Light and Dark

By Barbara Howes 1914–1996 Barbara Howes
Lady, take care; for in the diamond eyes   
Of old old men is figured your undoing;   
Love is turned in behind the wrinkled lids
To nurse their fear and scorn at their near going.   
Flesh hangs like the curtains in a house   
Long unused, damp as cellars without wine;   
They are the future of us all, when we   
Will be dried-leaf-thin, the sour whine   
Of a siren’s diminuendo. They have no past   
But egg husks shattered to a rubbish heap   
By memory’s looting. Do not follow them   
To their camp pitched in a cranny, do not keep   
To the road for them, a weary weary yard   
Will bring you in; that beckoning host ahead,   
Inn-keeper Death, has but to lift his hat   
To topple the oldster in the dust. Read,   
Poor old man, the sensual moral; sleep   
Narrow in your bed, wear no
More so bright a rose in your lapel;
The spell of the world is loosed, it is time to go.

Barbara Howes, “Light and Dark” from Light and Dark. Copyright © 1959 by Barbara Howes. Reprinted with the permission of Wesleyan University Press.

Source: Collected Poems 1945-1990 (1995)

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Poet Barbara Howes 1914–1996

Subjects Time & Brevity, Growing Old, Living


Despite being nominated for the 1995 National Book Award for her The Collected Poems of Barbara Howes, 1945-1990, the work of poet Barbara Howes has received relatively little publicity; Robert Richman, writing in the New York Times, called Howes "as obscure a worthy poet as I can think of." Usually alternating her backdrop between the gentle climate of the West Indies and the harsher landscape of her native New England, Howes's . . .

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SUBJECT Time & Brevity, Growing Old, Living

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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