Allen Tate: Death Of Little Boys
When little boys grown patient at last, weary,
Surrender their eyes immeasurably to the night,
The event will rage terrific as the sea;
Their bodies fill a crumbling room with light.
Then you will touch at the bedside, torn in two,
Gold curls now deftly intricate with gray
As the windowpane extends a fear to you
From one peeled aster drenched with the wind all day.
And over his chest the covers in the ultimate dream
Will mount to the teeth, ascend the eyes, press back
The locks while round his sturdy belly gleam
Suspended breaths, white spars above the wreck:
Till all the guests, come in to look, turn down
Their palms, and delirium assails the cliff
Of Norway where you ponder, and your little town
Reels like a sailor drunk in a rotten skiff.
The bleak sunshine shrieks its chipped music then
Out to the milkweed amid the fields of wheat.
There is a calm for you where men and women
Unroll the chill precision of moving feet.
Allen Tate is, these days, an enormously underrated poet. If you look at this year’s big literature awards and look at the poetry shortlist, chances are, most (in some cases: all) the poets there are a far cry from Tate’s poetic sensibility. Not to mention Tate’s quality, but that’s a whole other kettle of fish. If you have any interest at all in formal poetry, you cannot, you absolutely cannot miss Allen Tate’s Collected Poems 1919-1976, reprinted by FSG. A short but deeply, deeply impressive books. Some of the poems there are among the best written during the past century, for example The Swimmers. Read Tate. He’s a marvelous, tremendously important poet.