A Winter Daybreak above Vence

By James Wright 1927–1980 James Wright
The night’s drifts
Pile up below me and behind my back,
Slide down the hill, rise again, and build
Eerie little dunes on the roof of the house.   
In the valley below me,
Miles between me and the town of St.-Jeannet,   
The road lamps glow.
They are so cold, they might as well be dark.   
Trucks and cars
Cough and drone down there between the golden   
Coffins of greenhouses, the startled squawk   
Of a rooster claws heavily across
A grove, and drowns.
The gumming snarl of some grouchy dog sounds,   
And a man bitterly shifts his broken gears.   
True night still hangs on,
Mist cluttered with a racket of its own.

Now on the mountainside,
A little way downhill among turning rocks,
A square takes form in the side of a dim wall.   
I hear a bucket rattle or something, tinny,   
No other stirring behind the dim face
Of the goatherd’s house. I imagine
His goats are still sleeping, dreaming
Of the fresh roses
Beyond the walls of the greenhouse below them   
And of lettuce leaves opening in Tunisia.

I turn, and somehow
Impossibly hovering in the air over everything,
The Mediterranean, nearer to the moon
Than this mountain is,   
Shines. A voice clearly
Tells me to snap out of it. Galway
Mutters out of the house and up the stone stairs
To start the motor. The moon and the stars
Suddenly flicker out, and the whole mountain   
Appears, pale as a shell.

Look, the sea has not fallen and broken   
Our heads. How can I feel so warm   
Here in the dead center of January? I can   
Scarcely believe it, and yet I have to, this is   
The only life I have. I get up from the stone.   
My body mumbles something unseemly
And follows me. Now we are all sitting here strangely   
On top of the sunlight.

James Wright, “A Winter Daybreak Above Venice” from Above the River: The Complete Poems and Selected Prose. Copyright © 1990 by Anne Wright. Used by permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, LLC, www.fsgbooks.com. All rights reserved. Caution: Users are warned that this work is protected under copyright laws and downloading is strictly prohibited. The right to reproduce or transfer the work via any medium must be secured with Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.

Source: Above the River: The Complete Poems and Selected Prose (Farrar Straus and Giroux, 1990)

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Poet James Wright 1927–1980

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

Subjects Cities & Urban Life, Social Commentaries, Landscapes & Pastorals, Nature, Winter

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 James  Wright

Biography

James Wright was frequently referred to as one of America's finest contemporary poets. He was admired by critics and fellow poets alike for his willingness and ability to experiment with language and style, as well as for his thematic concerns. In the Minnesota Review, Peter A. Stitt wrote that Wright's work both represents and parallels the development of the best modern American poets: "Reading the Collected Poems of James . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Cities & Urban Life, Social Commentaries, Landscapes & Pastorals, Nature, Winter

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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