White Oxen

By Louis Simpson 1923–2012 Louis Simpson
A man walks beside them   
with a whip that he cracks.   
The cart they draw is painted   
with Saracens and Crusaders,
fierce eyes and ranks of spears.

They are on the steep road   
that goes up the mountain.   
Their neat-stepping hoofs   
appear to be flickering   
in the sun, raising dust.

They are higher than the roofs
on which striped gourds and melons   
lie ripening. They move
among the dark green olives
that grow on the rocks.

they dwindle as they climb ...   
vanish around a corner
and reappear walking on the edge   
of a precipice. They enter
the region of mist and darkness.

I think I can see them still:   
a pair of yoked oxen
the color of ivory
or smoke, with red tassels,   
in the gathering dusk.

Louis Simpson, “White Oxen” from The Owner of the House: New Collected Poems 1940-2001. Copyright © 2003 by Louis Simpson. Reprinted with the permission of BOA Editions, Ltd., www.boaeditions.org.

Source: The Owner of the House: New Collected Poems 1940-2001 (BOA Editions Ltd., 2003)

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Poet Louis Simpson 1923–2012

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Subjects Pets, Relationships

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Louis  Simpson


Poet, editor, translator, and critic Louis Simpson was born in 1923, in Jamaica, to Scottish and Russian parents. A contemporary of Confessional poets like Robert Lowell, John Berryman, and Sylvia Plath, Simpson’s early work followed a familiar arc. In the New York Times Book Review, critic David Orr noted its highlights: “Simpson has followed a path lined with signposts sunk so deep in our nation's poetic terra firma that . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Pets, Relationships

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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