Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Tuesday Poem: "After the Last Bulletins" by Richard Wilbur

After the last bulletins the windows darken  
And the whole city founders readily and deep,  
Sliding on all its pillows
To the thronged Atlantis of personal sleep,

And the wind rises. The wind rises and bowls  
The day’s litter of news in the alleys. Trash  
Tears itself on the railings,
Soars and falls with a soft crash,

Tumbles and soars again. Unruly flights  
Scamper the park, and taking a statue for dead  
Strike at the positive eyes,
Batter and flap the stolid head

And scratch the noble name. In empty lots  
Our journals spiral in a fierce noyade  
Of all we thought to think,
Or caught in corners cramp and wad

And twist our words. And some from gutters flail  
Their tatters at the tired patrolman’s feet,
Like all that fisted snow
That cried beside his long retreat

Damn you! damn you! to the emperor’s horse’s heels.  
Oh none too soon through the air white and dry  
Will the clear announcer’s voice
Beat like a dove, and you and I

From the heart’s anarch and responsible town  
Return by subway-mouth to life again,  
Bearing the morning papers,
And cross the park where saintlike men,

White and absorbed, with stick and bag remove  
The litter of the night, and footsteps rouse  
With confident morning sound
The songbirds in the public boughs.

by Richard Wilbur

I think this poem is wonderful because the poet has taken what would seem to be an unlikely subject, paper litter, and produced something quite beautiful and magnificent.

And maybe I'm being a word nerd, but I get a bit of a frisson when I come across a new word I've never encountered before. In Line 2, Stanza 4, a "noyade" is, according to the Webster's Dictionary, "an execution carried out by drowning". Apparently, it sprang from the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution.

And knock me down with feather and call me an ignorant peon, but I've never encountered the noun, "anarch" ( Line1, Stanza 7) before which the Collins Dictionary defines as "(archaic) an instigator or personification of anarchy".

I love the journey described in this poem, a kind of rake's progress of wind-whipped trash. There are so many fantastic images in this poem that startle and delight the reader. Don't you just love "the thronged Atlantis of personal sleep" or "And some from gutters flail / 
Their tatters at the tired patrolman’s feet"? And the next day, as the poem closes, the cycle begins all over again.

For more about the poet, Richard Wilbur, see:

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