Last Words

By Daryl Hine 1936–2012 Daryl Hine

The telephone keeps talking to itself:   
Garbage in the streets, a butterfly,
A rubber raft abandoned, floating out to sea,   
And late last night nearby, a conflagration—
If you knew half the secrets I can tell,   
The accidents, the threats, the promises,   
All anonymous, and the voices
That, like a demoniac, I have:
An unwilling rhyme, a cry for help,   
An order for a pound of stewing beef
And someone begging someone to come back—
All of these proceed from my black mouth,   
All and more are locked in my black heart,   
Information, long distances, wrong numbers.


The clock at first was fast and now has stopped   
That holds all of our lifetimes in its hands.


“We sleep and wake watched over by machines. Are these   
intelligent objects our servants merely? Are they
our closet masters, maybe? Will we be accomplices and
equals one day?”

                                                      Tool-and-Die Makers’ Manual
                                                      Newly revised, 1964


The gun, the peppermill, the gramophone,   
The bee, the salamander and the swan—
To be explicit, what have they in common?

The corkscrew, the stethoscope, the laundromat,   
The lyre bird, the python and the wombat,   
How do these differ from the domestic cat?
Is it a question of theirs and ours or this and that?

What reconciles the wireless and the whale?   
Did he who made the lamb invent the wheel?   
And what was wisdom doing all the while?   
A catastrophe and a category will
Swallow sardines and supermarkets whole.


But you or rather thou, to be archaic,
Always demanding, never dull but sometimes sick,   
Intimate machinery, my body!
Whose only raison d’etre is to be:
Your pleasures and your pains are your own business;   
Don’t ask me for a taste or a caress,
Who, when I weep, weep tear of glass,
Round and brittle. Your appetites embarrass
Me. Mine tire you. Old Thing,
The moral is, the moral is, Keep going,
And perhaps we shall meet again at the Resurrection—
The wonder is, what then I shall put on?

Daryl Hine, “Last Words” from Wooden Horses (New York: Atheneum Publishers, 1965). Copyright © 1965 by Daryl Hine. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

Source: The Wooden Horse: Poems (1965)

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Poet Daryl Hine 1936–2012


 Daryl  Hine


Poet, editor, and translator Daryl Hine was born in 1936 in British Columbia and grew up in New Westminster. His mother’s death while he was still a teenager had a profound influence on him. He studied Classics and philosophy at McGill University, and he earned his PhD in comparative literature from the University of Chicago. The editor of Poetry from 1968-78, Hine was also a highly regarded translator of Classical writers such . . .

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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