Paean to Place

By Lorine Niedecker 1903–1970 Lorine Niedecker
                                        And the place
                                        was water            
      Water lily mud
My life

in the leaves and on water
My mother and I
in swale and swamp and sworn
to water

My father
thru marsh fog
      sculled down
            from high ground
saw her face

at the organ
bore the weight of lake water
      and the cold—
he seined for carp to be sold
that their daughter

might go high
on land
      to learn
Saw his wife turn

and away
      who knew boats
            and ropes
no longer played

She helped him string out nets
for tarring
      And she could shoot
            He was cool
to the man

who stole his minnows
by night and next day offered
      to sell them back
            He brought in a sack
of dandelion greens

if no flood
No oranges—none at hand
      No marsh marigold
            where the water rose
He kept us afloat

I mourn her not hearing canvasbacks
their blast-off rise
      from the water
            Not hearing sora
rails’s sweet

spoon-tapped waterglass-
descending scale-
            Did she giggle
as a girl?

His skiff skimmed
the coiled celery now gone
      from these streams
            due to carp
He knew duckweed

toward Mud Lake bottom
      Knew what lay
            under leaf decay
and on pickerel weeds

before summer hum
To be counted on:
      new leaves
            new dead

He could not
—like water bugs—
      stride surface tension
            He netted

As to his bright new car
my mother—her house
      next his—averred:
            A hummingbird
can’t haul

Anchored here
in the rise and sink
      of life—
            middle years’ nights
he sat

beside his shoes
rocking his chair
      Roped not “looped
            in the loop
of her hair”

I grew in green
slide and slant
      of shore and shade
thru weeds

Maples to swing from

Grew riding the river
      at home-pier
            Shelley could steer
as he read

I was the solitary plover
a pencil
      for a wing-bone
From the secret notes
I must tilt

upon the pressure
execute and adjust
      In us sea-air rhythm
“We live by the urgent wave
of the verse”

Seven year molt
for the solitary bird
      and so young
Seven years the one

for town once a week
One for home
      faded blue-striped
as she piped
her cry

Dancing grounds
my people had none
      woodcocks had—
air around

such as what flower
      to take
      to grandfather’s grave

water lilies—
he who’d bowed his head
      to grass as he mowed
      Iris now grows
on fill

for the two
and for him
      where they lie
      How much less am I
in the dark than they?   

Effort lay in us
before religions
      at pond bottom
            All things move toward
the light

except those
that freely work down
      to oceans’ black depths
            In us an impulse tests
the unknown

River rising—flood
Now melt and leave home
      Return—broom wet
            naturally wet

soak-heavy rug
water bugs hatched—
      no snake in the house
            Where were they?—

who knew how to clean up
after floods
      he who bailed boats, houses
            Water endows us
with buckled floors

You with sea water running
in your veins sit down in water
      Expect the long-stemmed blue
            speedwell to renew

O my floating life
Do not save love
      for things
            Throw things
to the flood

by the flood
      Leave the new unbought—
            all one in the end—

I possessed
the high word:
      The boy my friend
            played his violin
in the great hall

On this stream
my moonnight memory
      washed of hardships
            maneuvers barges
thru the mouth

of the river
They fished in beauty
      It was not always so
            In Fishes
red Mars

rides the sloughs and sluices
      of my mind
            with the persons
on the edge

Lorine Niedecker, “Paean to Place” from Collected Works, edited by Jenny Penberthy, Copyright © 2002 Regents of the University of California. Published by University of California Press.

Source: Collected Works (University of California Press, 2004)

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Poet Lorine Niedecker 1903–1970

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

SCHOOL / PERIOD Objectivist

Subjects Nature, Home Life, Relationships, Landscapes & Pastorals

 Lorine  Niedecker


Niedecker's verse is praised for its stark, vivid imagery, subtle rhythms, and spare language, which Kenneth Cox described as "whittled clean." Concerned with the distillation of images and thoughts into concise expression, Niedecker described her work as a "condensery," and several critics have compared her poetry to the delicate yet concrete verse of Chinese and Japanese writers. Although Niedecker's long correspondence with

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Nature, Home Life, Relationships, Landscapes & Pastorals

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

SCHOOL / PERIOD Objectivist

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