Madrigal in Time of War

By John Frederick Nims 1913–1999
Beside the rivers of the midnight town
Where four-foot couples love and paupers drown,   
Shots of quick hell we took, our final kiss,   
The great and swinging bridge a bower for this.

Your cheek lay burning in my fingers’ cup;   
Often my lip moved downward and yours up   
Till both adjusted, tightened, locksmith-true:   
The flesh precise, the crazy brain askew.

Roughly the train with grim and piston knee   
Pounded apart our pleasure, you from me;
Flare warned and ticket whispered and bell cried.   
Time and the locks of bitter rail divide.

For ease remember, all that parted lie:   
Men who in camp of shot or doldrum die,   
Who at land’s-end eternal furlough take

—This for memento as alone you wake.

John Frederick Nims, “Madrigal in Time of War” from Selected Poems (Chicago, The University of Chicago Press, 1982). Used by permission of Bonnie Nims.

Source: Selected Poems (The University of Chicago Press, 1982)

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Poet John Frederick Nims 1913–1999

Subjects War & Conflict, Social Commentaries

Poetic Terms Couplet

 John Frederick Nims


An important translator and previous editor of Poetry magazine, John Frederick Nims (1913—1999) was equally skilled as a poet. Although Nims was born in Michigan, he spent most of his life on the other side of the lake, in Chicago. Generally a classicist in technique, Nims is also well known for his witty epigrams.

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SUBJECT War & Conflict, Social Commentaries

Poetic Terms Couplet

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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