previous chapter
"A Light, a Glory, a Fair Luminous Cloud"
next chapter

"A Light, a Glory, a Fair Luminous Cloud"

Letters , by Robert Duncan. Jargon Fourteen. Highlands, N.C.: Jonathan Williams, 1958.

We are made by what we make, the poet (makar ) also. Robert Duncan makes clear, "It is not expression nor creation that I seek; but my inventions are addressed to an adventure. The medium of words." This medium is both path and declaration, for it is the way by which the poet moves and the way, also, by which all moves to him. It is:

a word giving up its ghost
memorized as the flavor
   from the vowels (the bowels)
   of meaning
("For A Muse Meant")

The image of what I am talking about begins to come: it is a fair land, a life, a language. And we, poets, are made up by it—it is a maker—and we in turn making ourselves up are of it.

("With Bells Shaking")

The Letters then make a character for the initial communication, serve as communicants here, as everywhere and always. We know that what we see finds "images more powerful than our own power of sight." This is the truth of "the full splendour of poetry in which we blindly see."

Poetry , April 1960.


It were a good thing to begin a book with Blake's beginning: HEAR THE VOICE OF THE BARD ! for it is the imagination who listens then—but the Bard is the voice of the listener, who hears, sees, the ancient trees, the Holy Word walking there, crying.

("Figures of Speech")

In finding this, as we read, we find ourselves discovered, by the writer, as ourselves discover him.

An imaginary woman reads by her lamplight, inclining her head slightly, listening to the words as I write them: we are there, as the poem comes into existence—she and I—losing ourselves in the otherness of what is written. I too then am imaginary.

("At the End of a Period")

Relationships derive from this ground, read or unread. The forms which sustain us are those devices of conjecture, force, or need, making ourselves the device of their forms. They wear us as their sign.

But—"Cezanne restored the destroyed mountain . . ." So Coleridge may write, "O Lady! we receive but what we give, / And in our life alone does Nature live . . ."

Is there another altar than the fact we make,
the form, fate, future dared
   desired in the act?
("Upon Taking Hold")

Loss may well live here:

the reaching out, risk of the touch,
rhymes that mimic much of loss, ghost goings,
  words lost in passing, echoed
where they fall, againnesses of sound only.
("Words Open Out upon Grief")

Yet how else should we live, despite that "Never to this fullness I came, that fills me"? Such risk defines the poet, makes him as the poem.

Then with that triumph of assertion, that dear courage in which the creature addresses the creator—for we have in faith to take our stand with God, and say IT IS GOOD —I sign my name, I, Robert Duncan, made this, as best I know.

("Preface: L'Oeuvre de Vivant L'Oeuvre de fantôme")

 . . .  now I, who did not see, see.
Friend, you have given your hand to me


previous chapter
"A Light, a Glory, a Fair Luminous Cloud"
next chapter