From “Five Poems”

By Edward Dahlberg 1900–1977 Edward Dahlberg
I

     He who has never tasted the grapes of Canaan can only view them from Pisgah.

     I have my tides, O sea-foamed Venus, dearer than watercress, pipkins, thyme and clymene. You once held me by the cord of my navel, but I have not died to live in Mahomet’s paradise.

     Would that I could gather up my love to me as one does one’s fate, or measure her nature as God does the sea.

     We are a weary race that hates seedtime. Poor Persephone, who is Maying springtime, and the coming up of flowers! We remember only what we seed, and Persephone goes down into the earth after Spring and Summer vegetation only because Pluto gave her pomegranate seeds to remember him, but if the seed perish, Persephone will die, and memory shall pass from the earth.

     A man of humble blood, with a soul of Kidron, needs a Rachel, but I labored for years in the weary fields for Leah.
II

     The world is a wound in my soul, and I have sought the living waters in meditation, and the angelical fountains in the desert of Beersheba for solitude, for what health there is in friendship comes when one is alone.

     I shed tears on the Mount of Olives because people no longer care for each other, but my friends have lacked the character for the vigil. There is no Cana wine in human affections that are not always awake, for people who do not trouble about each other are foes.

     It is humiliating being the lamb and bleating to each passerby, “Feed me!” What is the use of saying that men are stones when I know I am going to try to turn them into bread.

     I am afraid to say that people are truthful. When a man tells me he is honest I press my hand close to my heart where I keep my miserable wallet. If he says he has any goodness in him, I avoid him, for I trust nobody who has so little fear of the evils that grow and ripen in us while we imagine we have one virtuous trait. These demons lie in ambush in the thick, heady coverts of the blood, where hypocrisy and egoism fatten, waiting to mock or betray us in any moment of self-esteem.

     I have no faith in a meek man, and regard anyone that shows a humble mien as one who is preparing to make an attack upon me, for there is some brutish, nether fault in starved vanity.

     Yet once a friend leaned as gently on my coat as that disciple had on the bosom of the Saviour, and I went away, not knowing by his affection whether I was the John Christ was said to have loved most. I whispered thanks to my soul because he leaned upon me, for I shall never know who I am if I am not loved.

V

     Much flesh walks upon the earth void of heart and warm liver, for it is the spirit that dies soonest.

     Some men have marshland natures with mist and sea-water in their intellects, and are as sterile as the Florida earth which De Soto found in those meager, rough Indian settlements, and their tongues are fierce, reedy arrows. They wound and bleed the spirit, and their oaks and chestnut trees and acorns are wild, and a terrible, barren wind from the Atlantic blows through their blood as pitiless as the primitive rivers De Soto’s soldiers could not ford.

     Do not attempt to cross these mad, tumid rivers, boreal and brackish, for water is unstable, and you cannot link yourself to it.

     There are also inland, domestic men who are timid pulse and vetch, and though they may appear as stupid as poultry rooting in the mire, they are housed people, and they have orchards and good, tamed wine that makes men loving rather than predatory; go to them, and take little thought of their ignorance which brings forth good fruits, for here you may eat and not be on guard for the preservation of your soul.

     People who have domestic animals are patient, for atheism and the stony heart are the result of traveling: sorrow never goes anywhere. Were we as content as our forefathers were with labor in the fallow, or as a fuller with his cloth, or a drayman with his horses and mules, we would stay where we are, and that is praying.

     There are men that are birds, and their raiment is trembling feathers, for they show their souls to everyone, and everything that is ungentle or untutored or evil or mockery is as a rude stone cast at them, and they suffer all day long, or as Paul remarks they are slain every moment.

     God forgive me for my pride; though I would relinquish my own birthright for that wretched pottage of lentils which is friendship, I mistrust every mortal.

     Each day the alms I ask of heaven is not to have a new chagrin which is my daily bread.

December 1959

Source: Poetry (October 2012).

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This poem originally appeared in the October 2012 issue of Poetry magazine

October 2012
 Edward  Dahlberg

Biography

An essayist, a novelist, and an unsparing critic, Edward Dahlberg was born in Boston in 1900 to a peripatetic mother, and Dahlberg and his older brother were soon placed in an orphan asylum. He graduated from the Jewish Orphan’s Asylum High School in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1917 and enlisted in the army immediately after. Following his stint in the army, he attended the University of California and graduated from Columbia University . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Life Choices, Relationships, Friends & Enemies, Religion, Judaism

Poetic Terms Prose Poem

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