“This was our ambition: to be small and clear and free.” ~ John Ashbery, from “Soonest Mended”
The evening is greyish and gloomy
The evening is greyish and gloomy,
shabby, and my spirit is the same.
The Anxiety I have is the one I know,
neighbor to my old hypochondria.
I don’t know what causes this anxiety;
I don’t even have a general understanding;
but I think back, and, remembering, I say:
“Yes, I was a boy, and you were my only friend.”
Sorrow, it is not true that I know you;
you are the nostalgia for a good life,
and the aloneness of the soul in shadow,
the sailing ship without wreck and without guide.
Like an abandoned dog who cannot find
a smell or a track and roams
along the roads, with no road, like
the child who in a night of the fair
gets lost among the crowd,
and the air is dusty, and the candles
fluttering,—astounded, his heart
weighed down by music and by pain;
that’s how I am, drunk, sad by nature,
a mad and lunar guitarist, a poet,
and an ordinary man lost in the dreams
searching constantly for God among the mists.
~ Antonio Machado, trans. Robert Bly
Soonest Mended (for complete poem, click link)
We are all talkers
It is true, but underneath the talk lies
The moving and not wanting to be moved, the loose
Meaning, untidy and simple like a threshing floor.
These then were some hazards of the course,
Yet though we knew the course was hazards and nothing else
It was still a shock when, almost a quarter of a century later,
The clarity of the rules dawned on you for the first time.
They were the players, and we who had struggled at the game
Were merely spectators, though subject to its vicissitudes
And moving with it out of the tearful stadium, borne on shoulders, at last.
Night after night this message returns, repeated
In the flickering bulbs of the sky, raised past us, taken away from us,
Yet ours over and over until the end that is past truth,
The being of our sentences, in the climate that fostered them,
Not ours to own, like a book, but to be with, and sometimes
To be without, alone and desperate.
But the fantasy makes it ours, a kind of fence-sitting
Raised to the level of an esthetic ideal. These were moments, years,
Solid with reality, faces, namable events, kisses, heroic acts,
But like the friendly beginning of a geometrical progression
Not too reassuring, as though meaning could be cast aside some day
When it had been outgrown. Better, you said, to stay cowering
Like this in the early lessons, since the promise of learning
Is a delusion, and I agreed, adding that
Tomorrow would alter the sense of what had already been learned,
That the learning process is extended in this way, so that from this standpoint
None of us ever graduates from college,
For time is an emulsion, and probably thinking not to grow up
Is the brightest kind of maturity for us, right now at any rate.
And you see, both of us were right, though nothing
Has somehow come to nothing: the avatars
Of our conforming to the rules and living
Around the home have made—well, in a sense, “good citizens” of us,
Brushing the teeth and all that, and learning to accept
The charity of the hard moments as they are doled out,
For this is action, this not being sure, this careless
Preparing, sowing the seeds crooked in the furrow,
Making ready to forget, and always coming back
To the mooring of starting out, that day so long ago.
~ John Ashbery