A Lesson in Geography

By Kenneth Rexroth 1905–1982 Kenneth Rexroth

of Paradys ne can not I speken
propurly ffor I was not there

        - Mandeville

The stars of the Great Bear drift apart
The Horse and the Rider together northeastward
Alpha and Omega asunder   
The others diversely
There are rocks
On the earth more durable
Than the configurations of heaven
Species now motile and sanguine   
Shall see the stars in new clusters   
The beaches changed
The mountains shifted   
Gigantic
Immobile
Floodlit
The faces appear and disappear   
Chewing the right gum   
Smoking the right cigarette   
Buying the best refrigerator   
The polished carnivorous teeth   
Exhibited in approval
The lights
Of the houses
Draw together
In the evening dewfall on the banks
Of the Wabash
Sparkle discreetly
High on the road to Provo   
Above the Salt Lake Valley   
And
The mountain shaped like a sphinx   
And
The mountain shaped like a finger   
Pointing
On the first of April at eight o'clock   
Precisely at Algol
There are rocks on the earth   
And one who sleepless
Throbbed with the ten
Nightingales in the plum trees   
Sleepless as Boötes stood over him   
Gnawing the pillow
Sitting on the bed's edge smoking   
Sitting by the window looking   
One who rose in the false   
Dawn and stoned
The nightingales in the garden   
The heart pawned for wisdom   
The heart
Bartered for knowledge and folly   
The will troubled
The mind secretly aghast
The eyes and lips full of sorrow   
The apices of vision wavering
As the flower spray at the tip of the windstalk   
The becalmed sail
The heavy wordless weight   
And now
The anguishing and pitiless file   
Cutting away life
Capsule by capsule biting   
Into the heart
The coal of fire
Sealing the lips
There are rocks on earth

And

In the Japanese quarter
A phonograph playing
“Moonlight on ruined castles”   
Kojo n'suki

And
The movement of the wind fish   
Keeping time to the music
Sirius setting behind it
(The Dog has scented the sun)
Gold immense fish   
Squirm in the trade wind   
“Young Middle Western woman
In rut
Desires correspondent”   
The first bright flower   
Cynoglossum
The blue hound's tongue   
Breaks on the hill   
“The tide has gone down   
Over the reef
I walk about the world   
There is great
Wind and then rain”
“My life is bought and paid for
So much pleasure
For so much pain”
The folded fossiliferous   
Sedimentary rocks end here
The granite batholith   
Obtrudes abruptly   
West of the fault line   
Betelgeuse reddens
Drawing its substance about it
It is possible that a process is beginning   
Similar to that which lifted   
The great Sierra fault block   
Through an older metamorphic range

(The Dog barks on the sun's spoor)   

Now

The thought of death
Binds fast the flood of light
Ten years ago the snow falling
All a long winter night
I had lain waking in my bed alone   
Turning my heavy thoughts
And no way might
Sleep
Remembering divers things long gone
Now
In the long day in the hour of small shadow   
I walk on the continent's last western hill   
And lie prone among the iris in the grass   
My eyes fixed on the durable stone
That speaks and hears as though it were myself

Kenneth Rexroth, “A Lesson in Geography” from The Collected Shorter Poems. Copyright © 1966 by Kenneth Rexroth. Reprinted with the permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation, www.wwnorton.com/nd/welcome.htm.

Source: The Collected Shorter Poems (1966)

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Poet Kenneth Rexroth 1905–1982

POET’S REGION U.S., Western

SCHOOL / PERIOD Beat

Subjects Nature, Stars, Planets, Heavens, Death, Living, Relationships, Time & Brevity, Landscapes & Pastorals, Arts & Sciences, Sciences, Social Commentaries, History & Politics, Money & Economics

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Kenneth  Rexroth

Biography

Kenneth Rexroth was born in South Bend, Indiana and frequently moved around the Midwest during his childhood. He led a tumultuous life that included being orphaned at 14, constant traveling both in the US and abroad, intense political activism, and four marriages. Largely self-educated, he is one of the most well-read poets of the twentieth century. His poems, which influenced Beat writers such as Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Nature, Stars, Planets, Heavens, Death, Living, Relationships, Time & Brevity, Landscapes & Pastorals, Arts & Sciences, Sciences, Social Commentaries, History & Politics, Money & Economics

POET’S REGION U.S., Western

SCHOOL / PERIOD Beat

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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