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Monday, April 17, 2006

History (Robert Lowell)

this is an audio post - click to play

Don't hear much about Lowell these days. Of course, I'm so much to myself lately that I don't hear much about anything. Whatever ... Lowell's good reading for a wet April night when you can hear green hissing and crawling up into everything that grows while last year's leaves sink into the soil, and branches fallen from winter-ravaged trees scrawl, mindless as an I Ching casting, across the ground.


History has to live with what was here,
clutching and close to fumbling all we had—
it is so dull and gruesome how we die,
unlike writing, life never finishes.
Abel was finished; death is not remote,
a flash-in-the-pan electrifies the skeptic,
his cows crowding like skulls against high-voltage wire,
his baby crying all night like a new machine.
As in our Bibles, white-faced, predatory,
the beautiful, mist-drunken hunter's moon ascends—
a child could give it a face: two holes, two holes,
my eyes, my mouth, between them a skull's no-nose—
O there's a terrifying innocence in my face
drenched with the silver salvage of the mornfrost.

Robert Lowell

Like the best of Lowell's work, this poem never tries to excuse or explain itself. Unconcerned with anything, even the question of its own truthfulness, it is simply there with its own blood on its hands, looking beyond you. Any questions you find here are yours. And any answers.


Brenda Schmidt said...

I'm not familiar with this poem. It's fantastic. Great reading, John.

MackJohnny said...

Yeah, it's a keeper, Brenda. Lowell is worth going out of your way for.