Styx

By Robert Duncan 1919–1988 Robert Duncan
And a tenth part of Okeanos is given to dark night
   a tithe of the pure water    under    earth
so that the clear fountains pour from rock face,
   tears stream from the caverns and clefts,
   down-running, carving woundrous ways in basalt resistance,   
   cutting deep as they go into layers of time-layerd
         Gaia where She sleeps—

the cold water, the black rushing gleam, the   
   moving down-rush, wash, gush out over   
   bed-rock, toiling the boulders in flood,   
   purling in deeps, broad flashing in falls—

And a tenth part of bright clear Okeanos
   his circulations— mists, rains, sheets, sheathes—
   lies in poisonous depths, the black water.

Styx    this carver of caverns beneath us is.   
Styx    this black water,    this down-pouring.

The well is deep.    From its stillness   
   the words our voices speak      echo.   
   Resonance follows resonance.
   Waves of this sounding come up to us.

   We draw the black water, pure and cold.   
   The light of day is not as bright   
   as this crystal flowing.

Three thousand years we have recited its virtue   
   out of Hesiod.
                                                    Is it twenty-five thousand   
since the ice withdrew from the lands    and we
came forth from the realm of caverns where
the river beneath the earth    we knew
      we go back to.
Styx pouring down in the spring from its glacial remove,   
      from the black ice.

Fifty million years—from the beginning of what we are—
      we knew the depth of this well to be.

      Fifty million years deep    —but our knowing deepens   
            —time deepens—
                                     this still water

we thirst for      in dreams we dread.

Robert Duncan, “Styx” from Ground Work II: In the Dark. Copyright © 1987 by Robert Duncan. Reprinted with the permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.

Source: Ground Work II: In the Dark (1987)

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Poet Robert Duncan 1919–1988

POET’S REGION U.S., Western

SCHOOL / PERIOD Black Mountain

Subjects History & Politics, Death, Seas, Rivers, & Streams, Living, Nature, Social Commentaries

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 History & Politics, Death, Seas, Rivers, & Streams, Living, Nature, Social Commentaries

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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