from Rites of Passage

By Robert Duncan 1919–1988 Robert Duncan

Something is taking place.
Horns thrust upward from the brow.
Hooves beat impatient where feet once were.   
My son, youth grows alarming in your face.
Your innocent regard is cruelly charming to me now.   
You bristle where my fond hand would stir
to stroke your cheek.    I do not dare.

Irregular meters beat between your heart and mine.   
Snuffling the air you take the heat and scan
the lines you take in going as if I were or were not there
and overtake me.
   And where it seems but yesterday I spilld the wine,
you too grow beastly to become a man.

Peace, peace.    I’ve had enough.    What can I say   
when song’s demanded? —I’ve had my fill of song?   
My longing to sing grows full. Time’s emptied me.

And where my youth was, now the Sun in you grows hot, your day   
is young, my place you take triumphantly.    All along
it’s been for you, for this lowering of your horns in challenge. She   
had her will of me and will not

let my struggling spirit in itself be free.

Robert Duncan, “Rites of Passage II” from Ground Work: Before the War. Copyright © 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1982, 1984 by Robert Duncan. Reprinted with the permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.

Source: Ground Work: Before the War (1984)

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Poet Robert Duncan 1919–1988


SCHOOL / PERIOD Black Mountain

Subjects Family & Ancestors, Growing Old, Youth, Parenthood, Living, Relationships

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Robert  Duncan


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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SUBJECT Family & Ancestors, Growing Old, Youth, Parenthood, Living, Relationships


SCHOOL / PERIOD Black Mountain

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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