Treasure Island

Howard Nemerov

(29 February 1920 – 5 July 1991 / New York City, New York)

Quotations

  • ''We may suspect that makers of jokes and smart remarks resemble poets at least in this, that they too would be excluded from Plato's Republic; for it is of the nature of Utopia and the Crystal Palace, as Dostoevsky said, that you can't stick your tongue out at it. A joke expresses tension, which it releases in laughter; it is a sort of permissible rebellion against things as they are—permissible, perhaps, because this rebellion is at the same time stoically resigned, it acknowledges that things are as they are, and that they will, after the moment of laughter, continue to be that way. That is why jokes concentrate on the most sensitive areas of human concern: sex, death, religion, and the most powerful institutions of society; and poems do the same.''
    Howard Nemerov (1920-1991), U.S. poet, novelist, critic. "Bottom's Dream: The Likeness of Poems and Jokes," Reflexions on Poetry and Poetics, Rutgers University Press (1972).
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  • ''I've never read a political poem that's accomplished anything. Poetry makes things happen, but rarely what the poet wants.''
    Howard Nemerov (1920-1991), U.S. poet, novelist, critic. International Herald Tribune (Paris, October 14, 1988).
  • ''Both poet and painter want to reach the silence behind the language, the silence within the language. Both painter and poet want their work to shine not only in daylight but (by whatever illusionist magic) from within.''
    Howard Nemerov (1920-1991), U.S. poet, novelist, critic. "On Poetry and Painting, with a Thought of Music," Figures of Thought: Speculations on the Meaning of Poetry and Other Essays, Godine (1978).
  • ''Religion and science both profess peace (and the sincerity of the professors is not being doubted), but each always turns out to have a dominant part in any war that is going or contemplated.''
    Howard Nemerov (1920-1991), U.S. poet, novelist, critic. "On the Resemblances Between Science and Religion," Figures of Thought: Speculations on the Meaning of Poetry and Other Essays, Godine (1978).
  • ''Obvious enough that generalities work to protect the mind from the great outdoors; is it possible that this was in fact their first purpose?''
    Howard Nemerov (1920-1991), U.S. poet, novelist, critic. "Reflexions of the Novelist Felix Ledger," sct. C, Journal of the Fictive Life (1965).
  • ''The only way out is the way through, just as you cannot escape from death except by dying. Being unable to write, you must examine in writing this being unable, which becomes for the present—henceforth?—the subject to which you are condemned.''
    Howard Nemerov (1920-1991), U.S. poet, novelist, critic. "Reflexions of the Novelist Felix Ledger," sct. B, Journal of the Fictive Life (1965).
  • ''For a Jewish Puritan of the middle class, the novel is serious, the novel is work, the novel is conscientious application—why, the novel is practically the retail business all over again.''
    Howard Nemerov (1920-1991), U.S. poet, novelist, critic. "Reflexions of the Novelist Felix Ledger," sct. C, Journal of the Fictive Life (1965).
  • ''It was a wide and moony grin
    Together peaceful and obscene;''
    Howard Nemerov (b. 1920), U.S. poet. The Goose Fish (l. 28-29). . . Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry, The. Richard Ellmann and Robert O'Clair, eds. (2d ed., 1988) W. W. Norton & Company.
  • ''The ordinary night was graced
    For them by the swift tide of blood
    That silently they took at flood,
    And for a little time they prized
    Themselves emparadised.''
    Howard Nemerov (b. 1920), U.S. poet. The Goose Fish (l. 5-9). . . Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry, The. Richard Ellmann and Robert O'Clair, eds. (2d ed., 1988) W. W. Norton & Company.
  • ''Valery ... said that prose was walking, poetry dancing. Indeed, the original two terms, prosus and versus meant, respectively, "going straight forth" and "returning," and that distinction does point up the tendency of poetry to incremental repetition, variation, and the treatment of different themes in a single form. Robert Frost said shrewdly that poetry was what got left behind in translation, which suggests a criterion of almost scientific refinement: when in doubt, translate; whatever is left over is poetry, whatever gets through is prose. And yet even to so cagy a definition the great exception is a resounding one: some of the greatest poetry we have is the Authorized Version of the Bible, which is not only a translation but also, as to its appearance in print, identifiable neither with verse nor with prose in English but rather with cadence compounded of both.''
    Howard Nemerov (1920-1991), U.S. poet, novelist, critic. "The Protean Encounter," Reflexions on Poetry and Poetics, Rutgers University Press (1972).

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Insomnia I

Some nights it's bound to be your best way out,
When nightmare is the short end of the stick,
When sleep is a part of town where it's not safe
To walk at night, when waking is the only way
You have of distancing your wretched dead,
A growing crowd, and escaping out of their
Time into yours for another little while;

Then pass ghostly, a planet in the house

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