A poem by Francis Raven

I Thought This Was Better
                  (I thought I was better)


But to begin a procession
Or a succession of lines1

Charmed to communion by resurrection—
Running together in the rain to mail a single letter,2

The chariots pausing
At her low gate3

And think no more of wall-builders than fools.
Her face is flecked with pomace...4

To me, all that those persons have arrived at,
Sinks away from them, except5

When a street piano, mechanical and tired
Reiterates some worn-out common song6

That the heart grows old?
Though I have many words…7

1 Michael Palmer, "Its Form"
2 Robert Lowell, "The Withdrawal"
3 Emily Dickinson, "The soul selects her own society"
4 Robert Frost, "The Cow in Apple Time"
5 Walt Whitman, "Thought"
6 T.S. Eliot, "Portrait of a Lady"
7 W.B. Yeats, "The Wild Swans at Coole"


These are amazing: each
Joining a neighbor, as though speech8

Keeps order at the center
Where space is freest9

At each extreme, and lean its rising rain
Down low, first one and then the other way10

Leaping along the verge of death and night,
You show me dauntless Youth that went to fight;11

I should employ the rake and the plow,
Having reached the autumn of ideas;12

The seasons—and let us walk to the orchid-house,
See the flowers will take the prize tomorrow13

But be.
A poem should not mean.14

8 John Ashbery, "Some Trees"
9 A.R. Ammons, "Identity"
10 Howard Nemerov," The Beautiful Lawn Sprinkler"
11 Siegfried Sassoon, "To Leonide Massine in ‘Cleopatra’"
12 Charles Baudelaire, "The Enemy"
13 William Carlos Williams, "A Celebration"
14 Archibald Macleish, "Ars Poetica"


In a poem, one line may hide another line,
As at a crossing, one train may hide another train,15

But Thought has need of no such things
For Thought has a pair of dauntless wings16

Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question17

As it can belong only to radiant creatures,
Weightless and winged (after all, why not?):18

How can I aspire
To such a high mountain?19

There is a ladder. / The ladder is always there
Hanging innocently / close to the side of the schooner20

Like some hideous calendar
"Compliments of Never & Forever, Inc."21

15 Kenneth Koch, "One Train May Hide Another"
16 Robert Frost, "Bond and Free"
17 T.S. Eliot, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"
18 Czeslaw Milosz, "On Angels"
19 Li Po, "For Meng Hao-Jan"
20 Adrienne Rich, From "An Atlas Of The Difficult World"
21 Elizabeth Bishop, "Argument"


I make a pact with you, Walt Whitman—
I have detested you long enough,22

But I do not talk of the beginning or the end.
There was never any more inception than there is now.23

It is clearer to me than if the pink
Were on the branch. It would be a searching24

In March, a scrawny cry from outside
Seemed like a sound in his mind:25

To seize and clutch and penetrate;
Expert beyond experience.26

All those words we once used for things but have
now discarded in order to come to know things…27

Even trees understand me! Good heavens,
I lie under them, too, don't I? I'm just like a pile of leaves.28

22 Ezra Pound, "A Pact"
23 Walt Whitman, "Song of Myself"
24 William Carlos Williams, "A Celebration"
25 Wallace Stevens, "Not Ideas About The Thing But The Thing Itself"
26 T.S. Eliot, "Whispers of Immortality"
27 Michael Palmer, "All Those Words"
28 Frank O'Hara, "Meditations In An Emergency"


We have done what we wanted.
We have discarded dreams, preferring the heavy industry29

Behind what and what behind that, deep down
Where the surface has lost its semblance: or30

As a real house in the dark
Filled with people cut out31

As though they'd wrought it. / Song, let them take it,
For there's more enterprise / In walking naked32

Through the gates, to see us through
The mishmash house of the coming & going33

Under the overturned lute with its
One string I am going my way34

But would feel darkness envelop [my] soul
Before this black tableau full of loathing.35

29 Mark Strand, "Coming To This"
30 A.R. Ammons, "Called Into Play"
31 Michael Palmer, "As a Real House"
32 William Butler Yeats, "A Coat"
33 A.R. Ammons, "An Improvisation For Angular Momentum"
34 W.S. Merwin, "Air"
35 Charles Baudelaire, "I Love The Naked Ages Long Ago"


A waterglass on the bureau fills with morning…
Don't let anyone in to wake us36

Up at the holy end; the small neat organ;
And a tense, musty, unignorable silence37

Makes the whole lake instantly tremble.
With my foot on the water, I feel38

In the middle of an eye,
Watching myself in its blank stare.39

My friend without eyes sits in the rain smiling
With a nest of salt in his hand.40

My heart within me like a stone
Is numbed too much for hopes or fears.41

You do not always know what I am feeling.
Me, it was love for you that set me afire…42

36 Kenneth Patchen, "As We Are So Wonderfully Done With Each Other"
37 Philip Larkin, "Church Going"
38 James Dickey, "The Lifeguard"
39 Octavio Paz, "Between Going And Staying"
40 W.S. Merwin, "My Friends"
41 Sylvia Plath, "A Better Resurrection"
42 Frank O'Hara, "For Grace, After A Party"


Heroic reverie mocked by clown and knave
And wondered what was left for massacre to save43

When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter
And when he cried the little children died in the streets.44

Who will lure the idyllic roe from his petrified paperbag…
Who will bury a burning flag in the wings of the clouds who will pull45

Into the charging bull. You've got
To sew yourself into a suit of light,46

But best of all was the warm thick slobber
Of frogspawn that grew like clotted water47

That writhed in suppleness upon the bed.
She curled her legs around my neck, which led48

To an orbit / and turn with disinterested
Hard energy, like the stars.49

43 William Butler Yeats, "A Bronze Head"
44 W.H. Auden, "Epitaph On A Tyrant"
45 Hans Arp, "Kaspar Is Dead"
46 Dean Young, "Sources Of The Delaware"
47 Seamus Heaney, "Death Of A Naturalist"
48 Donald Hall, "Villanelle"
49 Thom Gunn, "My Sad Captains"


I knew a woman, lovely in her bones;
The shapes a bright container can contain!50

From that one voice, whose fierce request the downpour
Will grant. The walls, with their ancient portraits, glide51

On our inner tube, each one a different color.
Mine was lime green, yours was pistachio,52

And was likely to pass rapidly from wrist to slave when trying to
Recollect wife.53

Our souls are light; they have shaken a burden of hours.
What did we build it for? Was it all a dream?54

It's what the kids nowadays call weed. And it drifts
Like clouds from his lips. He hopes no one55

Fades. It's been an unlucky summer. Heavy rains
Brought on the grass tremendously, a monster crop.56

50 Theodore Roethke, "I Knew A Woman"
51 Rainer Maria Rilke, "Before Summer Rain"
52 John Ashbery, "The Burden of the Park"
53 Anne Carson, "So The Hall Door Shuts Again And All Noise Is Gone"
54 Conrad Aiken, "The House Of Dust: Complete"
55 Raymond Carver, "Stupid"
56 Hayden Carruth, "Emergency Haying"


I read poets, living and dead, who teach me
Tenacity, faith, and pride. I try to understand57

Spanish. His wife took everything away. There was
Some talk of how difficult it had become to govern.58

Even before it died it reeked—worse
The moment it ceased / twitching59

And rolling down the street
Head over heels, one complete somersault60

Tinged by grief or anticipation, which brought
To your face a thoughtful, deepening grace61

Of events happening elsewhere? If so,
We should shrug off resemblances62

As, for example, the ellipse of the half-moon—
Rationalists would wear sombreros.63

57 Adam Zagajewski, "Self-Portrait"
58 Carolyn Forché, "The Colonel"
59 Nick Flynn, "Statuary"
60 David Ignatow, "The Bagel"
61 Mark Doty, "The Embrace"
62 John Ashbery, "It Must Be Sophisticated"
63 Wallace Stevens, "Six Significant Landscapes"


I imagine them without fathers or mothers, like the first gods.
They will wonder if I was important,64

Whispering to each handhold, "I'll be back,"
I go up the cliff in the dark. One place65

In the back yard under
The kitchen could we do that66

In the meantime, if you demand on the one hand,
The raw material of poetry in / all its rawness and67

Tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat / up smoking in the supernatural
darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities,68

Who binds to himself a joy / Doth the winged life destroy;
But he who kisses the joy as it flies / Lives in Eternity's sunrise69

And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.70

64 Sylvia Plath, "Last Words"
65 Mary Oliver, "After Arguing Against The Contention That Art Must Come From Discontent"
66 W.S. Merwin, "Before The Flood"
67 Marianne Moore, "Poetry"
68 Allen Ginsberg, "Howl"
69 William Blake, "Several Questions Answered"
70 Walt Whitman, "Song Of Myself"


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