The Old Truculence
A note concerning the basic arc of this book of poems–to re-register grace and freedom as America’s primary metier.
Freedom breeds elegance. Not the inbred elegance of aristocracy, where beautiful ladies eventually come to resemble their Russian wolfhounds. Nor, simply, the truculent elegance of that sly Benjamin Franklin who, as ambassador to the French Court, refused to bow before King Louis the 16th or doff his coonskin cap.
Freedom breeds the desire to create one meaningful action with your entire life–the effortful elegance of the artist that James Joyce defined as the willingness to gamble your whole life on the wrong idea, a bad aesthetic, or, it may be, a genuine triumph. And America has created, and can still create, a unique scale of opportunity for such elegant “throws of the dice,” as Mallarme might say. A natty Fred Astaire (originally Austerlitz), gliding with the ease of an ice skater as he backs Rita Hayworth (a gal from Brooklyn) into immortality to a tune penned by the jewish Jerome Kern in an industry patented in the U.S.A. is but one example of the scale of that opportunity.
When you are free to do anything, a desire grows in the breast not to do just anything, but to do the best thing–and that is an aesthetic dilemma. The mere accumulation of capital, or the arbitrary exercise of petty power by minor government regulators, are two classic examples of the desire for a meaningful expression of life-status that lack the aesthetic instinct. Such timid ambitions grow most strongly where the full range of light is narrowed, and the blossom of selfhood must twist around corners to open its ruby glory in a thinning patch of sunlight.
Gregg Glory March, 2013
Go, little book, upon the wild and waving plains; Evade the pricks of critics with laughing disdain; Pluck, here and there, a blooming reader, Whom, to thy father, there's no one dearer. Go, little book, your inmost self unveil Naked to the world's notice, who shall thy soul assail.
Come gather round me, multitudinous dreams That in the dim twilight are murmuring soft; Come lay by my head in the pillow-seam; Come carry my freighted heart aloft. O, I would dare dream as few men dream Beyond the cruel cudgel of the strong, Beyond the purpled tapestries of is and seems Hung before my eyes, beyond cold right or wrong.
Inspiration's a silver ribbon of mist Fallen thin from high Bridalveil; Only a whim so cloud-soft can twist Reality out of the high-fantastical. Real life begins in utter dream; In utter dream our rebel rhyme began, The fought-for fairytale of freedom, Cloud-soft as the dreaming cheek of woman. Cloud-soft as a woman's dreaming cheek, Jefferson's quill spelled out the wild desire; Soft breath blew dry the shimmering ink That tossed the regal tyrant to the fire. Who would dream with me by the fireside When the great gleeds glimmer and dim First must soften his headstrong pride And open his heart to the fire's whim. Come dream beside me by the gentle fire That roared old monarchs to the brink; Come watch the red and yellow-red fire Until our heads must nod and blink. Softly, softly silver inspiration's mist Flies chiming from high Bridalveil peak; Listen to what whispering winds insist, Cloud-soft as dreaming woman's cheek.
We grow the grass that Whitman trimmed and trod, Under pilgrim boot and barefoot Indian, walkers for war and God, We seethed and twined our threads like a wave of the woven sea: Before the first man gave cry or chant before firelit faces of his camp We, beneath all the innumerable stories gathered there, Beneath word and deed and all, threaded buried breast and bone And sewed ourselves into the dirt that majesty might grow. That majesty might grow and never look askance, Our bodies with the bodies of those gone before have danced-- Glittering naked selves, red with life, tongues churned in trance, We mass among the buried roots that history might ascend; That one good deed might come and rise above the rest And destiny be made manifest and not remain an empty dream, We seethe and twine our threads like waves of the woven sea.
The old dream is gone, and the grief is here. Two hundred years has my white beard grown Before the first car rolled, before aeroplane had flown. But the dream like a madness still in my eyes appears-- That none dare touch, dare take what sweat had made Without oaktree silver on a rough palm laid. The old dream is gone, and new grief is here. My good girl's grown, and my helpmeet's fled. Thunder-cracks clout the Catskills, wild and loud, Where fairy folk drank and leapt like clouds. Now my love's still limbs lie buried and dead, And the wind blows the rain on foe and on friend And none are living who recall our fight to the end-- The old dream is gone, and my helpmeet fled.
Her beauty stirred like mirrored fire, Like perfection etched in cloudless glass, Unstained by any but her own desire. The dew that clung to her when she passed --Ignorant and beauteous as a summer morn-- Shook rainbows when she wheeled. Let love come wind his bitter horn And pierce the bitter heart of my desire, The bitter dark where my dream is born! Always I hear amid the battering hooves Her valorous laughter--echoes on stone worn smooth-- Always I see heedless sparks of her mirrored fire. Night winds that set the tree-shadows loose, Or upon the Old Dutch Bridge echo close, Wail bleak knowledge the Headless Horseman and I Ride to one desire.
Saddled by an unearthly sadness, The leaves and I lack all gladness: To no more adore my divine, Intricate Evangeline. Old, dear world, formed before I fell To your dim dust, speak the spell That calls her back from spirit's brink; Pour the resurrecting drink. I wander toward a dream recalled-- A dream I dreamed before my fall-- Of bangled arms that held me late: Beautiful, elaborate. Break, old world caught in fiery winds Like a blown sailboat caught in irons; I'll drown my everlasting shame In your watery, wavering flames.
A white tower beckons, and I slowly turn Up the helical stair, book in hand And book in mind, unwilling to return To the grassy fields below, the wild lands-- Because she, whose white visage set my heart ablaze, Has turned aside to face another face. I walk alone in my tower proud, Wreathed with incense out of old books And exchanging lightning with the clouds, Who knew the high dismissal of your look-- And died to youth and carefree love And all the lies true lovers prove. Although you had me by your side, You with love's allure were wroth, Never relenting to be my bride--never To follow my footsteps and be guest in my house. "Better friends forever than lovers severed," Were the bitter words of your mouth. Now you come out of the exhausted dread Of dreams, in the pale negligee of death; Great agate stones set by ear and neck. My days march by on grim battlements And grind out grim watches of the night. Love is gone that had been our right.... The vision fades like falling snow, Flakes disintegrating from my bandaged brow.