Thursday, June 07, 2012

Bye-And-Bye Selected Late Poems by Charles Wright

Selected Late Poems
Charles Wright
Farrar Strauss Giroux
New York, NY
Softbound, 365 pages, $20.00
Paperback ISBN 978-0-374-53317-5

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

I sit where I always sit, in back of the Buddha,
Red leather wing chair, pony skin trunk
                                                                under my feet,
Skylight above me, Chinese and Indian rugs on the floor.
1 March, 1998, where to begin again?

So begins Looking Around from Charles Wright’s A Short History of the Shadow
by the poet described in the Poetry Foundation’s website as, “…often ranked as one of the best American poets of his generation.” He is a Chancellor of the American Academy of Poets and Souder Family Professor English at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. He has won the Pulitzer Prize and numerous other awards.

Bye-And-Bye contains about a half-dozen of Wright’s books, and as the subtitle states they are “Selected Late Poems” and in one called Transparencies you read an older, wiser poet recalling a mystical past:

Our lives, it seems, are a memory
                                                      we had once in another place.
Or are they its metaphor?
The trees, if trees they, seem the same,
                                                                and the creeks do
And the clouds, if clouds they really are,
                                                                  still follow us,
One after one, as they did in the old sky, in the old place.

So much one can read into these lines, which, after reading the poem’s entirety he explains in the final line:  If it is an explanation.

In Sestets the poem “When Horses Gallop Away From Us, It’s A Good Thing” Wright takes us further into his view of death:

I always find it strange—though I shouldn’t—how creatures don’t
     care for us the way we care for them.
Horses, for instance, and chipmunks, and any bird you’d name.
Empathy’s only a one-way street.

And that’s all right, I’ve come to believe.
It sets us up for ultimate things,
                                                    and penultimate ones as well.
It’s a good lesson to have in your pocket when the Call comes to call.

When compared to lines in an earlier poem, “In Praise Of Thomas Hardy, one can see where Wright is headed:

Transcendence is a young man’s retreat,
                                                                 and resides in a place
Beyond place, vasty, boundless.
It hums unlike the beauty of the world,
                                                       without pause, without mercy.

And perhaps the final poem in the volume, “Little Ending,” tells us what it’s all about:

Bowls will receive us,
                                    and sprinkle black scratch in our eyes.
Later, at the great fork on the untouchable road,
It won’t matter where we have become.

Unburdened by prayer, unburdened by any supplication,
Someone will take our hand,
                                              someone will give us refuse,
Circling left or circling right.

Charles Wright’s poems are full of wisdom, full of truths that we must read carefully because though some seem easy, there are deeper meanings which are there for us to discover. 

This book by one of America’s great poets is well worth reading.

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