Jul. 12, 2003

At Least That Abandon

by Kenneth Rexroth

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Poem: "At Least That Abandon," by Kenneth Rexroth from Sacramental Acts Love Poems (Copper Canyon Press).

At Least That Abandon

As I watch at the long window
Crowds of travelers hurry
Behind me, rainy darkness
Blows before me, and the great plane
Circles, taxis to the runway,
Waits, and then roars off into
The thick night. I follow it
As it rises through the clouds
And levels off under the stars.
Stars, darkness, a row of lights,
Moaning engines, thrumming wings,
A silver plane over a sea
Of starlit clouds and rain bound
Sea. What I am following
Is a rosy, glowing coal
Shaped like the body of a
Woman - rushing southward a
Meteor afire with the
Same fire that burns me unseen
Here on the whirling earth amongst
Bright, busy, incurious
Faces of hundreds of people
Who pass me, unaware of
The blazing astrophysics
Of the end of a weekend.

Literary Notes:

It's the birthday of Julius Caesar, born in Rome around 100 B.C. This month was called Quintilis until Julius came along, and it was renamed July in his honor. We remember Caesar as a Roman dictator, but he was also a writer. Much of what he wrote has been lost, including poems, oratory, a collection of sayings, and a study of grammar. But his works The Civil War and the seven-volume On the Gallic War still survive. In the year 47 B.C. he fought a brief war for the kingdom of Pontus in Asia Minor, and later he wrote, "Veni, vidi, vici": "I came, I saw, I conquered."

It's the birthday of Chilean poet and politician Pablo Neruda, born Neftali Ricardo Reyes Basoalto, in Parral, Chile (1904). He's the author of Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair (1924), Residence on Earth (1933), and The Captain's Verses (1952). He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971. He began to write poetry at age 10, but his father, who was a railway worker, discouraged him. When he published his poetry in his teens, Neruda chose a new name to hide his work from his father. He liked "Pablo," and saw the name of Jan Neruda, a nineteenth century Czech writer, while glancing through a literary journal. In 1949 he fled Chile. He was a senator, but he had published a letter critical of the president and he was wanted by the government. He rode on horseback over the Andes Mountains to Argentina, on a trail covered with rock slides and grave sites. He carried with him in his saddlebag the manuscript of one of his greatest works, an epic poem about Latin America, Canto General (1950).

It's the birthday of American essayist and poet Henry David Thoreau, born in Concord, Massachusetts (1817). He's the author of Walden; or, Life in the Woods (1854) and the famous essay "Civil Disobedience" (1849). When Ralph Waldo Emerson moved to Concord, Thoreau became his disciple. Thoreau worked and lived in Emerson's house as a sort of handyman. Thoreau wanted to be a poet but was struggling; Emerson encouraged him. Emerson suggested that Thoreau begin keeping a journal, and he did, starting in 1837, and he wrote in it until his death. Together, the two men started a magazine, The Dial, which published Thoreau's poems and essays. In 1845, when Thoreau was 27, he built a small cabin on the edge of Walden Pond, a small lake near Concord, and moved there. His goal, he wrote, was "To live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach." He wrote his classics, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849) and Walden (1854). Henry David Thoreau said, "Do not be too moral. You may cheat yourself out of much life. Aim above morality. Be not simply good; be good for something."

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