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"paradise/our/speech . . ."

All: The Collected Short Poems, 1923–1958 , by Louis Zukofsky. New York: Norton, 1965.

Louis Zukofsky has defined his poetics as a function, having as lower limit, speech, and upper limit, song. It is characteristic of him to say that a poet's "major aim is not to show himself but that order that of itself can speak to all men." It is his belief that a poet writes one poem all his life, a continuing song , so that no division of its own existence can be thought of as being more or less than its sum. This is to say, it all is.

Williams wrote of him, "The musician and the poet should be taken as a critical unit in our effort to understand the poet Zukofsky's meaning." It was his own thought that "it was never a simple song as it was, for instance, in my own case." But that complexity which Williams noted can be deceptive if it proposes that something intently difficult is involved with whatever sense of purpose. In many instances, the song of both men is similar, and it is necessary to isolate the character of music either might mean. For example, here is a poem of Zukofsky's in which the "tune" is defined deliberately as a consequence of rhythms and sounds:

The lines of this new song are nothing
But a tune making the nothing full
Stonelike become more hard than silent
The tune's image holding in the line.
(20, Anew )

Poetry , October 1965.


Again as Williams has said, "He uses words in more or less sentence formation if not strictly in formal sentence patterns, in a wider relationship to the composition as musical entity." I had first understood this possibility by means of a poem of Williams', "The End of the Parade":

The sentence undulates
raising no song—
It is too old, the
words of it are falling
apart. . . .

That is, I heard the fact of the poem's statement as well as understood its meaning. Such hearing is immediately necessary in reading Zukofsky's work insofar as meaning is an intimate relation of such sound and sense. It can be as close as—


delight . . .
(16, "29 Songs")

—or move with an apparent statement, seeming to "say" enough to satisfy that measure; but again it will be that one hears what is so said, not merely deciphers a "meaning":

And so till we have died
And grass with grass
Lie faceless as the grass

Grow sheathed with the grass
Between our spines a hollow
The stillest sense will pass
Or weighted cloud will follow.
(19, Anew )

To reach that age,
      a tide
And full
      for a time
                                        be young.
(36, Anew )


The consequence of such a way leads to a recognition of what is being heard at each moment of the writing, or reading, and the effect is evident in either:

 . . . Having seen the thing happen,
There would be no intention 'to write it up,'

But all  that was happening,
The mantis itself only an incident,  compelling any writing
The transitions were perforce omitted.

Thoughts'—two or three or five or
Six thoughts' reflection (pulse's witness) of what was
All immediate, not moved by any transition.

Feeling this, what should be the form
Which the ungainliness already suggested
Should take? . . .
("Mantis," An Interpretation)

It leads to other distrusts of any kind of plan which distorts the actuality of feeling:

    I wasn't going to say
for fear
    You didn't want to hear.

That's the worst
   of understanding,
a handshake
   would be better.
("4 Other Countries")

The way of such feeling is clear in the words, as "for fear / You didn't want to hear" or "understanding, / a handshake," and trusts to that sense, "The vowels / abide / in consonants / like / / Souls / in / bodies —" for the life of what it says.

This life—All: The Collected Short Poems, 1923–1958 —is evidence of Zukofsky's own, but not as some biographical record, although much detail of that kind can be taken from it. It is, rather, that by virtue of the occasion so shared each has come to live in all the diversity of either. In this respect, I can think of no man more useful to learn from than Zukofsky, in that he will not 'say' anything but that which the particulars of such a possibility require, and follows the fact of that occasion with unequaled sensitivity. But to hear it, is necessary—


That song
   is the kiss
it keeps
   is it

   unsaid worry
for what
   should last.
("4 Other Countries")


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