Master, mammoth mumbler

Robert Lowell: Ford Madox Ford

The lobbed ball plops, then dribbles to the cup….
(a birdie Fordie!) But it nearly killed
the ministers. Lloyd George was holding up
the flag. He gabbled, “Hop-toad. hop-toad, hop-toad!
Hueffer has used a niblick on the green;
it’s filthy art, Sir, filthy art!”
You answered, “What is art to me and thee?
Will a blacksmith teach a midwife how to bear?”
That cut the puffing statesman down to size,
Ford. You said, “Otherwise,
I would have been general of a division.” Ah Ford!
Was it warm the sport of kings, that your Good Soldier,
the best French novel in the language, taught
those Georgian Whig magnificoes at Oxford,
at Oxford decimated on the Somme?
Ford, five times black-balled for promotion,
then mustard gassed voiceless some seven miles
behind the lines at Nancy or Belleau Wood:
you emerged in your “worn uniform,
gilt dragons on the revers of the tunic,”
a Jonah – O divorced, divorced
from the whale-fat of post-war London! Boomed,
cut, plucked and booted! In Providence, New York …
marrying, blowing…nearly dying
at Boulder, when the altitude
pressed the world on your heart,
and your audience, almost football-size,
shrank to a dozen, while you stood
mumbling, with fish-blue-eyes,
and mouth pushed out
fish-fashion, as if you gagged for air….
Sandman! Your face, a childish O. The sun
is pernod-yellow and it gilds the heirs
of all the ages there on Washington
and Stuyvesant, your Lilliputian squares,
where writing turned your pockets inside out.
But master, mammoth mumbler, tell me why
the bales of your left-over novels buy
less than a bandage for your gouty foot.
Wheel-horse, O unforgetting elephant,
I hear you huffing at your old Brevoort,
Timon and Falstaff, while you heap the board
for publishers. Fiction! I’m selling short
your lies that made the great your equals. Ford,
you were a kind man and you died in want.

One of several poems Lowell wrote for his friend, the great novelist Ford Madox Ford. This staggering one was published in Life Studies, and recently reprinted