I Have Read in the Book of the Butcher Boy (In Time of War)

- 1911-1962

I have read in the book of the butcher boy, William of Avon,
Of the deathless thyme; I have read of the wild thyme growing.
Be patient, gypsy, and we shall seek for that place.
We shall set our house there on that fragrant hill,
Deathless too, over the thyme-sweet stream,
With a road as brown and clean as an autumn leaf
Passing beside it for friendly feet to tread.
No mouse will lurk there, or fourteen-legged bug
Trespass its comers as in a lesser house.
No pug-nosed dog will snarl from its lawns, but a gentle,
Sad-eyed and shaggy-eared being as wise as Buddha
Will sit magisterial on the porch to guard us
From villain and bore. Never will hoarse old rooster
Raise up his odious cry at dawn to wake us:
A small red bird on a limb by our window will be
The bell of morning for us through the long years.
And we shall look down at the brown road to see
The butcher boy pass there idling upon his wheel
As butcher boys do, whistling a lilt to life;
The postman will pass there and other wise men also.
Sons will come to us there through the long years.
We shall grow old but mist and road and stream,
In that coign of things, will give us youth eternal,
By the happy thyme of the fragrant butcher boy's singing.

More by Hyam Plutzik

On Hearing That My Poems Were Being Studied in a Distant Place

What are they mumbling about me there?
"Here," they say, "he suffered; here was glad."
Are words clothes or the putting off of clothes?

The scene is as follows: my book is open
On thirty desks; the teacher expounds my life.
Outside the window the Pacific roars like a lion.

Beside which my small words rise and fall.
"In this alliteration a tower crashed."
Are words clothes or the putting off of clothes?

"Here, in the fisherman casting on the water,
He saw the end of the dreamer.
And in that image, death, naked."

Out of my life I fashioned a fistful of words.
When I opened my hand, they flew away.

For T.S.E. Only

You called me a name on such and such a day—
Do you remember?—you were speaking of Bleistein our brother,
The barbarian with the black cigar, and the pockets
Ringing with cash, and the eyes seeking Jerusalem,
Knowing they have been tricked. Come, brother Thomas,
We three must weep together for our exile.

I see the hunted look, the protestation,
The desperate seeking, the reticence and the brashness
Of the giver of laws to the worshippers of calves.
At times you speak as if the words were walls,
But your walls fell with mine to the torch of a Titus.
Come, let us weep together for our exile.

We two, no doubt, could accommodate ourselves:
We've both read Dante and we both dislike Chicago,
And both, you see, can be brutal—but you must bow down
To our brother Bleistein here, with the unaesthetic
Cigar and the somber look. Come, do so quickly,
For we must weep together for our exile.

O you may enwomb yourself in words or the Word
(The Word is a good refuge for people too proud
To swallow the milk of the mild Jesus' teaching),
Or a garden in Hampshire with a magic bird, or an old
Quotation from the Reverend Andrewes, yet someone or
     something

(Let us pause to weep together for our exile)

Will stick a needle in your balloon, Thomas.
Is it the shape that you saw upon the stair?
The four knights clanking toward the altar? the hidden
Card in the deck? the sinister man from Nippon?
The hordes on the eastern horizon? Come, brother Burbank,
And let us weep together for our exile.

In the time of sweet sighing you wept bitterly,
And now in the time of weeping you cannot weep.
Will you wait for the peace of the sailor with pearly bones?
Where is the refuge you thought you would find on the island
Where each man lives in his castle? O brother Thomas,
Come let us weep together for our exile.

You drew us first by your scorn, first by your wit;
Later for your own eloquent suffering.
We loved you first for the wicked things you wrote
Of those you acknowledged infinitely gentle.
Wit is the sin that you must expiate.
Bow down to them, and let us weep for our exile.

I see your words wrung out in pain, but never
The true compassion for creatures with you, that Dante
Knew in his nine hells. O eagle! master!
The eagle's ways of pride and scorn will not save
Though the voice cries loud in humility. Thomas, Thomas,
Come, let us pray together for our exile.

You, hypocrite lecteur! mon semblable! mon frère!

An Equation

For instance: y– xa + mx2(a2 + 1) = 0

Coil upon coil, the grave serpent holds
Its implacable strict pose, under a light
Like marble. The artist's damnation, the rat of time,
Cannot gnaw this form, nor event touch it with age.
Before it was, it existed, creating the mind
Which created it, out of itself. It will dissolve
Into itself, though in another language.
Its changes are not in change, nor its times in time.

And the coiled serpent quivering under a light
Crueler than marble, unwinds slowly, altering
Deliberate the great convolutions, a dancer,
A mime on the brilliant stage. The sudden movement,
Swifter than creases of lightning, renews a statue:

There by its skin a snake rears beaten in copper.
It will not acknowledge the incense on your altars,
Nor hear at night in your room the weeping...