For John Clare


Kind of empty in the way it sees everything, the earth gets to its feet and
salutes the sky. More of a success at it this time than most others it is. The
feeling that the sky might be in the back of someone’s mind. Then there is
no telling how many there are. They grace everything – bush and tree – to
take the roisterer’s mind off his caroling – so it’s like a smooth switch back.
To what was aired in their previous conniption fit. There is so much to be
seen everywhere that it’s like not getting used to it, only there is so much it
never feels new, never any different. You are standing looking at that
building and you cannot take it all in, certain details are already hazy and
the mind boggles. What will it all be like in five years’ time when you try
to remember? Will there have been boards in between the grass part and
the edge of the street? As long as that couple is stopping to look in that
window over there we cannot go. We feel like they have to tell us we can,
but they never look our way and they are already gone, gone far into the
future – the night of time. If we could look at a photograph of it and say
there they are, they never really stopped but there they are. There is so
much to be said, and on the surface of it very little gets said.
There ought to be room for more things, for a spreading out, like. Being
immersed in the details of rock and field and slope -letting them come to
you for once, and then meeting them halfway would be so much easier – if
they took an ingenuous pride in being in one’s blood. Alas, we perceive
them if at all as those things that were meant to be put aside – costumes of
the supporting actors or voice trilling at the end of a narrow enclosed street.
You can do nothing with them. Not even offer to pay.
It is possible that finally, like coming to the end of a long, barely
perceptible rise, there is mutual cohesion and interaction. The whole scene
is fixed in your mind, the music all present, as though you could see each
note as well as hear it. I say this because there is an uneasiness in things
just now. Waiting for something to be over before you are forced to notice
it. The pollarded trees scarely bucking the wind – and yet it’s keen, it
makes you fall over. Clabbered sky. Seasons that pass with a rush. After all
it’s their time too – nothing says they aren’t to make something of it. As for
Jenny Wren, she cares, hopping about on her little twig like she was tryin’
to tell us somethin’, but that’s just it, she couldn’t even if she wanted to –
dumb bird. But the others – and they in some way must know too – it
would never occur to them to want to, even if they could take the first step
of the terrible journey toward feeling somebody should act, that ends in
utter confusion and hopelessness, east of the sun and west of the moon. So
their comment is:”No Comment.” Meanwhile the whole history of probabilities
is coming to life, starting in the upper left-hand corner, like a sail.

from Selected Poems (Carcanet, 1998), © John Ashbery 1998, used by permission of the author.

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