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The Soft City

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Eastward the city with scarcely even a murmur
          turns in the soft dusk,
          the lights of it blur,
          the delicate spires are unequal
as though the emollient dusk had begun to dissolve them...

          And the soft air-breathers,
their soft bosoms rising and falling as ferns under water
responding to some impalpably soft pressure,
          turn with the city, too.

          The petals of tenderness in them,
their tentative ways of feeling, not quite reaching out
but ever so gently half reaching out and withdrawing,

withdrawing to where their feminine star is withdrawing,
the planet that turns with them,
          faithfully always and softly...


And if there is something which is not soft in the city,
such as a cry too hard for the soft mouth to hold,
         God puts a soft stop to it.

Bending invisibly down, He breathes a narcosis
over the panicky face upturned to entreat Him:
a word as soft as morphine is the word that God uses,
placing His soft hand over the mouth of the cryer
before it has time to gather the force of a cry.

It is almost as if no cry had ever been thought of...

And, yes, over all,
    soft canopy over soft canopy,
         web over soft, soft web,
             gauze hung over gauze,

the mysteries of the tall heaven,
    the tall and very soft heaven,
         are softest of all!

"The Soft City" by Tennessee Williams, from The Collected Poems of Tennessee Williams, copyright © 1937, 1956, 1964, 2002 by The University of the South. Used by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.
Source: The Collected Poems of Tennessee Williams (New Directions Publishing Corporation, 2002)
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The Soft City

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  • The production of his first two Broadway plays, The Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire, secured Tennessee Williams's place, along with Eugene O'Neill and Arthur Miller, as one of America's major playwrights of the twentieth century. Critics, playgoers, and fellow dramatists recognized in Williams a poetic innovator who, refusing to be confined in what Stark Young in the New Republic called "the usual sterilities of our playwriting patterns," pushed drama into new fields, stretched the limits of the individual play and became one of the founders of the so-called "New Drama." Praising The Glass Menagerie "as a revelation of what superb theater could be," Brooks Atkinson in Broadway asserted that "Williams's remembrance of things past gave the theater distinction as a literary medium." Twenty years later, Joanne Stang wrote in the New York Times that "the American theater, indeed theater everywhere, has never been the same" since the...

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