By John Ciardi 1916–1986 John Ciardi

Once I had 1000 roses.
Literally 1000 roses.
I was working for a florist
back in the shambling ‘Thirties   
when iced skids of 250 roses
sold for $2 at Faneuil Hall.
So for $8 I bought
1000 roses, 500
white and 500 red,
for Connie’s wedding to steadiness.

I strewed the church aisle whole   
and the bride came walking
on roses, roses all the way:
The white roses and the red roses.   
White for the bed we had shared.   
Red for the bed she went to
from the abundance in her
to the fear in what she wanted.   
The gift was not in the roses
but in the abundance of the roses.

                                                   To her   
whose abundance had never wholly
been mine, and could never be his.   
He had no gift of abundance in him   
but only the penuries of sobriety.
A good steady clerk, most mortgageable,   
returning in creaking shoes over   
the white and the red roses. Returning   
over the most flowering he would ever   
touch, with the most flowering I   
had ever touched. A feast of endings.


This morning I passed a pushcart   
heaped with white carnations
as high as if there had fallen all night   
one of those thick-flaked, slow, windless,   
wondering snows that leave
shakos on fence posts, polar bears   
in the hedges, caves in the light,   
and a childhood on every sill.   
Once, twice a year, partially,
and once, twice a lifetime, perfectly,

that snow falls. In which I ran   
like a young wolf in its blood   
leaping to snap the flower-flakes
clean from the air; their instant on the tongue   
flat and almost dusty and not enough   
to be cold. But as I ran, face-up,   
mouth open, my cheeks burned   
with tears and flower-melt,
and my lashes were fringed with gauze,   
and my ears wore white piping.

There is no feast but energy. All men   
know—have known and will remember   
again and again—what food that is
for the running young wolf of the rare days   
when shapes fall from the air
and may be had for the leaping.
Clean in the mouth of joy. Flat and dusty.   
And how they are instantly nothing—
a commotion in the air and in the blood.
—And how they are endlessly all.


My father’s grave, the deepest cave I know,   
was banked with snow and lilies. We stuck the dead flowers
into the snow banks dirty with sand   
and trampled by digger’s boots.   
The flowers, stiff and unbeckoning,   
ripped from their wires in the wind   
and blew their seasons out as snow   
Purer than the snow itself. A last   
abundance correcting our poverties.

I remember the feasts of my life,   
their every flowing. I remember
the wolf all men remember in his blood.   
I remember the air become   
a feast of flowers. And remember   
his last flowers whitening winter   
in an imitation of possibility,   
while we hunched black
in the dirtied place inside possibility   
where the prayers soiled him.

If ever there was a man of abundances   
he lies there flowerless
at that dirty center
whose wired flowers try and try
to make the winter clean again in air.   
And fail. And leave me raging
as the young wolf grown
from his day’s play in abundance
to the ravening of recollection.
Creaking to penury over the flower-strew.


This morning I passed a pushcart   
heaped beyond possibility,   
as when the sun begins again   
after that long snow and the earth   
is moonscaped and wonderlanded   
and humped and haloed in the   
light it makes: an angel
on every garbage can, a god   
in every tree, that childhood
on every sill.—At a corner of the ordinary.

Where is she now? Instantly nothing.
A penury after flower-strew. Nothing.
A feast of glimpses. Not fact itself,
but an idea of the possible in the fact.
—And so the rare day comes: I was again   
the young wolf trembling in his blood
at the profusions heaped and haloed
in their instant next to the ordinary.
And did not know myself what feast I kept   
—till I said your name. At once all plenty was.

It is the words starve us, the act that feeds.   
The air trembling with the white wicks   
of its falling encloses us. To be
perfect, I suppose, we must be brief.   
The long thing is to remember
imperfectly, dirtying with gratitude
the grave of abundance. O flower-banked,   
air-dazzling, and abundant woman,   
though the young wolf is dead, all men   
know—have known and must remember—

John Ciardi, “Abundance” from 39 Poems (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1959). Used with the permission of the Ciardi Family Publishing Trust.

Source: The Collected Poems of John Ciardi (University of Arkansas Press, 1997)

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Poet John Ciardi 1916–1986

Subjects Trees & Flowers, Nature, Marriage & Companionship, Disappointment & Failure, Living

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 John  Ciardi


To millions of Americans, the late John Ciardi was "Mr. Poet, the one who has written, talked, taught, edited, translated, anthologized, criticized, and propelled poetry into a popular, lively art," according to Peter Comer of the Chicago Tribune. Although recognized primarily as a poet and critic, Ciardi's literary endeavors encompassed a vast range of material. From juvenile nonsense poetry to scholarly verse translations, . . .

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SUBJECT Trees & Flowers, Nature, Marriage & Companionship, Disappointment & Failure, Living

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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