The Tennis Court Oath

By John Ashbery b. 1927 John Ashbery
What had you been thinking about
the face studiously bloodied
heaven blotted region
I go on loving you like water but
there is a terrible breath in the way all of this   
You were not elected president, yet won the race   
All the way through fog and drizzle
When you read it was sincere the coasts
stammered with unintentional villages the   
horse strains fatigued I guess . . . the calls . . .
I worry

the water beetle head
why of course reflecting all
then you redid you were breathing
I thought going down to mail this
of the kettle you jabbered as easily in the yard   
you come through but
are incomparable the lovely tent
mystery you don’t want surrounded the real   
you dance
in the spring there was clouds

The mulatress approached in the hall—the
lettering easily visible along the edge of the Times
in a moment the bell would ring but there was time   
for the carnation laughed here are a couple of “other”

to one in yon house
The doctor and Philip had come over the road
Turning in toward the corner of the wall his hat on
reading it carelessly as if to tell you your fears were justified   
the blood shifted you know those walls
wind off the earth had made him shrink
undeniably an oboe now the young
were there there was candy
to decide the sharp edge of the garment
like a particular cry not intervening called the dog “he’s coming! he’s coming” with an emotion felt it sink into peace   
there was no turning back but the end was in sight
he chose this moment to ask her in detail about her family and the others   
The person.   pleaded—“have more of these
not stripes on the tunic—or the porch chairs
will teach you about men—what it means”
to be one in a million pink stripe
and now could go away the three approached the doghouse   
the reef.   Your daughter’s
dream of my son understand prejudice
darkness in the hole
the patient finished
They could all go home now the hole was dark
lilacs blowing across his face glad he brought you

John Ashbery, “The Tennis Court Oath” from The Tennis Court Oath. Copyright © 1957, 1962 by John Ashbery. Reprinted with the permission of Georges Borchardt, Inc. on behalf of the author.

Source: The Mooring of Starting Out: The First Five Books of Poetry (Ecco Press, 1997)

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Poet John Ashbery b. 1927

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

SCHOOL / PERIOD New York School

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 John  Ashbery

Biography

John Ashbery is recognized as one of the greatest twentieth-century American poets. He has won nearly every major American award for poetry, including the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the Yale Younger Poets Prize, the Bollingen Prize, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, the Griffin International Award, and a MacArthur “Genius” Grant. Ashbery's poetry challenges its readers to discard all presumptions about the aims, themes, . . .

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POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

SCHOOL / PERIOD New York School

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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