Jul 142005

You will recall from Part 1 that I owned a typescript of two unpublished poems by Yvor Winters and referred to my readers the question of what to do with them. Arguments were offered for selling, publishing, and burning. The arsonists had much the worst of it. Their best point was mine: that publishing them would muddy Winters’ reputation, and the reputations of poets are easily muddied. Still, even Helen Vendler can probably distinguish these juvenilia from such performances as “Sir Gawaine and the Green Knight,” “On a View of Pasadena from the Hills,” “Before Disaster,” “To the Holy Spirit,” and “Danse Macabre.” Eddie Thomas suggested that burning them will spare my heirs (my girlfriend) from thinking about what they stand to gain from my death — this typescript, and a stolen eight-ball from the local poolroom. I thank Eddie for making me feel, for a moment, like the billionaire who informs his grasping nephews that everything will go to the dog shelter. Perhaps he will be mollified to know that Lisa was only kidding. You were kidding, right sweetheart?

The historians pointed out a few matters that did not occur to me. We preserve literature for reasons other than strict aesthetic merit. Colby Cosh cites the poetry of Queen Elizabeth, which isn’t much good but which we are happy to have. Colby also reminds me that as an accidental executor my responsibilities may differ from, say, Max Brod’s. Bad poetry, Michael Krantz points out, may shed light on the good, though in my own experience it tends only to obscure it. I agree, however, with George Wallace that I have hedged about them sufficiently that no one will likely take these poems for more than what they are. In short, the historians win.

The mercenaries, led by the terse Paul Frankenstein, may take comfort in the fact that publishing and selling are not mutually exclusive. But I like owning the typescript and I don’t need the money. Certainly I will sell it before I dine on dog food.

Since I’m not going to get rid of them, I see no reason to withhold them. So here they are.

The Hermit

The shaggy old man of the canyons
Was fearful for mortal to see;
But he scattered his crumbs to the song-birds,
And raised the sage flower for the bee.

All folk turned aside when they saw him,
They feared his strange eyes and long hair;
But he played with the fawns in the shadows,
And dug up sweet roots with the bear.

And so when he died no men mourned him,
For he was a stranger to men;
But the fawns stare big-eyed from the shadows,
And the old bear moaned in the glen.

And the birds gave over their singing,
And the canyons were lonely and still;
And the birds dropped leaves over his body,
And the bees hummed his dirge on the hill.

To A Coyote

Gentle pussyfooter of the gulleys,
You of the sleepy slouch,
Of the furtive tail,
And the leering eye,
With your long tongue sliding enviously
Out of one corner of your mouth,
Your coat is moth-eaten,
And your ribs show through it,

But wait,
Where have I seen you before?

–Yvor Winters

  15 Responses to “Literary Executor II: The Votes Are In”

  1. Burn them.

  2. You can’t say I didn’t warn you.

  3. I was one of the arsonists, and I don’t give a fig about his reputation. I referenced channeling, intellectual lifespan, metaphysical lifespans, and more(or less). Having read them, I was clearly right, but for the wrong reasons.

  4. Who’d buy those, incidentally?

  5. they say that richard cory
    owned one half of this whole town
    with political connections
    to spread his wealth around

  6. The first poem is excellent, with its hermit an allusive mix of St Francis, John the Baptist, Elijah and the Ancient Mariner. Note the pun on "sage flower" in line 3. The body buried in leaves is folk-legend, like the Babes in the Wood, and avoids sentimentality.

    The second poem makes its point, parodying the familiar American "meeting an animal" poem. These poems all mean the same thing, that the animal encounter echoes some human interaction, and Winters rapidly ends the poem by admitting the correspondence.

    A few points:

    1) Aaron’s ethical theories are useless, since they don’t supply answers to practical questions, viz., to keep or destroy certain manuscript poems.

    2) Beauty grows in the most unexpected places.

    3) Aaron’s deluded belief that he is a judge of poetry is not just a personal handicap but could easily have led to an act of poetic vandalism. Ignorance is the parent of Desecration.

    * * *

    – Unless of course this is all a hoax, and Aaron wrote the poems himself. In which case I take back all that I have said above.

  7. I don’t really care that it’s a reference to St Francis, John the Baptist, Elijah and the Ancient Mariner. How does that make it a good poem? Even "knowing what he’s talking about" doesn’t mean it’s a good read does it? Of course not. Only liking that he wrote it and being happy to have read it does. I am not at all happy to have read it, regardless of his however vague implications and allusions to bygone canyon man of ages passed and now past. What, me Grumpy?

    Unless Aaron wrote them, in which case yay, they are really good stuff man. Well done. Keep at it, you are showing signs of potential for great strides later in life.

  8. I have been kind enough to make public, in detail, my delusions and my ignorance. Whoever wishes to judge their scope may hie himself here, here, here, or here, among many other places, where I analyze a wide variety of poems.

    On the other hand, Ettore’s complete poetry criticism, to my knowledge, is contained in this thread. My remarks shall of necessity be brief. "Sage flower" is not a pun, unless Winters wishes to imply that the hermit baked flavored bread for the bees, which I rather doubt. If the last five lines of this poem avoid sentimentality, what does indulging it look like? And finally, if allusiveness and avoidance of sentimentality were sufficient to make an excellent poem, such poems would be far more common than they are.

  9. Thomas and Aaron, I was not trying to prove the poems good from the remarks I made about them, but just trying to draw attention to some of their qualities. And Aaron, I withdraw what I said about "deluded belief" – I was just reacting in a irritated way to your earlier dismissal of these poems as "rubbish".

    But back to the first poem. The pun is on "sage" which can mean herb, or something which is wise. So raising the sage flower for the bee can mean growing a herb for an animal to feed on, or creating wisdom for another to benefit by. The latter, more figurative meaning, stands out because the former, more literal meaning is the more artificial: a hermit would grow herbs for his own use in cooking or medicine rather than to feed bees.

    The pun leads into the two interpretations of the poem, as a man outside society living with animals, or a man in society, where the animals stand for the small group of people who understand him.

    I would say it was sentimental only if read in a certain way. For pure indulgence, Longfellow’s Wreck of the Hesperus might be taken as a model.

    "Excellent" may be too strong a word, but these poems are full of interest.

  10. Fair enough. "Rubbish" I adopted from Winters, who meant that these poems suffer next to his best work. It is true that his rubbish is better than most of the rest of us can do at all.

    My remarks about "sage flower" were intended, pedantically, to point up the difference between a pun and an ambiguity. Nonetheless this interpretation strikes me as overreading. Certainly the hermit grows them principally for his own use, but the bees incidentally profit, which is the point of the line. I think lines 2, 4, 9, and 10, along with the title, exclude your reading. "All folk" and "no men" seem pretty decisive.

  11. Aaron,

    OK, you’re smart.

    Ettore, too


    Me? I’m not so smart.

    Maybe it’s just me but when I read the Winters poem, I laughed.

    How could To a Coyote be read and one not laugh?

    Pretty hilarious.

    Gentle pussyfooter of the gulleys,
    You of the sleepy slouch,
    Of the furtive tail,
    And the leering eye

    Come on!

    I liked it.

    A lot.

    Anyway, Reading about the poetry of bees and coyotes today from the Monterey Peninsula, my home-that-is-not-my-home, I am reminded of Robinson Jeffers, Here:(two links)

    Rock and Hawk (1935)

    Here is a symbol in which
    Many high tragic thoughts
    Watch their own eyes.

    This gray rock, standing tall
    On the headland, where the seawind
    Lets no tree grow,

    Earthquake-proved, and signatured
    By ages of storms: on its peak
    A falcon has perched.

    I think here is your emblem
    To hang in the future sky;
    Not the cross, not the hive,

    But this; bright power, dark peace;
    Fierce consciousness joined with final

    Life with calm death; the falcon’s
    Realist eyes and act
    Married to the massive

    Mysticism of stone,
    Which failure cannot cast down
    Nor success make proud.

    I don’t like much of Jeffers’ poetry, but some, like Rock and Hawk, bring pleasure.

  12. Over dinner last month Aaron told me of his predicament, and I had nothing useful to suggest. But I did not realize that Winters’ first name was "Yvor". Anyone with a name that scary and cool is clearly capable of coming back from the dead and wreaking vengeance upon you!

    Though not until late September or so. It’s ridiculous to be concerned about an undead hand grasping your throat when lying in an inert pile and moaning about the sticky heat.

  13. have you considered that someone might own the rights to the two poems?

    (for what it’s worth, i think they’re shite.)

  14. A bit weak to say the least – but they are out there now – Good enough. Everyone can judge for themselves. I’m inclined to agree with the "rubbish" label from the author – but that’s just me.

  15. Come on, the coyote one is pretty good. And it’s *supposed* to be funny, people!

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