A Draft of Light: Poems
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A glorious new collection from one of our most distinguished poets.
Here are poems that explore the ways in which ordinary objects open doors to the more hidden, subconscious truths of our inner selves: a bird of “countless colors” calls to mind “the echo . . . / of an inner event / From my forgotten past”; a subway bee sting conjures up quick unlikely visits by the muses—a momentary awareness that is “as much of a / Gift from those nine sisters as / Is ever given.”
Other poems lay bare the imperfect nature of our memories: reality altered by our inevitably less accurate but perhaps “truer” recall of past events (“memory— / As full of random holes as any / Uncleaned window is of spots / Of blur and dimming—begins at once / To interfere”). Still others examine the dramatic changes in perspective we undergo over the course of a lifetime as, in the poem “When We Went Up,” John Hollander describes the varied responses he has to climbing the same mountain at different points in his life.
In all of the poems Hollander illuminates the fluid nature of physical and emotional experience, the connections between the simple things we encounter every day and the ways in which the meaning we attribute to them shapes our lives. Like the harmonious coming together of bandstand instruments on a summer afternoon, he writes, most of what we come to know in the world is “A dying moment / Of lastingness thenceforth / Ever not to be.”
Throughout this thought-provoking collection, Hollander reveals the ways in which we are constantly creating unique worlds of our own, “a draft of light” of our own making, and how these worlds, in turn, continually shape our most basic identities and truest selves.
bandstand on Summer afternoons would come The non-bowing of Clarinets sitting In for violins and the Brazen assertions Of the trumpeting, The heartbeats of drum, Saxophoned regrets, All but drowned at last In the power and fury Of the deeper brass: Then the collected Composure of the softly Evaded cadence, A dying moment Of a lastingness thenceforth Ever not to be. SECOND FIDDLE Fiddle-de-dee, fiddle-de-dee, The fly has married the bumblebee Then down to fiddle-de-gee Then
in their sere Unflowered, fruitless theory Are gowned as in the uniform Of General June’s green Everywhere. WEATHER REPORT All that cold, rainy Spring the green deepened as it Became absorbed in Itself, quite inattentive To the busy details and Relations among Them that we have come to call “What was going on.” Outside there, under all the Wide, pervasive gray of sky (Which itself did not Interfere with very much), The garden had so Intensified beyond mere Coloration that it
neo-Latin students’ song Acknowledgments The American Scholar: “Another Cause for Wonder,” “Jane,” “Typing Lesson: A Little Fable,” “What’s on the Wall” The Atlantic Monthly: “Emeritus Faculties” Denver Quarterly: “Dr. Johnson’s Fable” The Georgia Review: “First Music Lesson,” “Ghosts” The Hopkins Review: “A Ballad Romantically Restored,” “Being Stung by a Bee on the Lexington Avenue Local,” “Setting Out for the Inner as the Outer Sets In” Hotel Amerika: For “Fiddle-De-Dee,” “Missing
spot He gazed toward the faraway And bitterly unpromised land Where, shivering, she lay. But saw no more than the prostrate earth Maimed by occasional hills, And felt no more than the warm gray air Whose very silence chills. And there he called to the wind again And again he made his plea Without the sounds of bird or brook To lend some melody: Northron wind when will thou sweep Away the feverish air? But no wind blew through his silent harp Nor thrummed the strands of his hair.
Whether she had been Spared this sight, and what it must Mean, or been deprived of it. A GHOST STORY Shadows are the ghosts Of the bodies—animal Vegetable or Mineral—that can Cast them, thought the child. But that didn’t work Too well with her lore About how ghosts were diseased Souls wailing for health, And how they outlived The bodies that housed them (but When inside those homes Couldn’t yet be said To haunt them) and with the fact That the rocks and trees And clouds