How to Continue

By John Ashbery b. 1927 John Ashbery
Oh there once was a woman
and she kept a shop
selling trinkets to tourists
not far from a dock
who came to see what life could be
far back on the island.

And it was always a party there
always different but very nice
New friends to give you advice
or fall in love with you which is nice
and each grew so perfectly from the other
it was a marvel of poetry
and irony

And in this unsafe quarter
much was scary and dirty
but no one seemed to mind
very much
the parties went on from house to house
There were friends and lovers galore
all around the store
There was moonshine in winter
and starshine in summer
and everybody was happy to have discovered
what they discovered

And then one day the ship sailed away
There were no more dreamers just sleepers
in heavy attitudes on the dock
moving as if they knew how
among the trinkets and the souvenirs
the random shops of modern furniture
and a gale came and said
it is time to take all of you away
from the tops of the trees to the little houses
on little paths so startled

And when it became time to go
they none of them would leave without the other
for they said we are all one here
and if one of us goes the other will not go
and the wind whispered it to the stars
the people all got up to go
and looked back on love

John Ashbery, “How to Continue” from Notes from the Air: Selected Later Poems. Copyright © 2007 by John Ashbery. Reprinted with the permission of Georges Borchardt, Inc. on behalf of the author.

Source: Notes from the Air: Selected Later Poems (The Ecco Press, 2007)

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Poet John Ashbery b. 1927

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

SCHOOL / PERIOD New York School

Subjects Time & Brevity, Relationships, Arts & Sciences, Living, Youth, Poetry & Poets

 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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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Time & Brevity, Relationships, Arts & Sciences, Living, Youth, Poetry & Poets

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

SCHOOL / PERIOD New York School

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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