Richard Howard commands us to pay attention to a poetic voice that would argue that all ties to the past are severed. We run over title and epigraph and find opening stanzas set off by indentation on left and right. It’s a sort of narrator’s comment on the more “personal” stanzas that follow and run to more narrow margins.
[…] The dead
take away the world they made
certain was theirs—they die
knowing we never can have it.
And I am led to think that at best we leave behind clear water and pure air. I am reminded that I never attended the Armory Show but have read about its influence. I recall a conversation with someone who did not know either tune or lyrics to Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock.”
Are these pieces of a world that is passing? Like every step is a falling, every breath a dying. And so, Howard ends the poem with an address that belies its beginning, it marks an exception.
The difference, then, between
your death and all those others
is this: you did not take
a certain world away, after
all. After you, because of you,
all songs are possible.
The poem is “Again for Hephaistos, the Last Time October 1, 1973” in Fellow Feelings. There is another Hephaistos poem in the earlier Damages. It too revolves around a relation to W.H. Auden and its penultimate stanza provides a meditation on not the anxiety of influence but the necessity of carrying something broken away.
Wondering, I forgot my words and lost
All presence of mind as you labored past.
And yet you taught me, taught us all a way
To speak our minds, and only now, at last
Free of you, my old ventriloquist,
Have I suspected what I have to say
Without hearing you say it for me first.
Like my old love, I have survived you best
By leaving you, and so you’re here to stay.
Pure water. Clear Light. Parts of a world. Never a whole. Atoms. Always on the go. Gone are the particles I have touched and still others out of reach …
And so for day 1040