The School Where I Studied

I passed by the school where I studied as a boy
and said in my heart: here I learned certain things
and didn't learn others. All my life I have loved in vain
the things I didn't learn. I am filled with knowledge,
I know all about the flowering of the tree of knowledge,
the shape of its leaves, the function of its root system, its pests and parasites.
I'm an expert on the botany of good and evil,
I'm still studying it, I'll go on studying till the day I die.
I stood near the school building and looked in. This is the room

A Momentary Longing To Hear Sad Advice from One Long Dead

Who was my teacher at Harvard. Did not wear overcoat
Saying to me as we walked across the Yard
Cold brittle autumn is you should be wearing overcoat. I said
You are not wearing overcoat. He said,
You should do as I say not do as I do.
Just how American it was and how late Forties it was
Delmore, but not I, was probably aware. He quoted Finnegans Wake to me
In his New York apartment sitting on chair
Table directly in front of him. There did he write? I am wondering.
Look at this photograph said of his mother and father.


Children, when was
Napoleon Bonaparte born,
asks teacher.

A thousand years ago, the children say.
A hundred years ago, the children say.
Last year, the children say.
No one knows.

Children, what did
Napoleon Bonaparte do,
asks teacher.

Won a war, the children say.
Lost a war, the children say.
No one knows.

Our butcher had a dog
called Napoleon,
says Frantisek.
The butcher used to beat him and the dog died
of hunger
a year ago.

A Shropshire Lad 2: Loveliest of trees, the cherry now

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

The Ballad of the Harp Weaver

“Son,” said my mother,
When I was knee-high,
“You’ ve need of clothes to cover you,
And not a rag have I.

“There’ s nothing in the house
To make a boy breeches,
Nor shears to cut a cloth with
Nor thread to take stitches.

“There’ s nothing in the house
But a loaf-end of rye,
And a harp with a woman’ s head
Nobody will buy,”
And she began to cry.

That was in the early fall.
When came the late fall,
“Son,” she said, “the sight of you
Makes your mother’ s blood crawl, –

Sign for My Father, Who Stressed the Bunt

On the rough diamond,
the hand-cut field below the dog lot and barn,
we rehearsed the strict technique
of bunting. I watched from the infield,
the mound, the backstop
as your left hand climbed the bat, your legs
and shoulders squared toward the pitcher.
You could drop it like a seed
down either base line. I admired your style,
but not enough to take my eyes off the bank
that served as our center-field fence.

August 5, 1942

What did the Old Doctor do
in a cattle car
riding to Treblinka on the 5th of August
over a few hours of   blood flow
over the dirty river of time

I do not know

What did Charon the volunteer do
ferryman without an oar
did he give the children the remains
of   his breath
and leave for himself
just the shiver in the bones

I do not know

Did he lie to them for instance
in small numbing
picking from their sweaty heads
the skittish lice of   fear

I do not know

Child on the Marsh

I worked the river’ s slick banks, grabbling
in mud holes underneath tree roots.
You’ d think it would be dangerous,
but I never came up with a cooter
or cottonmouth hung on my fingertips.
Occasionally, though, I leapt upright,
my fingers hooked through the red gills
of a mudcat. And then I thrilled
the thrill my father felt when he



In the Forest of    Wearisome Sadness,
Where one day I found myself wandering alone,
I met my heart, who called to me, asking me where I was going.

The path was long and straight, row after row of conifers receding
To a horizon that because of   the geometry
Seemed farther than it really was,
Like the door at the top of a staircase in Versailles.

But as if   the forest’ s maker had been offended by elegance,
A pile of rocks disrupted the rows: the forest once
Had been a field. I remember that field.