Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Poems (Mark Van Doren)

A very few readers of The Seven Storey Mountain may have discovered through Thomas Merton Mark Van Doren, a professor and poet at Columbia in the middle of the last century who served as his mentor for a while. I did things the roundabout way: I discovered Thomas Merton through Mark Van Doren, discovered in turn through the movie Quiz Show, in which he's played (and played brilliantly) by Paul Scofield. I read and wrote on Van Doren for an independent study in high school, and was almost certainly the only American high schooler to be doing anything with that forgotten poet. He has some very good poems, though-- some splendid, some quietly lovely. These came to mind recently.

Sonnet XVII

When I came back to your unlifted eyes
And spoke to you, inquiring how we did,
And you looked up without the least surmise,
Then the old music, that so long was hid,
Sounded; and I knew it was to pour
Forever while we lived, with no abating.
The unskilled players were unskilled no more
And every string had sweetened by its waiting.
There will be nothing now but one clear tone,
Of which we shall not tire, and if it pauses
We shall exist upon love’s faith alone,
That knows all silence to its deepest causes,
And comprehends the ever-devious ways
I still must follow as I sing your praise.

Woman Few of Words

Lady, excellently brief
(Let me be too),
The sweet things you say
Are salt also,
For true.

It takes my very breath, the mixing,
As if I tried
To be both hot and cold
Together; lived,
And died.

As if within a summer sky
Some lightning hid;
Not to be found except
As on love's day
You did.

And then this one, which I misremembered while walking in Vermont:

O World

O world, my friend, my foe,
My deep dark stranger, doubtless
Unthinkable to know;
My many and my one,
Created when I was and doomed to go
Back into the same sun;

O world, my thought's despair,
My heart's companion, made by love
So intimate, so fair,
Stay with me till I die--
O air,
O stillness, O great sky.

Only the last lines came to mind, and those as "O world, stay with me till I die-- O fields, o stillness, O great sky," which suited my mood and environs better than the lines above!


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