Charles Reznikoff: Selected Poetry.

The Poet

From Jerusalem the Golden (1934)


In the street I have just left
the small leaves of the trees along the gutter
were steadfast
in the blue heavens.
picks up speed
and a wind
blows through the car,
blows dust
on the passengers,
and along the floor
bits of paper——
wrappers of candy,
of gum, tinfoil,
pieces of newspaper ....


Going to work in the subway
this bright May morning
you have put on red slippers;
do they dance behind the counters
in the store, or about the machines
in the shop where you work?


Rails in the subway,
what did you know of happiness,
when you were ore in the earth;
now the electric lights shine upon you.


Walk about the subway station
in a grove of steel pillars;
how their knobs, the rivet-heads——
unlike those of oaks——
are regularly placed;
how barren the ground is
except here and there on the platform
a flat black fungus
that was chewing-gum.

19 - For an Inscription over the Entrance to a Subway Station

This is the gift of Hephaestus, the artificer,
the god men say is lame.


What are you doing in our street among the automobiles,
How are your cousins, the centaur and the unicorn?


Rooted among roofs, their smoke among the clouds,
factory chimneys——our cedars of Lebanon.

41 - Suburb

If a naturalist came to this hillside,
he'd find many old newspapers among the weeds
to study.


Permit me to warn you
against this automobile rushing to embrace you
with outstretched fender.


From the middle of the pool
in the concrete pavement a fountain
in neat jets; the wind scatters it
upon the water. The untidy trees
drop their leaves upon the pavement.


Now that black ground and bushes——
saplings, trees,
each twig and limb——are suddenly white with snow,
and earth becomes brighter than the sky,

that intricate shrub
of nerves, veins, arteries——
its knotted leaves
to the shining air.

Upon this wooded hillside,
pied with snow, I hear
only the melting snow
drop from the twigs.

74 - The English in Virginia, April 1607

    [Based upon the Works of Captain John Smith, 
		edited by Edward Arber.]

They landed and could
   see nothing but
   meadows and tall
cypress, nearly three
   fathoms about at the
rising straight for
   sixty or eighty feet
   without a branch.
In the woods were
   cedars, oaks, and
   walnut trees;
some beech, some elm,
   black walnut, ash,
   and sassafras; mul-
   berry trees in
honey-suckle and
   other vines hanging
    in clusters on
   many trees.
They stepped on
   violets and other
   sweet flowers,
many kinds in many
   colors; straw-
   berries and rasp-
   berries were on
   the ground.
Blackbirds with red
   shoulders were
   flying about
and many small birds,
   some red, some blue;
the woods were full of deer;
and running
   fresh water——
   brooks, rundles,
   springs and creeks.
In the twilight,
   through the thickets
   and tall grass,
creeping upon all
   savages, their
   bows in their

75 - Jeremiah in the Stocks
An Arrangement of the Prophecies

Jeremiah, in the stocks in the gate of Benjamin, cried to the
    princes of Judah, I have been born a man of quarrels——O
    that I had a lodging-place in the wilderness that I might go
     from my people! I sat alone because of the Lord; I found his
    word and did eat it——it was to me joy and rejoicing. But I
    was derided, all were sided against me, since I cried out——
    cried violence and spoil! Then I said, I will not mention Him
    any more, but bore His word like a fire shut up in my bones
    ——and could not keep still.

Then Pash-nut, the chief officer in the Lord's house, who had
    placed Jeremiah in the stocks, faced the princes of Judah
    sitting in the gate, and cried, This man should die because
    he has lied and prophesied against this city, and has pro-
    phesied in the name of the Lord for the house of the Lord
    the same end as Shiloh's! and, pushing aside those in the
    muck about the stocks, struck Jeremiah.

And one of the princes said, Jeremiah, you Benjaminite, even
    your brothers, the priests in Anatoth, have said to you, Do
    not prophesy or you die by our hands; what then do you
    look for at the hands of others? If you have raced with the
    footmen and they outpaced you, how will you run beside
    horses? And if in the land of your dwelling in which you
    trusted——what will you do in the swelling of Jordan? And at
    this Pash-hur began to cry, This man should die! He must

One of the elders that stood beside the princes said, Micah
    prophesied in the days of King Hezekiah and spoke to all
    Judah, The pride of Zion shall be plowed like a field and
    proud Jerusalem become heaps. Did the king put him to
    death? King Hezekiah weeps, hears the Lord and fears the
    Lord and does justice before the Lord——until the Lord
    repented of what he was to do against Judah. Jeremiah shall
    not be given to the people to be put to death! And all the
    elders began to cry, He shall not die!

Pash-hut answered them, Uriah who prophesied against this
    city and against this land, according to all that Jeremiah had
    said, when he heard that the king was about to put him to
    the sword and fled into Egypt, did not the king send a band
    even into Egypt who brought out Uriah to his death? And is
    Jeremiah himself to live? The man must die!

And Jeremiah said, Blow the trumpets throughout the land,
    gather together, go into the walled cities, set up the stan-
    dards; for the Lord has sent a fierce nation, a scowling
    people, against you——lament and howl! The king and the
    princes are afraid, the heart of the king shall sink and the
    hearts of the princes, the priests and prophets are dismayed
    because of the fierce anger of the Lord. Run through the
    streets of Jerusalem, search in its broad places for a just
    man, and I, said the Lord, will pardon the city. And I
    answered, Surely these must be the poor——they are the
    foolish; I will go to the great, for those know the way of the
    Lord, to the chambers painted in vermilion, with ceilings of
    cedar, smelling of incense of Sheba and the burning of sweet
    cane——as a cage is full of birds, so their houses of deceit;
    they have grown fat, the folds and collops of their faces
    shine. Take away the battlements; they are not Mine! says
    the Lord. From the least of them to the greatest they are
    covetous; from the priest to the prophet——every one is false.
    I will take from them, the Lord says, their mirth and
    gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the
    bride, the sound the millstones make and the light of the

I looked about
and there was no one; all the birds of heaven were fled;
the fruitful place was a wilderness,
and the cities of Judah were broken down.
A great people, whose language you do not know, is coming
       from the north; they grasp bow and spear, their voice is
       like the sea, and they ride upon horses
to mar the pride of Judah, the great pride of Jerusalem;
we shall not go into the fields
for fear of them——
Daughter of Zion,
comely and delicate woman,
the Lord has called Zion a green olive tree;
with the crash of thunder
He has kindled a fire upon it
and the branches of it are broken.
If one goes into the fields, he sees them thick with slain;
if he enters the city, he sees those that are sick with famine.
Because of the sword, because of the famine and of the
Jerusalem is given to the Chaldeans that fight against it!
At this Pash-hur shouts again, Should not men like this die?
But the elders reply, He prophesies in the name of the Lord——
       he shall not die!

79 - Jerusalem the Golden

I: The Lion of Judah

The men of war spoke: Your hand against mine.
Mine against yours. The field is mine! The water is mine!
If the city is taken, kill the men of war,
kill every male; rip up the women with child!
The prophet has said, Let not their cattle live,
not even calf nor lamb before the Lord;
and Samuel, the old man, so feeble he leaned against his staff,
cried to Saul, Give me their king,
give me their smiling king to cut into pieces before the Lord.
But Nathan said to the king, even David, the great king,
You have dealt deceitfully with the Hittite, your faithful
and you shall not build the Lord's house,
because your hands have shed much blood.

II: The Shield of David

Then spoke the prophets: Our God is not of clay,
to be carried in our saddle-bags;
nor to be molten of silver or fine gold,
a calf to stand in our houses with unseeing eyes, unbending

Who is the King of Glory?
He is from everlasting to everlasting;
we go down to the darkness of the grave,
but all the lights of heaven are His.

The smoke of your sacrifices is hateful, says the Lord,
I hate your festivals, your feasts, and your fasts;
worship Me in righteousness;
worship Me in kindness to the poor and weak,
in justice to the orphan, the widow, the stranger among you,
and in justice to him who takes his hire from your hand;
for I am the God of Justice, I am the God of Righteousness.

III: Spinoza

He is the stars,
multitudinous as the drops of rain,
and the worm at our feet,
leaving only a blot on the stone;
except God there is nothing.

God neither hates nor loves, has neither pleasure nor pain;
were God to hate or love, He would not be God;
He is not a hero to fight our enemies,
nor like a king to be angry or pleased at us,
nor even a father to give us our daily bread, forgive us our
nothing is but as He wishes,
nothing was but as He willed it;
as He wills it, so it will be.

IV: Karl Marx

We shall arise while the stars are still shining,
while the street-lights burn brightly in the dawn,
to begin the work we delight in,
and no one shall tell us, Go,
you must go now
to the shop or office you work in
to waste your life for your living.
There shall be no more war, no more hatred;

none of us shall die of sickness;
there shall be bread and no one hunger for bread——
and fruit better than any a wild tree grew.
Wheels of steel and pistons of steel
shall fetch us water and hew us wood;
we shall call nothing mine——nothing for ourselves only.
Proclaim to the seed of man
throughout the length and breadth of the continents,
From each according to his strength,
to each according to his need.

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