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Ancestral Lines

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It’s as when following the others’ lines,
Which are the tracks of somebody gone before,
Leaving me mischievous clues, telling me who

They were and who it was they weren’t,
And who it is I am because of them,
Or, just for the moment, reading them, I am,

Although the next moment I’m back in myself, and lost.
My father at the piano saying to me,
“Listen to this, he called the piece Warum?”

And the nearest my father could come to saying what
He made of that was lamely to say he didn’t,
Schumann didn’t, my father didn’t, know why.

“What’s in a dog’s heart”? I once asked in a poem,
And Christopher Ricks when he read it said, “Search me.”
He wasn’t just being funny, he was right.

You can’t tell anything much about who you are
By exercising on the Romantic bars.
What are the wild waves saying? I don’t know.

And Shelley didn’t know, and knew he didn’t.
In his great poem, “Ode to the West Wind,” he
Said that the leaves of his pages were blowing away,

Dead leaves, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing.

Source: Poetry (January 2012)

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

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Ancestral Lines

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