Going abruptly into a starry night
It is ignorance we blink from, dark, unhoused;
There is a gaze of animal delight
Before the human vision. Then, aroused
To nebulous danger, we may look for easy stars,
Orion and the Dipper; but they are not ours,

These learned fields. Dark and ignorant,
Unable to see here what our forebears saw,
We keep some fear of random firmament
Vestigial in us. And we think, Ah,
If I had lived then, when these stories were made up, I
Could have found more likely pictures in haphazard sky.

But this is not so. Indeed, we have proved fools
When it comes to myths and images. A few
Old bestiaries, pantheons and tools
Translated to the heavens years ago-
Scales and hunter, goat and horologe- are all
That save us when, time and again, our systems fall.

And what would we do, given a fresh sky
And dearth of image? Our fears, our few beliefs
Do not have shapes. They are like the astral way
We have called milky, vague stars and star-reefs
That were shapeless even to the fecund eye of myth-
Surely these are no forms to start a zodiac with.

To keep the sky free of luxurious shapes
Is an occupation for most of us, the mind
Free of luxurious thoughts. If we choose to escape,
what venial constellations will unwind
Around a point of light, and then cannot be found
Another night or by another man or from another ground.

As for me, I would find faces there,
Or perhaps one face I have long taken for guide,
Far-fetched, maybe, like Cygnus, but as fair,
And a constellation anyone could read
Once it was pointed out; an enlightenment of night,
The way the pronoun you will turn dark verses bright.


Touching your goodness, I am like a man
Who turns a letter over in his hand
And you might think this was because the hand
Was unfamiliar but, truth is, the man
Has never had a letter from anyone;
And now he is afraid of what it means
And ashamed because he has no other means
To find out what it says than to ask someone.

His uncle could have died and left the farm to him,
Or his parents died before he sent them word,
Or the dark girl changed and want him for beloved.
Afraid and letter-proud, he keeps it with him.
What would you call his feeling for the words
that keep him rich or orphaned or beloved?

 

 

 

 

"Starlight" and "The Illiterate," 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.

 

 

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.


I read an impatient man
Who howls against his time,
Not angry enough to scan
Not fond enough to rhyme,

And I think of the terrible cry
The brave priest Hopkins raised
The night he raided the sky
And English verse was praised.

And the infinite, careful woe
That informs the song of Blake,
The stricter because he knew
The jog that madmen take.

Or our own poets rage,
Yeats', in his decorous care
To make singing of old age
And numbers of despair.

It is common enough to grieve
And praise is all around;
If any cry means to live
It must be an uncommon sound.

Cupped with the hands of skill
How loud their voices ring,
Containing passion still,
Who cared enough to sing.


Now it is almost certain that we will be going.
The place is thought to be foul, whether defiled
By ourselves (Who are variously seen as knowing
Or unknowing offenders) or befouled
Like a public lavatory by no one knows whom-
The mucker we all agree about, whose nick-name
Is all he ever scrawls in the filthy room.
But whoever the vandal is, it is all the same:

We will have to quit the ambient sweet air
For dankness and stench where, mustered one by one
By bullies, some of us they say will give
A poor account, a worse even than here.
With this much notice something should be done,
Yet what is there to do but try to live?

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