The poet trips on words. He says they shake
Like cherries from a branch in weathered wind,
Red in the grass for pallid hands to take.
He says they burn like Pentecost, descend
In flurries with a still, small voice, or snake
Like brown mud-bubbles in unburied bend
Up, up, the murky strata of a lake
For surface-searching eyes to apprehend.
I think, perhaps, the words belong to ghosts
Of bards whose feet fell pyrrhic early, or
Who never let last aspirations coast
Across the ripples of a vellum shore.
It isn’t sad—we need this restless host
Of squandered images and metaphors
To haunt us, should we ever hope to boast
Of writing truths that have been true before.
Some rhymes, I’ll wager, trod the steamy trail
To hell whenever Chaucer commandeered
A tavern with the promise of a tale.
His tankard filled (and limit long since neared),
He’d climb a shaking table to regale
The bar-bench pilgrims, cock his fiery beard
And drown the sordid story dead with ale:
The plot, as soon imagined, disappeared.
And Barrett! Once you counted loves, wrote by
Iambic and a fire fading red
While Robert snored—‘til one day, I surmise,
You found a rhyming quatrain in your head
But, seeing that the short hand pointed high
And higher up the clock-face, chose instead
To close your book and both your batty eyes
And, waking dafter, found the poem fled.
Catullus, why your sudden vanishing
Of verse? Perhaps you raged at what you wrote,
Retired from the frantic scavenging
Of dactyls, towed a shallow wooden boat
To Larius, and took to angling.
Or Lesbia was cruel—you burned your notes,
Dug up the sparrow, broke its brittle wings
And stuck your honeyed words back down your throat.
But words were never choked in vain, for still
Beneath the silence of the country scene,
Unfinished poets plowed the earth, until
One writer found his breathing body keen
To take the air with clouds and daffodils.
There, speckled as the golden and the green,
Cold, inky fingers sprouting from the hills
Muddied his pages while he sat serene.
When Hopkins watched his dapple-dawn-drawn bird
Sweep smooth the sky, no psalm was to be found--
He only knew his heart in hiding stirred.
His sonnet might have been no more profound
Than “Blimey, that!” had not a long-interred
Old poet risen from his grassy mound
And, breathing through the breeze, whispered a word
As fit another scorner of the ground.
In truth, old dead, I pray you rose again--
I pray you found, once rain and roots renewed
A mustard tree, a house to revel in,
A feast by mulled camaraderie imbued
(Or, if you tired of the gab of men,
A sylvan path, a stream, some solitude).
But if you died who once could hold a pen:
I wish you—cordially—disquietude.