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  #21  
Old 11-09-2017, 07:59 AM
Aaron Poochigian Aaron Poochigian is online now
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Here, at Gregory's suggestion, is "Investiture at Cecconi's." I look forward to digging in to his intro and the essays today (while flying back to Cali).

INVESTITURE AT CECCONI'S

for David Kalstone



Caro, that dream (after the diagnosis)

found me losing patience outside the door of

"our" Venetian tailor. I wanted evening

clothes for the new year.



Then a bulb went on. The old woman, she who

stitches dawn to dusk in his back room, opened

one suspicious inch, all the while exclaiming

over the late hour--



Fabrics? patterns? those the proprietor must

show by day, not now -- till a lightning insight

cracks her face wide: Ma! the Signore's here to

try on his new robe!



Robe? She nods me onward. The mirror tryptich

summons three bent crones she diffracted into

back from no known space. They converge by magic,

arms full of moonlight.



Up my own arms glistening sleeves are drawn. Cool

silk in grave, white folds--Oriental mourning--

sheathes me, throat to ankles. I turn to face her,

uncomprehending.



Thank your friend, she cackles, the Professore!

Wonderstruck I sway, like a tree of tears. You--

miles away, sick, fearful-- have yet arranged this

heartstopping present.
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  #22  
Old 11-09-2017, 08:21 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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At my first English boarding school, long ago, the headmaster announced to my mother that she had very clever children, and my mother was alarmed: What trouble have they got into now? She told us this story some time later.
Merrill is a very clever poet.
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  #23  
Old 11-09-2017, 09:13 AM
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Maryann Corbett Maryann Corbett is online now
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My. What surprising proof this thread is of the disappearance of women from the board.

I have that same selected, and while I can skip a lot of the ghostly stuff, the poems I love I really love. I agree completely with the quoted bits Erik posted above, except that for me, the wordplay and the baroque qualities are great pleasures. (I'm also reading a lot of early Hecht lately, of the sort people consider less good than his late work. So sue me.)

Merrill's quiet poems are pleasurable, too, and besides "Investiture at Cecconi's" I love "The Broken Home" and "The Summer People." I find Merrill effective at digging into unspoken emotions, domestic matters, interiority.
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  #24  
Old 11-09-2017, 10:08 AM
Gregory Dowling Gregory Dowling is offline
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Yes, "The Summer People" is a very good narrative poem, Maryann. I also like "Days of 1935", which is also in ballad stanzas, possibly influenced by Bishop's "Burglar of Babylon".
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  #25  
Old 11-09-2017, 10:17 AM
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R. S. Gwynn R. S. Gwynn is offline
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If ever there were a prescient poem, it's this one from 1984.

Casual Wear
James Merrill

Your average tourist: Fifty. 2.3
Times married. Dressed, this year, in Ferdi Plinthbower
Originals. Odds 1 to 910
Against her strolling past the Embassy

Today at noon. Your average terrorist:
Twenty-five. Celibate. No use for trends,
At least in clothing. Mark, though, where it ends.
People have come forth made of colored mist

Unsmiling on one hundred million screens
To tell of his prompt phone call to the station,
“Claiming responsibility”—devastation
Signed with a flourish, like the dead wife’s jeans.

Note: Odds 1 to 910; "1 to 9 to the tenth power"
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  #26  
Old 11-09-2017, 10:29 AM
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R. S. Gwynn R. S. Gwynn is offline
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Here is Merrill's translation of Valery's "Palme."

Veiling, barely, his dread
Beauty and its blaze,
An angel sets warm bread
and cool milk at my place.
His eyelids make the sign
Of prayer; I lower mine,
Words interleaving vision:
--Calm, calm, be ever calm!
Feel the whole weight a palm
Bears upright in profusion.

However its boughs yield
Beneath abundance, it
Is formally fulfilled
In bondage to thick fruit.
Wonder and see it grow!
One fiber, vibrant, slow,
Cleaving the hour fanwise,
Becomes a golden rule
To tell apart earth's pull
From heaven's gravities.

Svelte arbiter between
The shadow and the sun,
It takes much sibylline
Somnolent wisdom on.
Unstintingly to suffer
Hails and farewells, forever
Standing where it must stand . . .
How noble and how tender,
How worthy of surrender
To none but a god's hand!

The lightest gold-leaf murmur
Rings at a flick of air,
Invests with silken armor
The very desert. Here
This tree's undying voice
Upraised in the wind's hiss,
As fine sand sprays and stings,
To its own self is oracle
Complacent of the miracle
Whereby misfortune sings.

Held in an artless dream
Between blue sky and dune,
Secreting, dram by dram,
The honey of each noon,
What is this delectation
If not divine duration
That, without keeping time,
Can alter it, seduce
Into a steady juice
Love's volatile perfume?

At moments one despairs.
Should the adored duress
Ordain, despite your tears,
A spell of fruitlessness,
Do not call Wisdom cold
Who readies so much gold,
So much authority:
Rising in solemn pith
A green, eternal myth
Reaches maturity.

These days which, like yourself,
Seem empty and effaced
Have avid roots that delve
To work deep in the waste.
Their shaggy systems, fed
Where shade confers with shade,
Can never cease or tire,
At the world's heart are found
Still tracking that profound
Water the heights require.

Patience and still patience,
Patience beneath the blue!
Each atom of the silence
Knows what it ripens to.
The happy shock will come:
A dove alighting, some
Gentlest nudge, the breeze,
A woman's touch--before
You know it, the downpour
Has brought you to your knees!

Let populations be
Crumbled underfoot--
Palm, irresistibly--
Among celestial fruit!
Those hours were not in vain
So long as you retain
A lightness once they're lost;
Like one who, thinking, spends
His inmost dividends
To grow at any cost.

Paul Valéry
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  #27  
Old 11-09-2017, 10:45 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Yes, that is how Valery sounds in French.
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  #28  
Old 11-09-2017, 12:31 PM
Erik Olson Erik Olson is offline
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Part I. of The Thousand and Second Night

I. RIGOR VITAE

Istanbul. 21 March. I woke today
With an absurd complaint. The whole right half
Of my face refuses to move. I have to laugh
Watching the rest of it reel about in dismay

Under the double burden, while its twin
Sags on, though sentient, stupefied.
I’m here alone. Not quite – through fog outside
Loom wingèd letters: PAN AMERICAN.

Twenty-five hundred years this city has stood between
The passive Orient and our frantic West.
I see no reason to be depressed;
There are too many other things I haven’t seen,

Like Hagia Sophia. Tea drunk, shaved and dressed . . .
Dahin! Dahin!


The house of Heavenly Wisdom first became
A mosque, is now a flame-
less void. The apse,
Militantly dislocated,
Still wears those dark-green epaulettes
On which (to the pilgrim who forgets
His Arabic) a wild script of gold whips
Has scribbled glowering, dated
Slogans: “God is my grief!” perhaps,
Or “Byzantine,
Go home!”
Above you, the great dome,
Bald of mosaic, senile, floated
In a gilt wash. Its old profusion’s
Hypnotic shimmer, back and forth between
That of the abacus, that of the nebula,
Had been picked up from the floor,
The last of numberless handfuls
By the last 18th-century visitor.
You did not want to think of yourself for once,
But you had held your head erect
Too many years within such transcendental skulls
As this one not to feel the usual, if no
Longer flattering kinship. You’d let go
Learning and faith as well, you too had wrecked
Your precious sensibility. What else did you expect?

Outdoors. Uprooted, turban-crested stones
Lie side by side. It’s as I might have feared.
The building, desperate for youth, has smeared
All over its original fine bones.

Acres of ocher plaster. A diagram
Indicates how deep in the mudpack
The real façade is. I want my face back.
A pharmacist advises
h

Last edited by Erik Olson; 11-09-2017 at 03:21 PM.
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  #29  
Old 11-09-2017, 08:17 PM
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Michael Ferris Michael Ferris is offline
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What a delightful thread!

Merrill's aesthetic isn't mine, but having read through these posts and links, I can honestly aver (channeling Frost, and I mean no slight): plainly with an intelligence I dealt.
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  #30  
Old 11-10-2017, 12:58 AM
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R. S. Gwynn R. S. Gwynn is offline
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I had Merrill's translation of "Palme" over my desk for about ten years. It was there as a reminder that the impossible can be done. His fascination with the poem began with his seeing a Rilke translation of it and then not being able to locate it; this is reported in "Lost in Translation," and the epigraph is from Rilke's version.

Last edited by R. S. Gwynn; 11-10-2017 at 01:09 AM.
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