Passage over Water

By Robert Duncan 1919–1988 Robert Duncan
We have gone out in boats upon the sea at night,   
lost, and the vast waters close traps of fear about us.
The boats are driven apart, and we are alone at last   
under the incalculable sky, listless, diseased with stars.

Let the oars be idle, my love, and forget at this time
our love like a knife between us
defining the boundaries that we can never cross   
nor destroy as we drift into the heart of our dream,   
cutting the silence, slyly, the bitter rain in our mouths   
and the dark wound closed in behind us.

Forget depth-bombs, death and promises we made,   
gardens laid waste, and, over the wastelands westward,   
the rooms where we had come together bombd.

But even as we leave, your love turns back. I feel
your absence like the ringing of bells silenced. And salt   
over your eyes and the scales of salt between us. Now,   
you pass with ease into the destructive world.   
There is a dry crash of cement. The light fails,   
falls into the ruins of cities upon the distant shore   
and within the indestructible night I am alone.

Robert Duncan, “Passage over Water” from Selected Poems. Copyright 1950 by Robert Duncan. Reprinted with the permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.

Source: Selected Poems (1950)

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Poet Robert Duncan 1919–1988

POET’S REGION U.S., Western

SCHOOL / PERIOD Black Mountain

Subjects Love, Seas, Rivers, & Streams, Relationships, Nature, Heartache & Loss, Realistic & Complicated

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Robert  Duncan

Biography

Described by Kenneth Rexroth as “one of the most accomplished, one of the most influential” of the postwar American poets, Robert Duncan was an important part of both the Black Mountain school of poetry, led by Charles Olson, and the San Francisco Renaissance, whose other members included poets Jack Spicer and Robin Blaser. A distinctive voice in American poetry, Duncan’s idiosyncratic poetics drew on myth, occultism, . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Love, Seas, Rivers, & Streams, Relationships, Nature, Heartache & Loss, Realistic & Complicated

POET’S REGION U.S., Western

SCHOOL / PERIOD Black Mountain

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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