Kenneth Burke WUSTL Reading, 4 Dec. 1970, Washington University at St. Louis

Click here for the original recording in MP3 format.

Transcribed and Edited by Adam Humes and Ethan Sproat

Editors' Note

This transcription is part of the ongoing Kenneth Burke Digital Archive (KBDA), which was initially established by a small group of KB scholars at the 2014 KBS conference in St. Louis, "Attitudes Toward Technology/Technology's Attitudes." Apropos to the location of the 2014 KBS conference, this recording and transcription also took place in St. Louis at Washington University at St. Louis (WUSTL). The transcription below is of a reading KB gave as part of the Assembly Series of invited lectures at WUSTL. At the time of the recording, KB was a visiting professor at WUSTL and a close friend of Howard Nemerov, who was a professor of poetry at WUSTL and had previously been a colleague of KB at Bennington College. During this recording, Howard Nemerov introduces KB to the audience before KB reads various poems amid his own commentary.
This transcription and the MP3 recording above appear here by permission of the Kenneth Burke Literary Trust and in coordination with the Washington University Libraries Department of Special Collections Manuscript Division. In the transcript below, timestamps in parentheses periodically precede shifts from reading to commentary or from speaker to speaker. Speakers' names appear in all caps in bold in brackets. Any portions that were unintelligible to the transcribers and editors are here represented with the word “unintelligible” in bold in brackets. If any readers have any suggested corrections to the text below based on the MP3 recording linked above, please contact Ethan Sproat, the KBDA Lead Archivist, at]


[HOWARD NEMEROV:] That's the one for René Wellek I guess I better not give the introduction for René Wellek. Okay. Hey, Burke. Kenneth Burke, from the faculty of English at this university, this year as the very first visiting professor. For the most part of Mr. Burke's work, as you're aware, is in literary criticism and the study of the ways of language in general. And I could, as an introducer, properly recite the list of the titles of his works along these lines, but Mr. Burke and I got together earlier and agreed that this introduction is under no circumstances to last more than forty minutes. With, of course, a question period. And anyhow, as a demonstration of his philosophical and critical works, and a long with, he has written fictions in both prose and verse. And it is his poetry we are to hear on the present occasion. He called one volume of it a Book of Moments. That's a kind of description and key to the art. The problem in some of the poems is how much in the road from nothing to everything or the other way, too, can be eternized in a single moment if you were still to emerge with something? There's a wonderful image on the back dust jacket of his collected poems, which I've already said it was wonderful. I suspect he designed it himself. It starts like a spiral nebula from nowhere and it fades over the edge of the page into the sides. It's entirely composed of words. Alternatively, the objects of his poetry are the six biblical characteristics he set forth when he tried, poor fellow, to write a novel. Decided he couldn't write it. A real novel, the kind with plot, so he invented something like better. It had these six biblical characteristics: lamentation, rejoicing, beseechment, admonitions, sayings, and invective. I'm permitted to give you one example before his voice is not as good as mine. It's called

"Creation Myth."
In the beginning, there was universal Nothing.

Then Nothing said No to itself and thereby begat Something.
Which called itself, Yes.

Then No and Yes, cohabiting, begat Maybe.

Next, all three in a ménage à trois, begat Guilt.

And Guilt was of many names:

Mine, Thine, Yours, Ours, His, Hers, Its, Theirs—and Order.

In time, things so came to pass That two of its names, Guilt and Order, Honoring their great progenitors, Yes, No, and Maybe, begat History.

Finally, History fell a-dreaming
And dreamed about language—

And that brings us to critics who write critiques of critical criticism. Which, in turn, brings us to Kenneth Burke.


[KENNETH BURKE:] I should first tell you my—do we need this thing? I hate those things. I like to speak to you. I don't these damn machines. Can we put that off? Can I talk to you out here? Can't we? No? Can't be done? Can't be done, okay. This is progress. This is progress, I don't know. First thing, I would like to say: now is it back? Do I have to talk low or something? I don't know. You see, I've been living for years. I don't know how to do these damn things, you know? They mess me up,

[MALE VOICE 1:] I'll take it away for you.

[KENNETH BURKE:] Yeah, take it away.

[MALE VOICE 1:] if I can figure out how to do it. There.

[KENNETH BURKE:] Thank you. Now, can you hear me? I am most grateful to Howard Nemerov. And I am absolutely so against him in one way. And that is that a poet is a critic every goddamned year. Howard's half and half. A critic has to go every year either everything he does, he has to be a new deal. Or at least he has to make it look like a new deal. But I realized the racket that poets have. That is, one day I had put over a deal. They had offered me a job at a certain place where they gave me so much, and I said, "Add two hundred bucks and I will give a poetry reading." So I put this deal over, and you know, the poetry reading, because as a matter of fact, that particular poem I'm going to read to you tonight is worth two thousand two hundred dollars. By that method. But the truth is, you have this. What these fellas can do? What these poets can do, you know? Here you are: you're in your seventies, you're falling apart. If you said something last year, they say, "But he said that last year." I found out that the first time I put this deal over, then in the evening session, which was my theoretical talk, you see, that was my critical talk. I was to give a poetry session in the afternoon, and so in the evening talk, I ask for questions. And somebody got up and says, "Will you please read again that poem you read this afternoon?" I really put the poets hat on this poor critic? I'm just working like hell to write poetry. Anyhow, I would like to first read the poem that has that sort of angle. The poem that was in here, "Heavy heavy, what hangs over." Remember that little thing, "Heavy, heavy what hangs over?"

At eighty, reading lines he wrote at twenty,
the storm now passed,
a gust in the big tree,
Splatters rain drops on the roof.

That makes sense to you? You got a storm going on its way. After that's over, so it's all through, and then a little wind summons creatures. Well, you know these fellas, they can sell their poems at the age of seventeen and I'm going to sell mine at the age of seventy. Tonight? Yes, I will write you some poems that I have written at the age of seventeen. But first I want to present my major number, I think. The rhetoricians tell me that your attention span is best at the beginning of a talk, so I'm going to read my long poem at the beginning of this talk. And it has to do with a situation I think you might be interested in. Over in [unintelligible], I'm trying to work this both ways. I'm trying to read a poem and talk about the kinds of things you might be interested in just as if I was just giving a lecture. We have a problem like this in this poem. I was immobilized in Brooklyn at this time because my wife happened to be physically immobilized and I was psychically immobilized. So we sat over this place in Brooklyn, looking over from Brooklyn Heights over to the southern end of Manhattan Island. Half of it was the bay and half of it was Manhattan Island. And there's no question about it, that—I thought that I was an insomniac, I would be up at around three or four 'o clock in the morning—that place was just blazing. Incredible. And that was exactly the same place in Brooklyn Heights, where Whitman came across. And there was the bridge, still there. [Hart's Range Bridge.] That's all cleared up. Of course, the Brooklyn ferry is not any longer there, that very street that he was living on, that very street I was living on, that's all Jehovah's Witnesses now. They work another angle. I build from that. I get the notion that I get the structure of this before we start: there are there stages. Here is where Whitman crossed on a ferry. Well, same area, same place from there. He went back, but that's all gone. And here's the bridge that Hart went across, here was I—let's say here was the writer—who was immobilized because his companion was immobilized. His companion was immobilized physically, so he was immobilized psychologically. So all he could do was see, was look across, you see. So the thing is called "Eye-Crossing—From Brooklyn to Manhattan." as built that way. Now in this picture, in this story that I tell, after the poem came out I was asked who was the Olympian leper that I referred to? And why was he a leper I said, "He was an Olympian because he was a man who transcended his physical problems. He was really a transcendentalist. I mean, he was a leper, because he was a leper. A poet, a critic, a thinker, a wall. If any of you have never met, remind me to go on. He was a beauty of his ways of dealing with all these problems. So when I refer to the Olympian leper in this poem, I am referring to [unintelligible]. This poem is dedicated to Marianne Moore, Marianne Moore was one of the most astonishing experiences of my life. She even taught me, for a while, to blush. I've lost the ability since then. She really had such delicacy, such perception. She would say all kinds of things, all of the sudden, I don't know. I don't know. But she had by the time this poem was written, Marianne Moore had left Brooklyn and gone back to New York. So that's the twist there. So therefore, our relationship with the Dodgers is a little bit ambiguous from then on. I don't know, a few little spots as we go along, you see, I'm only going to do one long poem because the rhetoricians that you can only hope to hold them for so long. your attention span will run down. So this is the only long poem I'm gong to do this evening. Pleas have that attention span spare. But I have to make a few little spots along the way. You could work this out for yourselves if you had a little more time. There's a couple of spots—for instance, you have Scylla and Charybdis. So in the first two lines, I don't know why I messed that up. Why worry about it? I’ll just do it the way I do it.

Scheming to pick my way past Charybdylla
(or do I mean Scyllybdis?)
caught in the midst of being nearly over,
not “midway on the roadway of our life,”

You know, that's what I'm doing there, "mezzo del cammin nostra vita." That's the big line in Dante that I'm referring to there.

a septuagenarian valetudinarian

A ninety guy who is ailing.

thrown into an airy osprey-eyrie

I should tell you about this place where we are. We were over this whole thing. This'll build up if you might know it in the first place. We were up, looking out over that bay. It's really one of the most marvelous spots in the world. You'll find my terror of the whole situation. It will come through. But that is the most incredible place. It is actually the eighth miracle of the [unintelligible] miracle, but to see that place at four o'clock in the morning. You wake up and there it is, just big, big. It's raging. So that's what I mean by that marvelous place we were then.

with a view most spacious
(and every bit of it our country's primal gateway even),
although, dear friends, I'd love to see you later,
after the whole thing's done,
comparing notes, us comically telling one another
just what we knew or thought we knew
that others of us didn't,
all told what fools we were, every last one of us—
I'd love the thought, a humane after-life,
more fun than a bbl. of monkeys,
but what with being sick of wooing Slumber,
I'll settle gladly for Oblivion.

Second [II]
Weep, Hypochondriasis (hell, I mean smile):
The bell rang, I laid my text aside,
The day begins in earnest, they have brought the mail.
And now to age and ailments add
a thirteen-page single-spaced typed missile-missive,
to start the New Year right.
On the first of two-faced January,
"… the injuries you inflict upon me … persecution …
such legal felonies … unremitting efforts … malice, raids,
slander, conspiracy … your spitefulness …"
—just when I talked of getting through the narrows,
now I'm not so sure.
Smile, Hypochondriasis, (her, I mean wanly weep).

Let's being again.
Crossing by eye, from Brooklyn to Manhattan,
(23:30) Maybe I forgot to tell you, it's called "Eye-Crossing—from Brooklyn to Manhattan." I'm saying we only cross by eye because we're caught on this side. What we're gong to do here; we have to do two things. We have to cross, and come back and look at things on this side, Brooklyn. Then we go back and forth. We only just look across. Let's begin again:

Crossing by eye, from Brooklyn to Manhattan
(Walt's was a ferry crossing,
Hart's by bridge)—

Now get that thing I'm trying to build up three stages here. Three stages, basically. I'm trying to build up the difference between Whitman's "Sail Stock", and Hart's "Nostalgia," and where we are now. I'm just trying to build a sequence that way. That's what I'm working on here, so watch it and you want to do a [unintelligible] that's the structure I'm working on. Let's begin again:

Crossing by eye, from Brooklyn to Manhattan
(Walt's was a ferry-crossing,
Hart's by bridge)—
to those historic primi donni,

I made up a word there, if you noticed. Here I am an ideal in an eye. What would be the masculine [unintelligible]. I just figured I'd do the best I could do.

to those historic primi donni,

Here I am, an ideal in an eye.

now add me, and call me what you will.
From Brooklyn, now deserted
by both Marianne Moore and the Dodgers—

I forgot to tell you, this poem is dedicated to Marianne Moore.

an eye-crossing
with me knocked cross-eyed or cockeyed
by a maddening, by a saddening vexing letter
from a dear friend gone sour.
I think of a Pandora's box uncorked
while I was trying to untie
Laocoön's hydra-headed Gordian knot,
entangled in a maze of Daedalus,
plus modern traffic jam cum blackout.
Let's begin again.

The architectural piles,

Looking over from Brooklyn, would know what goddamned stuff they've got over there.

The architectural piles, erections, impositions,
monsters of high-powered real estate promotion—
from a room high on Brooklyn Heights
the gaze is across and UP, to those things' peaks,
their arrogance!
When measured by this scale of views from Brooklyn
they are as though deserted.
And the boats worrying

He can't see anything of them.

And the boats worrying the harbor
they too are visibly deserted
smoothly and silent
moving in disparate directions
each as but yielding to a trend that bears it
like sticks without volition
carried on a congeries
of crossing currents.
And void of human habitation,
the cars on Madhatter's Eastern drive-away
formless as stars
speeding slowly
close by the feet of the godam mystic giants—
a restlessness unending, back and forth
(glimpses of a drive, or drivenness,
from somewhere underneath the roots of reason)

I'd like to give those lines. By popular request I'm reading those lines over again.

(glimpses of a drive, or drivenness,
from somewhere underneath the roots of reason)
me looking West, towards Manhattan, Newark, West
Eye-crossing I have seen the sunrise
gleaming in the splotch and splatter
of Western windows facing East.

Now give me a chance for the next section. I'd like to give you a couple of things to prepare for. I used the fact that B-E-H-E-M-O-T-H uses two accents. you can say either beheMOTH or beHEmoth. And I used the word "boustrophedon." Now I know many of you know boustrophedon and many of you don't. I must admit that for a few years, I didn't know boustrophedon. Boustrophedon comes from a word which comes form "bous" is the ox, and "strophe" the turn. And what it refers to is when the ox went to the end of the line and turned. When you were plowing, you went back and forth and the word was used for kinds of languages. Some go from right to left and some go from left to right. Between Hebrew and English you get all these twists back and forth. So the next stanza works with that.


You see we ended up there, I was looking west and seeing the east in the reflected.

East? West?
Between USSR and USA,
their Béhemoth and our Behémoth,
a dialogue of sorts?
Two damned ungainly beasts,
threats to the entire human race's race
but for their measured dread of each the other.
How give or get an honest answer?
Forgive me for this boustrophedon mood
going from left to right, then right to left,
pulling the plow thus back and forth alternately
a digging of furrows not in a field to plant,
but on my own disgruntled dumb-ox forehead.
My Gawd! Begin again!

See, I do these studies on two sides. Some I'm doing on the side of Brooklyn. some I'm looking over to New York, in Manhattan.

Turn back. Now just on this side:.
By keeping your wits about you,.
you can avoid the voidings,.
the dog-signs scattered on the streets and sidewalks.
(you meet them face to faeces).
and everywhere the signs of people.
(you meet them face to face).
The Waltman, with time and tide before him,.
he saw things face to face, he said so.
then there came a big blow.
the pavements got scoured drastically.
—exalted, I howled back.
into the teeth of the biting wind.
me in Klondike zeal.
inhaling powdered dog-dung.
(here's a new perversion).
now but an essence on the fitful gale.
Still turning back.
Surmarket—mock-heroic confrontation at—.
(An Interlude).

You ask why I have used a surmarket as agianst supermarket. After all, they say surrealism is against superrealism, so why can't I say surmarket as against supermarket? We've got now a confrontation of bull acts and an interlude. This is a mock heroic confrontation.

Near closing time, we're zeroing in.
Ignatius Panallergicus

Panallergicus, huh? That's me, and allergic to everything? Pan allergicus No? No?

Ignatius Panallergicus (that's me)
his cart but moderately filled
(less than five dollars buys the lot)
he picks the likeliest queue and goes line up
then waits, while for one shopper far ahead
the lady at the counter tick-ticks off and tallies
items enough to gorge a regiment.
Then, lo! a possibility not yet disclosed sets in.
While Panallergicus stands waiting
next into line a further cart wheels up,
whereat Ignatius Panallergicus (myself, unknowingly
the very soul of Troublous Helpfullness) suggests:
"It seems to me, my friend, you'd come out best
on that line rather than on one of these."
And so (let's call him "Primus")
Primus shifts.
Development atop development:
Up comes another, obviously "Secundus,"
to take his stand behind Ignatius, sunk in thought.
No sooner had Secundus joined the line
than he addressed Ignatius Panallerge approximately thus:
"Good neighbor,

I'm trying to make this very realistic.

"Good neighbor, of this temporary junction,
pray, guard my rights in this arrangement
while I race off to get one further item,"
then promptly left, and so things stood.
But no. Precisely now in mankind's pilgrimage
who suddenly decides to change his mind
but Primus who, abandoning his other post,
returns to enroll himself again in line behind Ignatius.
Since, to that end, he acts to shove aside
Secundus' cart and cargo, Crisis looms.
Uneasy, Panallergicus explains:
"A certain …Iamsorry … but you see …
I was entrusted … towards the preservation of …"
but no need protest further—
for here is Secundus back,
and wrathful of his rights
as ever epic hero of an epoch-making war
Both aging champions fall into a flurry
of fishwife fury,

Honest to God, I'm just throwing this stuff out there.

of fishwife fury, even to such emphatical extent
that each begins to jettison the other's cargo.
While the contestants rage, pale Panallerge
grins helplessly at others looking on.
But Primus spots him in this very act and shouts
for all to hear, "It's all his fault … he was the one …
he brought this all about …"
and Panallergicus now saw himself
as others see him, with a traitor's wiles.
I spare the rest. (There was much more to come)
How An Authority came swinging in,
twisted Secundus' arm behind his back
and rushed him bumbling from the store.

I tried to do a suggestion that around about there that the bums rush up.

How further consequences flowed in turn,
I leave all that unsaid.
And always now, when edging towards the counter,
his cargo in his cart,
Our Ignatz Panallerge Bruxisticus

He's got a new name now, he's been through. Bruxisticus comes from bruxism is the psychological twist of gritting your teeth.

our Ignatz Panallerge Bruxisticus
(gnashing his costly, poorly fitting dentures)
feels all about his head
a glowering anti-glowing counter-halo …

Haven't I done a job with counter halos? Haven't I got it countered in two ways? The counter you're around but the counter...

Is that a millstone hung about his neck?
No, it is but the pressing-down
of sixty plus eleven annual milestones.

That was when I was seventy-one. I was just a kid then.

(It was before the damning letter came.
Had those good burghers also known of that!)

But no! Turn back from turning back. Begin again:
of a late fall evening
I walked on the Esplanade

Anybody know that place there? It's just a marvelous thing. I can't build that up for you enough.

looking across at the blaze of Walt's Madhatter
and north to Hart's graceful bridge, all lighted
in a cold, fitful gale I walked
on the Esplanade in Brooklyn now deserted
by both Marianne and the Dodgers.
Things seemed spooky—
eight or ten lone wandering shapes,
and all as afraid of me as I of them?
We kept a wholesome distance from one another.
Had you shrieked for help in that bluster
who'd have heard you?
Me and my alky in that cold fitful bluster
on the Esplanade that night
above the tiers of the mumbling unseen traffic
It was scary
it was ecstactic


Some decades earlier, before my Pap

Here's a twist in this thing here. Pap is worry, a personal concerning thing. Here I was, near the emblem. I'm looking this way, but a way back like God, first came to New York looking the other way, towards the east.

Some decades earlier, before my Pap
fell on evil days (we then were perched
atop the Palisades, looking East, and down
upon the traffic-heavings of the Hudson)
I still remember Gramma (there from Pittsburgh for a spell)
watching the tiny tugs tug monsters.
Out of her inborn sweetness and memories
of striving, puffing all that together,
"Those poor little tugs!" she'd say.
God only knows what all
she might be being sorry for.

Why did she say that thing? She'd sit up there, watching those pulling those folks around the highway. Those poor little tugs, pulling all those big freighters. Poor little tugs. I think her whole life was behind that is what I'm getting at. Now, repeatedly, we watch the tugs. Poor little tugs from here. they're over there in Brooklyn and we're on the other side.

their signals back and forth as though complaining.
The two tugs help each other tugging, pushing
(against the current into place)
a sluggish ship to be aligned along a dock,
a bungling, bumbling, bulging, over-laden freighter.
Their task completed,
the two tugs toot good-bye,
go tripping on their way,
leaning as lightly forward
as with a hiker
suddenly divested
of his knapsack.
"Good-bye," rejoicingly, "good-bye"—
whereat I wonder:
Might there also be a viable albeit risky way
to toot
"If you should drive up and ask me,
I think you damn near botched that job"?
"I think you stink."
What might comprise the total range and nature
of tugboat-tooting nomenclature?

Profusion of confusion. No, wait, don't. Am I still here? No. Am I still here? We changed the rhythm. We changed the pace.

a plunk-plunk juke-box joint
him hunched on a stool
peering beyond his drink
at bottles lined up, variously pregnant
(there’s a gleaming for you)
Among the gents
a scattering of trick floozies.
May be they know or not
just where they'll end,
come closing time.
He'll be in a room alone
himself and his many-mirrored other.
It was a plunk-plunk juke-box joint
its lights in shadow

Profusion of confusion. What of a tunnel-crossing?
What if by mail, phone, telegraph, or aircraft,
or for that matter, hearse?
You're in a subway car, tired, hanging from a hook,
and you would get relief?
Here's all I have to offer:
Sing out our national anthem, loud and clear,
and when in deference to the tune
the seated passengers arise,
you quickly slip into whatever seat
seems safest. (I figured out this scheme,
but never tried it.)
Problems pile up, like the buildings,
Even as I write, the highest to the left
soars higher day by day.
Now but the skeleton of itself
(these things begin as people end!)

Do you know what I mean there? They build a skeleton first. First they put that basic structure on, and then they put all that stuff around it. So that's what I mean by saying, "Now, with the skeleton of itself," That the basic structure, these things begin as people end.

all night its network of naked bulbs keeps flickering
towards us here in Brooklyn …
then dying into dawn …
or are our … are our what?

I'll confess to you, that last line I put in doesn't make any sense. Except, I didn't say I could positively say it without growling. Rawr rat what? I put it in for that reason.
Now the next one is an epic simile that falls apart. It's time for that, isn't it?

As with an aging literary man who, knowing
that words see but within
yet finding himself impelled to build a poem
that takes for generating core a startling View,
a novel visual Spaciousness
(he asks himself: "Those who have not witnessed it,
how tell them?—and why tell those who have?
Can you do more than say ‘remember’?")

Imagine trying to say if you haven't seen that damn thing from there, I can't tell you really what a fantastic vision it is. From there, from Brooklyn, Looking at a tree at four o'clock in the morning. And I just don't know how to handle that.

and as he learns the ceaseless march of one-time modulatings
unique to this, out of eternity,
this one-time combination
of primal nature (Earth's) and urban, technic second nature
there gleaming, towering, spreading out and up
there by the many-colored, changing-colored water
(why all that burning, all throughout the night?
some say a good percentage is because
the cleaning women leave the lights lit.
But no—it's the computers
all night long now
they go on getting fed.)

I might bring in a spot there. Years ago, about the first job I had really, well paying job, I was working down there, at 61 Broadway. you could go out that place at night, but you wanted to stay and work in your office. which is like going out into a remote village. It was, my God, that place was just simply blazing. All night now. What's the difference? Just what I said. It's the computers being fed. They've got to keep those animals fed.

as such a man may ask himself and try,
as such a one, knowing that words see but inside,
noting repeated through the day or night
the flash of ambulance or parked patrol car,
wondering, "Is it a ticket this time, or a wreck?"
or may be setting up conditions there
that helicopters land with greater safety,
so puzzling I, eye-crossing …
and find myself repeating (and hear the words
of a now dead once Olympian leper),
"Intelligence is an accident
Genius is a catastrophe."

That's the one. That's the one. Thank God it's not mine.

A jumble of towering tombstones
hollowed, not hallowed,
and in the night incandescent
striving ever to outstretch one another
like stalks of weeds dried brittle in the fall.
Or is it a mighty pack of mausoleums?
Or powerhouses of decay and death—
towards the poisoning of our soil, our streams, the air,
roots of unhappy wars abroad,
miraculous medicine, amassing beyond imagination
the means of pestilence,
madly wasteful journeys to the moon (why go at all,
except to show you can get back?)
I recalled the wanly winged words of a now dead gracious leper.
(My own words tangle like our entangled ways,
of hoping to stave off destruction
by piling up magic mountains of destructiveness.)

Do I foresee the day?
Calling his counsellors and medicos,
do I foresee a day, when Unus Plurium
World Ruler Absolute, and yet the august hulk
is wearing out—do I foresee such time?
Calling his counsellors and medicos together,
"That lad who won the race so valiantly,"
he tells them, and His Word is Law,
"I'd like that bright lad's kidneys—
and either honor him by changing his with mine
or find some others for him, as opportunity offers."
No sooner said than done.
Thus once again The State is rescued—
and Unus over all, drags on till next time.
Do I foresee that day, while gazing across, as though that realm was alien
Forfend forfending of my prayer
that if and when and as such things should be
those (from here) silent monsters
those (from here) silent monsters (over there)
will have by then gone crumbled into rubble,
and nothing all abroad
but ancient Egypt's pyramidal piles of empire-building hierarchal stylized
dung remains.
Oh, I have haggled nearly sixty years
in all the seventies I've moved along.
My country, as my aimless ending nears,
oh, dear my country, may I be proved wrong!

Now I have two stanzas here. One on Whitman, and one on a Hart and then the final. The quotations in the Whitman are from his "Crossing Brooklyn's Ferry."

"Eye-crossing" I had said? The harbor space so sets it up.
In Walt's ferry-crossing, besides the jumble of things seen
(they leave him "disintegrated")
even the sheer words "see," "sight," "look," and "watch" add up
to 33

I think that's a dirty trick. I'm not so sure. I'm afraid to try it again or anyhow.

the number of a major mythic cross-ifying.

I don't know. I think it now and again, it does that, after that, I haven't checked that again, but you get the idea anyhow.

33, the number of a major mythic cross-ifying.
In the last section of the Waltman's testimony
there is but "gaze," and through a "necessary film" yet …
"Gaze" as though glazed? It's not unlikely.
"Suspend," he says, "here and everywhere, eternal float of solution."
And the talk is of "Appearances" that "envelop the soul."
Between this culminating ritual translation
and the sheer recordings of the senses
there had been intermediate thoughts
of "looking" forward to later generations "looking" back.
Walt the visionary, prophetically seeing crowds of cronies
crossing and recrossing
on the ferry that itself no longer crosses.


That's a vision for you.

Six is the problematic section.
There he takes it easy, cataloguing all his vices
as though basking on a comfortable beach.

That's a wonderful trick, that is.

His tricks of ideal democratic promiscuity
include his tricks of ideal man-love.
In section six he does a sliding, it makes him feel good.
Blandly blind to the promotion racket stirring already all about him,
Blandly blind to the promotion racket stirring already all about him,
he "bathed in the waters" without reference to their imminent defiling
(Now even a single one
of the many monsters since accumulated
could contaminate the stream for miles.)
He sang as though it were all his—
a continent to give away for kicks.
And such criss-crossing made him feel pretty godam good.
Flow on, filthy river,
ebbing with flood-tide and with ebb-tide flooding.
Stand up, you feelingless Erections,
Fly on, O Flight, be it to fly or flee.
Thrive, cancerous cities.
Load the once lovely streams with the clogged filter of your filth.
even to the moon and beyond yet.
"There is perfection in you" in the sense
that even empire-plunder can't corrupt entirely.

That's the end of the Whitman. Now I go to the Hart-Crane one. I treat here the twist between idealistic and realistic.

And what of Hart's crossing by the bridge?
"Inviolate curve," he says. Who brought that up?
The tribute gets its maturing in the penultimate stanza,
"Under thy shadow by the piers I waited."
Hart too was looking.
But things have moved on since the days of Walt,
and Hart is tunnel-conscious.
And fittingly the subway stop at Wall Street,
first station on the other side,
gets named in the middle quatrain of the "Proem"
(Wall as fate-laden as Jericho, or now as mad Madison
of magic Madhatter Island.) Ah! I ache!
Hart lets you take your pick:
"Prayer of pariah and the lover's cry."

Here's the alternative:

(If crossing now on Brooklyn Bridge by car,
be sure your tires are sound—
for if one blows out you must keep right on riding
on the rim. That's how it sets up now
with what Hart calls a "curveship"
lent as a "myth to God."
I speak in the light of subsequent developments.)
Elsewhere, "The last bear, shot drinking in the Dakotas,"
Hart's thoughts having gone beneath the river by tunnel, and
"from tunnel into field," whereat "iron strides the dew."
Hart saw the glory, turning to decay,
albeit euphemized in terms of "time's rendings."
And by his rules, sliding from Hudson to the Mississippi,
he could end on a tongued meeting of river there and gulf,
a "Passion" with "hosannas silently below."
All told, though Walt was promissory,
Hart was nostalgic, Hart was future-loving only insofar
as driven by his need to hunt (to hunt the hart).
And as for me, an apprehensive whosis
I'm still talking of a crossing on a river

And I might say here that the reference of the thing here has to with the first time they went around the moon before they ever set foot on the moon.

I'm still talking of a crossing on a river
when three men have jumped over the moon,
a project we are told computer-wise
involving the social labor of 300,000 specialists
and 20,000 businesses.
Such are the signs one necessarily sees,
gleaming across the water,
the lights cutting clean
all through the crisp winter night.
"O! Ego, the pity of it, Ego!"

That's my most ambitious pun. "Iago, the pity of it, Iago!'

"O! Ego, the pity of it, Ego!"
"Malice, slander, conspiracy," the letter had said;
"your spitefulness …"

Just as the roads get jammed that lead
each week-day morning from Long Island to Manhattan,
so the roads get jammed that lead that evening
from Manhattan to Long Island.
And many's the driver that crosses cursing.
Meanwhile, lo! the Vista-viewing from our windows at burning nightfall:
To the left, the scattered lights on the water,
hazing into the shore in Jersey, on the horizon.
To the right, the cardboard stage-set of the blazing buildings.
Which is to say:
To the left,
me looking West as though looking Up,
it is with the lights in the harbor
as with stars in the sky,
just lights, pure of human filth—
or is it?
To the right,
the towerings of Lower Manhattan
ablaze at our windows
as though the town were a catastrophe
as doubtless it is …