This year I have several graduate literature students I'm working with, several graduate fiction students, and one honors creative writer, who is writing a novel to submit as his thesis. A lot of reading, and this is only one aspect of my job, but one I'm definitely glad about so far!
Today is the last day of summer. Could I have written that more prosaicly? What about: today summer's over. There's a touch of poetry there. Here, however, are two great poems elegizing summer's end. One by one of the greatest poets of concision, the Edo-era master of haiku no renga and other forms, Basho Matsuo (松尾 芭蕉, 1644-1694), the other by one of the most important living poets writing in English, American poet John Ashbery (1927-). Its opening sentence enacts what it describes, and is one of my favorites among all his poems. Enjoy!
|A statue of Matsuo in Hiraizumi, Iwate (from Wikipedia)|
Farewell, my old fan.
Having scribbled on it,
What could I do but tear it
At the end of summer?
by John Ashbery
There is that sound like the wind
Forgetting in the branches that means something
Nobody can translate. And there is the sobering “later on,”
When you consider what a thing meant, and put it down.
For the time being the shadow is ample
And hardly seen, divided among the twigs of a tree,
The trees of a forest, just as life is divided up
Between you and me, and among all the others out there.
And the thinning-out phase follows
The period of reflection. And suddenly, to be dying
Is not a little or mean or cheap thing,
Only wearying, the heat unbearable,
And also the little mindless constructions put upon
Our fantasies of what we did: summer, the ball of pine needles,
The loose fates serving our acts, with token smiles,
Carrying out their instructions too accurately—
Too late to cancel them now—and winter, the twitter
Of cold stars at the pane, that describes with broad gestures
That state of being that is not so big after all.
Summer involves going down as a steep flight of steps
To a narrow ledge over the water. Is this it, then,
This iron comfort, these reasonable taboos,
Or did you mean it when you stopped? And the face
Resembles yours, the one reflected in the water.
Copyright © John Ashbery, from The Double Dream of Spring, New York: Dutton, 1970, 2011. All rights reserved.