I Only Am Escaped Alone to Tell Thee

By Howard Nemerov 1920–1991 Howard Nemerov
I tell you that I see her still
At the dark entrance of the hall.
One gas lamp burning near her shoulder   
Shone also from her other side   
Where hung the long inaccurate glass   
Whose pictures were as troubled water.   
An immense shadow had its hand   
Between us on the floor, and seemed   
To hump the knuckles nervously,   
A giant crab readying to walk,   
Or a blanket moving in its sleep.

You will remember, with a smile   
Instructed by movies to reminisce,   
How strict her corsets must have been,   
How the huge arrangements of her hair   
Would certainly betray the least   
Impassionate displacement there.   
It was no rig for dallying,
And maybe only marriage could   
Derange that queenly scaffolding—
As when a great ship, coming home,   
Coasts in the harbor, dropping sail
And loosing all the tackle that had laced
Her in the long lanes ....
                                       I know
We need not draw this figure out.
But all that whalebone came from whales.   
And all the whales lived in the sea,   
In calm beneath the troubled glass,   
Until the needle drew their blood.

I see her standing in the hall,
Where the mirror’s lashed to blood and foam,   
And the black flukes of agony
Beat at the air till the light blows out.

Howard Nemerov, “I Only Am Escaped Alone to Tell Thee” from The Collected Poems of Howard Nemerov (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1977). Copyright © 1977 by Howard Nemerov. Reprinted with the permission of Margaret Nemerov.

Source: The Collected Poems of Howard Nemerov (The University of Chicago Press, 1977)

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Poet Howard Nemerov 1920–1991

Subjects Seas, Rivers, & Streams, Marriage & Companionship, Animals, Ghosts & the Supernatural, Living, Nature, Mythology & Folklore

Poetic Terms Dramatic Monologue

 Howard  Nemerov

Biography

Howard Nemerov was a highly acclaimed poet often cited for the range of his capabilities and subject matter, "from the profound to the poignant to the comic," James Billington remarked in his frequently quoted announcement of Nemerov's appointment to the post of United States poet laureate. A distinguished professor at Washington University in St. Louis from 1969 to 1990, Nemerov wrote poetry and fiction that managed to engage . . .

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SUBJECT Seas, Rivers, & Streams, Marriage & Companionship, Animals, Ghosts & the Supernatural, Living, Nature, Mythology & Folklore

Poetic Terms Dramatic Monologue

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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