Collected Poems of John Holmes
Holmes, John A., Jr.
Voices in a new world
Voices in a new world
What we are asking here is asked but once,
Then taken: time and peace to use our world.
Power we shall not Light for, only strength.
There are no longer mountain peaks to climb,
Islands to set a flag on, towns to name,
With danger's arrow aimed from every bush.
We are accustomed now, and come of age.
This is the world we love; not bright; not dark;
But ours to live in as we choose to live,
Bracing the timbers underneath the house,
Perfecting rhythms of resistance here
Against disorder, countermining death,
Making a skill of love, and keeping clean.
Hate is an ancient habit; so is greed.
But so is winter; so is wind and rain.
Now we shall watch the seasons with a care
Only to keep our wisdom warm and whole.
What we are asking here is nothing new:
Equality. Ten thousand times before
We hoped to use our lives in peace, and lost.
This is the world: a mad, a blundering world,
My masters, where the strongest own the most.
Hate is an ancient habit; so is greed.
But so is rebellion in the bitter dark,
And as for hate, God loves good haters, too.
We think the meek will not inherit earth.
Time is too short to praise the blowing trees,
Or read the poetry of streets and clouds,
But even a little, by our angry wills,
To bend stiff necks, or halt the pleasure hunt,
Or change the drift of history, is good.
We hear the sound of empire falling now,
And civil war inside the skull is stale.
It is no longer I and mine, my grief,
My gladdened heart, my luck, my will be done,
But all mankind at home on earth in peace
That needs our passion with our wisdom now.
Poetry is various; revolt is blood,
And peace the body quickened by its heat.
Nothing escapes from poetry but the voids,
The stony dullness and the stagnate end.
Bid me to live, and I shall live, your lips,
Your limbs, your eyes, your angry wills to be,
And teach your disagreement not in vain,
Setting your double passions in the sky
So close that lightning links them there;
Then, looking up from life, men still unborn
Will catch that color to their hearts again.
A long time saying neither yes or no,
We have been lookers-on; have learned at last
How simply the hand is filled to fill the heart.
Here where we are the roofs have not come down.
Decline and fall of empire is a long
Crumbling away of headlands into surf.
We can go farther inland, back to hills,
Back to the ramparts where the blood denies
This age we live in hurries toward an end
In futile frenzy and corrupt at heart
As all the wise men say in magazines.
Here are the morning and the afternoon,
And children's cries, and poetry written down,
And roads and rivers winding over earth,
And eyes to stare with at the stars and waves;
Here is the wood to work, the load to lift,
Here is the record of a life to make.
All these have been; and are; and these will be.
Our hearts are whole. We think the time has come
To use our world in peace.
We read the papers and we hurried home,
But there we could not sleep and could not eat,
And could not stand; we walked the floor and cursed,
Thinking of murder in Vienna streets.
Then we were sick with helplessness and hate.
No one shall sleep the night away, or laugh,
Or read, or love a friend, but they must think
Their love and laughter and their easy sleep
Must yet be earned with vengeance. And our hearts
Are whole, and we, too, think the time has come.
Neither or both your banners; never one.
To be so racked and outraged by the news,
So cramped by such particulars, the date,
The hour, the number dead, the ugly cause
This eats the mind away. So does revenge.
Rather revenge that murder making life
Wider; recover; cancel death's advance.
This indignation channels you too close.
So with retreat; it quenches wildfire life,
Picks from a rich variety of veins
One, and will ride on that without a risk.
Poetry, no man's minion rounds one hope
Or all, gives grace, or takes that grace away,
Reminds all men that time is at their heels.
No man alive but owes himself long life.
The single care, the small heart soon made whole,
Sets flashes off amid the wind-blown blaze
That sweeps with light the lunging world, the world.
The day will come, mark us, the day must come,
When such as we will crest a rising tide
That topples and levels all to brotherhood,
Divinities and magistrates with men.
When right is looped and nailed up like a flag
Cracking above the world-wide commonwealth
That all salute - then ranks of Lire will march,
Then blocks of bells will ring, to celebrate
The fatal end of sickness and despair
That music could not mend, not bugles boast,
Nor one more generation yet endure.
O comrades, have you heard how one of us
Hovered above the city in his dream?
He spied on warm suburban street and roof,
Circled the downtown towers, then overland,
Hunting the outpost line, the arsenal,
The war a class prepares against a class.
But have you heard there is to be no war?
Too many living, too much life, too strong
A hope that drives ten million single hearts
To rouse to war, he said in his report.
Searching the long horizon round the rim,
lie looked, he said, beyond it into time:
There is a different season coming in,
With swifter nightfall, sky blown bare and blue;
With vacant afternoons, and angry dust
Riding the curves of wind. Thunder will crack,
And still the enormous leaning clouds be dry,
And crooked shadows lie along the ground.
But slow as the season ages, while our fear
Mounts in the throat at these unprophesied
Unheard-of afternoons, and nights, and winds,
This weather will go by, and all at last
As ever come to the green heart of June.
Lauro de Bosis, airman, not in dream,
But skilful, hopeless, mad, Icarian flight,
Scattered a million letters down like snow,
To rouse Italians to rebellious war,
And made his death a weapon and a flag.
No one knows where the body fell and broke,
Or the burning motor plunged and died,
But the world knows what gave de Bosis wings.
My people sleep, he said, they lie bewitched
In chains a child could break from if he would.
That they may wake, rise, turn, be fierce, be free,
Someone must die, he said. And now we hear
All day in the dark stairways of the blood
Rebellion climbing to that little room,
The heart, there to demand great reckoning.
The slack years hide much blood, enfold much wrong;
They muffle murder with soft history
And dust, till men who choke and smother there
Await and welcome one event so taut
Rebellion beats upon it like a drum.
Poetry runs to help that sharp tattoo,
But all for relish of the ultimate,
To stretch itself in storm; as poetry would
To be there first where time with streaming flags
Declares new boundaries; as poetry would
To marvel at a green tree wound with sun,
Or see a young man live almost unscarred,
Mature in danger, passionate for peace,
Who wears flesh tight about his bones and bright,
His breath too quick for strangling, and his will,
With caring for his generation, harsh.
But these: the bonfire burning in the rain,
The moment made of light, the harvesters,
The longed-for dead: all these are poetry.
And these: blind skull, blue wind, persistent love,
And change, and memory, and grief: all these.
The world is one to poetry: the hawk
That hovers marking down its prey, plunges,
And strikes, is ignorant of county names.