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Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Edward Dorn: The Air of June Sings


File:Clouds over hills.jpg

Quietly and while at rest on the trim grass I have gazed,

admonished myself for having never been here

at the graveside and read the names of my Time Wanderers.

And now, the light noise of the children at play on the inscribed stone

jars my ear and they whisper and laugh covering their mouths. "My Darling"

my daughter reads, some of the markers

reflect such lightness to her reading eyes, yea, as I rove

among these polished and lime blocks I am moved to tears and I hear

the depth in "Darling, we love thee," and as in "Safe in Heaven."

I am going off to heaven and I won't see you anymore. I am

going back into the country and I won't be here anymore.I am

going to die in 1937. But where did you die my Wanderer?

You, under the grave grass, with the tin standard whereat

I look, and try to read the blurred ink. I cannot believe

you were slighted knowing what I do of cost and evil

yet tin is less than granite. Those who buried you should have known

a 6 inch square of sandstone, flush with the earth

is more proper for the gone than blurred and faded flags.

Than the blurred and faded flags I am walking with in the graveyard.

Across the road in the strawberry field two children are stealing

their supper fruit, abreast in the rows, in the fields of the overlord,

Miller is his authentic name, and I see that name represented here,

there is that social side of burial too, long residence,

and the weight of the established local dead. My eyes avoid

the largest stone, larger than the common large, Goodpole Matthews,

Pioneer, and that pioneer sticks in me like a wormed black cherry

in my throat, No Date, nothing but that zeal, that trekking

and Business, that presumption in a sacred place, where children

are buried, and where peace, as it is in the fields and the country

should reign. A wagon wheel is buried there. Lead me away

to the small quiet stones of the unpreposterous dead and leave

me my tears for Darling we love thee, for Budded on earth and blossomed

in heaven, where the fieldbirds sing in the fence rows,

and there is possibility, where there are not the loneliest of all.

Oh, the stones not yet cut.

File:Everett - Evergreen Cemetery - pano  01.jpg

Edward Dorn, Burlington, Washington, June 1958, from Hands Up! (1964)

This long-line poem, a country graveyard elegy precipitated by Dorn's tour with his stepdaughter Chansonette of the Burlington cemetery -- "the first break into it, out of a candor of short metre," as he wrote to Charles Olson at the time -- marked for him a stylistic turning, and with it brought a new sense of "the possibility of poetry...[as an] expansion of much air and tears... a grasping toward nothing, elaborated by descriptives."

Clouds over hills, Washington: photo by Victor Szalvay, 2006

Evergreen Cemetery, Evergreen, Washington: photo by Joe Mabel, 2009


TC said...

For those who are interested, a couple of other gems:

Edward Dorn: In My Youth I Was a Tireless Dancer

Edward Dorn: The 6th

Skip Fox said...

Reading these for the first time all over again.

TC said...


I've just now done that exact same thing...

Renewed awe.

(BTW, I remain convinced you were Ed's finest scholar, with your Bilbliography, and as you are yourself a fine poet also, it means that Ed, who always wanted the best of everything -- maybe because he came from not much -- in your case got just that.)

poetowen said...

Have always loved these--thanks for posting.


Owen said...

Have always loved these poems--thanks for posting.


TC said...


Swell to hear from both of you. You and your doppelgänger Owen II have shown up right on time with the sun, which makes three welcome arrivals... times two!... so that would be five, I think.

Yes, it must be Greatest Hits day.

Here come all the major poets of the solar system.

Sandra (if) said...


doowman said...


If I might ask, when did you first hear of and/or meet Ed? I don't recall from the bio.

leigh tuplin said...

I've become such a fan of Ed Dorn in the last few months - down to you Tom, thanks!

TC said...

Many thanks, friends, for attending to the work of this great poet.

In answer to your query, Doowman, I began reading Ed's work around 1958, began corresponding with him in 1963 (he was in Idaho, whence he sent poems to me, in Cambridge), and met him in 1965, when he came to teach at the U. of Essex.



Johnny just told me (looking at first photo), "I would like to ride my bike down that hill, clear over to that one (or something like that). . . .

TC said...

The beautiful undulations in that photo give me the same kind of sensation it seems they are giving Johnny, a sort of virtual wish to swoop. If you click on it further sinuosities and inclinations will emerge.

Doctor Johnson liked to roll down hills for pleasure. (I seem to remember he thought it good for his scrofula.)


Well, we'll try it (rolling down grass hills I mean), if it ever dries out around here. . . . (maybe NEXT week?)

TC said...


In 1764, at the age of 54, Johnson went to visit the writer Bennet Langton at his family home in Lincolnshire.

Jackson Bate:

“For whatever reason, Langton never told it [the hill-rolling anecdote] to Boswell, though he passed on so much other information to him. Perhaps he simply thought Boswell would not have understood it. But he always remembered it, and as an elderly man told the story to a friend of his son when they were out walking and came to the top of a very steep hill. Back in 1764 Johnson and the Langtons had also walked to the top of this hill, and Johnson, delighted by its steepness, said he wanted to `take a roll down.’ They tried to stop him. But he said he `had not had a roll for a long time,’ and taking out of his pockets his keys, a pencil, a purse, and other objects, lay down parallel at the edge of the hill, and rolled down its full length, `turning himself over and over till he came to the bottom.’”