Robert Lowell: For John Berryman
I feel I know what you have worked through, you
know what I have worked through – these are words…
John, we used the language as if we made it.
Luck threw up the coin, and the plot swallowed,
monster yawning for its mess of pottage.
Ah privacy, as if you wished to mount
some rock by a mossy stream, and count the sheep –
fame that renews the soul, but not the heart.
The ebb tide flings up wonders: rivers, beer-cans,
linguini, bloodstreams; how merrily they gallop
to catch the ocean – Hopkins, Herbert, Thoreau,
born to die like the athletes at early forty –
Abraham lived with less expectancy,
heaven his friend, the earth his follower.
This is from Lowell’s enormous and perennially underrated long poem Notebook, more precisely, from the first permutation, Notebook 1967-68, which would morph into the 1970’s Notebook first and then split up into History and For Lizzie and Harriet. In the Collected Poems you’ll only find the latter two volumes. FSG has, however, just put out a new edition of Notebook 1967-68, with an introduction by Jonathan Galassi. Highly, highly recommended.