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To write a poem, one needs to understand

That not for one moment can the reader misunderstand

Anything. Obscure is fine, as long as it doesn’t involve misunderstanding.

The mist can cover.

Hint at anything. Love. A lover.

But let the reader know

That they don’t need to know

The whole story.

Obscurity in poetry can be your whole glory.

Do you think you’re going to run

Things perfectly seen under the sun?

And never write of sunny days. Try

This and the poem will fail

Even if you don’t know why,

And all you love are sunny days.

Writing a poem involves a certain diffident, rueful, essence;

Even poets who are merely average get this;

Sure, you can laugh leading up to a kiss,

But kissing can’t be done at length while laughing;

The same with the poem; be uproarious for any length of time,

And you may have an epic,

Where wholesale slaughter turns the reader on,

As in Homer; but this isn’t the mood for the true poem.

If it’s bold, it must come out of sadness,

Or failure. Avoid the idiot optimism

Which I fell into once, when writing of you,

When we had kissed. And more kisses were due.



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Why isn’t there a love we all can love?

Too bad there isn’t a contract we can sign

Before we occupy a mortal mind

Which says that love must always love

As long as bodies live.


All we get is poetry,

And when it comes to love, poetry isn’t much to give.

We think of clever things to say,

And sometimes we say them,

But it’s never what we really meant to say.

We don’t know each other’s thoughts.

And so we are suspicious of the body,

Which is what we love and want.

I want to hold you, but I can’t.

A poem? Where is that contract I can sign

To cancel the room of my mortal mind,

Where all I do is look out at all I can’t have?

Your precious body will occupy a grave.

And won’t there be something I should have said

When I realize you—take my hand—are dead?

Not really. I blame the vast and boring mortal mind.

I want to cancel this. Yes, I’m the poet. Where do I sign?






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Why is no poetry which is popular—none of it—deemed critically and artistically worthy? Going on almost 100 years? Or more than 50 years, if we quibble over “critically worthy?”

Why is poetry no longer sublime?

Why has poetry lost its reading public? (Poets “reading” one another in the confines of writing program networks is not a “public.”)

No matter how aesthetically wounded a society becomes, as long as there’s written language, as long as there’s diary writing, interesting works of fiction will be published and read.

But why do we have a public willing to spend hours, days, reading critically esteemed novels, making these at least somewhat popular, but this same public will not spend a few minutes on critically esteemed lyric poems?  So that no esteemed poems are popular?  The current state of poetry would seem to be the aesthetic canary in the mine, the proof that, even though fiction sells, something is rotten in terms of the purely aesthetic accomplishment of writing as an art form.

Why does this century-long gulf of sublime distances exist, this profound disconnect between public and poetry in Letters?

It isn’t the fault of the public.  It’s the fault of how poetry is conceived, written, marketed and sold.

Scarriet has argued that Modernism, in the name of revolutionary change, turned its back on Romanticism, and all that was popular in Romanticism (the accessibility of love poems, poetry as sublime and beautiful speech, etc) was lost, in the middle of the Modernist experiment, and the problem was compounded when the Moderns simultaneously secured a place in the academy (writing programs in the 1930s until the present) in which the loss of popularity was “fixed.”

The story of Modernism, revolutionary wacky on one hand, institutionally savvy and pragmatic on the other, is vital to understanding the problem—Marjorie Perloff, a Modernist (avant garde) advocate, spoke openly, not too many years ago, about how she was troubled by the fact that there are “too many poets.”  When there is no true criticism to weed out bad poetry, and when millions of “students” immediately become “poets,” well, of course there will be too many “poets.”  The Romantics (or other eras, if you wish) only had a few poets.  Why are they so much better than the millions of modern poets? Well, it doesn’t take an Einstein (or a Coleridge) to figure out why.

But there’s a deeper problem, which just came to our attention, thanks to Jon Baskin’s “On the Hatred of Literature,” published online by The Point.

Jon Baskin spends the bulk of his piece discussing Ben Lerner, who has made something of a name for himself with his 2016 book, The Hatred of Poetry.

Lerner, like many in Letters, is aware poetry is dying—but he hasn’t quite figured out why. Lerner has made something of a splash, however, simply because he’s had the honesty to admit art and letters doesn’t move him. Perhaps I am not the problem, thinks Lerner, poetry itself—as commonly defined by tradition—is the problem. Fair enough. A truly open mind considers everything.

But Lerner is wrong. Lerner, and people like him, are the problem. Poetry is not the problem. Lerner begins by blaming Plato, who called poetry “divine,” which Lerner, the modern, thinks it just silly; poetry, Lerner thinks, is not “divine,” and it makes moderns work too hard to make their poetry “divine.”  There is a certain amount of common sense here, but this doesn’t alter one bit the eternal truth of the whole issue: it is never poetry’s fault, or the public’s fault, when poetry fails.  Blame always lies with the poets and critics of a particular age—and to assert poetry is divine is neither here, nor there; the only thing that matters is the poets and the critics and the editors who make it divine.

Baskin examines Lerner’s recent autobiographical novels, and finds that for Lerner, poetry which is more political, or “socially responsible,” is the answer. No wonder Lerner is getting some left-leaning, mainstream attention.

Here’s Baskin: “What is clear is that, by the end of The Topeka School, political commitment has emerged as the socially responsible solution—even if it remains elusive to Lerner’s narrator—to artistic disaffection.”

And speaking of the Modernists turning their backs on the Romantics, we sat up with attention when we read the following in Baskin’s piece:

It was during a period of increasing politicization, and amid a boom for the proselytizers of scientific skepticism in nineteenth-century England, that Samuel Coleridge formulated his idea of “that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith.” The famous phrase—“willing suspension of disbelief”—is easy to misunderstand. It does not mean we should suspend our capacity to think when we engage with artworks, or that we are to imitate children (or our fantasy of children) and pretend not to know the difference between fact and fiction. …….. Keats, building on the concept, would later coin the phrase “negative capability” to explain the specifically artistic virtue of being able to exist “in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.” Both poets saw art’s highest potential as being to provide experiences that undermined the prevailing hierarchy of values in modern societies, a hierarchy that privileged detachment, skepticism and the “heresy”—as Coleridge liked to call it—of practical and political expediency.

But here’s the deeper problem, and it has to do with Plato, and the greatest literary trope of them all, one even more influential and profound than “willing suspension of disbelief” or “negative capability,” and this is, of course, the famous directive by Plato that poets are not welcome in the Republic.

There is little to say on this topic, as important as it is.  You get it, or you don’t.  If you don’t get it, you will over-argue it, you will over-think it.

Here’s the first four paragraphs of Baskin’s wonderful essay:

When I was in college, at the end of the last century, the prevailing school of literary interpretation was called “New Historicism.” The foundational assumption of this approach was that artworks were primarily of value insofar as they could offer us insight into the context and conditions of their historical production. The point of literary scholarship was to “unmask” these conditions—to show, for instance, how Mark Twain had unwittingly reinscribed the racist assumptions of his time, even as he attempted to expose them. It went without saying, on this theory, that literature was a conduit neither of timeless truths nor of trustworthy passions. Indeed our professors made it clear that, the more powerful of an imaginative experience a work delivered, the more important it was to learn to view it with skepticism and detachment. At best, and with the correct theoretical tools, what had been valorized as the height of literary culture in the past might offer us an unintended insight into what really mattered: politics, history, the shadow life of power.

I can still remember when, at the end of one of the departmental survey classes—our teachers having delivered a lecture on New Historicism as the culminating achievement of twentieth-century literary criticism—a student stood up in the back of the room. Nearly giving way to what seemed to me at the time (but not now) an embarrassing overflow of emotion, she accused the professors of “hating” literature. We had become English majors in the first place, she went on, not because novels and poems told us interesting things about history or politics but because they made us feel less alone, captivated us with their beauty, helped us to better know ourselves and the world. The professors, as far as I can remember, responded politely: after all, the student was only a sophomore. She would learn.

It is no secret that in contemporary America there are many people who hardly read at all, and then another sizable group who, though they keep up with news, sports and the latest fads in self-care or technology, have little interest in serious fiction, poetry or literary commentary. It would be wrong to say such people hate literature, for one has to care about something to truly hate it. What my classmate in the survey course had precociously recognized was that we were being introduced to a phenomenon both subtler and more sinister than the neglect or ignorance of literature. Our professors had a great deal invested in novels and poems; and it was probably even the case that, at some point, they had loved them. But they had convinced themselves that to justify the “study” of literature it was necessary to immunize themselves against this love, and within the profession the highest status went to those for whom admiration and attachment had most fully morphed into their opposites. Their hatred of literature manifested itself in their embrace of theories and methods that downgraded and instrumentalized literary experience, in their moralistic condemnation of the literary works they judged ideologically unsound, and in their attempt to pass on to their students their suspicion of literature’s most powerful imaginative effects.

The lesson was not a new one. Going back to Plato—perhaps the first hater of literature on record—philosophers and religious authorities have attacked art for the same reasons our professors taught us to deconstruct and distrust it: because it is unpredictable, unreasonable and often inconsistent with their preferred politics or morality. It was also a lesson that was destined, in the years that followed, to seep off campus. Even as New Historicism fell out of fashion in literary studies—along with the broader postmodern notion of “critique” that had produced it—the students it had trained were taking up positions in the public intellectual magazines and book reviews, where they now preside over the gradual disappearance of a distinctively literary mode of criticism: a criticism, that is, that attends to matters of form, style and character, that takes aesthetic experience seriously, and that appreciates the emotions inspired by an artwork as fully as, and as constitutive of, its politics. To the extent that this disappearance has gone unremarked, it is because the hatred of literature, though it remains almost unheard of among the general reading public, has become the default mode in the upper reaches of our literary culture. As was the case in my college survey course, the highest honors go to the most eloquent haters.

I will repeat something here I quickly wrote on Facebook, when I shared Baskin’s article, overjoyed at finding a new sane voice in Letters. Here’s what the article essentially meant to me:

It’s okay to love poetry over politics. It really is. It means you understand politics.

And here’s what I added on Facebook, re: my thoughts on Baskin’s article, and re: Plato:

I always said that modernist theorists, who at heart, hate poetry, are unconscious followers of Plato. Plato said, with common sense, Homer should not be read for wisdom on chariot-building or military strategy; he’s a poet. Similarly, poetry should not be read for politics. Nothing wrong with hazy, divine poetry. But there are subjects which, by their very nature, are not properly understood as poetry, but will be treated poetically nonetheless by the untruthful and the mendacious. This is what Plato feared. Plato did not really dislike poetry. But modernist theorists do dislike what makes poetry poetry, even as they unconsciously act like Plato, in theorizing poetry away.

For hundreds of years, Letters has responded to a Fake Plato—one who hates poetry.

But this Plato does not actually exist.

It’s never about liking or disliking poetry.  The question is: what is poetry, and where do you put it?

Having this Fake Plato in the back of one’s mind, entertaining even the faintest notion that somehow the aesthetic, the beautiful, the sublime, impedes the rational, the theoretical, and the socially responsible, is the greatest heresy of all.

Shelley called Plato a poet.  And he was.

How is the truth of poetry conveyed by one—Plato—who does not trust poetry?

This is the greatest contradiction in Letters—and not understanding it will hinder poetry.

But now.  Can we say this contradiction is solved at last?









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I wish I had a loud voice,

Then people would have no choice

But to listen to me. In a restaurant,

Around friends, I would get what I want.

My friends, and even those who run the restaurant

Would have no doubt.

I would be heard. And later, with her, alone,

I could reveal the truth: “I only shout

And boast to be heard. I chose

That voice for gain,” I could whisper.

And then she would take off her clothes…

But I don’t have a voice based on a plan.

I have the voice any man

Could listen to, or not.

I’m a working stiff who commutes.

I’m careful. There isn’t any plot!

A warning: this sad poem will quietly fade away.

Is that okay?

I’m not the man people need to see.

There’s nothing about me

Which rises above something marvelous

I might say in my poetry.

I even hold still in an emergency.

I’m the softest voice you ever heard,

As quiet as that solemn bird.




I have no vices.

I have no habits involving spices.

The salt which the villagers lick

Was mined in the blue Ran Da.

I stroll by the blue Sun River. Wines

Could be imbibed by those who go into the mines,

I don’t know. I make it a rule not to know.

I don’t like to stand in lines.

Coffee is out because it makes me shake.

Now a short conversation is a pleasant break

From my long ruminations. I like

To ask people what they don’t like.

But I don’t need to ask them what they don’t like.

They tell me what they don’t like.

I listen carefully to what they don’t like.

It helps not to be an expert on spices.

I protect myself with memory devices.

I perceive a life without fevers.

I never bother with insinuating lovers.

I breathe a walk by insouciant rivers,

The marshland where things go slow.

To be free of vice, I seek not to know,

But take pride, nonetheless, in knowing

Where the slow miners are going,

Knowing miners, in a fog, could go down,

Could trip, by a single vice, which can easily drown

Trillions. No vice is allowed, not one!

I have my marshland under the sun,

Or the mountains where I run.

Perhaps I have a vice, maybe one;

There is one habit where everything I think and do

Is to be calm; is this a vice?

Is this how I take my revenge against you?



“You can’t do that” —John Lennon

When I refuse to love,

I am happy. Why should I love you

When you refuse to love?

With great pride, I refuse to love,

Because so many say they love,

But do not love; I protest

All over the world, refusing to love.

I protest against the vanity and hypocrisy

Of millions who refuse to love—

But say they do.

I even told the one I love, “screw you.”

It soothes me; it frees me from so many obligations;

The strongest and the happiest nations

Refuse to love.

The one who is really loved, cannot love:

There is mathematical proof.

Look at it calmly and rationally:

Worthy to be loved,

Is worthy to be loved by millions,

And how will one return

Love to millions? You burn

For me, sad and lonely,

And want my poetry to be only for you.

Love is defeated by the small and the large number.

Here’s the secret. Do you want to be happy and true?

Refuse to love.




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I love time, and I time love, when it loves and sings.

But time cannot last,

Even as time falls into its own past.

Can you tell time from its things?

My love is not time,

My love will not be governed by time,

Though sometimes it dulls my rhyme.

Can you tell time from its things?

Emily Dickinson flew in my heather.

She will be my child, forever.

There’s no reason love has to end.

Death, and the tales of its stings,

Brings monopoly to time, but I

Have memories which still cry.

Our love is great, though it’s late.

Time isn’t the same as its things.

Love sailed, and sailed for me,

And her sailors drowned in the endless sea,

And died, every one, for liberty,

And their guns will shoot and their bells will ring

Until time seems a shining thing—

Yet this tale, we know is a lie,

And will not live at all in your eye

Or in my poetry.

Did you know, even as winter brings

Cold, time is not the same as its things?

You knew this, you knew this,

Even though at times, you tired of my kiss.

Every time we finish a task,

There are more things to do.

I had to kiss you more

When I started kissing you.

But my kisses, to you, had to expire;

Your kisses were born from a strange, white fire

That burned, flame for mirrored flame,

As your suffering suffered in time—

You could not tell time from its things.

Bad and good both have beautiful faces and wings;

Many are confused, and some cannot tell

Sweet heaven from gruesome hell,

Nor time from its things.



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The sheep want to go back,

To when Walter Cronkite was the only news.

And sure, we want Cronkite to love us,

Every smiling dictator knows;

And if a dictator frown,

Sheep don’t mind it when they put them down.

The sheep have always been the problem.

Always. We know this. The wolves

Have an elan we all secretly respect,

Even as we are being devoured.

But we hate the sheep, we really do.

If only we could kill them all!

The stupid sheep! Isn’t this true?

Wherever there is a problem,

Whenever you can’t sleep,

Because you are hungry. Blame the sheep.

If you are shopping and can’t find

What you want, only a wolf will blow your mind.

The sheep don’t like many voices;

The sheep don’t say very much;

Their wool is itchy to touch.

The sheep think confusion is bad.

They want one view of Washington D.C.

And one opinion of Baghdad.



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Every poem has been for me,

No matter what I say, or do.

I was in a crowd, and announced,

“This poem is for Rosalinda!”

It wasn’t true.

It’s not easy to escape one’s poems.

As children to their mother, they cling to me.

Every poem a squishy mark of vanity.

The understanding is: I wrote this.

Yes, Rosalinda was meant for each kiss,

But each kiss was delivered for my sake:

I trembled and quaked.

A poor drawing of Rosalinda’s eye

Is nothing to Rosalinda. That was my

Folly—I deserve my fate

To strive long hours, to make poems for Rosalinda

That are neither interesting or new.

When love’s aim is love, it always ends in hate,

For in love, nothing aimed is true.

A good rendering of Rosalinda’s face

Only means, “look at me! I’m good!”

Bad or good still equal her disgrace.

Good, or bad, is still false, and forever.

My poems can never be for her.

Unless dear Rosalinda read

In my poem’s desire her poem’s need.





I have read prose with haunting ideas, with every semi-colon in the right place:

Poetry, with a prose face.

I’ve read stanzas which made me laugh

As they sank into the paragraph;

Sentences, in prose, which crept along

As if they wanted to be in song.

I have seen plain writing,

Hinting, like a poem, at the exciting.

I’ve seen a poem, attempting to thrill;

But like its poet, it was dull.

I’ve heard Muslims dying in desert sands

Cry out for the greener lands

Of their God, with such elation,

Only poetry would be taught in their future nation.

Poetry is taught everywhere in your cry,

Rosalinda, that in your mouth I thought to die.

The prose writers are telling the joke

The poet in somber numbers spoke

Which at the time didn’t seem funny.

But now that joke is making money.

I feel a poem traveling near me in the shadow

Of a drafty mansion. An essay on sorrow

Attempted to convince me the most beautiful rose

Was black; but this could never be explained in prose.


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Edgar Poe was born on January 19, 1809.

Poe is a figure of opposites—which is what all successful people are.

First, it makes you enigmatic, which is always good, and it makes you enigmatic in a manner both complete and accessible, since opposites imply both depth and self-conscious unity, in a readily discernible manner. This will always make a character more attractive, and if not always appealing—some prefer consistency to complex magnitude—well, if today you don’t like this, tomorrow we’ll have its opposite. ‘I will always find a way to make you like me.’

Readers find Poe both emotional and mathematical.

One of his great themes was the double.

His essay on the physical universe, Eureka, was the first serious explanation of the Big Bang; it was read by Einstein, and Poe’s stunning scientific treatise is more influential than anyone will probably know. In it, we find the great opposites of the beginning when there is “nothing,” and the “bang” which produces “everything,” as matter expands into difference—which is how matter exists.

It is no surprise, then, that Poe’s detractors took to stealing from him those opposing qualities which make him truly who he is. He wrote humorous tales, but they focused soley on the ones concerned with murder. He laughed as often as he wept, but to suppress all that was great about him, all they had to do was appeal to our belief that he wept only, for we, the non-great, all share this low character—which takes delight in weeping for clowns and laughing at the sad. We laugh at Poe’s weeping, unable to accept he laughs, too. It makes us feel better. Genius, when experienced nakedly, has this way of making us, because we lack genius, feel miserable. And we don’t want to feel that. No one wants to feel overwhelmed by anyone. Hero-worship has a rule: it must have warmth and passion, but have a narrow, mean focus. Poe’s planet is both tropical and icy; but out of pride, we see him only as winter.

Poe is seen as ‘oddly this way.’ And therefore he doesn’t speak for us. He only represents a part of us. Poe has been damned with faint praise by the wise at Harvard and Oxford for so long, he is damned. He’s not perceived as one of us: an American speaking to Americans. But he was completely and soberly American in a time when Europe sneered at the upstart republic; Poe seems European, not because he strove to be that way; he was—and we have trouble seeing this—an American showing the world he could be anything he damn wanted. And seeming to be European was just one of his strategies. He lived and wrote for half his adult life in Philadelphia and New York, but somehow is boxed in as a Southerner who is a little too stiff, with a faint smell of gin, and worse, also falling into bohemian poverty which he hated—so on a personal level everyone has a reason to faintly dislike him. We’ve dressed him in borrowed clothes, in an outfit we’d like to think he wore—but Poe wears the world, the world doesn’t wear him. The default Poe that Americans “know” is not Poe, and since the private person belonging to his genius is to us a blank, the widely disseminated default simply lives on, reinforcing, inevitably, everything about him that is cheap and wrong. This happens to all of us; it’s just more magnified and unfortunate in a great writer.

For America’s sake, it’s a pity, because we lost somewhere in our Letters this true spokesman—who also happens to be one of the greatest geniuses who ever lived.

The opposites of good and evil will forever have a hold on our souls, not only in fiction, but in reality.

Poe was the Benjamin Franklin American good to colonialism’s world-cranking evil.

Poe belonged to the United States of America in its fragile, puritan, chaste, brilliant, heroic beginnings.

America is not the underdog anymore. But this is no reason to misunderstand and ignore America’s Shakespeare. Poe was not pretentious, so wouldn’t care, surely, that he’s B-movie popular. But ironically, no writer wrote for the educated few as much as Poe.

Whitman said America was “a poem.” But Poe, only 10 years older than Whitman, though he seems several lifetimes older, was America as “a poet.” Just as ‘America as a poem’ expands the definition of a poem, Poe’s ‘poet’ wrote more than poetry—murder mysteries (!) in which Dupin, an amateur, foils the chief of police, a professional. One coast of Poe barely knows the other. His laughing mountains barely know his sad valleys.

Britain, who had poets galore (America, before Poe, only school-boy imitators) was fast becoming the prose fact of the world. Places like India were colonized in reality, as America was colonized in the minds of brilliant but homely citizens like Thoreau and Emerson, who succumbed to the idea that locomotives were useless, even as U.S. manufacturing was the only thing keeping the United States free of colony status. Emerson (homely) and Poe (pretty) hated each other and Harold Bloom (homely) actually took up this quarrel, heavily on the side of Emerson. Anyone who does not consider themselves belonging to the world of locomotives will prefer Emerson, believing against all evidence that they are pretty, for taking the side of Emerson, simply because they are against locomotives.

America, with her locomotives, was the British Empire’s nightmare.

In Poe’s day, America was David to the British Empire’s Goliath, and the stone in David’s sling was not poetry; it was a locomotive. Poe was on the side of David and his locomotive, unlike Emerson’s friend Thoreau, for instance, who, unwittingly, by spurning the locomotive, sitting by his pond, played into the hands of the British Empire of colonies and holdings and farms and ponds and rivers and mines and booty and no borders. The romantic American belongs, at last, to Great Britain, and the Modernists, as Randal Jarrell surmised, were Romantics becoming so worldly they were no longer Americans—Henry James, T.S. Eliot, and Ezra Pound— globalist white men who sneered at Poe—the world’s great literary inventor—as provincial, immature, and backwater, so devious and self-assured were they. Eliot really let loose against Poe in “From Poe to Valery,” only after American-turned-British Eliot won his Nobel.

The “smart set” thought Poe “boyish.” But this is always how worldly, defensive neurosis dismisses a clear-eyed god.

Poe, as a critic, desired two things: Always be original. Never be obscure. He called Thomas Carlyle an “ass” for being obscure.

Poe was loudly and confidently Romantic-as-Modern; no antiquarian, Poe. Look at how he defines old versus modern long before “the Modernists” appeared, in his review of a British Literature anthology:

“No general error evinces a more thorough confusion of ideas than the error of supposing Donne and Cowley metaphysical in the sense wherein Wordsworth and Coleridge are so. With the two former ethics were the end—with the two latter the means.”

Poe prefers Coleridge to Donne. But Poe finally understood exquisite and delicate imagination is far more important in poetry than ethics. Which is an idea so new that almost no one believes it. Eliot, the leading critic of the 20th century, preferred Donne to Coleridge, and now ethics in poetry is everywhere, threatening to overthrow both fancy and imagination (which Poe, ever-grounded, said were closer than we think).

In his review of the British anthology edited by S.C. Hall, Poe quotes from four poems, the first of which he does not like, a much anthologized specimen you may know, by Sir Henry Wotton:


You meaner beauties of the night

That poorly satisfy our eyes,

More by your number than your light,

You common people of the skies

What are you when the sun shall rise?


You curious chaunters of the wood

That warble forth dame Nature’s lays,

Thinking your passions understood

By your weak accents; what’s your praise

When Philomel her voice shall raise?


You violets, that first appear

By your pure purple mantles known,

Like the proud virgins of the year

As if the spring were all your own,

What are you when the rose is blown?


So, when my mistress shall be seen

In sweetness of her looks and mind,

By virtues first, then choice a queen,

Tell me if she were not designed

Th’ eclipse and glory of her kind?


And here’s the last poem which Poe quotes, by Marvell, which Poe loves:


“It is a wondrous thing how fleet

‘Twas on those little silver feet,

With what a pretty skipping grace

It oft would challenge me the race,

And when ‘t had left me far away

‘Twould stay and run again and stay;

For it was nimbler much than hinds,

And trod as if on the four winds.

I have a garden of my own,

But so with roses overgrown,

And lilies that you would it guess

To be a little wilderness,

And all the spring-time of the year

It only loved to be there.

Among the beds of lilies I

Have sought it oft where it should lie,

Yet could not till itself would rise

Find it although before mine eyes.

For in the flaxen lilies shade,

It like a bank of lilies laid,

Upon the roses it would feed

Until its lips even seemed to bleed,

And then to me ‘twould boldly trip,

And print those roses on my lip,

But all its chief delight was still

On roses thus itself to fill,

And its pure virgin limbs to fold

In whitest sheets of lilies cold.

Had it lived long it would have been

Lilies without, roses within.”

Most of us either like, or dislike, old rhyming poems. Leave it to Poe to start a war between two old gems few would bother to distinguish from each other.

Of the first poem (Henry Wotton), Poe says,

“Here everything is art—naked or but awkwardly concealed. No prepossession for the mere antique…should induce us to dignify with the sacred name of Poesy, a series such as this, of elaborate and threadbare compliments…stitched apparently together, without fancy, without plausibility, without adaptation of parts—and it is needless to add, without a jot of imagination.”

Of the Marvell, Poe, in swooning rapture, calls “the portion of it as we now copy…abounding in the sweetest pathos, in soft and gentle images, in the most exquisitely delicate imagination, and in truth—as any thing of its species.”

Whether writing on the mysteries of the universe, the mystery of a stolen letter, or on the delicate accents of poetry, Poe is a literary and scientific treasure.


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I cannot now remember what

It looked like, or what you said.

Sometimes memory is as fresh as spring

And sometimes it falls dead.

My great desire for you is only because

I am bad at remembering.

When someone is really beautiful,

Memory doesn’t work on them.

We have to constantly look at them.

This is why bad memory is crazy

And those with good memory are lazy

When it comes to desire and love.

Who could remember you?

We can’t remember the beautiful.

The beautiful is beautiful now.

A train ride is a feast for the eyes,

The three dimensional landscape

Perfect as it goes past.

A moment ago I had an idea for a poem.

But it didn’t last.



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When I attempted to speak

On my idea that everything’s a conspiracy

I was drowned out by the clique.

They insisted that my idea that no idea matters

Was conspiratorial and mad;

Agreeing with each other, they were only too glad

To echo each other, to shout me down.

I said we think it is a trick of light

To see the waning moon, or the sun going down,

Since the moon’s gradual decrease

In size and light, or the day’s cease,

Is not a real goodbye;

The moon is just as solid as she was before,

The sun just as brave and shining;

Nothing changes but ourselves,

And really, it is a trick of light

Only to our animal senses; the trick

Is only one of perspective, not light;

Nor is the change due to ourselves,

Nor does anything happen to ourselves;

This great display of changing light,

This great display of change itself,

Is a lie; everything is as it was before;

You—not as you—and it—not as it—

Makes it seem there’s less light than before,

Makes it seem somehow something is dying,

And none of you will love me anymore.




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When I was in a rage, specifically against you,

Because you insulted the very thing about myself I most admired,

And then in the same breath, praised him, for the same quality,

I found at that pinnacle of blinding hate, love.

And this made perfect sense, in a way.

Love is alchemy. I couldn’t think of anything else that day.

Dreading lack of love, love sits there with its opposite

And mockery draws a picture of it

In renaissance colors and sighs.

No one else had ever insulted me so keenly,

And yet now I wanted to kiss you.

Love, in myth, falls in love with War.

I need to be insulted, I need it more

Than praise; in a rage, I fell in love with you.

The strangest thing in life: we find that myths are true.



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She desired; I happened to be in her way.

She kissed me—looking back, Rosalinda, I’m not sure why.

A dog will lick its master, because the dog has nothing to say.

The best “last word” is not to say anything at all.

It was mild. But the sun was low; it was late fall,

We were walking to the train; she said

If the winter was cold this year, she might prefer to die.

She was moody. Suddenly, she would hint our love was dead,

And, since I always doubted her love, I would try

To lighten her mood with words,

And I remember she said strongly, “I don’t trust words.”

I realized, then, and looking back, every day,

Now that our love did finally die, she was right.

I converted. I’m silent towards her. Love has nothing to say.

Nothing you can say to love, or about love, is true;

Love sees everything. They are wrong: love isn’t blind.

Love can be defined this way:

Love is a human bond—when that bond has nothing to say.






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I’m scientific, through and through—

I don’t go to church;

I love Jeopardy just as much as you.

But you are surprised at my patriotic stance towards God.

Since I’m elitist and secular, my conservative views strike you as odd.

I need foolish comfort; I’m Socratic, and full of doubt,

My scientific nature pushes all certainty out;

Everyone’s mean and crazy, the sun is setting;

All that’s possible are intelligent guesses

As we confront psychotic no’s and Pollyanna yes’s.

I have no idea, so I’m betting:

I’m guessing science is a lender, not a thief,

That faith is about behavior, not belief;

God is nowhere; yet, why shouldn’t I choose

The door hiding God? As a poet, I see

All life is dead, but expressed poetically—

Just as I am—but am not—my muse.

I smile, and when I do, my muse grins.

Is mathematics still mathematics when it sins?

I have to believe calculating odds is smart.

It verifies the art inside the art.

The blank, which might be God, still imagines

There is God. And comfort, which belief in God brings,

Is one of those scientific things

Science—conscious of its limits—should embrace,

Traveling through cold, dark, vast, space,

Guessing it will see another looking face.











I’m boring, I know. But I have to be

Like others, for you to understand my poetry.

I stand among white petals that fall and die.

In one hand I hold the sun, and in the other, a slightly smaller eye.

In the center of the red sidewalk

I hold a red piece of chalk.

I have to be like them; they are the air

I was born to breathe. You stare

With amazement, because I seem

Beautiful and different; but this is an empty dream;

In the end, no matter what I say—

“Sun! Red! Love!”—you’ll find the same clay

Went in to making me

As that artist in the shadows there—

No, don’t stare—

Keep your eye on my poetry.

Did you think I was going to give you something?

Lady, this is robbery.


Love is the appearance of love.

None of us are meant to love.

Did you think you were going to go on Dick Cavett

And explain yourself? OK, where, then?

Privately, you would contemplate your jealousy?

None of us were meant to love.

It looked to me like George Harrison,

Post-Beatles, wanted to punch Dick Cavett in the face.

But even George was not willing to go that far to illustrate

The cunning misery of the human race.

The world is how the world looks.

Did you think you were privileged to know more?

If I told you, you had as much free will

As a ball rolling towards the edge of a table,

A table moderately lifted, and your motion

Is all you know of life and free will,

Would you start asking me about the table

And what it means? Is God a table, then?

No, you wouldn’t. You’d get what I meant, and that’s all.

So why do want to know the ultimate meaning?

It’s not for you to know, even if there is one.

Know the answer? You are simply not able.

None of us are meant to love.

You’re jealous. Do the math.

There is a table.


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My muse disappears behind the darkening hills.

I no longer love you.

My muse disappears behind the darkening hills.




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The best lyric poetry

Begins with the proper sadness.

If ape or astronaut die before they are born,

I hope, for a little while at least, you will mourn.

Ricky Gervais told a joke that’s true:

Liberals are not liberal. Some

Will never get that joke.

They will make a face, their stomach

Will churn. Your face and stomach

Will stop any joke from being funny.

The world is unwell. We can no longer

Say what we are anymore. Christians

Are not Christians. Muslims are not

Muslims—even if all the joking stops.

I cannot say anything about anything anymore;

I need to be a divine comic.

I cannot say what I’m saying. And you cannot

Say what you are saying in response—unless we laugh.

The only joke you tell that’s true

Is yours, making fun of you.



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Poetry is lazy and wants the lazy life to stay,

And with imagination, returns to yesterday.

Poets are lazy, and they lie against the wall,

Their feet on the bed, immeasurably tall.

I go back to Riverside Drive in my mind.

Anna Akhmatova. My childhood was anything but blind.

Poetry is lazy; the best of it is lazy, with a dying fall.

A lazy poet wants to tell you he’s here—

But not in this young, busy atmosphere.

You have no idea how lazy the gods are,

Those titans of the past, who hardly move,

Standing around like that steady star:

The visible point of your lost love—

And everything you are.

Poetry is lazy. It spends time on the face,

Before it kisses the body of the poem.

Look, it’s right here. This is the poem:

Take my disgrace.



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Why can’t this poem please right away?

Why must this poem be read?

Why do poems need to be collected,

To live in books when the poet is dead?

How does someone survive all the hours of a day

Without imagination?

Why do I need to write you a love poem?

Immediately love can be expressed;

But instead we enter the long poem’s waste;

It was a waste to translate my love into loveless words—

So you might deign to see my design in them,

Travel backwards in them, to what is nothing

But my desire, which looks to be satisfied immediately,

Prior to all this useless poetry.

And no poem could cause my desire to go, or stay.

Why can’t love be love?

Why can’t a poem please right away?





Honesty is uncertain. There’s too much to know,

Which makes the world honest, uncertain

Because of all the things to know. This is why

Dishonesty, appearing to know, and winning

Over shy uncertainty with its bold act,

Runs things, trampling on honesty and tact.

But if there were not so many things to know,

If there were not so much uncertainty and honesty,

The world would not be fraught

With so much swift dishonesty. Because I was fooled

By your certainty, I was ruled

By your certainty; and you, by my certainty;

Uncertain pilots—but somehow we flew.

We loved completely and dishonestly,

You betraying me, and me betraying you.

This was how we loved. And this was all we knew.



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Compiling this list, as we looked over decades of music, we found ourselves asking, “What happened to the two minute pop song?”

In 2015, streaming became the best source of revenue in the music business.  In streaming, the shorter the song, the more it can be heard, and this equals more money.

So guess what’s happening?

Songs are getting shorter.

In 2000, the average song on the charts was over 4 minutes.

Now we’re down to about three and a half minutes, and two minute songs (and shorter) are beginning to pop up, again.

For almost 50 years, the two minute hit song has been dead.

Now it’s coming back.

Most of the songs on this list are from the 50s and 60s.

If you don’t see your favorite artist, it could be because they never made a mark under two and a half minutes.

We were very strict with this list.  The most glorious songs running to 2:31 were rejected.

At first, we set the standard at 2:06, the length of “Yesterday,” the pace setter, but too many short songs recorded by masters of brief hits would have been left out, so we settled on two and a half minutes—interminable, if one doesn’t happen to like the song, but still brief enough to meet the standard.

Elvis and the Beatles had hits under two minutes; these two famous acts produced many great songs in the ‘two minutes’ territory. (To keep the list from being dominated by the Beatles, we had to leave off All My Loving, She Loves You, You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away, Martha My Dear, and many other favorites.) Producing a short recording isn’t easy for songwriters and bands to do. A 12 bar blues song tends to be at least three minutes. Most popular songs before and after (and during) the Elvis/early Beatles era were three or four minutes long. Groups like Devo, the Sex Pistols, the B-52s, and even the Ramones, usually took at least 3 minutes to say what they needed to say. Commercial reasons aside, one wonders: did the relatively short length of their songs (done consciously?) give Elvis and the Beatles a feverish, energetic boost as artists?

Whole decades are dominated by songs averaging four minutes in length—the whole philosophical, or just stylistic question, of the duration of a song, is a fascinating one. What if Mozart and Beethoven symphonies were all four minutes long—would these masters be considered “easy listening?”  How long do we want a song to be?  What imposes length? We think immediately of commercial air time, or now, commercial streaming time. But certainly aesthetics plays a part.

Two minutes is plenty of time to both tell a story and to feature intro, verse, chorus, bridge, and a short solo.  What else do we need?

Time is precious.  We are busy people.

So let’s get right to the list, in no particular order:

1. Yesterday -The Beatles  ~Paul McCartney, perhaps the happiest person on the planet, dreamed this brief gem of a broken-hearted song in the middle of Beatlemania.

2. Between The Bars -Elliott Smith ~This guy had a direct, poignant sound like no other.

3. You Don’t Own Me -Lesley Gore ~An early, operatic, feminist, masterpiece from the golden age of the short pop form.

4. Gin House Blues -Nina Simone  ~You probably don’t know this one. Off her early, great album “Forbidden Fruit.” It’s about gin. But does that matter?

5. All Shook Up -Elvis ~He ruled the short genre.

6. Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want -The Smiths ~When you hear a song like this, you think, ‘Why does a song ever have to be long?”

7. White Rabbit -Jefferson Airplane  ~Is this song missing a chorus? Does it have a completely different structure, or does it just feel that way?

8. Universal Soldier -Buffy St. Marie ~This is more than a 60s anti-war song; it’s a whole soul cry.

9. The Good Life -Tony Bennett ~Even when pop songs were elegant, they featured lyrics which were partially a mystery. Please tell me what this song means!

10. Subterranean Homesick Blues -Bob Dylan This is one of his shortest. His pop genius tended to express itself in three to six minutes.

11. Ferry Cross the Mersey -Gerry and the Pacemakers ~The lilting, lazy (but brief) way to pop immortality.

12. A Day In The Life Of A Fool -Harry Belafonte ~Not his signature song, but a great version of a classic, the one version we found which clocks in under 2:30.

13. Georgy Girl -The Seekers ~Do they write swift, catchy, urbane, hopeful songs like this anymore?

14. Fly Me To The Moon -Frank Sinatra ~”Grown-up” music like Frank’s tended to run three and a half minutes long, not two. This one’s a little over two. Obviously there’s no hurrying Frank.

15. 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy) -Simon & Garfunkel ~A breezy, under-two-minutes, swirl of swooning, 60s harmonizing.

16. Summertime Blues -Eddie Cochran ~A teenage, working class, lament—from 1958, covered in a live recording by The Who, in 1967.

17. Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat -Guys and Dolls ~A full but fast Broadway musical number of arch religious urgency.

18. Bad Moon Rising -Creedance Clearwater Revival ~Pure, neat, and rocking.

19. Immigrant Song -Led Zeppelin ~They led the FM radio, longer song, wave of earnest rock; this minor hit from their third album is uncharacteristically quick.

20. Fun Fun Fun -The Beach Boys ~No surprise that they had short songs.

21. People Are Strange -The Doors ~The bad boys of AM radio loved the long song almost more than anyone else. But they had structured pop brevity, too.

22. Elenore -The Turtles ~Joyous romanticism.

23. Sealed With A Kiss -Brian Hyland ~A very pretty song, with the perfect bridge.

24. She’s Not There -The Zombies ~Beatles plus Dylan. Add mood.

25. Everyday -Buddy Holly ~The nerd Elvis. Died at 24.

26. I Fought The Law -Bobby Fuller Four ~Rolling rhythm of iconoclasm.

27. Eleanor Rigby-The Beatles ~Bite-sized classical music

28. Play With Fire -The Rolling Stones ~The Stones tended to stretch out; in this early, brief song, they ply one of their common themes: telling a chick who’s boss.

29. Plays Pretty For Baby -Saosin ~This rocks beautifully for 2 minutes and 2 seconds.

30. I Want To Hold Your Hand -The Beatles ~Their early hits get right to it; no lengthy intros, solos, or fade outs.

31. Teas -Donovan ~The most talented folk rocker of them all? Even this obscure song is great.

32. You Really Got Me -The Kinks ~Ray Davies began writing songs because he didn’t like the songs his talented band was covering. Great songwriting in the 60s was an amateur explosion.

33. The Needle and the Damage Done -Neil Young ~The somberest pleasure.

34. Dance Music -Mountain Goats ~Upbeat, hipster-era song with autobiographical feel.

35. Blister in the Sun -Violent Femmes ~Post-60s mannerism.

37. Blitzkrieg Bop -The Ramones ~When parody is so menacing and serious it’s good.

38. September Song -Nat King Cole ~A wonderful melancholy pop song and a wonderful melancholy  pop singer.

39. Let’s Twist Again -Chubby Checker ~Dance informs song in one way or another.

40. Falling In Love Again -Marlene Dietrich ~She’s had enough of you. But you want her.

41. Roll Over Beethoven -Chuck Berry ~It wasn’t true that Beethoven could be so good and  little pop numbers could also please. But it was true.

42. Blueberry Hill -Fats Domino ~When blues became pop.

43. Tutti Frutti -Little Richard ~A voice that goes through the roof even as electric is taking over the house.

44. La Bamba -Ritchie Valens ~The guitars on this song are fantastic—speaking Spanish or not.

45. Wake Up Little Susie -Everly Brothers ~Everything: Rock, country, folk, great guitar playing, great vocals, story, hooks.

46. Gucci Gang -Lil Pump ~A tiger laughs in this video, a recent hit which shows rap songs getting shorter. The 2 minute hit is returning.

47. Massachusetts -Bee Gees ~Their melody and vocals have great charm.

48. It’s Nothing To Me -Sanford Clark ~A barroom fight story.

49. Fell In Love With A Girl -White Stripes ~Snappy vocals and crunchy rock sound.

50. Communist Daughter -Neutral Milk Hotel ~Crunchy melancholy with a nice trumpet solo.

51. Lump -Presidents of the United States of America ~Hard and catchy.

52. Wrong Way -Sublime ~Tells a miserable story fast, with knock-about energy.

53. Letterbox -They Might Be Giants ~This song (1:26!) has a nice ‘wall of sound’ sound.

54. Game of Pricks -Guided By Voices ~A minute thirty of driving guitars and nice chord changes.

54. Danville Girl -Pete Seeger ~A sweet, melancholy, hobo song. A treasure.

55. Norwegian Wood -The Beatles ~Even as they became more sophisticated, they retained their early-days-knack for ravishing brevity.

56. It’s A Sin To Tell A Lie -The Ink Spots ~Insouciant (and influential) blues/rock & roll—they formed in 1932! One of the best vocal groups of all time.

57. Ain’t No Sunshine -Bill Withers ~1970s Smooth.

58. This Land is Your Land -Woody Guthrie ~Folk music for the U.S.A.

59. Rocky Top -The Osborne Brothers ~Fast and sweet.

60. Doo Wah Diddy Diddy -Manfred Mann ~A great vocal, and a really fun song.

61. Walk Like A Man -The 4 Seasons ~Your great-grandfather’s rock n’ roll.

62. Run Away -Del Shannon ~Melancholy romp.

63. Honky Tonk Blues –Hank Williams ~The Poet of Country Blues

64. He’s A Rebel -The Crystals ~That undying theme: the outsider rebel who woos.

65. Love Potion Number 9 -The Searchers ~A song doesn’t need much time to tell a story.

66. Come See About Me -Supremes ~Motown gals.

67. You Gave Your Love To Me Softly -Weezer ~A big, fuzzy sound over traditional structure.

68. Don’t Be Scared -Daniel Johnston ~Nice song. Sometimes being less scared matters.

69. Nervous Breakdown -Black Flag ~The lyrics, performance, and music sync up well.

70. Black Hole -The Urinals ~When a punk song has a certain softness, it’s always interesting.

71. Loneliness -The Residents ~The apocalypse: in a murky one minute and seven seconds.

72. Come In Stranger -Johnny Cash ~Country guitar over boogie woogie, and that voice!

73. Single Pigeon -Paul McCartney ~After the Beatles. The greatest pop songwriter of them all?

74. Untitled -Bauhaus ~Spooky war sounds and mumbles.

75. Colossal Youth -Young Marble Giants ~Toy instrumentation and girl vocal.

77. Moulin Rouge -Tim Buckley ~A trumpet, a bit of French, a sweet, vampy vocal.

78. Dean’s Dream -The Dead Milkmen ~Some punk is punk—but practiced with art.

79. Outdoor Miner -Wire ~Exquisite pop number which fades out at 1:45 just because it wants to.

80. Orchid -Black Sabbath ~Spanish guitar sound in a ‘less is more lesson’ from Tony Iommi.

81. 30 Century Man -Scott Walker ~”See the dwarfs and see the giants…” 89 seconds of pondering an attitude.

82. She’s A Hunchback -The Dickies ~One minute and twenty seven seconds of melodic, rhyming, punk genius.

83. Remember the Day -Sibylle Baier ~The winsome dream of girl and guitar, languid and sweet. She’s fantastic.

84. Follow God -Kanye West ~Self-assured enough to say big things casually and briefly.

85. It Never Was You -Lotte Lenya ~Married to the songwriter, Weil, who wrote for Brecht.

86. Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas -Judy Garland ~Her voice was too valuable to waste on a two minute song, but we found this Christmas song…

87. Second Hand Rose -Barbra Streisand ~The hit maker; this is from “Funny Girl.”

88. Hit The Road Jack -Ray Charles ~Brightly Percussive, with call-and-response.

89. Yes Indeed -Drake & Lil Baby ~Rap, backgrounded by its music, splits the mind.

90. Lazy Confessions -The Moldy Peaches ~Breathless hipsterism.

91. The Letter -The Box Tops ~A sophisticated, multi-instrument, formula hit in just 2 minutes.

92. Mercedes Benz -Janis Joplin ~G-Eazy’s rap song samples Joplin’s throw-away rather well.

93. Go In -Bigklit ~A recent girl rapper moving into short song territory.

94. Stay -Maurice Williams & the Zodiacs ~The falsetto “won’t you stay?” still excites.

95. Because -Dave Clark Five ~Iconic British invasion band originally formed to fund their soccer team’s travels.

96. I’m Henry VIII I Am -Herman’s Hermits ~Rock and roll can be kids music.

97. Jumpin’ Judy -Erik Darling ~From the folk album “True Religion,” one of the best ever made.

98. Yakety Yak -The Coasters ~A ‘clean your room’ song, fun, socially real, but innocent, and under 2 minutes.

99. Walking My Baby Back Home -Johnnie Ray ~Would have preferred “Cry,” but it was a little too long.

100. The Entertaining of a Shy Girl -Donovan ~If you don’t appreciate the genius of Donovan where have you been?

101. Black-eyed Susie -Ralph Stanley ~A bluegrass tempo can fit everything into two minutes.

102. The Scarecrow -Pink Floyd ~This band will always be Syd.

103. What’s New Pussycat -Tom Jones ~All that excitement in 2:09!

104. It’s Only A Paper Moon -Ella Fitzgerald ~”It’s a Barnum and Bailey world, just as phoney as it can be, but it wouldn’t be make-believe, if you believed in me.” A classic. And we cheated. The final note of this complex arrangement sounds at 2:32. For Ella we’ll do anything.



How shall we change the hard-working elders’ definition of sin—

And further, what exactly shall we wrap our late 19th century evil in,

So that we can do anything? OK first, let’s say

Why we want complete freedom. Today,

As long as it is today, is free.

Tomorrow features regrets and graves,

But today will always be sex and poetry.

So that’s our first good reason. Today

Forgets, doing what it wants now,

And tomorrow will just become today, anyhow.

So let’s do whatever we want for that clever, immediate reason.

And there’s a second reason: we’re lonely;

Evil, as you know, will always be lonely; evil is afraid—

We fear there’s nothing to sex and poetry,

And all that’s bright is destined for the shade.

So we want groups of people, our group

Made of groups, to prevent loneliness. A wild, full company

Of mobs thronging. The one mad troop,

Trooping self-consciously as a troop; we,

As the mob, the mob which knows itself as a mob,

The all, which knows itself as all,

Groups together for this reason alone,

An army for one purpose: standing tall

Against the one real enemy:

Loneliness. We feel this, naturally, because we fear

Darkness growing against our poetry.

What can we say otherwise,

Unless we are many, many eyes?

So this is what we wrap our evil in,

This is how we redefine our elders’ definition of sin:

Something must be done now.

It will be done, for tomorrow becomes today, anyhow,

And it will all be done

By all of us who doubt—which is, everyone—

We, who parade in long troops into the darkening hills, just because we fear

Our poetry and love ends right here.

But it doesn’t. As I pointed out

Today keeps arising, the deferral of our doubt

Is eternal. Our today

Loves eternally. You buy my poem forever,

No matter what it is. This is the way,

No matter who I am, my beliefs, what hills these are, or the weather.







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