from the end of John Bricuth’s brilliant poem (the speaker is either God, the President, everybody’s father, or a combination of the three):
I know you’ll laugh at this, my thoughts began
To clear. I had a kind of revelation, Fish,
That burst of level lighting one associates
With several types of Eastern wisdom–
The seven ways, the twelve steps, the four
Tops, the three pigs–I don’t know…
I know it had a number in it, Fox,
And with that blinding flash I knew, boys, nothing
Quite restores the rush of vigor to
The blood, the vital fire along the veins
And in the loins to rein the wild horses
Of desire, that taste of life’s late richness,
Its ultimate bouquet, its sauce supreme
That makes you feel, Fish, you could live forever,
No, nothing quite gives back that special thrill,
Seeing we’re Americans, like going
Out and killing something, something on
Two legs that’s short and foreign, name chock full
Of consonants, or something furred or feathered,
Or failing that, with scales. Fox, don’t you
Find that so? that nothing really beats
The heady moment of sweet contrast when,
To make a phrase, they’re laid out like a lox,
And you are not. And isn’t that when all life’s
Puzzles fit, mysteries fall flat?
Tell me, don’t you find it so, Fox? Fox?
Bird? Fish? Now where did those three go?
He was spherical, armed cap-a-pie, sleepless, and ready for all comers…He was very extraordinary and knew everything and was a bumble-bee–a benevolent monster of pure intelligence, zigzagging, ranging, and uncatchable. I always had this feeling about Royce–that he was a celestial insect…Time was nothing to him. He was just as fresh at the start of a two hours’ disquisition as at the start. Thinking refreshed him. The truth was that Royce had a phenomenal memory; his mind was a card-indexed cyclopedia of all philosophy…His extreme accessibility made him a sort of automat restaurant for Cambridge. He had fixed hours when anyone could resort to him and draw inspiration from him.
I have had Whitman much on my mind for the past few weeks. Attempting to clarify for myself the strange mixture of love and indifference that Whitman poems provoke in me, I turned back to a longtime favorite, Frost. Looking at him has been helpful. His poetry succeeds in ways that make my (sometimes rapidly) hardening and unhardening heart toward Whitman make better sense to me: it has helped me to clarify and to define my own perceptions and judgments, and my own aims as a poet. I will not get into those issues now, however.
I will share one of my favorite of Frost’s poems, maybe my favorite–“Directive”. It is a poem that shares thematic elements with Whitman’s late poems, but is a poem compelled forward by a syntactic compression and complexity that is foreign to Whitman.
Drink and be whole again beyond confusion!
Back out of all this now too much for us,
Back in a time made simple by the loss
Of detail, burned, dissolved, and broken off
Like graveyard marble sculpture in the weather,
There is a house that is no more a house
Upon a farm that is no more a farm
And in a town that is no more a town.
The road there, if you’ll let a guide direct you
Who only has at heart your getting lost,
May seem as if it should have been a quarry –
Great monolithic knees the former town
Long since gave up pretense of keeping covered.
And there’s a story in a book about it:
Besides the wear of iron wagon wheels
The ledges show lines ruled southeast-northwest,
The chisel work of an enormous Glacier
That braced his feet against the Arctic Pole.
You must not mind a certain coolness from him
Still said to haunt this side of Panther Mountain.
Nor need you mind the serial ordeal
Of being watched from forty cellar holes
As if by eye pairs out of forty firkins.
As for the woods’ excitement over you
That sends light rustle rushes to their leaves,
Charge that to upstart inexperience.
Where were they all not twenty years ago?
They think too much of having shaded out
A few old pecker-fretted apple trees.
Make yourself up a cheering song of how
Someone’s road home from work this once was,
Who may be just ahead of you on foot
Or creaking with a buggy load of grain.
The height of the adventure is the height
Of country where two village cultures faded
Into each other. Both of them are lost.
And if you’re lost enough to find yourself
By now, pull in your ladder road behind you
And put a sign up CLOSED to all but me.
Then make yourself at home. The only field
Now left’s no bigger than a harness gall.
First there’s the children’s house of make-believe,
Some shattered dishes underneath a pine,
The playthings in the playhouse of the children.
Weep for what little things could make them glad.
Then for the house that is no more a house,
But only a belilaced cellar hole,
Now slowly closing like a dent in dough.
This was no playhouse but a house in earnest.
Your destination and your destiny’s
A brook that was the water of the house,
Cold as a spring as yet so near its source,
Too lofty and original to rage.
(We know the valley streams that when aroused
Will leave their tatters hung on barb and thorn.)
I have kept hidden in the instep arch
Of an old cedar at the waterside
A broken drinking goblet like the Grail
Under a spell so the wrong ones can’t find it,
So can’t get saved, as Saint Mark says they mustn’t.
(I stole the goblet from the children’s playhouse.)
Here are your waters and your watering place.
Drink and be whole again beyond confusion.