mosler Safe, the "Rock of Ages"
that survived the blast. Space is nearer.
When I crouch to my television set,
the drained faces of Negro school-children rise like balloons.

Colonel Shaw
is riding on his bubble,
he waits
for the blessèd break.

The Aquarium is gone. Everywhere,
giant finned cars nose forward like fish;
a savage servility
slides by on grease.

* * *


I long for the black ink,
cuttlefish, April, Communists
and brothels of Florence–
everything, even the British
fairies who haunted the hills,
even the chills and fever
that came once a month
and forced me to think.
The apple was more human there than here,
but it took a long time for the blinding
golden rind to mellow.

How vulnerable the horseshoe crabs
dredging the bottom like flat-irons
in their antique armor,
with their swordgrass blackbone tails,
made for a child to grab
and throw strangling ashore!

Oh Florence, Florence, patroness
of the lovely tyrannicides!
Where the tower of the Old Palace
pierces the sky
like a hypodermic needle,
Perseus, David and Judith,
lords and ladies of the Blood,
Greek demi-gods of the Cross,
rise sword in hand
above the unshaven,
formless decapitation
of the monsters, tubs of guts,
mortifying chunks for the pack.

Pity the monsters!
Pity the monsters!
Perhaps, one always took the wrong side–
Ah, to have known to have loved
too many Davids and Judiths!
My heart bleeds black blood for the monster.
I have seen the Gorgon.
The erotic terror
of her helpless, big bosomed body
lay like slop.
Wall-eyed, staring the despot to stone,
her severed head swung
like a lantern in the victor’s hand.


Welcome all who are reading these words.

Since September of 2004, I have carried in my billfold an article published in Harper’s Magazine, from a lecture by Federico Garcia Lorca, entitled, “Imagination, Inspiration, Evasion.” It has travelled with me through five countries and three continents, often being my only companion; its discerning voice like a silent pulse, rising and falling. It is a breath of fresh air.

It is with this beloved article that I should like to begin this forum. Below is the lecture in full. It is written in a kind of slow build-up, each paragraph expanding on the next, and every word written as an act of love.

I hope you enjoy.



In an intimate gathering at the Residencia de Estudiantes, the architect Le Corbusier once said that what he had best liked about Spain was the expression dar la estocada, to make a clean kill, because it expressed the intention of going directly to the subject and the yearning to master it rapidly, without pausing over what is merely accessory and decorative. I too believe in that doctrine, though, naturally, my sword is not a clean, agile one. The bull lies before us, and we must kill it. At least that is my intention.

Because I know how difficult this subject is, I am not trying to define, merely to emphasize. Don't ask me about truth or falsehood, because "poetic truth" is an expression that changes with the person to whom it is applied. Light in Dante can be ugliness in Mallarme. Furthermore, as everyone knows by now, one must love poetry. Poetry is like faith – it isn't meant to be understood but to be received in a state of grace. No one should say "this is clear," because poetry is obscure. And no one should say "this is obscure," because poetry is clear. What we must do is search out poetry energetically and virtuously so that it will surrender to us. But we need to have forgotten poetry completely before it can fall naked into our arms. What poetry cannot bear is indifference. Indifference is the devil's armchair. But it is indifference we hear babbling in the streets, dressed grotesquely in self-satisfaction and culture.

For me, imagination is synonymous with discovery. To imagine, to discover, to carry our bit of light to the living penumbra where all the infinite possibilities, forms, and numbers exist. I do not believe in creation but in discovery, and I don’t believe in the seated artist but in the one who is walking the road. The imagination is a spiritual apparatus, a luminous explorer of the world it discovers. The imagination fixes and gives clear life to fragments of the invisible reality where man is stirring.

The imagination merely discovers things already created, it does not invent, and whenever it does so it is defeated by the beauty of reality. The imagination hunts for images using tried and true techniques of the hunt. The mechanics of poetic imagination are always the same: a concentration, a leap, a flight, a return with the treasure, and a classification and selection of what has been brought back. The poet dominates his imagination and sends it wherever he wants. When he is not happy with its services he punishes it and sends it back, just as the hunter punishes the dog who is too slow in bringing him the bird. Sometimes the hunt is splendid, but the most beautiful birds and the brightest lights almost always get away.

The imagination is limited by reality: one cannot imagine what does not exist. It needs objects, landscapes, numbers, planets, and it requires the purest sort of logic to relate those things to one another. The imagination hovers over reason the way fragrance hovers over a flower, wafted on the breeze but tied, always, to the ineffable center of its origin.

The poetic imagination travels and transforms things, giving them their purest meaning, and it defines relationships no one had suspected. It was imagination that discovered the four cardinal directions and that has discovered the intermediate causes of things, but imagination has never been able to rest its hands in the burning embers, without logic or sense, where one finds free, unrestrained inspiration.

It is difficult for a so-called pure imaginative poet to produce intense emotion with his poetry. He can, of course, produce poetic emotions; and he can produce with the technique of verse that typical musical emotion of the Romantic, which falls short, almost always, of the deep meaning of the pure poet. But the imaginative poet cannot produce virginal, unrestrained poetic emotion, free of walls – rotund poetry with its own newly created laws. Imagination is poor, and the poetic imagination more so.

Visible reality, the facts of the world and of the human body, are much more full of subtle nuances, and are much more poetic than what imagination discovers. One notices this often in the struggle between scientific reality and imaginative myth, in which – thank God – science wins. For science is a thousand times more lyrical than any theogony.

The human imagination invented giants in order to attribute to them the construction of great grottoes or enchanted cities. Later, reality taught us that those great caves are made by the drop of water. The pure, patient, eternal drop of water. In this case, as in many others, reality wins. After all, it is much more beautiful that a cave be a mysterious caprice of water – chained and ordered by eternal laws – than the whim of giants who have no other meaning than that of an explanation.

The daughter of the imagination – the logical and legitimate daughter – is the metaphor, which is sometimes born from a sudden stroke of intuition and sometimes brought to light by the slow anguish of forethought.

The poet strolls through his imagination, limited by it. He hears the flowing of great rivers. His forehead feels the cool of the reeds that tremble in the midst of nowhere. He wants to hear the dialogue of the insects beneath the boughs. He wants to penetrate the current of the sap in the dark silence of great tree trunks. He wants to understand the Morse alphabet spoken by the heart of the sleeping girl.

He wants. We all want. But this is his sin: to want. One shouldn't want, one should love. And so he fails. Because when he tries to express the poetic truth of any of these motifs, he will have to make use of plastic analogies that will never be sufficiently expressive, for the imagination cannot reach those depths.

As long as he does not try to free himself from the world, the poet can live happily in his golden poverty. All the rhetorical systems, all the poetic schools in the world, from the Japanese on, have a lovely wardrobe of suns, moons, lilies, mirrors, and melancholy clouds that can be used by all intelligences at all latitudes.

But the poet who wants to break free from the imagination, and not merely live on the images produced by real objects, stops dreaming and starts to desire. Then, when the limits of his imagination become unbearable and he wants to free himself from his enemy – the world – he passes from desire to love. He goes from imagination, which is a fact of the soul, to inspiration, which is a state of the soul. He goes from analysis to faith, and the poet, previously an explorer, is now a humble man who bears on his shoulders the irresistible beauty of all things.

Imagination assaults the theme furiously from all sides, but inspiration receives it suddenly and wraps it in subtle, pulsing light, like those huge carnivorous flowers that envelop the trembling bee and dissolve it in the acrid juice exuded by its merciless petals.

Imagination is intelligent, orderly, full of equilibrium, but inspiration is sometimes incongruent – it does not recognize man, and often it places a livid worm in the clear eyes of our muse. Just because it wants to, without offering an explanation. Imagination creates a poetic atmosphere, and inspiration invents the "poetic fact."

Just as poetical imagination has a human logic, poetic inspiration has a poetic one. Acquired technique and aesthetic postulates are no longer of any use. And just as imagination is a discovery, inspiration is a gift, an ineffable gift. It was Juan Larrea who said, "This, which comes to me because of my innocence."

The mission of the poet is just that – to give life (animar), in the exact sense of the word: to give soul. Because I am a true poet, and will remain so until my death, I will never stop flagellating myself with the disciplines, and never give up hope that someday my body will run with green or yellow blood. Anything is better than to remain seated in the window looking out on the same landscape. The light of any poet is contradiction. I haven’t tried to force my position on anyone – that would be unworthy of poetry. Poetry doesn't need skilled practitioners, she needs lovers, and she lays down brambles and shards of glass for the hands that search for her with love.