Elegy: In Coherent Light

By Anne Stevenson b. 1933 Anne Stevenson

In memory of two English poets, Matt Simpson and Michael Murphy, d. 2009

Teach-cheap, teach-cheap, teach-cheap, teach-cheap
Sparrows are plying their chisels in the summer ivy,
Chipping the seconds spark by spark out of the hours.
I read in each whistling chip the sun’s holography.
My brain’s a film, I’m made of timed exposures,
And pounding my ears and eyes with waves of light—
These animate flakes, these pictures I call sight.

But now you’re out of the picture, no one can keep
Coherent sightings of you, except in language.
All the warm rhetoric is wrong. Death isn’t sleep.
Faith in eternal love is love’s indulgence.
I prize what you wrote and meet you in what I write.
We still keep house in a living tenement of words.
Pull down their walls of ivy, and you kill the birds.

NOTES: *coherent adj. 4. Physics. (of two or more waves) having the same frequency and the same phase or fixed phase difference: coherent light. Collins Dictionary of the English Language.

holography n. the practice of exposing a film to light reflected from an object or objects and to a beam of coherent light; when the patterns on the film are illuminated by the coherent light a three dimensional image (a hologram) is produced. Ibid.

“Every bit of a hologram contains information about the whole scene. So you can snip it into pieces, and [in each piece] see the original scene.” the Observer, 15 May 1966, quoted in Oxford English Dictionary.

Source: Poetry (July/August 2010).


This poem originally appeared in the July/August 2010 issue of Poetry magazine

July/August 2010
 Anne  Stevenson


Born in Cambridge, England, Anne Stevenson moved between the United States and the United Kingdom numerous times during the first half of her life. While she considers herself an American, Stevenson qualifies her status: “I belong to an America which no longer really exists.” Since 1962 she has lived mainly in the U.K., including Cambridge, Scotland, Oxford, and, most recently, North Wales and Durham.

Intersections and borders . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Death, Time & Brevity, Arts & Sciences, Poetry & Poets


Poetic Terms Couplet, Elegy, Free Verse

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