The Very Rich Hours

By James McMichael b. 1939 James McMichael
Amant in bed,   
      dreaming.
      There are no   
      borders to this   
      miniature.

B moves Bateau across the night.   
It is all the loops can do
to let their gilding
bulge with what is there.
One light on the wide sea.
The bones of stars.

      No other country is so
      curiously watered.
      From the estuaries to the very
      sources of its inwardtending channels,   
      it rises in fogs which are themselves   
      arterial. For its earth
      has more than once been seen
      quite early in the morning
      to lighten and give way.

At the gate to the garden,   
Fair Welcome.   
She raises her hand.
Salutare:
to greet and to save.

      Leisures of tendrils are on all sides,   
      winding with the snails
      through white acanthus and discarded   
      badges of pilgrims.
      You may assign to the nineteen
      portholes in these borders
      whatever you like.

The sand is of such fineness
and the flow so singly clear
that nothing seems to pass through,   
golden, and with all its lights.

      Water makes very much the best
      portable horizon.
      While its reflections are
      fainter than those in the speculum,   
      their angles may be measured
      accurately
      and the differences from a true meridian   
      reckoned by the clock.
      These sightings should be taken at least   
      three hours
      before and after noon.

Two liveried falconers,
the jesses and bells, the gloves.   
Amant with the dove’s neck-ring,   
The lady in her chamber.
Winter trees, rooks in the white   
branches, hounds, the dying boar.
On the top of a mountain   
a lion waving his tail.

      The general course of the river   
      straightens, and is moderately timbered.   
      Scattered islands covered w/willow.
      Across from a single, long bluff of open rock,   
      the plain to the S. is higher, extending   
      quite to the mountains which contain still   
      great quantities of snow.
      A small creek falls in from this side.   
      Pursued its bottom for perhaps 4 m.   
      Cottonwood. Much evidence of beaver.

Now all of this is to be understood   
in a spiritual manner.
Let us cover
the nakedness of our fathers   
with the cloak of a
favorable interpretation.

      Under a dry stalk of burdock, iron-brown   
      latches and fittings, a few nails.
      The bulls are eating apples.
      Thick grasses sweat through the whole pasture.

Dame Reason with her
chaplet of apothegms.
He should put his heart
in a single place only.
The truest things about bodies   
are their shadows.

      Pleas put me back   
      in the water I am
      Paddle-to-the-Sea

She has done this before.   
She wades into the current
to the one point where the current
lounges at her hips.
She stands there.
With all the time in the world,   
steadily, she kneels steadily
deeper, to her shoulders, smiling, her hair
cupped in both hands behind her neck.

      The Familiar gives Its first   
      lesson to the lover.
      A new order
      is one that is renewed
      hourly.

A drove of geese in its tall, while file   
plucks home through the wet fallow.   
Hedges darken between the fields.   
Along the wolds for miles in level tracts,   
haze from the lime-kilns.
All quarters of the sky are wintry, huge.

      We could no longer be sure
      that we had passed the Préveranges.   
      Freshets from the little stream   
      poured onto the lane, filling
      ruts and drainages. In the dusk,   
      and with our shoes soaked, we set   
      off through a meadow, and another,   
      and found soon an abandoned   
      cottage of some old forester.
      We determined that I should
      stay and secure it as an outpost.   
      Meaulnes went on alone.

At an earlier hour,
the ground at the wood’s edge   
illumines to some thousand   
footcandles, fades under the   
canopies, the layers
of trees, of shrubs and herbs,   
under the dark itself,
brighter by as many
eyes as are buried there.

      Tied to a washboard,   
      submerged,
      the panes of glass
      chime like clean ice.

they are dangers harebells and   
just where the fall goes over   
they lean into the spray so   
far and bob so on their stems   
they thrill and a hammer rings   
carillon down the cows spine   
feel it there it goes again

      Death hath its seat
      close to the entrance of delight.   
                         —Gudique

Sifting over porches and limp hibiscus,   
rust from the canvas awnings,
its red spores dull in a moon that shows   
everything, houses and driveways,   
fishponds, all of them
hiding from their insides, forgetting,   
looking around.

      there is no way to lie down   
      and not lie in the same way   
      that someone has had to lie   
      thinking of how far it is
      to the places no one goes   
      or to any place this far
      from the beds where the dying   
      cry into the night this far

Deacons and presbyters.
The Laying On of Hands.   
In a vial,
juice from the wild cucumber,   
powdered glass,
the divine Endura.

James McMichael, “The Very Rich Hours” from The World At Large: New & Selected Poems (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1996). Copyright © 1996 by James L. McMichael. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

Source: Poetry (July 1973).

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This poem originally appeared in the July 1973 issue of Poetry magazine

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July 1973

Biography

Born in Pasadena, California, poet James McMichael earned a BA at the University of California, Santa Barbara and a PhD at Stanford University, where he studied with Yvor Winters.
 
In his early work, McMichael frequently made use of long, sometimes paragraph-length, poetic lines; in more recent work, his lines and stanzas have followed a precise, variegated structure. Describing his invented form of varied stanza and line . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Nature, History & Politics, Social Commentaries, Landscapes & Pastorals

POET’S REGION U.S., Western

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