Second Adam

By Ben Belitt 1911–2003 Ben Belitt

Whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.

When the Deluge had passed,
into my head, by twos, came the creeping things,
the horn of their jawbones shining, and the things of the air,
wing-cases breaking like clasp knives, asking their names.

Storm-light colored their passing
with an animal imminence. They wheeled
on the pile of their plumage, in the dread of their animal being,
and rode in the ark of my head

where the possible worked like a sea.
Nothing was given me there. Nothing was known. Feather and scale,
concussions of muscle and fur, the whale and the name for the whale
rose on the void like a waterspout, being, and ceasing to be:

till keel clashed and I spoke: mayfly,
wood-weasel, stingray, cormorant, mole—
choosing the syllables, holding a leaf to the torrent,
unharmed and infallible, while Creation descended, in twos.

Ben Belitt, “Second Adam” from The Enemy Joy (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1964). Used by permission of the Estate of Ben Belitt.

Source: Poetry (January 1964).


This poem originally appeared in the January 1964 issue of Poetry magazine

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January 1964
 Ben  Belitt


Poet, translator, and professor Ben Belitt was born in New York City in 1911. He earned degrees from the University of Virginia and taught for many years at Bennington College in Vermont. Sometimes described as one of the neglected masters of 20th century American poetry, Belitt taught and influenced poets such as Susan Wheeler, Reginald Shepherd, and Lynn Emanuel while at Bennington. Susan Wheeler has described Belitt’s . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Nature, Religion, Living, Animals

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

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