Allen Tate (19 November 1899 - 9 February 1979 / Winchester, Kentucky)
Fragment Of A Meditation
Not yet the thirtieth year, the thirtieth
Station where time reverses his light heels
To rim both ways, and makes of forward back;
Whose long coordinates are birth and death
And zero is the origin of breath:
Not yet the thirtieth year of gratitude,
Not yet suffering but a year's lack,
All thanks that mid-mortality is done,
That the new breath on the invisible track
Winds anciently into my father's blood.
In the beginning the irresponsible Verb
Connived with chaos whence I've seen it start
Riddles in the head for the nervous heart
To count its beat on: all beginnings run
Like water the easiest way or like birds
Fly on their cool imponderable flood.
Then suddenly the noon turns afternoon
And afternoon like an ill-written page
Will fade, until the very stain of light
Gathers in all the venom of the night-
The equilibrium of the thirtieth age.
The thirtieth, not yet the thirtieth year
Of wonders, revelations, whispers, signs:
Impartial dumb truths of sound and sight
Known beyond speech, immune to common fear.
Already the wind whistles the revelations
Of the time, but I'll go back seventy years
And more to the great Administrations:
Yet six had gone and all the public men
Whom doctrine and an evil nature made
Were only errand boys beaten by the sun
While Henry Adams fuddled in the shade.
I've heard what they said, in the running tap
Drawing water, their watery words, clear
Like a sad harlot's useless lucid pap
(I've heard the lion of S Street get his cheer),
I understood it, the general syllable
In a private ear, lost. . . .
For who can tell
What the goat calls to the heifer, or the hen
Even to the cock her love? At thirty years
The years of the Christ, one will perceive, know,
Report new verity with a certain pen.
In the decade from eighteen-fifty-one
Where was Calhoun whose bristled intellect
Sumner the refined one did not admire?
I am convinced 'twas Calhoun who divined
How the great western star's last race would run
Unbridled round our personal defect,
Grinding its ash with engines of its mind.
'Too Southern and too simple,' his death's head
Uttered a Dies Irae that last day
When Senator Mason in a voice to stun
Read off his speech; then put Calhoun to bed.
They put him in his grave. Does the worm say
In the close senate of tempestuous clay
That his intellect makes too difficult
The grave, as his enemies our life?
It's quiet there, for the worm's one fault
Is not discourtesy (give worms their dues)
In case the guest hurried by mortal strife
Enter the house in muddy overshoes.
It was a time of tributes; let me pay
Tribute to a man grandfather knew well
(Or so 'twas said, but one can never tell),
A stocky man but slight, no symmetry
Of face and eye, yet a distinction
Of the poet against the world; he dreamed the soul
Of the wide world and prodigies to come;
Exemplar of dignity, a gentleman
Who raised the black flag of the lower mind;
Hated in life by all; in death praised;
I cannot yet begin to understand
Why we are proud that an ancestor knew
The crazy Poe, who was not of our kind-
Bats in the belfry that round and round flew
In vapors not quite wholesome for the mind.
After Calhoun the local tenements
Of nature, tempered to the exigencies
Of air and fire, blurred with the public sense,
Diffused, while the Black Republicans
Took a short memory to their hot desire,
And honor turned a common entity
Crying decisions from the evening news.
Yet in a year, at thirty, one shall see
The wisdom of history, how she takes
Each epoch by the neck and, growling, shakes
It like a rat while she faintly mews.
Perhaps at the age of thirty one shall see
In the wide world the prodigies to come:
The long-gestating Christ, the Agnulus
Of time, got in the belly of Abstraction
By Ambition, a bull of pious use.
O Pasiphael mother of god, lest nature,
Peritonitis or morning sickness stunt
The growth of god in an unwholesome juice,
Eat cannon and cornflakes, that the lamb,
Spaceless as snow, may spare the rational earth
(Weary of prodigies and the Holy Runt)
A second prodigious, two-legged birth.
The signs and portents screaming in the air,
The nativity in my thirtieth year
Will glow in the heavens, the myriad fireflies
At the holy hour hovering round the house
Will stream in the night like flaming hair,
And man will scurry with averted eyes
Crouching, peering, silent, a drunken mouse.
The orange groves will blossom, the shining Sierras
Kindle all night far as Los Angeles;
With a noise, threatening, of wandering bees
Coining, angry with the air of their carouse,
The lamb through the sandpaper gates of life
(Made rougher by the bull's intenser strife)
Will leap, while the wild-eyed Pasiphae
By the inscrutable wrath of glory stung
Hears the Wise Men come swiftly from the sea.
The bull smoothly rolls his powerful tongue.
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