The Cloth of the Tempest

By Kenneth Patchen 1911–1972 Kenneth Patchen
These of living emanate a formidable light,   
Which is equal to death, and when used   
Gives increase eternally.
What fortifies in separate thought
Is not drawn by wind or by man defiled.   
So whispers the parable of doubleness.   
As it is necessary not to submit
To power which weakens the hidden forms;   
It is extraordinarily more essential
Not to deny welcome to these originating forces   
When they gather within our heat   
To give us habitation.
The one life must be attempted with the other,   
That we may embark upon the fiery work   
For which we were certainly made.

What has been separated from the mother,
Must again be joined; for we were born of spirit,   
And to spirit all mortal things return,
As it is necessary in the method of earth.
So sings the parable of singleness.
My comforter does not conceal his face;
I have seen appearances that were not marshalled   
By sleep.
                   Perhaps I am to be stationed
At the nets which move through this completing sea.   
Or I have hunting on my sign.

Yet the ground is visible,
The center of our seeing. (The houses rest
Like sentinels on this hawking star.
Two women are bathing near a trestle;
Their bodies dress the world in golden birds;   
The skin of their throats is a dancing flute. . .
How alter or change? How properly
Find an exact equation? What is flying   
Anywhere that is more essential to our quest?
Even the lake. . . boat walking on its blue streets;   
Organ of thunder muttering in the sky. . . A tiger   
Standing on the edge of a plowed field. . .   
What is necessary? What is inseparable to know?   
The children seek silvery-pretty caves. . .   
What are we to teach?)
The distance is not great
To worlds of magnificent joy or nowhere.

Kenneth Patchen, “The Cloth of the Tempest” from Collected Poems. Copyright 1943 by Kenneth Patchen. Reprinted with the permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.

Source: Selected Poems (New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1957)

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Poet Kenneth Patchen 1911–1972


 Kenneth  Patchen


Largely a self-taught writer, Kenneth Patchen never appeared to win widespread recognition from the professors at universities or many literary critics. As the New York Times Book Review noted, "While some critics tended to dismiss his work as naive, romantic, capricious and concerned often with the social problems of the 1930's, others found him a major voice in American poetry.... Even the most generous praise was usually . . .

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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