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A Note
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A Note

There is a possibility in reading and writing, which knows words as in the world in much the same way that men are, and that each may know that possibility which Herrick defines:

And when all bodies meet,
      In Lethe to be drowned,
Then only numbers sweet
      With endless life are crowned.

There is no presumption in the fact that Louis Zukofsky puts two poems of Herrick's together with his own song, "Little wrists," as an instance of grace in his comparative anthology, A Test of Poetry . One hears in the possibility another has articulated what may thus bring clear one's own, and though there are three hundred years intervening, the measure of grace is not variable.

Zukofsky says, one writes one poem all one's life. All that he has written may be felt as indivisible, and all one —which word occurs frequently in the text in this sense.

Another word found often is leaf , echoing, specifically at times as in the latter part of "A" 12, Whitman's Leaves of Grass . Despite what seem dissimilarities, they are like men in that both would favor—with Shakespeare as Zukofsky has proposed—the "clear physical eye" as against "the erring brain." The experience of one's life as one is given to have it, and as relationships of its nature are found, unfold, then, as leaves , finding home in time far past or in the instant now:

Introduction to Louis Zukofsky, "A" 1–12 (New York: Doubleday, 1967).


The music is in the flower,
Leaf around leaf ranged around the center;
Profuse but clear outer leaf breaking on space,
There is space to step to the central heart:
The music is in the flower.
It is not the sea but hyaline cushions the flower—
Liveforever, everlasting.
The leaves never topple from each other,
Each leaf a buttress flung for the other.

This is taken from "A" 2, written in 1928. In "A" 11, twenty-two years later:

                                 . . . Honor

His voice in me, the river's turn that finds the
Grace in you, four notes first too full for talk, leaf
Lighting stem, stems bound to the branch that binds the
Tree, and then as from the same root we talk, leaf
Over leaf of his thought, sounding
His happiness: song sounding
The grace that comes from knowing
Things, her love our own showing
Her love in all her honor.

" . . . His voice in me. . . ." That men do so move, one to one, here grandfather, to father, to son—but that also, as Zukofsky thinks possible, it may be that Shakespeare had read Catullus, and that men who may so read the same text may so in time relate. Certainly, as the outset of the work makes clear, Zukofsky hears Bach, and after hearing:

I walked on Easter Sunday,
   This is my face
   This is my form.
   Faces and forms, I would write
                                            you down
   In a style of leaves growing.

One may well quote Pound, as Zukofsky has, to give measure for such occasion:

Hast 'ou fashioned so airy a mood
    To draw up the leaf from the root?

and the rest as time has cleft it


The title "A" itself is what one might call initial, and initiating, evidence of the kind of intelligence Zukofsky has—seeing and hearing words in the world as the specific possibilities they contain. He has said, in fact, that "a case can be made out for the poet giving some of his life to the use of the words the and a: both of which are weighted with as much epos and historical destiny as one man can perhaps resolve." How much "world" can lie between the and a is hardly for either a or the grammarian to decide.

We may speak of the as some thing previously noted or recognized, and of a as that which has not been thus experienced—but think too that "from A to Z" may mean something, and that if one looks at an A, it may very possibly become a sawhorse:

Horses: who will do it? out of manes? Words
Will do it, out of manes, out of airs, but
They have no manes, so there are no airs, birds
Of words, from me to them no singing gut.
For they have no eyes, for their legs are wood,
For their stomachs are logs with print on them;
Blood red, red lamps hang from necks or where could
Be necks, two legs stand A, four together M.

Horses and leaves:

You keep up to date
On all fours
That canter sometimes
Before boughs that grace trees.
Sparks from hoofs:
There is horse . . .

So year to year—
Nor do the arts
Ever end.
How can man say
"I am certain"
For certain and uncertain
Do not make certain.
Only forever is previous
And not a horse's forever.
If someone stole off with its body
Be sure that its spirits
Canter forever.
Blacksmith, creator, shapes his shoe
Into substance.


Born in New York's lower east side, Zukofsky's life cannot have been simple, and the kinds of complexity one realizes do confront him here are deeply to be considered. In the opening movements there are bitter terms of death, poverty, war—

         "I beg your pardon
         I've a—"h" begins the rhyme here,
         Shall we now?"

             "You misconstrue—uh
             Men's rue—eh,

                          The sailors in the carousel
                             looking for a place to
                          Seaweed, fellow voters, and
                             spewn civic sidewalks.

Thus one modernizes
His lute,
Not in one variation after another;
Words form a new city,
Ours is no Mozart's
Magic Flute—
Tho his melody made up for a century
And, we know, from him, a melody resolves
                                                              to no dullness—
But when we push up the daisies,
The melody! the rest is accessory:

My one voice. My other: is
An objective—rays of the object brought to a focus,
An objective—nature as creator—desire
     for what is objectively perfect
Inextricably the direction of historic and
                                                        contemporary particulars.

He was first published in The Exile by Ezra Pound in the twenties. The poem was "The," which is relevant, and it led subsequently to his publication in The Dial and other magazines of the period. In 1931 he edited an issue of Poetry in which he presented a number of writers, among them Carl Rakosi, Kenneth Rexroth (for whom it was his first publication), William Carlos Williams (whose poem "The Alphabet of the Trees" gained him one of his first awards), and others of like significance. Asked for some tag, whereby to


identify the group, Zukofsky used the term "objectivist"—which he once spoke of in conversation as follows:

I picked the word simply because I had something very simple in mind. You live with the things as they exist and as you sense them and think them. That's the first thing, and that I call sincerity in an essay that was printed at the back of that Poetry number. Otherwise how sincere your intentions doesn't matter. The rest is, once you do that, you do put them into a shape that, apart from your having lived it, is now on its own, and that's what goes into the world and becomes part of it.

He has been long and quietly about his work, and, in the passage of time, he has written other books which complement it significantly—All , the collected short poems in two volumes (1923–1958; 1956–1964), and Bottom: On Shakespeare (published in 1963) among them. What he has said of the latter makes a useful focus here. First, despite that it is written in prose, he calls it "a long poem on a theme for the variety of its recurrences." The theme is, "that Shakespeare's text thruout favors the clear physical eye against the erring brain" and "that this theme has historical implications." Second, a "valid skepticism, that, as 'philosophy of history' taking in the (arts and sciences) my book takes exception to all philosophies from Shakespeare's point of view, that is, the physical eye against the erring brain." Third, "a continuation of my work on prosody in my other writings. In this sense my wife's music [her setting of Shakespeare's Pericles is the second volume of this work] saves me a lot of words, and she did a note to every syllable of Pericles ." Finally, it is "a poet's autobiography as involvement of twenty years in a work shows him up, or, as in the case of Shakespeare, his words show him, are his life. . . ."

About All , Zukofsky says: "In a sense All is an autobiography: the words are my life . . . Or to put it in other words, the poet's form is never an imposition of history, but the desirability of making order out of history as it is felt and conceived."

In the title story of It was , a collection published in 1961, the story itself having been written twenty years earlier, one finds: "This story was a story of our time. And a writer's attempts not to fathom his time amount but to sounding his mind in it. I did not want to break up my form by pointing to well-known place names and dates in the forty years that I had lived—events familiar to most of us, to some more than myself. I wanted our time to be the story, but like the thought of a place passed by once and recalled


altogether: seen again as through a stereoscope blending views a little way apart into a solid—defying touch. I was saying something that had had a sequence, like the knowledge of taking a breath, and hiding it, because one breathes without pointing to it before and after. . . ." "Thanks to the Dictionary," the final piece of this same book, written in 1932, begins:

"A." Quoting the dictionary. Remembering my sawhorses, my little a.'s abbreviated for afternoon, perhaps for years, this afternoon.

Quoting Satie, "born very young in a world already old," he has said of "A," "The idea is much as the brain does err, it will willynilly get down, and sometimes the eye sees—the form in that sense organic, or all of one's life, and this is the life, and for the rest nobody else's business. It's written in one's time and place, and it refers to other times and places as one grows, whatever way one grows. It takes in books that survive—say, well, like Bach's music it can go down, it can go up, that's the interest of it and all to come through the form of the thing. To hold it together, I don't know—a song?" From "A" 12:

You remember
The houses where we were born
The first horse pulsed
Until the evening and the morning
Were the first day?

I'll tell you.
About my poetics

An integral
Lower limit speech
Upper limit music

Time qualifies the fire and spark of it
I can't improve that .
That closed and open sounds saw
See somehow everlastingly
Out of the eye of sky.


Poetics. With constancy.

As I love:
My poetics. . . .

Better a fiddle than geiger?
With either there is so much in I
And in one:

Courses tide, and a tide
                            brings back folk
                            after twenty years,
A cycle a light matter or more,
So my song with an old voice is whole:
Another way of saying
You cannot take out of the circle—what was in it . . .

Thus to hear , as he would hear Catullus, in the translation he has made with his wife—"fact that delights as living hint and its cues" being "facit delicias libidinesque "—"which is much more simple in the Latin. It has to do with pleasures and desires . . ." So "A" 9 is an extraordinary reading of Guido Cavalcanti's Donna me prega , the experience of valuation, and of love, with Marx as he stems from Aristotle included—the form a canzone, which demands that fifty-four of the one hundred and fifty-four syllables occurring in a strophe be rhymed, extending to seventy-five lines in all. As Zukofsky notes, "it's all wound in," which impulse the sonnet form reverses. Here he has composed two distinct canzones—the first, of value, the second, of love—not a literal translation of Cavalcanti but rather an intensive experience of the intimate situation of his writing, as fact of sounds in the rhythms then relating. The second canzone repeats, almost verbatim, the rhymes of the first:

An impulse to action sings of a semblance
Of things related as equated values,
The measure all use is time congealed labor
In which abstraction things keep no resemblance


To goods created; integrated all hues
Hide their natural use. . . .

An eye to action sees love bear the semblance
Of things, related is equated—values
The measure all use who conceive love, labor
Men see, abstraction they feel, the resemblance
(Part, self-created, integrated) all hues
Show to natural use. . . .

To know what men say, one must hear them, and to hear them means moving with the intimate means of their occasion—

Out of deep need
Four trombones and the organ in the nave
A torch surged—
Timed the theme Bach's name
Dark, larch and ridge, night:
From my body to other bodies
Angels and bastards interchangeably
Who had better sing and tell stories
Before all will be abstracted.

Buffalo, N.Y.
April 2, 1967


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