H e a r t S o n s & H e a r t D a u g h t e r s of A l l e n G i n s b e r g
N a p a l m H e a l t h S p a : R e p o r t 2 0 1 4 : A r c h i v e s E d i t i o n
Excerpts from Lit
From the Foreword
Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal.
These poems contain notes taken while reading The Norton Anthology of English
Literature, Volumes I and II, the Norton Anthology of Poetry, and The Norton
Anthology of Post-Modern Poetry.
In attempt to remember all of the wisdom I culled from these anthologies, I began
“translating” the poems into modern language and idioms. But that quickly
proved uninteresting, as the poems already existed in superior form, and instead I
began writing a collection of poems written “under the influence” of specific
authors or poems or styles, or in answer to them, or as variations on their themes
and styles, or as attempts to complete or move the poets or poems forward in
time, or became some vision birthed in my imagination of the poems themselves,
as if I began living “after” them.
When Jim Cohn asked for copies of the following poems for his magazine, I no
longer had them as e-documents and was not interested in typing them over, so I
found older versions and decided to submit them instead, as alternate versions of
the poems as published in Lit.
from Part I: Notes from The Norton Anthology of English Literature Volume
I: From Prehistory to 1800
Beowolf Faces Death
There is a shadow world and
night-terrors all around us, and
warriors too old for fighting
leaping from cliffs into
leaden waves, fire-hardened
in grim war-gear,
how their faces shine
for a moment, reflecting the sky,
their mouths full of rain
sliding into winter’s chill—
how the stages of death progress,
beginning in the extremities,
their mind long gone, free and weightless,
the feared night opening its arms in welcome
to drag them slowly down.
Shortly Before His Death, Geoffrey Chaucer Comes to His
Senses and Reclaims at Least The Parliament of Birds
My weak sun has more than run its course—
I am hollow and sleepy, a coral bead
upon a slender thread, remembering little,
mostly wondering what happened.
What I wrote remains unknown to me
the one who wrote them—how they
came to me more or less as pleasure,
or what little of them I can remember—
but there was always a shadow,
huge and serious, overpowering my art,
until even the sparrows refused to fly—
my responsibility was to choose
the right words for the most pleasure—
no one writes or reads for any other reason—
and now, numb as a stone, I speak only with
the stories I have told—which will never change
even as I go through a hundred incarnations—
for time changes everything except what I have written,
and therefore I was angry with my stories then—
thinking they were not enough art,
or that I was too much in them, or not enough,
or that the pieces themselves were at odds,
nothing more than a groping towards nature,
and how I’d gone to all that effort.
When Love Ceased to Sing
My mind is a hidden place that is most
unknown to me, although most myself,
and I did most harm where I most desired.
Everyone knows what kind of grace it is
when one has been humbled and bows
(thus the fear I feel as I am humbled now)—
And if I thought it would matter I would tell you,
“See what it is to love,
What Love Said in Reply (for Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey)
Love within me no longer fights, its purpose lost,
and I shut off my heart whenever it sings—
spring will come, summer follow, and
then autumn, finally winter,
while the stars above us do nothing
and we continue to live without the one thing
that would rid us of our pain,
as if a candle fighting the sun,
and what I’ve said you know already,
and what I’ve said you’ve heard before.
Poem for the Moon
O Moon, who with slow sad steps climbs the sky,
how is it for you who watches the Earth spinning—
do you wonder what you look like as you spend a month above us?
Tell us, O Moon,
do those above us love to be loved as lovers do
and do they suffer too?
The Difficult Birth of Edmund Spenser’s Shadow
She’s gone so near my heart that I can never
love again—but what I got out of her is more
than I deserved. Her beauty she hammered
into me, turned me into a pearl, and I passed
that winter within the fear of what would be lost
when she was lost, with so much of her lost
already, and by the spring the rest of her
forgotten. Having kept too long in silence, I
adored her which made her sad, and in her yawn
everything I said disappeared, and suddenly she was gone.
John Wilmot’s Lament:
What Miracles We Harmless Lovers Wrought,
Who Knew Not What We Loved Nor Why
She makes me pale—her cheeks, her lips
her hips, etc.,—how like a breathing star
she is, until it is as if pure beauty has come
to me, and how in her I become pure light,
how in her I am almost eloquent, the way
lightning breaks from the sky and disappears
into black, the dense rain hurtles into nothing.
Christopher Marlowe’s Notes for a New Faust
“Then read no more when it is done.”
Why should heaven be melodious and obscure
as well as invisible—if it existed, wouldn’t it
weep for earth and extend its light into everything?
Any god who created the world would be responsible
for it—any evil in His world could only come from
Why is it impossible to believe in justice in this life—
how can a soul be corrupted by sins of the flesh
created in God’s image? Who would make possible
and then withdraw all pleasure? Why delay joy?
Why should the pleasures of heaven be withheld
for some higher heaven? What if this is the life
that’s offered for our reward, and if we miss
this pleasure it will be gone forever? Or what if
when we dissolve we’ll think no more about it?
It seems to me that if we could think straight
we wouldn’t be so worried about a world to come.
Why would even the lowest creature create a soul
only to know it will suffer after being abandoned
to a foreign world like Earth? Who would sow
distortion or add suffering to His Eden? Who
would think to judge and not celebrate His children?
Who among us can—no matter the injuries we bring
to others—see their own children suffer? And what judge
would convict anyone when all the laws are hidden and
deliberately mislabeled, when if it could be seen as one
couldn’t help but be—I’m sure of it—beautiful,
and would make perfect sense, everything understood
and forgiven. Wouldn’t anyone—especially God—
choose to be just and trustworthy as would
the worst among us, given half a chance?
William Shakespeare Imitating Christopher Marlowe
Beauty’s fault is its best feature (that it ends)
for this is how winter becomes spring, so
sigh not so, summer was first spring and autumn’s
rough bitter sky is something unremembered now.
Winter always leads to spring and there is no end to it—
spring is born as we are born and will come down
and sweet birds feed upon its bones, in turn
falling to a lynx, following some ancient design.
Each birth is out of darkness nearly total.
Thoughts like these are an old man’s warmth,
the rushing river silvered-over, cold as stone,
and yellow leaves or none or few do hang.
John Donne’s Complaynt
And for all that’s nothing we wept
until we drowned the whole world,
all for a shadow, all for no one.
We said nothing all day as if we had gone mad,
and saw and saw not what life had done to us
and what it meant in the this and that of it
and in another sense too—about what’s ours,
about what works and what leads us astray,
and that we knew this and still did each other harm.
Let all be sad and confused and conflicted.
Let there be great darkness upon the land,
never ending, all time running out,
unnecessary suffering, joy cancered with thorns;
then grant us light,
but only too late,
and only to cause each other pain.
Study the beginning of the world, from which
every dead and living and future thing is engendered,
all of history coiled in it as a snake—the quintessence
of nothingness that has engendered everything
is at war with the darkness that enters into dead things,
which are in death no longer what they were.
John Milton Takes Refuge in a Buddhist Monastery
I entered into a deeper sleeping and saw heaven
and how He—definitely He—destroys everything
He’s created with less effort than a schoolboy
burns an ant—I saw for whom it was made
and why, and what the ultimate answers are,
and just as I was about to enter it,
he closed the door and disappeared.
So Rare a White (for Edmund Waller, Anne Bradstreet, and Richard Lovelace)
Althea whispers, entangled
in the sheets, her careless hands
thrust like roses into the pleasures
we both adore. She rises, disheveled,
her hair wild and spinning.
Soft is she, so rare a white,
whether I look or look away.
How small a part of time and space
we share, so certain to be lost, we both, we,
like this bed soon battered and destroyed.
I’ve Loved as I Have Loved (for John Dryden)
Whenever we hope for we fear for too—
Jus so I’ve loved as I have loved, as long and as well as I could,
but what loves and what was loved has been loved out of me.
Her fingers were like everything all at once,
and the song within her was like the whispers
of the prophet’s visionary flights to God.
I saw madness rise in her until she caught
and drew an angel down, and grew big
with hymns, which is why I will never
leave the one who has undone me.
Before My Life Began (for Thomas Traherne)
Before my life began, in what abyss,
beneath what dust, in what chaos did I lie,
a piece of everything rising out of nothing
until awake, a stranger here strange glories shown—
before being dragged back into the maelstrom.
How bright all things are—the sky’s magnificence
seen in its shadow on the water, and beyond it
stars and other heavens beyond the sun we see.
Alexander Pope Shoots from the Hip
She’ll adore you, then you’ll
be abandoned, or cursed
by every granted prayer that
descended on your head,
or, overflying you, alighting
on your friends, either way
everything eventually disappears—
so why are you leaving
a thousand things undone?
Unquiet Dreams under Passing Stars (for William Wordsworth)
The sun has set, or is setting,
the amber evening somber—
the dark wind cold and raw.
The moon above me glows—
slowly rises or resumes rising
By what rules governed, with what end in view?
And all that I remember is
vast cathedrals filled with light
seen only in dreams.
Be that all forgotten.
Life’s mysterious joy is in the shadows
not the beaten-down way of those gone before—
And its voice is still within me—
the handful of light
that led me precisely here.
As the crackling leaves in blackest winter wither,
so in the bright eye of the universe there is a dizziness
where shadow mountains interrupt the clouds
and mists gather than once were timber,
timber that once was mist—and that there are mysteries
such as these at all times around me.
Far-Of Lights, Glittering (for Alfred, Lord Tennyson)
The silver-green satin of your bed
your grey eyes singing,
and in your song I died for a instant,
became for a moment a floating shape in the air above us.
How dull it is to pause,
to make an end. But the long night wanes
and washes your song away with it. We both know
where we’re headed—that by Fall it will be ashes.
The Hyacinth Bride (for Edward Fitzgerald)
At dawn around me danced some snow,
although the me within me was dead—
and the sun shone through the clouds,
its beams widening from cloud to field
as if the sun had suddenly shattered into bits.
The Mystery of What We’ve Been and Why We’ve
Suffered (for Matthew Arnold)
The night in an ever-widening circle
creeping from hill to hill.
The way is harsh, heart-wearying,
everywhere I wander.
The light I seek is shining somewhere else,
but I have no energy—none.
My Sister (for Dante Gabriel Rosetti)
I knew that she was dead
and there, all white, my sister slept
My sister’s life had little incident
but her poems a varied brightness
and velvet intensity, with sadness as her muse.
She was the spirit of postponement,
the aesthetics of renunciation,
an air by Gluck.
Both as painter and poet
she could not cohere
for more than a few years—
like birds of prey who feed upon dead bones,
or the autumn leaves we are standing on.
The Idle Singer on an Empty Day (for William Morris)
The white roofs grow whiter and the thrushes’
weary songs pierce the sky and made me glad.
I watch the sun climb like wine into my cup,
as the dead will pull others out of our world into theirs.
Resurrection (for Ernest Dowson)
Poetry as passion is obsolete—
not as I was or as it was, but roses
twined around a polished skull.
For Any He Had Not Yet Written (for Wilfred Owen)
His poetry saddened the light blue trees
very far from here, so he wondered
why it did not move him more—
and how cold and late it was.
The Grammar of Myth (for Robert Graves)
“I write poems for poets…. To write poems for other
than poets is wasteful.”
—Robert Graves, Foreword to Poems 1938-45
Many-gifted beauty sings as she flies
through the black wastes of evening sky—
past the moon, ragged and silver,
her sea-green eyes glowing—
and all of this I write in love,
in love of her.
[Originally published in NHS 2009, http://www.poetspath.com/napalm/nhs09/Randy_Roark.htm.]