Poems of the Week: A Few Modern Poems

Thomas Fleming


June 29, 2018

If I Could Tell You

Time will say nothing but I told you so
Time only knows the price we have to pay;
If I could tell you I would let you know.

If we should weep when clowns put on their show,
If we should stumble when musicians play,
Time will say nothing but I told you so.

There are no fortunes to be told, although,
Because I love you more than I can say,
If I could tell you I would let you know.

The winds must come from somewhere when they blow,
There must be reason why the leaves decay;
Time will say nothing but I told you so.

Perhaps the roses really want to grow,
The vision seriously intends to stay;
If I could tell you I would let you know.

Suppose the lions all get up and go,
And the brooks and soldiers run away;
Will Time say nothing but I told you so?
If I could tell you I would let you know.

W.H. Auden
My Grandmother's Love Letters
There are no stars to-night
But those of memory.
Yet how much room for memory there is
In the loose girdle of soft rain.There is even room enough
For the letters of my mother's mother,
That have been pressed so long
Into a corner of the roof
That they are brown and soft,
And liable to melt as snow.

Over the greatness of such space
Steps must be gentle.
It is all hung by an invisible white hair.
It trembles as birch limbs webbing the air.

And I ask myself:

'Are your fingers long enough to play
Old keys that are but echoes:
Is the silence strong enough
To carry back the music to its source
And back to you again
As though to her?'

Yet I would lead my grandmother by the hand
Through much of what she would not understand;
And so I stumble. And the rain continues on the roof
With such a sound of gently pitying laughter.

Hart Crane
Chard Whitlow
Mr. Eliot's Sunday Evening Postscript)

As we get older we do not get any younger.
Seasons return, and to-day I am fifty-five,
And this time last year I was fifty-four
And this time next year I shall be sixty-two.
And I cannot say I should like (to speak for myself)
To see my time over again - if you can call it time:
Fidgeting uneasily under a draughty stair,
Or counting sleepless nights in the crowded tube.

There are certain precautions - though none of them very reliable -
Against the blast from bombs and the flying splinter,
But not against the blast from heaven, vento dei venti,
The wind within a wind unable to speak for wind;
And the frigid burnings of purgatory will not be touched
By any emollient.
I think you will find this put,
Better than I could ever hope to express it,
In the words of Kharma: 'It is, we believe,
Idle to hope that the simple stirrup-pump
Will extinguish hell.'
Oh, listeners,
And you especially who have turned off the wireless,
And sit in Stoke or Basingstoke listening appreciatively to
the silence,
(Which is also the silence of hell) pray, not for your skins,
but for your souls.

And pray for me also under the draughty stair.
As we get older we do not get any younger.
And pray for Kharma under the holy mountain.

Henry Reed
Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina

8 Responses

  1. Raymond Olson says:

    Reed’s riff on Eliot remains one of the finest parodies I know; it makes me chuckle without asking me to disdain–which I don’t think I ever would.

    The Auden is light verse with crunch, Kohelet in a good mood.

    Hart Crane’s bit of nostalgia reminds me that he was a Midwesterner, from Ohio.

  2. Thomas Fleming Thomas Fleming says:

    Reed was a fine poet and deserves to known for more than this parody and his much anthologized “Naming of Parts.” The title poem of his volume, “A Map of Verona” is quite good. Auden was best in his least pretentious verse. Crane usually takes a lot of work. I thought I loved him in my teens, and I still have a soft spot. He drank too much and worked too hard. at his verse, but the early poems and the late poems sometimes work. “The Bridge” is altogether too much.

  3. Dot says:

    A family in my neighborhood recently lost their child. For seven years she lay in bed completely paralyzed. Her mother and father devoted their lives in taking care of her. She was only 24. She used to love swimming and wanted her ashes put in the ocean. She had no time yet in her paralyzed state she gave so much. I guess all that was Karma?

  4. Robert Reavis says:

    That is a very lovely story about your neighbors and their young daughter. Very moving to hear such stories still and the love involved in all the sacrifices and delights of perseverance to the end.

  5. Dot says:

    Thank you Robert. By means of current technology, she was able to communicate with friends and take some college courses. I think of her often and miss her. The neighborhood has been blessed in some way by this wonderful family. The mother and father are older and she was their only child. It was their delight to take care of her.

  6. Raymond Olson says:

    Tom–I first encountered Henry Reed when I was a teenager, and his work was in many magazines, though I think I first read “Chard Whitlow” in my older brother’s copy of Dwight Macdonald’s anthology, Parodies, which I highly recommend. I shall look into him again.

  7. Thomas Fleming Thomas Fleming says:

    Remind me, when you are in Rockford, and I’ll show you the volume of his I picked up somewhere.

  8. Thomas Fleming Thomas Fleming says:

    PS, I am putting up the fine film piece you sent yesterday.