A Late History

By Weldon Kees 1914–1955 Weldon Kees

To Herbert Cahoon

Black, under the candlesticks, moving in harness
To a slow music, we hang the sepulchre
And hear the herald angels sing, “He is not here.”
It is mid-November. The first snows
Have fallen silently over the town. I eat
Black pudding at the altar while a dove
Descends from the flaming tower. Later,
Dr. Rashdall, behind whose scholarship
A generation’s knowledge burns, will unmask
Newman. But now it is mid-November.
I eat black pudding and the dove descends.

In a hollow tree by the bridge, an owl awaits.
The moon is full and white. The stars are out.
Tall elms surround the statue of a nymph
Where old Etonians, festive in Norfolk jackets,
Commemorate D. G. Rossetti with a plaque.
I relish the scene, remembering old Watts-Dunton
Boasting, “Dogs have never bitten me!” that day
We talked about Rossetti. Later, attacks of gout,
That horrible baby that looked like Gosse, a wheelchair
Wobbling on toward Trinity, webs covering my eyes.
But tonight the moon is full, and white. Thus 1904 begins.

Of the far end of Marseilles and the islands:
A dwarf climbing where the waves are luminous
With phosphorescent lights, where foam bursts into flower,
And the slow rise and fall of the ocean
Rocks the world. Moving like a crab over the sand,
He murmurs, “We can never praise the beauty of
The world enough, my friend.” Later, death by starvation;
Until the end, swinging on a trapeze for an hour
Every day, longing to be tall.  He left
Some wonderful paintings. I walk beside him now
At the far end of Marseilles, toward the islands.
Now, now, if ever, love opening your eyes,
The great blind windows lifted toward the sun, the doors
Thrown open wide.  I said to my heart,
Do I wake or sleep?—Soon, soon, these closings start
Where mornings held the garden captive; and early dusk,
Laden with mist and smoke, drift upward from the grass.
The wind dies. The scraping leaves are still. I said to my heart,
Ravaged by darkness, “Now, Soon, and Later have become
Each other—doors all closed, the windows blocked and barred for good—
All and sink down together to the bottom of the sea.
Do I wake or sleep? It is late tonight as it will ever be.”

Weldon Kees, “A Late History” from The Collected Poems of Weldon Kees edited by Donald Justice by permission of the University of Nebraska Press. Copyright 1962, 1975, by the University of Nebraska Press. © renewed 2003 by the University of Nebraska Press.

Source: The Collected Poems of Weldon Kees (2003)

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Poet Weldon Kees 1914–1955

Subjects Living, Health & Illness, Nature, Fall, Trees & Flowers, Animals, Arts & Sciences, Reading & Books, Poetry & Poets, Social Commentaries, History & Politics

 Weldon  Kees


Weldon Kees was born in Beatrice, Nebraska and attended Doane College, the University of Missouri and the University of Nebraska, earning his degree in 1935. In addition to writing, Kees was passionate about painting and throughout his life created many forms of art including experimental films. In 1955 Kees took his sleeping bag and his savings account book and disappeared, leaving his car on the Golden Gate Bridge. It is not . . .

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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