Tuesday, November 2, 2010

"One cannot guard .."

The date
that's never 
about anything else.
His birthday.


Only love stays on the brain, and something these people,
These other ones, call life. Singing accurately
So that the notes mount straight up out of the well of
Dim noon and rival the tiny, sparkling yellow flowers
Growing around the brink of the quarry, encapsulises
The different weights of the things.
                                But it isn't enough
To just go on singing. Orpheus realised this
And didn't mind so much about his reward being in heaven
After the Bacchantes had torn him apart, driven
Half out of their minds by his music, what it was doing to
Some say it was for his treatment of Eurydice.
But probably the music had more to do with it, and
The way music passes, emblematic
Of life and how you cannot isolate a note of it
And say it is good or bad. You must
Wait till it's over. "The end crowns all,"
Meaning also that the "tableau"
Is wrong. For although memories, of a season, for example,
Melt into a single snapshot, one cannot guard, treasure
That stalled moment. It too is flowing, fleeting;
It is a picture of flowing, scenery, though living, mortal,
Over which an abstract action is laid out in blunt,
Harsh strokes.

John Ashbery
from Syringa 
Houseboat Days©
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1977

Christoph Willibald Gluck
Danse des Ombres from
Orphée et Eurydice
Wilhelm Kempff, DGG©


  1. Ashbery is one of my favorite poets. And this book, in particular, is wonderful.

  2. Mine, too, Bruce; and yes, it certainly is. If I haven't cited other poems from this book yet, then they exist in draft for future development. You do not remark on whether you see this quotation as apposite, but I don't give you enough information to be able to do that. That's the price of feeling exceedingly obliged to someone's memory, up to and including the point of doing nothing to expand upon his qualities or treat him, as Ashbery resists, as 'concluded' so long as love stays on the brain. The photograph, then, is selected not as a visual analogy, but for an expression implying that inexhaustible consciousness.