Sunday, March 4, 2018

Ray Bradbury poem about George Bernard Shaw's spade unearthed

George Bernard Shaw

Ray Bradbury poem about George Bernard Shaw's spade unearthed

Auction of Shaw’s much-loved spade will include SF legend’s unpublished tribute to the playwright and his garden implement

Alison Flood
Monday 22 September 2014

Ray Bradbury wrote of George Bernard Shaw’s spade: ‘The ghost of Shaw climbs up through me’

A spade once owned by the Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, which was hymned in verse by a subsequent owner, Ray Bradbury, will be auctioned in Los Angeles later this week.

Bradbury, a lifelong fan of Shaw’s, was given the spade as a Christmas present. Shaw had used the tool to plant a mulberry tree on his 80th birthday, in 1936. In the lengthy, unpublished poem, titled GBS and the Spade, Bradbury wrote of how, holding it, he could feel the Nobel laureate’s influence:
I hold the dear spade in my hands,

Its vibrant lightnings strike and move along my arms, 
The ghost of Shaw climbs up through me
I feel a fiery brambling of chin 
I feel my spine 
Stand straight as if a lightning bolt had struck 
His old voice whispers in my ear, dear boy 
Find Troy, go on, dig deep, find Troy, find Troy!

The Fahrenheit 451 author, who died in 2012 at the age of 91 and left some of the most acclaimed science fiction of the 20th century, had spoken many times of the influence Shaw had on his writing. In Steven Aggelis’s Conversations With Ray Bradbury, he said Shaw was the one person he would choose to interview, describing him as “the greatest playwright of our century”, and adding: “There was no one anywhere near him when it came to playwriting.”

Ray Bradbury’s unpublished poem, GBS and the Spade

Shaw won the Nobel prize in literature in 1925, “for his work which is marked by both idealism and humanity, its stimulating satire often being infused with a singular poetic beauty”.
The spade bears a plaque reading: “With this spade Bernard Shaw planted a mulberry tree in the public garden in Great Malvern on his 80th birthday, the 26 July 1936. He then presented it to Harry Batchelor Higgs, his gardener and faithful friend for 34 years’’. It will be auctioned online by Nate D Sanders on 25 September, alongside other items from the Bradbury estate, including a large collection of art owned by the late author. Bids for the spade are to open at $5,000 (£3,000).

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

“America’s Sweetheart” / Edna St. Vincent Millay, Mary Pickford, and plummy vowels

Edna n St. Vincent Millay

“America’s Sweetheart”: Edna St. Vincent Millay, Mary Pickford, and plummy vowels

Okay, okay, I admit it.  I was absolutely smitten with Edna St. Vincent Millay as a young teenage girl.  I would wander a quarter-mile down Lone Pine Road in the isolated outskirts our tony neighborhood, head into the woods and loudly recite Millay’s sonnets of disillusioned love to the cattails, red-winged blackbirds, and the frozen pond.  And it made me feel grand.
Well, perhaps I shouldn’t feel too embarrassed.  No less than an eminent authority than Richard Wilbur wrote, “She wrote some of the best sonnets of the century.”
Too bad I didn’t have a recording of her voice.  I didn’t know about “her resonant voice with its clipped consonants and plummy vowels” – that might have intimidated me into a little more sense and silence.
Kate Bolick writes about the pin-up poet of the 1920s in “Working Girl” over at  Bollick informs me that I was not the first.  As a young woman at Vassar, Millay “threw herself into campus cultural life, starring in plays, publishing poems, and cultivating her already magnetic personality into a persona that proved irresistible to a captive pool of young women ripe for seduction.”
Here’s one secret they didn’t know:  She was named after a hospital. Her mother, who raised three daughters alone, was a sort of itinerant nurse, and had some reason to be grateful to St. Vincent Hospital.  Voila!   So all you have to do to get a classy sounding name is head for the nearest emergency room.  (Wouldn’t work for me.  Nearest hospital is Stanford University Hospital.  Cynthia Stanford University Haven doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.)
The Millay girls grew up poor, and the plucky girls were alone for days and had to look after each other.  One day in winter, I recall reading, the pipes broke, flooded the floors, and froze.  The girls ice-skated throughout the house.
Bolick writes:
There certainly wasn’t any money for college, so after Millay graduated from Camden High School in 1909, she stayed home writing poems and confiding her dissatisfactions to her journal. It was during this period that she drafted the epic, 214-line “Renascence,” which uses the topography of that little coastal burg—the mountains and bay islands and apple trees—to dramatize one woman’s spiritual oppression and mystical rebirth. Maine can get forbiddingly grim in winter, and it’s tempting to imagine the young poet sick with thinking she’ll never leave that godforsaken place, desperate to get out of the house at least, heroically pulling on her boots, trudging through the freezing slush, and eventually winding up at the local five and dime, idly flipping through a movie magazine. The year is 1912. There’s a big spread on the latest hit, The New York Hat, starring “America’s Sweetheart” (actually Canadian) Mary Pickford. It’s a silly film, about a girl and a hat. But what Millay sees is her more-or-less reflection. She and Pickford were born the same year. Like Millay, Pickford was barely over five feet tall and rarely exceeded 100 pounds, with a winsome face and masses of hair—“luminous tenderness in a steel band of gutter ferocity,” as one film critic put it. Millay pays for her hot cocoa and hurries back home, seed planted; soon enough, she’ll send that fetching portrait to the editor of the Lyric Year poetry contest.
That little scene is an invention, of course—I made it up. But there’s something potent in the idea of Edna St. Vincent Millay and Mary Pickford shining at opposite reaches of the same celestial firmament. In the 1910s, women were entering the public sphere in greater numbers just as the publishing and entertainment industries were gaining momentum, to mutually beneficial effect. Pickford, too, was raised in poverty by a single mother, and used her beauty and acting talents as her ticket out, inaugurating one of modern America’s most enduring fairy tales.
Millay is commonly thought to be the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry (in 1923).  Not so, says Bolick. “In fact, she was the third. But who beyond poetry scholars remembers Sara Teasdale and Margaret Widdemer?”
I do sometimes.  Sara Teasdale, anyway …
It is not heaven: bitter seed
Leavens its entrails with despair
It is a star where dragons breed:
Devils have a footing there.

The sky has bent it out of shape;
The sun has strapped it to his wheel;
Its course is crooked to escape
Traps and gins of stone and steel.

It balances on air, and spins
Snared by strong transparent space;
I forgive it all its sins;
I kiss the scars upon its face.

Whoops. That’s Elinor Wylie, the third in the troika of American lyric poets of the period, with Millay and Teasdale.  Somehow Wylie and Teasdale have a tendency to blur in my mind, and sometimes Millay joins them.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Edna St Vincent Millay's poetry has been eclipsed by her personal life

Edna St Vincent Millay's poetry has been eclipsed by her personal life – let's change that

She was once deemed ‘the greatest woman poet since Sappho’ and won a Pulitzer – but Millay’s legacy has been overshadowed by her sexuality and addictions

Amandas Ong
Thu 22 Feb 2018

When pseudonymous Elena Ferrante’s identity was reportedly revealed in 2016, she reflected on the dangers of an author’s life dominating their work. “The book functions like a pop star’s sweaty T-shirt,” she wrote, “a garment that without the aura of the star is completely meaningless.”
Ferrante’s sentiment could easily be applied to Edna St Vincent Millay, another incandescent literary talent who lived decades before (born on 22 February, 1892). For far too long, Millay’s work has been overshadowed by her reputation. A party girl poet. A sexually adventurous bisexual. A morphine addict. But then Millay also won the Pulitzer for poetry in 1923; the following year, literary critic Harriet Monroe called Millay was “the greatest woman poet since Sappho”. In a review of a 2001 Millay anthology, the Atlantic proclaimed that “the first rule of modern literary biography is that the life renders the work incidental” – but what happens when the life begins to obscure the richness of the work? Focusing on Millay’s relationships with both men and women has been de rigueur for the last half century – so it is high time that her words were allowed the limelight again.

Where should one begin with Millay? She had a famed predilection for Petrarchan sonnets and rhyming couplets, at odds with prominent experimental modernists of the era, such as TS Eliot and Wallace Stevens. But Millay expanded the scope of these poetic forms, presenting a bold, sexually charged vision of the female experience. Her verses serve as a kind of elaborate architecture, housing the fickle, frenetic movements of the heart that falls in love and then out of it. Renascence and other poems (1917), which includes the 200-plus line poem that brought her acclaim, also boasts six sonnets, all of which are outstanding in this respect.
“If I should learn, in some quite casual way, / That you were gone, not to return again —,” she muses in Sonnet V, she would not cry in a public place, like a train; no, she’d “raise my eyes and read with greater care / Where to store furs and how to treat the hair.” This is classic Millay – how else can one grapple with the end of a love affair than to instinctively busy oneself with the mundane? But Millay never approached love and its vicissitudes with passive melancholy. In No Rose That in a Garden Ever Grew, she ponders cynically on the temporal nature of infatuation that drives the stories of women such as Lilith, Lucrece and Helen: “And thus as well my love must lose some part / Of what it is, had Helen been less fair, / Or perished young, or stayed at home in Greece.”

Her poems shimmer most when they reflect on the yearning to rebel against the constrained space granted to women’s voices in literature and life. Witch-Wife, written loosely in the style of a short folk ballad, is about a defiant woman who “learned her hands in a fairy-tale, / And her mouth on a valentine”, who will never belong to her beloved (“But she was not made for any man”). She weaves a haunting tale of sacrifice into Sonnets from An Ungrafted Tree, about a woman caring for the dying husband she parted ways with years before. Millay embeds the crumbling marriage into the dullness of the chores this anonymous woman performs: cleaning the kitchen, building a fire that just won’t start. In The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver, an impoverished mother freezes to death while weaving her son a luxuriant wardrobe filled with “the clothes of a king’s son”; long before Plath and Sexton, Millay was attacking the noose around the creative woman’s neck.
I Know I Am But Summer to Your Heart presumably describes unrequited feelings for another, although it takes on a different meaning when one thinks about Millay’s fall from grace towards the end of her life; she became ostracised by the literary community for her attempts at political poetry. Unlike other famed poets such as Siegfried Sassoon who were vociferous about the carnage and destruction of war, Millay collaborated directly with the Writers’ War Board for poetry that championed the allied forces. This, together with her spiral into drunkenness and drug addiction, spelt the end of her time in the limelight, although she never stopped writing. A revival of serious interest in her poetry is in order. And for those still obsessed with the details of her colourful life – well, they can find as much richness and more in her luminous work.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Rereading / Seamus Heaney on Czesław Miłosz's centenary

Czesław Miłosz

Seamus Heaney on Czesław Miłosz's centenary

Czesław Miłosz was a veteran of European turmoil. His fellow Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney pays tribute to a Polish poet poised between lyricism and witness

Seamus Heaney
Thu 7 Apr 2011

here is a story that Czesław Miłosz, on a return visit to his birthplace in Lithuania some 50 years after he had left, walked up to an oak tree and embraced it. An image of the return of the native, of course, but also an image of someone drawing strength – the psychic, moral and physical strength of a great poet – from his home ground.
The man with his arms around the trunk had needed all the strength he could muster to be able to stand alone for the previous half century, to be an exile, see his home country invaded, witness the Nazi occupation of Warsaw, the destruction of the ghetto, the doomed uprising of the Poles against the Germans and the eventual seizure of power by the communists. All of which formed a prelude to his 40-year stint as a professor in the Slavic languages department of the University of California at Berkeley.
Miłosz, whose centenary occurs this year, was born to a family of Polish-speaking landed gentry, a group that related to Poland rather as the Anglo-Irish gentry did to England. Over a lifetime, memories of the old manor grounds and surrounding woods provided him with his own vision of the land of youth. He attended university in Vilnius and as a young man moved to Warsaw, where he survived the war, working in the underground resistance, publishing anti-Nazi poems and, in 1943, writing "The World", one of the most bewitching sequences of the century.

What "The World" did, at a moment when brutality and atrocity were the daily reality, was to create a picture of the very opposite state of affairs. In this idyll, children are trusting and secure, parents kind and reliable, the landscape and seasons a storybook delight. And all this was presented while the country was in the cruel grip of the occupying army. But the childlike idiom – Miłosz called it "a naif poem" – was a deliberate artistic ploy that drew on William Blake's "Songs of Innocence" and scenes from an idealised childhood Lithuania. It was a case of beauty holding a plea with rage, a kind of answer to Shakespeare's question about how such a thing might be done.

One of the words that recur in Miłosz's prose and poetry is "incantation", meaning rhythmical language dictated, he would affirm, by a "daimonion". And from beginning to end the poems do seem to arrive with an unforced certitude, to be touching down into the here and now out of an elsewhere, as if he were "no more than a secretary of the invisible thing". And that brimming creativity gives credence to his traditional sense of himself as the inspired poet:
Whatever I hold in my hand, a stylus, reed, quill or a ballpoint,
Wherever I may be, on the tiles of an atrium, in a cloister cell, in a hall before the portrait of a king,
I attend to matters I have been charged with.
And yet the poem which opens on these long perspectives ("From the Rising of the Sun") is suddenly dramatising the displaced person's predicament in an immediate heartfelt idiom:
Never again will I kneel in my small country, by a river,
So that what is stone in me could be dissolved,
So that nothing would remain but my tears, tears.
"I attend to matters I have been charged with": having outlived many of his Polish contemporaries, having watched the Soviets clamp down in Poland, Lithuania and the other Baltic states, Miłosz saw it as his writerly responsibility to bear in mind the dead who had perished in the uprising and the concentration camps and those others who were still suffering in the gulags. Hence his poem "Dedication" and its much-cited lines, "What is poetry which does not save / Nations or people?".
He was poised between lyricism and witness. In "The Poor Poet", written in Warsaw in 1944, the eponymous poet finds that his pen is putting forth twigs and leaves and blossoms and a scent that is "impudent", "like an insult to suffering humanity". This sense of guilt and the impulse to rebuke (himself as much as others) is a constant throughout the work, and never more powerfully deployed than in The Captive Mind, the prose book by which he was principally known in English until the poems began to be translated and published from the late 1970s (and then came the Nobel prize in 1980).
The Captive Mind attends sternly to matters Miłosz was charged with. Written in France in the mid-1950s, it is a j'accuse directed at members of the Polish intelligentsia who had succumbed to the lure of Marxism. It is, however, written with such insight into those particular minds as they become captivated that it is clear the poet must have thought and known, "There but for the grace of God go I". And in fact Miłosz had gone a little bit of the way, had worked as a secretary in the diplomatic service of the People's Republic of Poland, a post he relinquished when it became clear that the regime was being sovietised and Stalinised.
The Captive Mind is as much a meditation as it is a polemic, yet Miłosz had an equal or more than equal gift for praise and elegy: "It seems I was called for this," he would eventually declare, "To glorify things just because they are." And yet such praise was hard-earned since there was always an inner accuser or sceptic who could see his kind and his calling as "A tournament of hunchbacks, literature".
It was the strange destiny of this poet so entangled in dread historical experience to end up in 1960 in Berkeley. This was the dawn of the era of the loose garment and the waterbed, of flower power and the love-in, and Miłosz, veteran of the European turmoil, was to spend almost the whole of his life there. His eyrie was a small house on a hill above Berkeley, which afforded with hallucinatory clarity a view of San Francisco Bay. "I did not expect to live in such an unusual moment . . . / Roads on concrete pillars, cities of glass and cast iron, / airfields larger than tribal dominions." At the same time, as his poem "Gift" attests, California wasn't all anti-Vietnam protests and lightness of being: it did provide him Edenic moments.
Miłosz, however, had his own counter-cultural practices, attending Sunday Mass at the Catholic church near the university, and the visionary qualities that prevail in the poems have their origin in his strongly religious sensibility. There is something unabashed about his readiness to pull out all the stops, as at the end of "And yet the books", where the books, "In spite of fires on the horizon, castles blown up, / Tribes on the march . . ." "will be there on the shelves, well born, / Derived from people, but also from radiance, heights".
This impulse towards the transcendent contributed to his faith in poetry itself, up until the very end when he returned to the land of his "faithful mother tongue" and lived in Kraków. As he writes in his poem on reading the Japanese poet Issa: "To know and not to speak. / In that way one forgets. / What is pronounced strengthens itself. / What is not pronounced tends to non-existence."
What distinguishes Miłosz as a poet is the abundance and spontaneity of the work, his at-homeness in so many different genres and landscapes, his desire for belief and his equally acute scepticism. Chiefly, however, what irradiates the poetry and compels the reader is a quality of wisdom. Everything is carried and feels guaranteed by the voice. Even in translation, even when he writes in a didactic vein, there is a feeling of phonetic undertow, that the poem is a trawl, not just talk. And this was true of the work he did right up to his death in Kraków in 2004.
Miłosz once wrote: "The child who dwells inside us trusts that there are wise men somewhere who know the truth." At this centenary moment, he himself has become one of those wise men.
 This article was amended on 12 April 2011. The original referred to the poem "And the books". This has been corrected.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Wisława Szymborska / Consolation



Wisława Szymborska
They say he read novels to relax, 
But only certain kinds: 
nothing that ended unhappily. 
If anything like that turned up, 
enraged, he flung the book into the fire. 

True or not, 
I’m ready to believe it. 

Scanning in his mind so many times and places, 
he’d had enough of dying species, 
the triumphs of the strong over the weak, 
the endless struggles to survive, 
all doomed sooner or later. 
He’d earned the right to happy endings, 
at least in fiction 
with its diminutions. 

Hence the indispensable 
silver lining, 
the lovers reunited, the families reconciled, 
the doubts dispelled, fidelity rewarded, 
fortunes regained, treasures uncovered, 
stiff-necked neighbors mending their ways, 
good names restored, greed daunted, 
old maids married off to worthy parsons, 
troublemakers banished to other hemispheres, 
forgers of documents tossed down the stairs, 
seducers scurrying to the altar, 
orphans sheltered, widows comforted, 
pride humbled, wounds healed over, 
prodigal sons summoned home, 
cups of sorrow thrown into the ocean, 
hankies drenched with tears of reconciliation, 
general merriment and celebration, 
and the dog Fido, 
gone astray in the first chapter, 
turns up barking gladly 

Sunday, February 18, 2018

John Ashbery reads "Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror" (full poem)

John Ashbery reads "Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror" (full poem)

As Parmigianino did it, the right hand
Bigger than the head, thrust at the viewer
And swerving easily away, as though to protect
What it advertises. A few leaded panes, old beams,
Fur, pleated muslin, a coral ring run together
In a movement supporting the face, which swims
Toward and away like the hand
Except that it is in repose. It is what is
Sequestered. Vasari says, "Francesco one day set himself
To take his own portrait, looking at himself from that purpose
In a convex mirror, such as is used by barbers . . .
He accordingly caused a ball of wood to be made
By a turner, and having divided it in half and
Brought it to the size of the mirror, he set himself
With great art to copy all that he saw in the glass,"
Chiefly his reflection, of which the portrait
Is the reflection, of which the portrait
Is the reflection once removed.
The glass chose to reflect only what he saw
Which was enough for his purpose: his image
Glazed, embalmed, projected at a 180-degree angle.
The time of day or the density of the light
Adhering to the face keeps it
Lively and intact in a recurring wave
Of arrival. The soul establishes itself.
But how far can it swim out through the eyes
And still return safely to its nest? The surface
Of the mirror being convex, the distance increases
Significantly; that is, enough to make the point
That the soul is a captive, treated humanely, kept
In suspension, unable to advance much farther
Than your look as it intercepts the picture.
Pope Clement and his court were "stupefied"
By it, according to Vasari, and promised a commission
That never materialized. The soul has to stay where it is,
Even though restless, hearing raindrops at the pane,
The sighing of autumn leaves thrashed by the wind,
Longing to be free, outside, but it must stay
Posing in this place. It must move
As little as possible. This is what the portrait says.
But there is in that gaze a combination
Of tenderness, amusement and regret, so powerful
In its restraint that one cannot look for long.
The secret is too plain. The pity of it smarts,
Makes hot tears spurt: that the soul is not a soul,
Has no secret, is small, and it fits
Its hollow perfectly: its room, our moment of attention.
That is the tune but there are no words.
The words are only speculation
(From the Latin speculum, mirror):
They seek and cannot find the meaning of the music.
We see only postures of the dream,
Riders of the motion that swings the face
Into view under evening skies, with no
False disarray as proof of authenticity.
But it is life englobed.
One would like to stick one's hand
Out of the globe, but its dimension,
What carries it, will not allow it.
No doubt it is this, not the reflex
To hide something, which makes the hand loom large
As it retreats slightly. There is no way
To build it flat like a section of wall:
It must join the segment of a circle,
Roving back to the body of which it seems
So unlikely a part, to fence in and shore up the face
On which the effort of this condition reads
Like a pinpoint of a smile, a spark
Or star one is not sure of having seen
As darkness resumes. A perverse light whose
Imperative of subtlety dooms in advance its
Conceit to light up: unimportant but meant.
Francesco, your hand is big enough
To wreck the sphere, and too big,
One would think, to weave delicate meshes
That only argue its further detention.
(Big, but not coarse, merely on another scale,
Like a dozing whale on the sea bottom
In relation to the tiny, self-important ship
On the surface.) But your eyes proclaim
That everything is surface. The surface is what's there
And nothing can exist except what's there.
There are no recesses in the room, only alcoves,
And the window doesn't matter much, or that
Sliver of window or mirror on the right, even
As a gauge of the weather, which in French is
Le temps, the word for time, and which
Follows a course wherein changes are merely
Features of the whole. The whole is stable within
Instability, a globe like ours, resting
On a pedestal of vacuum, a ping-pong ball
Secure on its jet of water.
And just as there are no words for the surface, that is,
No words to say what it really is, that it is not
Superficial but a visible core, then there is
No way out of the problem of pathos vs. experience.
You will stay on, restive, serene in
Your gesture which is neither embrace nor warning
But which holds something of both in pure
Affirmation that doesn't affirm anything.

The balloon pops, the attention
Turns dully away. Clouds
In the puddle stir up into sawtoothed fragments.
I think of the friends
Who came to see me, of what yesterday
Was like. A peculiar slant
Of memory that intrudes on the dreaming model
In the silence of the studio as he considers
Lifting the pencil to the self-portrait.
How many people came and stayed a certain time,
Uttered light or dark speech that became part of you
Like light behind windblown fog and sand,
Filtered and influenced by it, until no part
Remains that is surely you. Those voices in the dusk
Have told you all and still the tale goes on
In the form of memories deposited in irregular
Clumps of crystals. Whose curved hand controls,
Francesco, the turning seasons and the thoughts
That peel off and fly away at breathless speeds
Like the last stubborn leaves ripped
From wet branches? I see in this only the chaos
Of your round mirror which organizes everything
Around the polestar of your eyes which are empty,
Know nothing, dream but reveal nothing.
I feel the carousel starting slowly
And going faster and faster: desk, papers, books,
Photographs of friends, the window and the trees
Merging in one neutral band that surrounds
Me on all sides, everywhere I look.
And I cannot explain the action of leveling,
Why it should all boil down to one
Uniform substance, a magma of interiors.
My guide in these matters is your self,
Firm, oblique, accepting everything with the same
Wraith of a smile, and as time speeds up so that it is soon
Much later, I can know only the straight way out,
The distance between us. Long ago
The strewn evidence meant something,
The small accidents and pleasures
Of the day as it moved gracelessly on,
A housewife doing chores. Impossible now
To restore those properties in the silver blur that is
The record of what you accomplished by sitting down
"With great art to copy all that you saw in the glass"
So as to perfect and rule out the extraneous
Forever. In the circle of your intentions certain spars
Remain that perpetuate the enchantment of self with self:
Eyebeams, muslin, coral. It doesn't matter
Because these are things as they are today
Before one's shadow ever grew
Out of the field into thoughts of tomorrow.

Tomorrow is easy, but today is uncharted,
Desolate, reluctant as any landscape
To yield what are laws of perspective
After all only to the painter's deep
Mistrust, a weak instrument though
Necessary. Of course some things
Are possible, it knows, but it doesn't know
Which ones. Some day we will try
To do as many things as are possible
And perhaps we shall succeed at a handful
Of them, but this will not have anything
To do with what is promised today, our
Landscape sweeping out from us to disappear
On the horizon. Today enough of a cover burnishes
To keep the supposition of promises together
In one piece of surface, letting one ramble
Back home from them so that these
Even stronger possibilities can remain
Whole without being tested. Actually
The skin of the bubble-chamber's as tough as
Reptile eggs; everything gets "programmed" there
In due course: more keeps getting included 
Without adding to the sum, and just as one
Gets accustomed to a noise that
Kept one awake but now no longer does,
So the room contains this flow like an hourglass
Without varying in climate or quality
(Except perhaps to brighten bleakly and almost
Invisibly, in a focus sharpening toward death--more 
Of this later). What should be the vacuum of a dream
Becomes continually replete as the source of dreams
Is being tapped so that this one dream
May wax, flourish like a cabbage rose,
Defying sumptuary laws, leaving us
To awake and try to begin living in what
Has now become a slum. Sydney Freedberg in his
Parmigianino says of it: "Realism in this portrait
No longer produces and objective truth, but a bizarria . . . . 
However its distortion does not create
A feeling of disharmony . . . . The forms retain
A strong measure of ideal beauty," because
Fed by our dreams, so inconsequential until one day
We notice the hole they left. Now their importance
If not their meaning is plain. They were to nourish
A dream which includes them all, as they are
Finally reversed in the accumulating mirror.
They seemed strange because we couldn't actually see them.
And we realize this only at a point where they lapse
Like a wave breaking on a rock, giving up
Its shape in a gesture which expresses that shape.
The forms retain a strong measure of ideal beauty
As they forage in secret on our idea of distortion.
Why be unhappy with this arrangement, since
Dreams prolong us as they are absorbed?
Something like living occurs, a movement 
Out of the dream into its codification.

As I start to forget it
It presents its stereotype again
But it is an unfamiliar stereotype, the face
Riding at anchor, issued from hazards, soon
To accost others, "rather angel than man" (Vasari).
Perhaps an angel looks like everything
We have forgotten, I mean forgotten
Things that don't seem familiar when
We meet them again, lost beyond telling,
Which were ours once. This would be the point
Of invading the privacy of this man who
"Dabbled in alchemy, but whose wish
Here was not to examine the subtleties of art
In a detached, scientific spirit: he wished through them
To impart the sense of novelty and amazement to the spectator"
(Freedberg). Later portraits such as the Uffizi
"Gentleman," the Borghese "Young Prelate" and
The Naples "Antea" issue from Mannerist
Tensions, but here, as Freedberg points out,
The surprise, the tension are in the concept
Rather than its realization.
The consonance of the High Renaissance
Is present, though distorted by the mirror.
What is novel is the extreme care in rendering
The velleities of the rounded reflecting surface
(It is the first mirror portrait),
So that you could be fooled for a moment
Before you realize the reflection
Isn't yours. You feel then like one of those
Hoffmann characters who have been deprived
Of a reflection, except that the whole of me
Is seen to be supplanted by the strict
Otherness of the painter in his
Other room. We have surprised him
At work, but no, he has surprised us
As he works. The picture is almost finished,
The surprise almost over, as when one looks out,
Startled by a snowfall which even now is
Ending in specks and sparkles of snow.
It happened while you were inside, asleep,
And there is no reason why you should have
Been awake for it, except that the day
Is ending and it will be hard for you
To get to sleep tonight, at least until late.

The shadow of the city injects its own
Urgency: Rome where Francesco
Was at work during the Sack: his inventions
Amazed the soldiers who burst in on him;
They decided to spare his life, but he left soon after;
Vienna where the painting is today, where
I saw it with Pierre in the summer of 1959; New York
Where I am now, which is a logarithm
Of other cities. Our landscape
Is alive with filiations, shuttlings;
Business is carried on by look, gesture,
Hearsay. It is another life to the city,
The backing of the looking glass of the
Unidentified but precisely sketched studio. It wants
To siphon off the life of the studio, deflate
Its mapped space to enactments, island it.
That operation has been temporarily stalled
But something new is on the way, a new preciosity
In the wind. Can you stand it,
Francesco? Are you strong enough for it?
This wind brings what it knows not, is
Self--propelled, blind, has no notion
Of itself. It is inertia that once
Acknowledged saps all activity, secret or public:
Whispers of the word that can't be understood
But can be felt, a chill, a blight
Moving outward along the capes and peninsulas
Of your nervures and so to the archipelagoes
And to the bathed, aired secrecy of the open sea.
This is its negative side. Its positive side is
Making you notice life and the stresses
That only seemed to go away, but now,
As this new mode questions, are seen to be
Hastening out of style. If they are to become classics
They must decide which side they are on.
Their reticence has undermined
The urban scenery, made its ambiguities
Look willful and tired, the games of an old man.
What we need now is this unlikely
Challenger pounding on the gates of an amazed
Castle. Your argument, Francesco,
Had begun to grow stale as no answer
Or answers were forthcoming. If it dissolves now
Into dust, that only means its time had come
Some time ago, but look now, and listen:
It may be that another life is stocked there
In recesses no one knew of; that it,
Not we, are the change; that we are in fact it
If we could get back to it, relive some of the way
It looked, turn our faces to the globe as it sets
And still be coming out all right:
Nerves normal, breath normal. Since it is a metaphor
Made to include us, we are a part of it and
Can live in it as in fact we have done,
Only leaving our minds bare for questioning
We now see will not take place at random
But in an orderly way that means to menace
Nobody--the normal way things are done,
Like the concentric growing up of days
Around a life: correctly, if you think about it.

A breeze like the turning of a page
Brings back your face: the moment
Takes such a big bite out of the haze
Of pleasant intuition it comes after.
The locking into place is "death itself,"
As Berg said of a phrase in Mahler's Ninth;
Or, to quote Imogen in Cymbeline, "There cannot
Be a pinch in death more sharp than this," for,
Though only exercise or tactic, it carries
The momentum of a conviction that had been building.
Mere forgetfulness cannot remove it
Nor wishing bring it back, as long as it remains
The white precipitate of its dream
In the climate of sighs flung across our world,
A cloth over a birdcage. But it is certain that
What is beautiful seems so only in relation to a specific
Life, experienced or not, channeled into some form
Steeped in the nostalgia of a collective past.
The light sinks today with an enthusiasm
I have known elsewhere, and known why
It seemed meaningful, that others felt this way
Years ago. I go on consulting
This mirror that is no longer mine
For as much brisk vacancy as is to be
My portion this time. And the vase is always full
Because there is only just so much room
And it accommodates everything. The sample
One sees is not to be taken as
Merely that, but as everything as it
May be imagined outside time--not as a gesture
But as all, in the refined, assimilable state.
But what is this universe the porch of
As it veers in and out, back and forth,
Refusing to surround us and still the only
Thing we can see? Love once
Tipped the scales but now is shadowed, invisible,
Though mysteriously present, around somewhere.
But we know it cannot be sandwiched
Between two adjacent moments, that its windings
Lead nowhere except to further tributaries
And that these empty themselves into a vague
Sense of something that can never be known
Even though it seems likely that each of us
Knows what it is and is capable of
Communicating it to the other. But the look
Some wear as a sign makes one want to
Push forward ignoring the apparent
NaÏveté of the attempt, not caring
That no one is listening, since the light
Has been lit once and for all in their eyes
And is present, unimpaired, a permanent anomaly,
Awake and silent. On the surface of it
There seems no special reason why that light
Should be focused by love, or why
The city falling with its beautiful suburbs
Into space always less clear, less defined,
Should read as the support of its progress,
The easel upon which the drama unfolded
To its own satisfaction and to the end
Of our dreaming, as we had never imagined
It would end, in worn daylight with the painted
Promise showing through as a gage, a bond.
This nondescript, never-to-be defined daytime is
The secret of where it takes place
And we can no longer return to the various
Conflicting statements gathered, lapses of memory
Of the principal witnesses. All we know
Is that we are a little early, that
Today has that special, lapidary
Todayness that the sunlight reproduces
Faithfully in casting twig-shadows on blithe
Sidewalks. No previous day would have been like this.
I used to think they were all alike,
That the present always looked the same to everybody
But this confusion drains away as one
Is always cresting into one's present.
Yet the "poetic," straw-colored space
Of the long corridor that leads back to the painting,
Its darkening opposite--is this
Some figment of "art," not to be imagined
As real, let alone special? Hasn't it too its lair
In the present we are always escaping from
And falling back into, as the waterwheel of days
Pursues its uneventful, even serene course?
I think it is trying to say it is today
And we must get out of it even as the public
Is pushing through the museum now so as to
Be out by closing time. You can't live there.
The gray glaze of the past attacks all know-how:
Secrets of wash and finish that took a lifetime
To learn and are reduced to the status of
Black-and-white illustrations in a book where colorplates
Are rare. That is, all time
Reduces to no special time. No one
Alludes to the change; to do so might
Involve calling attention to oneself
Which would augment the dread of not getting out
Before having seen the whole collection
(Except for the sculptures in the basement:
They are where they belong).
Our time gets to be veiled, compromised
By the portrait's will to endure. It hints at
Our own, which we were hoping to keep hidden.
We don't need paintings or
Doggerel written by mature poets when
The explosion is so precise, so fine.
Is there any point even in acknowledging
The existence of all that? Does it
Exist? Certainly the leisure to
Indulge stately pastimes doesn't,
Any more. Today has no margins, the event arrives
Flush with its edges, is of the same substance,
Indistinguishable. "Play" is something else;
It exists, in a society specifically
Organized as a demonstration of itself.
There is no other way, and those assholes
Who would confuse everything with their mirror games
Which seem to multiply stakes and possibilities, or
At least confuse issues by means of an investing
Aura that would corrode the architecture
Of the whole in a haze of suppressed mockery,
Are beside the point. They are out of the game,
Which doesn't exist until they are out of it.
It seems like a very hostile universe
But as the principle of each individual thing is
Hostile to, exists at the expense of all the others
As philosophers have often pointed out, at least
This thing, the mute, undivided present,
Has the justification of logic, which
In this instance isn't a bad thing
Or wouldn't be, if the way of telling
Didn't somehow intrude, twisting the end result
Into a caricature of itself. This always
Happens, as in the game where
A whispered phrase passed around the room
Ends up as something completely different.
It is the principle that makes works of art so unlike
What the artist intended. Often he finds
He has omitted the thing he started out to say
In the first place. Seduced by flowers,
Explicit pleasures, he blames himself (though
Secretly satisfied with the result), imagining
He had a say in the matter and exercised
An option of which he was hardly conscious,
Unaware that necessity circumvents such resolutions.
So as to create something new
For itself, that there is no other way,
That the history of creation proceeds according to
Stringent laws, and that things
Do get done in this way, but never the things
We set out to accomplish and wanted so desperately
To see come into being. Parmigianino
Must have realized this as he worked at his
Life-obstructing task. One is forced to read
The perfectly plausible accomplishment of a purpose
Into the smooth, perhaps even bland (but so
Enigmatic) finish. Is there anything
To be serious about beyond this otherness
That gets included in the most ordinary
Forms of daily activity, changing everything
Slightly and profoundly, and tearing the matter 
Of creation, any creation, not just artistic creation
Out of our hands, to install it on some monstrous, near
Peak, too close to ignore, too far
For one to intervene? This otherness, this
"Not-being-us" is all there is to look at
In the mirror, though no one can say
How it came to be this way. A ship
Flying unknown colors has entered the harbor.
You are allowing extraneous matters
To break up your day, cloud the focus
Of the crystal ball. Its scene drifts away
Like vapor scattered on the wind. The fertile
Thought-associations that until now came
So easily, appear no more, or rarely. Their
Colorings are less intense, washed out
By autumn rains and winds, spoiled, muddied,
Given back to you because they are worthless.
Yet we are such creatures of habit that their
Implications are still around en permanence, confusing
Issues. To be serious only about sex
Is perhaps one way, but the sands are hissing
As they approach the beginning of the big slide
Into what happened. This past
Is now here: the painter's
Reflected face, in which we linger, receiving
Dreams and inspirations on an unassigned
Frequency, but the hues have turned metallic,
The curves and edges are not so rich. Each person
Has one big theory to explain the universe
But it doesn't tell the whole story
And in the end it is what is outside him
That matters, to him and especially to us
Who have been given no help whatever
In decoding our own man-size quotient and must rely
On second-hand knowledge. Yet I know
That no one else's taste is going to be
Any help, and might as well be ignored.
Once it seemed so perfect--gloss on the fine
Freckled skin, lips moistened as though about to part
Releasing speech, and the familiar look
Of clothes and furniture that one forgets.
This could have been our paradise: exotic
Refuge within an exhausted world, but that wasn't
In the cards, because it couldn't have been
The point. Aping naturalness may be the first step
Toward achieving an inner calm
But it is the first step only, and often
Remains a frozen gesture of welcome etched
On the air materializing behind it,
A convention. And we have really
No time for these, except to use them
For kindling. The sooner they are burnt up
The better for the roles we have to play.
Therefore I beseech you, withdraw that hand,
Offer it no longer as shield or greeting,
The shield of a greeting, Francesco:
There is room for one bullet in the chamber:
Our looking through the wrong end
Of the telescope as you fall back at a speed
Faster than that of light to flatten ultimately
Among the features of the room, an invitation
Never mailed, the "it was all a dream"
Syndrome, though the "all" tells tersely
Enough how it wasn't. Its existence
Was real, though troubled, and the ache
Of this waking dream can never drown out
The diagram still sketched on the wind,
Chosen, meant for me and materialized
In the disguising radiance of my room.
We have seen the city; it is the gibbous
Mirrored eye of an insect. All things happen
On its balcony and are resumed within,
But the action is the cold, syrupy flow
Of a pageant. One feels too confined,
Sifting the April sunlight for clues,
In the mere stillness of the ease of its
Parameter. The hand holds no chalk
And each part of the whole falls off
And cannot know it knew, except
Here and there, in cold pockets
Of remembrance, whispers out of time.