The View from an Attic Window

By Howard Nemerov 1920–1991 Howard Nemerov

for Francis and Barbara

Among the high-branching, leafless boughs   
Above the roof-peaks of the town,   
Snowflakes unnumberably come down.

I watched out of the attic window   
The laced sway of family trees,   
Intricate genealogies

Whose strict, reserved gentility,   
Trembling, impossible to bow,   
Received the appalling fall of snow.

All during Sunday afternoon,   
Not storming, but befittingly,   
Out of a still, grey, devout sky,

The snowflakes fell, until all shapes
Went under, and thickening, drunken lines   
Cobwebbed the sleep of solemn pines.

Up in the attic, among many things   
Inherited and out of style,   
I cried, then fell asleep awhile,

Waking at night now, as the snow-
flakes from darkness to darkness go   
Past yellow lights in the street below.

I cried because life is hopeless and beautiful.   
And like a child I cried myself to sleep
High in the head of the house, feeling the hull   
Beneath me pitch and roll among the steep   
Mountains and valleys of the many years
   That brought me to tears.

Down in the cellar, furnace and washing machine,   
Pump, fuse-box, water heater, work their hearts   
Out at my life, which narrowly runs between   
Them and this cemetery of spare parts
For discontinued men, whose hats and canes   
   Are my rich remains.

And women, their portraits and wedding gowns   
Stacked in the corners, brooding in wooden trunks;   
And children’s rattles, books about lions and clowns;   
And headless, hanging dresses swayed like drunks   
Whenever a living footstep shakes the floor;
   I mention no more;

But what I thought today, that made me cry,   
Is this, that we live in two kinds of thing:   
The powerful trees, thrusting into the sky
Their black patience, are one, and that branching
Relation teaches how we endure and grow;   
   The other is the snow,

Falling in a white chaos from the sky,   
As many as the sands of all the seas,
As all the men who died or who will die,
As stars in heaven, as leaves of all the trees;   
As Abraham was promised of his seed;
   Generations bleed,

Till I, high in the tower of my time   
Among familiar ruins, began to cry
For accident, sickness, justice, war and crime,   
Because all died, because I had to die.
The snow fell, the trees stood, the promise kept,
   And a child I slept.

Howard Nemerov, “The View from an Attic Window” 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 Marriage & Companionship, Home Life, Winter, Trees & Flowers, Death, Weather, Parenthood, Living, Relationships, Nature

 Howard  Nemerov


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 Marriage & Companionship, Home Life, Winter, Trees & Flowers, Death, Weather, Parenthood, Living, Relationships, Nature

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