Ex Libris Kirkland

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First Written 1973
Genre Poetry
Origin UK
Publisher Vintage
ISBN-10 0679731970
ISBN-13 978-0679731979
My Copy paperback, new printing.
First Read December 14, 2009

Collected Poems

So if you prosper, suspect those bright
Mornings when you whistle with a light
Heart. You are loved; you have never seen
The harbour so still, the park so green,
So many well-fed pigeons upon
Cupolas and triumphal arches,
So many stags and slender ladies
Beside the canals. Remember when
Your climate seems a permanent home
For marvelous creatures and strange men,
What griefs and convulsions startled Rome,
Ecbatana, Babylon.

How narrow the space, how slight the chance
For civil pattern and importance
Between the watery vagueness and
The triviality of the sand,
How soon the lively trip is over
From loose craving to sharp aversion,
Aimless jelly to paralyzed bone;
At the end of each successful day
Remember that the fire and the ice
Are never more than one step away
From the temperate city: it is
But a moment to either.

But should you fail to keep your kingdom
And, like your father before you, come
Where thought accuses and feeling mocks,
Believe your pain; praise the scorching rocks
For their desiccation of your lust,
Thank the bitter treatment of the tide
For its dissolution of your pride,
That the whirlwind may arrange your will
And the deluge release it to find
The spring in the desert, the fruitful
Island in the sea, where flesh and mind
Are delivered from mistrust. -- from The Sea and The Mirror

Quoted on January 3, 2022

Herman Melville
(for Lincoln Kirstein)

Towards the end he sailed into an extraordinary mildness,
And anchored in his home and reached his wife
And rode within the harbour of her hand,
And went across each morning to an office
As though his occupation were another island.

Goodness existed: that was the new knowledge.
His terror had to blow itself quite out
To let him see it; but it was the gale had blown him
Past the Cape Horn of sensible success
Which cries: "This rock is Eden. Shipwreck here."

But deafened him with thunder and confused with lightning:
The maniac hero hunting like a jewel
The rare ambiguous monster that had maimed his sex,
Hatred for hatred ending in a scream,
The unexplained survivor breaking off the nightmare--
All that was intricate and false; the truth was simple.

Evil is unspectacular and always human,
And shares our bed and eats at our own table,
And we are introduced to Goodness every day,
Even in drawing-rooms among a crowd of faults;
He has a name like Billy and is almost perfect,
But wears a stammer like a decoration:
And every time they meet the same thing has to happen;
It is the Evil that is helpless like a lover
And has to pick a quarrel and succeeds,
And both are openly destroyed before our eyes.

For now he was awake and knew
No one is ever spared except in dreams;
But there was something else the nightmare had distorted--
Even the punishment was human and a form of love:
The howling storm had been his father's presence
And all the time he had been carried on his father's breast.

Who now had set him gently down and left him.
He stood upon the narrow balcony and listened:
And all the stars above him sang as in his childhood
"All, all is vanity," but it was not the same;
For now the words descended like the calm of mountains--
--Nathaniel had been shy because his love was selfish--
Reborn, he cried in exultation and surrender
"The Godhead is broken like bread. We are the pieces."

And sat down at his desk and wrote a story.

Quoted on January 3, 2022


Here are all the captivities; the cells are as real:
but these are unlike the prisoners we know
who are outraged or pining or wittily resigned
or just wish all away.

For they dissent so little, so nearly content
with the dumb play of dogs, the licking and rushing;
the bars of love are so strong, their conspiracies
weak like the vows of drunkards.

Indeed, the strangeness is difficult to watch:
the condemned see only the fallacious angels of a vision,
so little effort lies behind their smiling,
the beast of vocation is afraid.

But watch them, set against our size and timing
their almost neuter, their slightly awkward perfection;
for the sex is there, the broken bootlace is broken:
the professor’s dream is not true.

Yet the tyranny is so easy. The improper word
scribbled upon a fountain, is that all the rebellion?
A storm of tears shed in a corner, are these
the seeds of the new life?

Quoted on April 8, 2019

(to E. M. Forster)

Though Italy and King's are far away,
And Truth a subject only bombs discuss,
Our ears unfriendly, still you speak to us,
Insisting that the inner life can pay.

As we dash down the slope of hate with glee
You trip us up like an unnoticed stone,
And, just when we are closeted with madness
You interrupt us like the telephone.

Yes, we are Lucy, Turton, Philip: we
Wish international evil, are delighted
To join the jolly ranks of the benighted

Where reason is denied and love ignored,
But, as we swear our lie, Miss Avery
Comes out into the garden with a sword.

Quoted on August 31, 2015

"That is why we are able to bear
Ready-made clothes, second-hand art and opinions
And being washed and ordered about;

That is why you should not take our conversation
Too seriously, nor read too much
Into our songs;

Their purpose is mainly to keep us
From watching the clock all the time.

For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio, 1942

Quoted on January 25, 2010

Now all things living,
Domestic or wild,
With whom you must share
Light, water, and air,
And suffer and shake
In physical need,
The sullen limpet,
The exuberant weed,
The mischievous cat,
And the timid bird,
Are glad for your sake
As the new-born Word
Declares that the old
Constraint is replaced
By His Covenant,
And a city based
On love and consent
Suggested to men,
All, all, all of them,
Run to Bethlehem.

from A Christmas Oratorio

Quoted on December 28, 2010

All I ask is one /
Important and elegant proof /
That what my Love had done /
Was really at your will /
And that your will is Love.

No, you must believe.

For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio, 1942

Quoted on January 25, 2010

Should storms, as may well happen,
Drive you to anchor a week
In some old harbour-city
Of Ionia, then speak
With her witty scholars, men
Who have proved there cannot be
Such a place as Atlantis:
Learn their logic, but notice
How their subtlety betrays
A simple enormous grief;
Thus they shall teach you the ways
To doubt that you may believe.

Quoted on July 20, 2010

Ex Libris Kirkland is a super-self-absorbed reading journal made by Matt Kirkland. Copyright © 2001 - .
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