An Emeritus Addresses the School

By John Ciardi 1916–1986 John Ciardi
No one can wish nothing.
Even that death wish sophomores   
are nouveau-glib about
reaches for a change of notice.

“I’ll have you know,” it will say   
thirty years later to its son,
“I was once widely recognized
for the quality of my death wish.”

That was before three years   
of navel-reading with a guru   
who reluctantly concluded   
some souls are bank tellers;

perhaps more than one would think   
at the altitude of Intro. Psych.,   
or turned on to a first raga,
or joining Polyglots Anonymous.

One trouble with this year’s   
avant-garde is that it has already   
taken it fifty years to be behind   
the avant-garde of the twenties

with the Crash yet to come.   
And even free souls buy wives,   
fall in love with automobiles,   
and marry a mortgage.

At fifty, semisustained by bourbon,   
you wonder what the kids see   
in that Galactic Twang
they dance the Cosmic Konk to.

You will have forgotten such energy,   
its illusion of violent freedoms.   
You must suffer memory
to understanding in the blare

of a music that tires you.
There does come a death wish,   
but you will be trapped by your   
begetting, love what you have given,

be left waiting in a noise
for the word that must be whispered.
No one can wish nothing. You can
learn to wish for so little

a word might turn you
all the bent ways to love, its mercies   
practiced, its one day at a time
begun and lived and slept on and begun.

John Ciardi, “An Emeritus Addresses the School” from The Little That Is All (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1974). 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 Living, School & Learning, Social Commentaries, Popular Culture, Activities, Arts & Sciences, Philosophy, Coming of Age

Occasions Graduation

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 Living, School & Learning, Social Commentaries, Popular Culture, Activities, Arts & Sciences, Philosophy, Coming of Age

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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