Landscape without regrets whose weakest junipers
strangle and split granite,
whose hard, clean light is utterly without restraint,
whose mountains can purify and dazzle
and every minute excite us, but never can offer us
commiseration, never can tell us
anything about ourselves except that we are dispensable…
The rocks and water. The glimmering rocks, the hundreds
and hundreds of blue lakes
ought to be mythical, while the great trees, soon as they die,
immediately become ghosts,
stalk upright among the living with awful composure.
But even these bones that light
has taken and twisted, with their weird gesticulations
and shadows that look as if
they’d been carved out of dust, even these
have nothing to do with what we have done or not done.
Now, as we climb on the high bare slopes,
the most difficult earth
supports the most delicate flowers: gilia and harebells,
kalmia and larkspur, everywhere
wild lupin’s tight blue spires and fine-fingered
hand shaped leaves.
Daintiest of all, the low mariposa, lily of the mountain,
with its honey stained cup and no imperfect dimension.
If we stand in the fierce but perfectly transparent wind
we can look down over the boulders,
over the drifted scree with its tattered collar of manzanita,
over the groves of hemlock,
the tip of each tree resembling an arm
extending to a drooping forefinger,
down, down, over the whole, dry, difficult
train of the ascent, down to the lake
with its narrow, swarming edges where little white boats
are moving their oars like water bugs.
Nothing but the wind makes noise.
The lake, transparent to its greeny brown floor,
is everywhere else bluer than the sky.
The boats hardly seem to touch its surface. Just as
this granite cannot really touch us,
although we stand here and name the colours of its flowers.
The wind is strong without knowing that it is wind.
The twisted tree that is not warning
or supplicating, never considers that it is not wind.
if we were to stay here for a long time, lie here
like wood on these waterless beaches,
we would forget our names, would remember that
what we first wanted
had something to do with stones, the sun,
the thousand colours of water, brilliances, blues.
The girls and boys in winter know
That love is like the drifting snow;
It praises everything although
Its perishable breath must go.
Hug me, mother of noise,
Find me a hiding place.
I am afraid of my voice.
I do not like my face.
The Miracle of the Bees and the Foxgloves
Because hairs on their speckled daybeds baffle the little bees,
Foxgloves hang their shingles out for rich bumbling hummers,
Who crawl into their tunnels-of-delight with drunken ease
(See Darwin’s pages on his foxglove summers)
Plunging over heckles caked with sex-appealing stuff,
To sip from every hooker an intoxicating liquor
That stops it propagating in a corner with itself.
And this is how the foxglove keeps its sex life in order.
Two anthers – adolescent, in a hurry to dehisce –
Let fly too soon, so pollen lies in drifts about the floor.
Along swims bumbler bee and makes an undercoat of this,
Reverses, exits, lets it fall by accident next door.
So ripeness climbs the bells of Digitalis flower by flower,
Undistracted by a mind, or a design, or by desire
An Old Poet’s View from the Departure Platform
(On my eightieth birthday)
I can’t like poems that purposely muddy the waters,
That confuse in order to impress;
Or slink to the page in nothing but stockings and garters
To expose themselves and confess.
I wince at poems whose lazy prosodical morals
Beget illegitimate rhymes.
Instances of incest, singulars mating with plurals,
Are not minor errors, they’re crimes.
I wave off turbulent poems in which reason and feeling
Stand off like water and oil.
As if prose were for sense, poems for howling and squealing,
Steam-events thinking would spoil.
Professional poems in incomprehensible argot
Unsettle me more and more-
Words about words about words to pamper the ego
Of some theoretical bore.
I gaze over miles and miles of cut up prose,
Uncomfortable troubles, sad lives.
They smother in sand the fire that is one with the rose.
The seed, not the flower survives.
A Dream of Guilt
Remembering my mother
When in that dream you censure me,
I wander through a house of guilt.
It has a door – apology –
and windows – smiles. My selves have built
this huge, half-loved neglected place
out of the lintels of your face.
And still I hurt you. Still I – we –
entangle in obscure regret.
Your kind restraint, like stolen money,
weighs on me. I can’t forget. I can’t forget.
Hushed memories like cobwebs lace
this house too fragile to efface.
Anne Stevenson was born in Cambridge, UK, in 1933. When she was six months old, her American parents returned to the United States. She grew up and studied at first in New England, where her father was a professor of philosophy in Harvard and Yale, then in Ann Arbour, Michigan.
In America she studied music, piano and cello, and European literature. She assumed she would be a professional musician but she began to lose her hearing when still very young. She therefore devoted herself entirely to writing. She moved between the United States and the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales) several times, at last she settled in England where she now lives in Durham, with her husband Peter Lucas.
Stevenson is the author of over twenty books of poetry, the latest are Poems 1955-2005(2005), Stone Milk (2007) and Astonishment(2012), all published by Bloodaxe, of some books of essays and literary criticism including a biography of the American poet, her equal in age, Sylvia Plath, Bitter Fame: A Life of Sylvia Plath(1989), a noteworthy critical study of Elizabeth Bishop’s work, Five Looks at Elizabeth Bishop(2006) and About Poems and how poems are not about (2017), based on a series of public lectures delivered at Newcastle University.
She was awarded several major prizes, both in England and the United States, among them the Northern Rock Foundation Writer’s Award in 2002, and in 2007 the Lannan Lifetime Achievement Award for Poetry and the Poetry Foundation’s Neglected Masters Award. In 2008, the Library of America published Anne Stevenson: Selected Poems, edited by Andrew Motion, at the time England’s Poet Laureate, in a series devoted to the main figures of American Poetry .
A selection of her poems translated into Italian and edited by Carla Buranello, was published in 2018 by InternoPoesiaEditore, with the title Le vie delle parole.
Her verses range from strict and traditional to free and experimental, from exactly metrical to conversationally rhythmical. Here we publish four poems, from Le vie delle parole, exemplifying the variety of subjects and forms she could manage during her long literary career: the very early Sierra Nevada (1963), a free-verse meditation revealing her main poetic persona, a passing observing presence expressing a sensuous love for nature and yet awe and wonder at its splendid indifference to the human fate;“Two Quatrains”, evidencing a compressed play of thought in a tight rhythmic structure;“The Miracle of the Bees and the Foxgloves”, a seven-line stanza form, with a complex sound pattern, drawing on an experiment carried out by Charles Darwin among foxgloves to investigate plants’ fertilization; “An Old Poet’s View from the Departure Platform”, written on the occasion of her 80th birthday and expressing through poetry what she thinks poetry is not, and should not be.
The fifth and last poem, “A Dream of Guilt”, is very recent and included in her latest poetry book, Completing the Circle, published in February 2020, a collection of moving elegies and celebrations written in her 80s, during the first decade of what she calls in her preface, “a newly transformed, already terrifying century”. In this wide-ranging book of remembrance she manages to maintain a tone that is serious without being funereal, acquiescent without indulging in confessional despair, keeping personal self-pity at bay with a characteristic detachment that can quietly slip into wit. The title-poem, while it owes a debt to Rilke, essentially expresses the poet’s own long-considered belief that “death naturally and rightly completes the cycle we recognize and accept as life”.
(Edited by Carla Buranello)