John, we used the language as if we made it

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.

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8 thoughts on “John, we used the language as if we made it

  1. your hated message

    i wish i had a john. or as i always say:
    a jacobsohn. and even with a truman
    i could go (not being any harper, though).

    and what a gift to have a diamond
    such as iz. since evry lone job is
    a myth. i can’t be what i am if there’s
    no vis-à-vis. so please: be me!

  2. alright. reading the poem by lowell made me realise what is most important to a writer: another writer – to be with, working-wise. therefore i randomly named a few impressive writers who were such a perfect vis-à-vis to writers i look up to. and in order to show how different those creative relationships can be I chose extraordinarily different ones. yep. that’s about it. besides the fact that i will never find this creative “me” in someone.just my luck.

    p.s. since you hate rhymed messages … what can i say… this is to you ;)m

  3. Pingback: Toga’d, furred, blear, brittle, grey. « shigekuni.

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