She troubles the water, and they part and close
Like a people tired of an old queen
Who has made too many progresses; and so she goes.
Leisurely swift her passage between green
South Islands; careful and helpless through the locks;
At lazy anchor huge and peacock vain.
On the streaked sea at dawn she stands to the streaks
And when her way and the wind have made her long,
The planes rise heavy from her whining deck.
Then the bomb's luck, the gun's poise and chattering,
The far-off dying, are her near affair;
With her sprung creatures become weak or strong
She watches them down the sky and disappear,
Heart gone, sea-bound, committed all to air.
Now seven days from land the gulls still wheel
High and astern. Quiet but fierce with hunger
They follow the fantail: so does the violin, steel-
Thin, follow a high voice in desire and anger.
Her slow stern rolling to the sea, the ship
Travels with no bird's blessing, and burns her waste.
Bird and hull describe the rise and dip
Of heavy ocean where there is no trust.
I think I know a new myth and this is it:
The strength having gone out of certain old men,
Formerly terrible, they are changed to gulls
And follow over endless ocean hulls
Of their rejecting states, wishing for them
Catastrophe. But we shall prosper yet.
Do not embrace you mind's new Negro friend
Or embarrass the blackballed jaw with memberships:
There must be years of atonement first, and even then
You may still be the blundering raconteur
With the wrong story, and they may still be free.
If you are with them, if even mind is friend,
There will be plenty to do: give the liars lessons
Who have heard no rumors of truth for a long time
But have whatever they hear on good authority,
Whether it concerns Chinese women or the arts.
Expose the patrons, some of whose best friends
Are brothers, and who are never now anonymous:
What kind of credit do they expect for that,
Ask them, or better, ask their protested brothers,
The grateful tenants who can't get their curtsies right.
Finally the injured, who think they have no friend,
Who have been convinced by the repeated names
That they are jews or negroes or some dark thing:
They must be courted with the lover's touch
And as guiltily as if yourself had turned inward.
If you complete this program, you will have friends
From all the rich races of your human blood:
Meantime, engage in the often friendless struggle.
A long way, a pygmy war in ways,
But island by island we must go across.
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.
Where is my scholarship who used to hold
In the small of my back the warm feel of the sea
From September to June again, not cooled
By coasting days, and in my nostrils the smell
Of grandmother's drugs between biennial visits?
Rages now of ocean are not recalled
Betweentimes unless written down, or the feel
Even of love, in my latter-day research,
Though I the more lover take further today to mutable sea.
What findings can the forgetful scholar reach?
In notebooks names alone of the cryptic great
Are legible in this short light, remind
That here enthusiasm used to study
But left his books to go live with a loss.
Wordsworth at thirty, Spender's disabuse,
Were half the dulness that unmemories me:
One small conviction toppled like a school
And the town around fell powdered down.
Back to Ships and Other Figures...