Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow

as if it were a scene made-up by the mind,   
that is not mine, but is a made place,

that is mine, it is so near to the heart,   
an eternal pasture folded in all thought   
so that there is a hall therein

that is a made place, created by light   
wherefrom the shadows that are forms fall.

Wherefrom fall all architectures I am
I say are likenesses of the First Beloved   
whose flowers are flames lit to the Lady.

She it is Queen Under The Hill
whose hosts are a disturbance of words within words   
that is a field folded.

It is only a dream of the grass blowing   
east against the source of the sun
in an hour before the sun’s going down

whose secret we see in a children’s game   
of ring a round of roses told.

Often I am permitted to return to a meadow   
as if it were a given property of the mind   
that certain bounds hold against chaos,

that is a place of first permission,   
everlasting omen of what is.

Robert Duncan, “Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow” from The Opening of the Field. Copyright © 1960 by Robert Duncan. Reprinted with the permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.
Source: Selected Poems (New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1993)

Writing Ideas

  1. Robert Duncan, as Peter O’Leary points out in his guide to this poem, was influenced by myth and dream, and based “Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow” on a recurring dream. Keep a record of your dreams, writing them down immediately upon waking. Use whatever scraps of image, color, sound, or feeling you record to build a poem or series of poems.
  2. Duncan’s poem builds on full and near rhymes such as made/mine/mind and fall/full/fold. Circle any other near or full rhymes in the poem. Then, use these groupings to write a poem that plays on rhyme and repetition. Like Duncan, consider the “source of the sun” or the imaginative place from which you write.
  3. “Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow” includes archaic word choice (“wherefrom”) and moments of inverted syntax (“She it is Queen”). Take a poem you’ve already written and experiment with replacing common words or phrases with old-fashioned or archaic locutions. Rearrange sentences for maximum awkwardness. Don’t worry about maintaining the “sense” of your poem; think instead about the surface. What happens, not just to your poem, but to your thinking about language during the process?

Discussion Questions

  1. What kinds of tension do you feel between Duncan’s poem as “made” and “made-up”? What other oppositions does the poem seem to be navigating between? Note the occurrence of words like “shadows,” “likenesses,” “dream,” and “secret.”
  2. What effect do the appearance of capitalized names (First Beloved; Lady; Queen Under the Hill) have on you as you read? How does Duncan’s use of personal myth and private code create a sense of intimacy? Do you feel “permitted” to enter Duncan’s poem? Why or why not?

Teaching Tips

  1. After reading O’Leary’s poem guide, have students do an online image search to bring up Jess Collins’s illustration for the cover of The Opening of the Field. As a class, think about the relationship between the image and the poem: why might Duncan have insisted the image accompany the poem? This could lead to a broader discussion of visual art and poetry focusing around Duncan and Jess and their collaborations: see “The Assemblages of Jess,” “Robert Duncan as Visual Artist”; and a link to their collaborative scrapbook. After doing some reading on the pair, have students report their findings: what do Jess’s assemblages and Duncan’s poems share? What was their method for collaboration? How does thinking about collage help students grapple with some of each artist’s works’ complexity?
  2. Duncan’s poem is a kind of oblique ars poetica, or poem about poetry. Have students research the term to discover who first used it (Horace) and why. Then ask them to think about Duncan’s poem in light of ars poetica: how does Duncan depict the sources of poetry, his relationship to language, and his reasons for writing? Compare Duncan’s poem to other more self-conscious examples of ars poetica, such as or Paul Verlaine’s “Ars Poetica,” Archibald MacLeish’s or Dorothea Lasky’s. What claims for poetry and for the poet does each poem make? How does Duncan’s poem differ from or conform to the tradition of ars poetica as your students understand it?
More Poems by Robert Duncan