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The Poet


From Ideas of Order (1936)


The Idea of Order at Key West

 
	She sang beyond the genius of the sea. 
The water never formed to mind or voice, 
Like a body wholly body, fluttering 
Its empty sleeves; and yet its mimic motion 
Made constant cry, caused constantly a cry, 
That was not ours although we understood, 
Inhuman, of the veritable ocean. 

The sea was not a mask. No more was she. 
The song and water were not medleyed sound 
Even if what she sang was what she heard, 
Since what she sang was uttered word by word. 
It may be that in all her phrases stirred 
The grinding water and the gasping wind; 
But it was she and not the sea we heard. 

For she was the maker of the song she sang. 
The ever-hooded, tragic-gestured sea 
Was merely a place by which she walked to sing. 
Whose spirit is this? we said, because we knew 
It was the spirit that we sought and knew 
That we should ask this often as she sang. 

If it was only the dark voice of the sea 
That rose, or evne colored by many waves; 
If it was only the outer voice of sky 
And cloud, of the sunken coral water-walled, 
However, clear, it would have been deep air, 
The heaving speech of air, a summer sound 
Repeated in a summer without end 
And sound alone. But it was more than that, 
More even than her voice, and ours, among 
The meaningless plungings of water and the wind, 
Theatrical distances, bronze shadows heaped 
On high horizons, mountainous atmospheres 
Of sky and sea. 	
It was her voice that made 
The sky acutest at its vanishing. 
She measured to the hour its solitude. 
She was the single artificer of the world 
In which she sang. And when she sang, the sea, 
Whatever self it had, became the self 
That was her song, for she was the maker. Then we, 
As we beheld her striding there alone, 
Knew that there never was a world for her 
Except the one she sang and, singing, made. 

Ramon Fernandez, tell me, if you know, 
Why, when the singing ended and we turned 
Toward the town, tell why the glassy lights, 
The lights in the fishing boats at anchor there, 
As the night descended, tilting in the air, 
Mastered the night and portioned out the sea, 
Fixing emblazoned zones and fiery poles, 
Arranging, deepening, enchanting night. 

Oh! Blessed rage for order, pale Ramon, 
The maker's rage to order words of the sea, 
Words of the fragrant portals, dimly-starred, 
And of ourselves and of our origins, 
In ghostlier demarcations, keener sound.


The American Sublime

 
How does one stand 
To behold the sublime, 
To confront the mockers, 
The mickey mockers 
And plated pairs? 

When General Jackson 
Posed for his statue 
He knew how one feels. 
Shall a man go barefoot 
Blinking and blank? 

But how does one feel? 
One grows used to the weather, 
The landscape and that; 
And the sublime comes down 
To the spirit itself, 

The spirit and the space, 
The empty space. 
In vacant space. 
What wine does one drink? 
What bread does one eat?    


A Postcard from the Volcano

 
Children picking up our bones 
Will never know that these were once 
As quick as foxes on the hill; 

And that in autumn, when the grapes 
Made sharp air sharper by their smell 
These had a being, breathing frost; 

And least will guess that with our bones 
We left much more, left what still is 
The look of things, left what we felt  

At what we saw. The spring clouds blow 
Above the shuttered mansion-house, 
Beyond our gate and the windy sky 

Cries out a literate despair. 
We knew for long the mansion's look 
And what we said of it became 

A part of what it is . . . Children, 
Still weaving budded aureoles, 
Will speak our speech and never know, 

Will say of the mansion that it seems 
As if he that lived there left behind 
A spirit storming in blank walls,  

A dirty house in a gutted world, 
A tatter of shadows peaked to white, 
Smeared with the gold of the opulent sun.


From The Man with the Blue Guitar (1937)
"Twang," Charles Wuorinen's Musical Setting of "The Man with the Blue Guitar"

 
I 

The man bent over his guitar, 
A shearsman of sorts. The day was green. 

They said, "You have a blue guitar, 
You do not play things as they are." 

The man replied, "Things as they are 
Are changed upon the blue guitar." 

And they said then, "But play, you must, 
A tune beyond us, yet ourselves, 

A tune upon the blue guitar 
Of things exactly as they are." 

II 

I cannot bring a world quite round, 
Although I patch it as I can. 

I sing a hero's head, large eye 
And bearded bronze, but not a man, 

Although I patch him as I can 
And reach through him almost to man. 

If to serenade almost to man 
Is to miss, by that, things as they are, 

Say that it is the serenade 
Of a man that plays a blue guitar. 

III 

Ah, but to play man number one, 
To drive the dagger in his heart, 

To lay his brain upon the board 
And pick the acrid colors out, 

To nail his thought across the door, 
Its wings spread wide to rain and snow, 

To strike his living hi and ho, 
To tick it, tock it, turn it true, 

To bang it from a savage blue, 
Jangling the metal of the strings... 

IV
 
So that's life, then: things are they are? 
It picks its way on the blue guitar. 

A million people on one string? 
And all their manner in the thing, 

And all their manner, right and wrong, 
And all their manner, weak and strong? 

And that's life, then: things as they are, 
This buzzing of the blue guitar. 

V 

Do not speak to us of the greatness of poetry, 
Of the torches wisping in the underground, 

Of the structure of vaults upon a point of light. 
There are no shadows in our sun, 

Day is desire and night is sleep. 
There are no shadows anywhere. 

The earth, for us, is flat and bare. 
There are no shadows. Poetry 

Exceeding music must take the place 
Of empty heaven and its hymns, 

Ourselves in poetry must take their place, 
Even in the chattering of your guitar. 

VI
 
A tune beyond us as we are, 
Yet nothing changed by the blue guitar; 

Ourselves in the tune as if in space, 
Yet nothing changed, except the place 

Of things as they are and only the place 
As you play them, on the blue guitar, 

Placed so, beyond the compass of change, 
Perceived in a final atmosphere; 

For a moment final, in the way 
The thinking of art seems final when 

The thinking of god is smoky dew. 
The tune is space. The blue guitar 

Becomes the place of things as they are, 
A composing of senses of the guitar. 

VII
 
It is the sun that shares our works. 
The moon shares nothing. It is a sea. 

When shall I come to say of the sun, 
It is a sea; it shares nothing; 

The sun no longer shares our works 
And the earth is alive with creeping men,
 
Mechanical beetles never quite warm? 
And shall I then stand in the sun, as now 

I stand in the moon, and call it good, 
The immaculate, the merciful good, 

Detached from us, from things as they are? 
Not to be part of the sun? To stand 

Remote and call it merciful? 
The strings are cold on the blue guitar. 

VIII 

The vivid, florid, turgid sky, 
The drenching thunder rolling by, 

The morning deluged still by night, 
The clouds tumultuously bright 

And the feeling heavy in cold chords 
Struggling toward impassioned choirs, 

Crying among the clouds, enraged 
By gold antagonists in air— 

I know my lazy, leaden twang 
Is like the reason in a storm; 

And yet it brings the storm to bear. 
I twang it out and leave it there. 

IX
 
And the color, the overcast blue 
Of the air, in which the blue guitar 

Is a form, described but difficult, 
And I am merely a shadow hunched 

Above the arrowy, still string, 
The maker of a thing yet to be made; 

The color like a thought that grows 
Out of a mood, the tragic robe 

Of the actor, half his gesture, half 
His speech, the dress of his meaning, silk 

Sodden with his melancholy words, 
The weather of his stage, himself. 

X 

Raise reddest columns. Toll a bell 
And clap the hollows full of tin. 

Throw papers in the streets, the wills 
Of the dead, majestic in their seals. 

And the beautiful trombones—behold 
The approach of him whom none believes, 

Whom all believe that all believe, 
A pagan in a varnished car. 

Roll a drum upon the blue guitar. 
Lean from the steeple. Cry aloud, 

"Here am I, my adversary, that 
Confront you, hoo-ing the slick trombones, 

Yet with a petty misery 
At heart, a petty misery, 

Ever the prelude to your end, 
The touch that topples men and rock." 

XI 

Slowly the ivy on the stones 
Becomes the stones. Women become 

The cities, children become the fields 
And men in waves become the sea. 

It is the chord that falsifies. 
The sea returns upon the men, 

The fields entrap the children, brick 
Is a weed and all the flies are caught, 

Wingless and withered, but living alive. 
The discord merely magnified. 

Deeper within the belly's dark 
Of time, time grows upon the rock. 

XII 

Tom-tom, c'est moi. The blue guitar 
And I are one. The orchestra
 
Fills the high hall with shuffling men 
High as the hall. The whirling noise 

Of a multitude dwindles, all said, 
To his breath that lies awake at night. 

I know that timid breathing. Where 
Do I begin and end? And where,
 
As I strum the thing, do I pick up 
That which momentously declares 

Itself not to be I and yet 
Must be. It could be nothing else. 

XIII

The pale intrusions into blue 
Are corrupting pallors...ay di mi, 

Blue buds of pitchy blooms. Be content — 
Expansions, diffusions — content to be 

The unspotted imbecile revery, 
The heraldic center of the world 

Of blue, blue sleek with a hundred chins, 
The amorist Adjective aflame... 

XIV 

First one beam, then another, then 
A thousand are radiant in the sky. 

Each is both star and orb; and day 
Is the riches of their atmosphere. 

The sea appends its tattery hues. 
The shores are banks of muffling mist. 

One says a German chandelier — 
A candle is enough to light the world. 

It makes it clear. Even at noon 
It glistens in essential dark. 

At night, it lights the fruit and wine, 
The book and bread, things as they are,
 
In a chiaroscuro where 
One sits and plays the blue guitar.
 
XV 

Is this picture of Picasso's, this "hoard 
Of destructions," a picture of ourselves, 

Now, an image of our society? 
Do I sit, deformed, a naked egg, 

Catching at Good-bye, harvest moon, 
Without seeing the harvest or the moon? 

Things as they are have been destroyed. 
Have I? Am I a man that is dead 

At a table on which the food is cold? 
Is my thought a memory, not alive? 

Is the spot on the floor, there, wine or blood 
And whichever it may be, is it mine? 

XVI 

The earth is not earth but a stone, 
Not the mother that held men as they fell 

But stone, but like a stone, no: not 
The mother, but an oppressor, but like 

An oppressor that grudges them their death, 
As it grudges the living that they live. 

To live in war, to live at war, 
To chop the sullen psaltery, 

To improve the sewers in Jerusalem, 
To electrify the nimbuses— 

Place honey on the altars and die, 
You lovers that are bitter at heart.
 
XVII 

The person has a mould. But not 
Its animal. The angelic ones 

Speak of the soul, the mind. It is 
An animal. The blue guitar— 

On that its claws propound, its fangs 
Articulate its desert days. 

The blue guitar a mould? That shell? 
Well, after all, the north wind blows 

A horn, on which its victory 
Is a worm composing on a straw. 

XVIII
 
A dream (to call it a dream) in which 
I can believe, in face of the object, 

A dream no longer a dream, a thing, 
Of things as they are, as the blue guitar 

After long strumming on certain nights 
Gives the touch of the senses, not of the hand, 

But the very senses as they touch 
The wind-gloss. Or as daylight comes, 

Like light in a mirroring of cliffs, 
Rising upward from a sea of ex. 

XIX 

That I may reduce the monster to 
Myself, and then may be myself 

In face of the monster, be more than part 
Of it, more than the monstrous player of 

One of its monstrous lutes, not be 
Alone, but reduce the monster and be,
 
Two things, the two together as one, 
And play of the monster and of myself, 

Or better not of myself at all, 
But of that as its intelligence,
 
Being the lion in the lute 
Before the lion locked in stone. 

XX 

What is there in life except one's ideas. 
Good air, good friend, what is there in life? 

Is it ideas that I believe? 
Good air, my only friend, believe, 

Believe would be a brother full 
Of love, believe would be a friend 

Friendlier than my only friend, 
Good air. Poor pale, poor pale guitar... 

XXI
 
A substitute for all the gods: 
This self, not that gold self aloft,
 
Alone, one's shadow magnified, 
Lord of the body, looking down, 

As now and called most high, 
The shadow of Chocorua 

In an immenser heaven, aloft, 
Alone, lord of the land and lord
 
Of the men that live in the land, high lord. 
One's self and the mountains of one's land, 

Without shadows, without magnificence, 
The flesh, the bone, the dirt, the stone. 

XXII
 
Poetry is the subject of the poem, 
From this the poem issues and 

To this returns. Between the two, 
Between issue and return, there is 

An absence in reality, 
Things as they are. Or so we say. 

But are these separate? Is it 
An absence for the poem, which acquires 

Its true appearances there, sun's green, 
Cloud's red, earth feeling, sky that thinks? 

From these it takes. Perhaps it gives, 
In the universal intercourse. 

XXIII 

A few final solutions, like a duet 
With the undertaker: a voice in the clouds, 

Another on earth, the one a voice 
Of ether, the other smelling of drink. 

The voice of ether prevailing, the swell 
Of the undertaker's song in the snow 

Apostrophizing wreaths, the voice 
In the clouds serene and final, next 

The grunted breath serene and final, 
The imagined and the real, thought 

And the truth, Dichtung und Wahrheit, all 
Confusion solved, as in a refrain 

One keeps on playing year by year, 
Concerning the nature of things as they are.
 
XXIV
 
A poem like a missal found 
In the mud, a missal for that young man, 

That scholar hungriest for that book, 
The very book, or, less, a page 

Or, at the least, a phrase, that phrase, 
A hawk of life, that latined phrase: 

To know; a missal for brooding-sight. 
To meet that hawk's eye and to flinch 

Not a the eye but at the joy of it. 
I play. But this is what I think. 

XXV 

He held the world upon his nose 
And this-a-way he gave a fling. 

His robes and symbols, ai-yi-yi — 
And that-a-way he twirled the thing. 

Sombre as fir-trees, liquid cats 
Moved in the grass without a sound. 

They did not know the grass went round. 
The cats had cats and the grass turned gray 

And the world had worlds, ai, this-a-way: 
The grass turned green and the grass turned gray. 

And the nose is eternal, that-a-way. 
Things as they were, things as they are, 

Things as they will be by and by... 
A fat thumb beats out ai-yi-yi. 

XXVI 

The world washed in his imagination, 
The world was a shore, whether sound or form 

Or light, the relic of farewells, 
Rock, of valedictory echoings, 

To which his imagination returned, 
From which it sped, a bar in space, 

Sand heaped in the clouds, giant that fought 
Against the murderous alphabet: 

The swarm of thoughts, the swarm of dreams 
Of inaccessible Utopia. 

A mountainous music always seemed 
To be falling and to be passing away. 

XXVII
 
It is the sea that whitens the roof. 
The sea drifts through the winter air. 

It is the sea that the north wind makes. 
The sea is in the falling snow. 

This gloom is the darkness of the sea. 
Geographers and philosophers, 

Regard. But for that salty cup, 
But for the icicles on the eaves —
 
The sea is a form of ridicule. 
The iceberg settings satirize 

The demon that cannot be himself, 
That tours to shift the shifting scene.
 
XXVIII 

I am a native in this world 
And think in it as a native thinks,
 
Gesu, not native of a mind 
Thinking the thoughts I call my own, 

Native, a native in the world 
And like a native think in it. 

It could not be a mind, the wave 
In which the watery grasses flow 

And yet are fixed as a photograph, 
The wind in which the dead leaves blow. 

Here I inhale profounder strength 
And as I am, I speak and move 

And things are as I think they are 
And say they are on the blue guitar. 

XXIX
 
In the cathedral, I sat there, and read, 
Alone, a lean Review and said, 

"These degustations in the vaults 
Oppose the past and the festival. 

What is beyond the cathedral, outside, 
Balances with nuptial song. 

So it is to sit and to balance things 
To and to and to the point of still, 

To say of one mask it is like, 
To say of another it is like, 

To know that the balance does not quite rest, 
That the mask is strange, however like." 

The shapes are wrong and the sounds are false. 
The bells are the bellowing of bulls. 

Yet Franciscan don was never more 
Himself than in this fertile glass. 

XXX
 
From this I shall evolve a man. 
This is his essence: the old fantoche 

Hanging his shawl upon the wind, 
Like something on the stage, puffed out, 

His strutting studied through centuries. 
At last, in spite of his manner, his eye 

A-cock at the cross-piece on a pole 
Supporting heavy cables, slung 

Through Oxidia, banal suburb, 
One-half of all its installments paid. 

Dew-dapper clapper-traps, blazing 
From crusty stacks above machines. 

Ecce, Oxidia is the seed 
Dropped out of this amber-ember pod, 

Oxidia is the soot of fire, 
Oxidia is Olympia. 

XXXI 

How long and late the pheasant sleeps... 
The employer and employee contend, 

Combat, compose their droll affair. 
The bubbling sun will bubble up,
 
Spring sparkle and the cock-bird shriek. 
The employer and employee will hear 

And continue their affair. The shriek 
Will rack the thickets. There is no place, 

Here, for the lark fixed in the mind, 
In the museum of the sky. The cock 

Will claw sleep. Mourning is not sun, 
It is this posture of the nerves, 

As if a blunted player clutched 
The nuances of the blue guitar. 

It must be this rhapsody or none, 
The rhapsody of things as they are. 

XXXII 

Throw away the lights, the definitions, 
And say of what you see in the dark 

That it is this or that it is that, 
But do not use the rotted names. 

How should you walk in that space and know 
Nothing of the madness of space, 

Nothing of its jocular procreations? 
Throw the lights away. Nothing must stand 

Between you and the shapes you take 
When the crust of shape has been destroyed. 

You as you are? You are yourself. 
The blue guitar surprises you. 

XXXIII 

That generation's dream, aviled 
In the mud, in Monday's dirty light, 

That's it, the only dream they knew, 
Time in its final block, not time 

To come, a wrangling of two dreams. 
Here is the bread of time to come, 

Here is its actual stone. The bread 
Will be our bread, the stone will be 

Our bed and we shall sleep by night. 
We shall forget by day, except 

The moments when we choose to play 
The imagined pine, the imagined jay.


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