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In What Hour Kenneth Rexroth

In What Hour

Kenneth Rexroth

Published 1940
83 pages
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 About the Book 

The next chapter is concerned with the puzzling factthat there is an actual course of events which is in itselfa limited fact, in that metaphysically speaking,it might have been otherwise.- A. N. WhiteheadWhat is it all for, this poetry,This bundle of accomplishmentsPut together with so much pain?- August 22, 1939Published in 1940, In What Hour embodies what William Carlos Williams called for in his introduction toThe Wedge(1944)... The war is the first and only thing in the world today. The arts generally are not, nor is this writing a diversion from that relief, a turning away. It is the war or part of it, merely a different sector of the field.The poems that best embody Williamss call to arms are the poems like Hiking on the Coast Range, a poems that addresses the Killing of Sperry and Conderakias in the San Francisco General Strike, or Requiem for the Spanish Dead, a poem that addresses Spanish Civil War.... These and other poems take a political stance on events in America or political unrest in Europe. Even if Rexroths political stance isnt obvious to the reader, the fact of his writing a poem that calls the readers attention to politics is in itself a political act.The skirl of the kingfisher was neverMore clear than now, nor the scream of the jay,As the deer shifts her covert at a footfall-Nor the butterfly lily ever brighterIn the white spent wheat, nor the painOf a wasp stab ever an omen more sure-The blood alternately dark and brilliantOn the blue and white bandana pattern.This is the source of evaluation,This minimal prince ruperts drop of blood-The patellae suspended within it,Leucocytes swimming freely between them,The strands of fibrin, the mysteriousChemistry of the serum, is aloneThe measure of time, the measure of space,The measure of achievement.There is noOther source than this- Hiking on the Coast RangeThe great geometrical winter constellationsLift up over the Sierra Nevada,I walk under the stars, my feet on the known round earth.My eyes following the lights of an airplane,Red and green, growling deep into the Hyades.The note of the engine rises, shrill, faint,Finally inaudible, and the lights go outIn the southeast haze beneath the feet of Orion.As the sound departs I am chilled and grow sickWith the thought that has come over me. I see SpainUnder the black windy sky, the snow stirring faintly,Glittering and moving over the pallid upland,And men waiting, clutched with cold and huddled together,As an unknown plane goes over them. It flies southeastInto the haze above the lines of the enemy,Sparks appear near the horizon under it.After they have gone out the earth quiversAnd the sound comes faintly. The men relax for a momentAnd grow tense again as their own thoughts return to them.I see the unwritten books, the unrecorded experiments,The unpainted pictures, the interrupted lives,Lowered into the graves with the red flags over them.I see the quick gray brains broken and clotted with blood,Lowered each in its own darkness, useless in the earth.Alone on a hilltop in San Francisco suddenlyI am caught in a nightmare, the dead fleshMounting over half the world presses against me.Then quietly at first and then rich and full-bodied,I hear the voice of a young woman singing.The emigrants on the corner are holdingA wake for their oldest child, a driverless truckBroke away on the steep hill and killed him,Voice after voice adds itself to the singing.Orion moves westward across the meridian,Rigel, Bellatrix, Betelgeuse, marching in order,The great nebula glimmering in his loins.- Requiem for the Spanish DeadThe sun drops daily down the sky,The long cold crawls near,The aspen spills its fold in the air,Lavish beyond the mind.This is the last peak, the last climb.New snow freckles the granite.The imperious seasons have grantedCourage of a different kind.Once more only in the smotherOf storm will the wary ropeVanquish uncertain routes,This year or another.Once more only will the peak riseLucent above the dropping storm,Skilled hand and steadfast foot accordVictory of the brain and eye.Practice is done, the barren lakeThat mirrors this night’s fireWill hold unwinking unknown starsIn its unblemished gaze.“Now winter nights enlargeThe number of our hours,”They march to test their power,We to betray their march.Their rabbit words and weasel mindsPlay at a losing game.Ours is the unity of aim,Theirs the diversity of pride.Their victories on either sideDrive more deep the iron.Ours is the victory to claim,Ours is the peace to find.- North Palisade, the end of September, 1939Rexroths Letter to Wystan Hugh Auden is reminiscent of his Letter to William Carlos Williams (fromThe Signature of All Things), albeit less personal...Frightening a ChildIts not wise to go walking in the ruin.Lest they should fall the cracked walls are held with chain,All the lintels are covered with willow shootsAnd the stones have shifted in the winter rain.Leave the gate unclimbed and with untampered seal,There are much better places to take the air.The broken mosaics are best left unseen,The robins eggs in the shattered clock unclaimed.Others have climbed to the towers top to wish,And kiss the face carved there unobliterate,And fallen or been robbed or drowned the same day.The rocks that line the moat are sharper than steelAnd keep the bones that plunged to calling voices.Men have died there helpless in the gathering ice.The arches are all awry that once held taut.Youve a future before you thats still unseen,Let glories of exploration go unclaimed.You can break some far more profitable sealThan keeps out vagrants and keeps in wind and rain.Theres only trouble waiting in the ruin,Youre better off playing in the sun and air,Or making wild salads out of bracken shoots,Or weaving violets in an endless chain.- A Letter to Wystan Hugh AudenDear Bill,When I search the past for you,Sometimes I think you are likeSt. Francis, whose flesh went outLike a happy cloud from him,And merged with every lover --Donkeys, flowers, lepers, suns --But I think you are more likeBrother Juniper, who sufferedAll indignities and gloriesLaughing like a gentle fool.You’re in the FiorettiSomewhere, for you’re a fool, Bill,Like the Fool in Yeats, the termOf all wisdom and beauty.It’s you, stands over againstHelen in all her wisdom,Solomon in all his glory.Remember years ago, whenI told you you were the firstGreat Franciscan poet sinceThe Middle Ages? I disturbedThe even tenor of dinner.Your wife thought I was crazy.It’s true, though. And you’re “pure,” too,A real classic, though not loudAbout it -- a whole lot likeThe girls of the Anthology.Not like strident Sappho, whoFor all her grandeur, must haveHad endometriosis,But like Anyte, who saysJust enough, softly, for allThe thousands of years to remember.It’s a wonderful quietYou have, a way of keepingStill about the world, and itsDirty rivers, and garbage cans,Red wheelbarrows glazed with rain,Cold plums stolen from the icebox,And Queen Anne’s lace, and day’s eyes,And leaf buds bursting overMuddy roads, and splotched belliesWith babies in them, and CortesAnd Malinche on the bloodyCauseway, the death of the flower world.Nowadays, when the press reelsWith chatterboxes, you keep still,Each year a sheaf of stillness,Poems that have nothing to say,Like the stillness of George Fox,Sitting still under the cloudOf all the world’s temptation,By the fire, in the kitchen,In the Vale of Beavor. AndThe archetype, the silenceOf Christ, when he paused a longTime and then said, “Thou sayest it.”Now in a recent poem you say,“I who am about to die.”Maybe this is just a tagFrom the classics, but it sendsA shudder over me. WhereDo you get that stuff, Williams?Look at here. The day will comeWhen a young woman will walkBy the lucid Williams River,Where it flows through an idyllicNews from Nowhere sort of landscape,And she will say to her children,“Isn’t it beautiful? ItIs named after a man whoWalked here once when it was calledThe Passaic, and was filthyWith the poisonous excrementsOf sick men and factories.He was a great man. He knewIt was beautiful then, althoughNobody else did, back thereIn the Dark Ages. And theBeautiful river he sawStill flows in his veins, as itDoes in ours, and flows in our eyes,And flows in time, and makes usPart of it, and part of him.That, children, is what is calledA sacramental relationship.And that is what a poetIs, children, one who createsSacramental relationshipsThat last always.With love and admiration,Kenneth Rexroth- A Letter to William Carlos Williams (from The Signature of All Things)My favourite poem, and perhaps the most hallucinogenic in the collection...Film and filament, noDonor, gift withoutReciprocity, transparentTactile act, an imaginaryWeb of structure sweepsThe periphery of being, glassEntities point, the fundamentalEntails arise, ominousReal, augurs move in sleepVoices break the vastIndifferent sarcophagus, thisSource and word, secret, neverFractured by volitionSeventy yearsHidden, the hangmanIn the navel, orAn eye in the oblivionOf an instantaneousBeing of a differentialFlexible beyond assentSentient webs morseled with factParcel now in the sky, compactParabolas branch in a capsulePunctured with instants, ominous of itemsStars Palps NeedlesWhere the central summation extrudesInhibited muscular tensors, whatRecall of pentacles, bulbsUttered in scissors loan, are beingIn sown on the rentTumuli, what ing in the everLasting (there are no horizonsIn mountains, butDispersed minutes itemize the skyline, stonesAre accepted by canyons with uniformAcceleration and snowDisturbed by wind hovers in sunLight in the passes) directricesOf becoming, courteousIn the differentialsWith the factFor an endless time beingWatching luminous songs utterThe round earth visibleAs the moon movesMen move from a distanceMen sleep overheadA word a fireOccurs endures forGenerations a slow bodySwings in a space warmWater pulled by the moonFog descends on the nostrilsHaving died in itsHeart what pulse willRipen planes life in darkAnd move mice sleepA sloth moves head downThe child sleepsGuarded by an arrowIn what hour- Dative Haruspices