20 August 2013

for John Hollander

The poet John Hollander died last Saturday. In memoriam Knopf Doubleday sent out to its Poetry Month e-mail list the following poem, from Hollander's most recent collection, A Draft of Light, published in 2008. It feels like a poem written with a lifetime's experience, dealing lightly with deep things.

Some Playthings

A trembling brown bird
standing in the high grass turns
out to be a blown

oakleaf after all.
Was the leaf playing bird, or
was it "just" the wind

playing with the leaf?
Was my very noticing
itself at play with

an irregular
frail patch of brown in the cold
April afternoon?

These questions that hang
motionless in the now-stilled
air: what of their

frailty, in the light
of even the most fragile
of problematic

substances like all
these momentary playthings
of recognition?

Questions that are asked
of questions: no less weighty
and lingeringly

dark than the riddles
posed by any apparent
bird or leaf or breath

of wind, instruments
probing what we feel we know
for some kind of truth.

John Hollander
28 October 1929 - 17 August 2013


Sibyl said...

When poetry is really, really good (as this piece is), it gets to this weird sweet-spot that is deeper than the brain, but more elevated than mere animal senses, pure intellect yet pure instinct, both pre-and extra-verbal. Maybe that's just me. And also, wow.

Patrick J. Vaz said...

maybe it's just us, then, because I feel the same way; I hadn't read this poem before Knopf sent out their e-mail, but since then I've read it several times and each time it sinks deeper