Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Reading poetry on her sickbed

All I need now is a lace handkerchief and a whalebone corset [cough, cough....might I have a little cold tea in a glass?...oh, 'tis all so beautiful from the window, etc. etc.]. Not a calf-bound nineteenth century anthology, though. This is a stonking great Collected Poems by Frank O'Hara. I love O'Hara. When I was a miserable undergraduate, reading this book was one of the things that kept me reading English, rather than running away and becoming a gamekeeper or a bookseller or a long-term-unemployed.

"When do you know a poem is finished?" O'Hara was asked, once.
"When the telephone rings" he replied.

Ah, this poem is so very good.

The Hunter

He set out and kept hunting
and hunting. Where, he thought
and thought, is the real chamois?
and can I kill it where it is?
He had brought with him only a dish
of pears. The autumn wind soared
above the trails where the drops
of the chamois led him further.
The leaves dropped around him
like pie-plates. The stars fell
one by one into his eyes and burnt.

There is a geography which holds
its hands just so far from the breast
and pushes you away, crying so.
He went on to strange hills where
the stones were still warm from feet,
and then on and on. There were clouds
at his knees, his eyelashes
had grown thick from the colds,
as the fur of the bear does
in winter. Perhaps, he thought, I am
asleep, but he did not freeze to death.

There were little green needles
everywhere. And then manna fell.
He knew, above all, that he was now
approved, and his strength increased.
He saw the world below him, brilliant
as a floor, and steaming with gold,
with distance. There were occasionally
rifts in the cloud where the face
of a woman appeared, frowning. He
had gone higher. He wore ermine.
He thought, why did I come? and then,
I have come to rule! The chamois came.

The chamois found him and they came
in droves to humiliate him. Alone,
in the clouds, he was humiliated.

Frank O'Hara

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