When do we inherit them,
Cromwell, Lincoln, Matthew Arnold?
When the unengaged mind climbs and claims,
Preens old robes, and tries strange titles on
Before and after something common given;
Or reads incongruously of the projectile places?
No, but in objection shouting what they meant
Or in exertion sweating with their sweat,
No noticed intonation or gesture-
Derivative, perhaps, but in modern dress.
And even then, no real descent, no chrysalis,
Bur sudden brothers rather, and competitors.
The alternative to flying is cowardice,
And what is said about it excuses, excuses;
Its want was always heavy in those men's bodies
Who foresaw it in some detail; and failing that,
The rest were shown through its skyey heats and eases
In sleep, awoke uncertain whether their waking cry
Had been falling fear only, or love and falling fear.
When the sudden way was shown,
(How absurdly simple the principle after all!)
Any tyrant should have sensed it was controversial:
Instrument of freedom; rights, not Wrights;
Danger should never be given out publicly.
These men could easily have been disposed of,
They and their fragile vehicle. Then the sky
Would perhaps have darkened, Earth shaken, nothing more.
But in practice the martyrdom has been quiet, statistical,
A fair price. This is what airmen believe.
The transition to battle was smooth from here.
Who resents one bond resents another,
And who has unshouldered earth-restraining hand
Is not likely to hear out more reasonable tyrannies.
The woods where he dies were dark even at sun-up,
Oak and long needle pine that had come together
Earlier, and waited for the event at the field's edge.
At sunset when the sky behind was gay
One had seen the lugubrious shapes of the trees,
Bronze and terrible, but had never known the reason,
Never though they were waiting for someone in particular.
They took him at night, when they were at their darkest.
Listen to Meredith read this poem.
High plane for whom the winds incline,
Who own but to your own recall,
There is a flaw in your design
For you must fall.
High cloud whose proud and angry stuff
Rose up in heat against earth's thrall,
The nodding law has time enough
To wait your fall.
High sky, full of high shapes and vapors,
Against whose vault is no thing tall,
It is written that your torch and tapers
Headlong shall fall.
Only an outward-aching soul
Can hold in high disdain these ties
And fixing on a farther pole
Will sheerly rise.
For N.K.M. and W.M.M.
House that holds me, household that I hold dear,
Woman and man at the doorway, come what will
Hospitable, more than you know I enter here,
In retreat, in laughter, in the need of your love still.
More perhaps than you fancy, fancy finds
This room with books and answers in the walls;
I have continual reference to the lines
I learned here early, later reading false.
More than you dream, I wake from a special dream
To nothing but remorse for miles around,
And steady my bed at this unchanging scene
When the changing dogs dispute a stranger in town.
Oh, identity is a traveling piece with some,
But here is what calls me, here what I call home.
Three poems reprinted from Effort at Speech: New and Selected Poems by William Meredith, published by TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press in 1997. Copyright © 1997 by William Meredith. All rights reserved; used by permission of Northwestern University Press and the author.
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