Richard Howard is rightly acclaimed as a major American poet, yet he is among those titans of contemporary writing whose name or work is unknown even to passionate purveyors of poetry. He never quite achieved the prominence of poets like Merrill, Bidart or Merwin. I took the poem below from his book Inner Voices: Selected Poems, 1963-2003, published in 2004, which I strongly recommend to everyone interested in good poetry. At a first glance, Howard can seem less original than Merrill or Bidart, but his poetry sings with a very unique voice and his obsession with art and artists and his vision of them is compelling. Like Merrill, Howard has an excellent command of form and his language is fluid and supple yet always acute and alive. Reading Howard is an inspiring, uplifting experience like no other. Too much? No. He’s really that good. Inner Voices is almost shockingly great. Buy it. Read it.
Richard Howard: At Sixty-five
The tragedy, Colette said, is that one
does not age. Everyone else does, of course
(as Marcel was so shocked to discover),
and upon one’s mask odd disfigurements
are imposed; but that garrulous presence
we sometimes call the self, sometimes deny
it exists at all despite its carping
monologue, is the same as when we stole
the pears, spied on mother in the bath, ran
away from home. What has altered is what
Kant called Categories: the shape of time
changes altogether! Days, weeks, months,
And especially years are reassigned.
Famous for her timing, a Broadway wit
told me her “method“: asked to do something,
anything, she would acquiesce next year -
“I’ll commit suicide, provided it’s
next year”. But after sixty-five, next year
is now. Hours? There are none, only a few
reckless postponements before it is time…
When was it you “last” saw Jimmy? – last spring?
Last winter? That scribbled arbiter
your calendar reveals betrays the date:
over a year ago. Come again? No
time like the present, endlessly deferred.
Which makes a difference: once upon a time
there was only time (…as the day is long)
between the wanting self and what it wants.
Wanting still, you have no dimension where
fulfillment or frustration can occur.
Of course you have, but you must cease waiting
upon it: simply turn around and look
back. Like Orpheus, like Mrs. Lot, you
will be petrified -astonished- to learn
memory is endless, life very long,
and you – you are immortal after all.