Before he wrote a poem, he learned the measure That living in the future gives a farm-- Propinquity of mules and cows, the charmed Insouciance of hens, the fellowship, At dawn, of seed-time and of harvest-time. But when high noon gave way to evening, and The fences lay, bent shadows, on the crops And pastures to the yellowing trees, he felt The presences he felt when, over rocks, Through pools and where it wears the bank, the stream Ran bright and dark at once, itself its shadow; And suffered, in all he knew, the antagonists Related in the Bible, in himself And every new condition from the beginning, As in the autumn leaf and summer prime. Therefore he chose to live the only game Worthy of repetition, in the likeness Of someone like himself, a race of which He was the changing distances and ground, The runners, and the goal that runs away Forever into time; or like two players At odds in white and black, their dignities Triumphs refused or losses unredeemed. For the one, that it be ever of the pure Intention that he witnessed in the high Stained windows of King's Chapel--ancestral stories, The old above the new, like pages shining From an essential book--he taught his mind To imitate the meditation, sovereign In verse and prose, of those who shared with him Intelligence of beauty, good, and truth As one, unchanging and unchangeable, Disinterested excitement through a sentence Their joy and passion. For the other, as A venturer asleep, he went among The voiceless and unvisionary many-- Like one who offers blood to know his fate Or hold his twin again--deep in the midnight Baths of New Orleans, on its plural beds And on the secret banks beside its river, The many who, anonymous as he was, Uncannily resembled him, appearing Immortal in a finitude of mirrors. But when the sudden force of the disease Tossed him, in a new garment, on the bed Where he had wakened, mornings, as a child-- Despised by all the neighbors, helpless, blind And vulnerable to every life, he listened Intensely to the roosters, mules and cows As well as to the voices of the desk, The chair, the books and pictures, pastures and fields, The tree of every season, the age of seas And, on its surge, the age of galaxies, The bells within the spires of Cambridge, bodies And faces revealed or hidden in the flow, All that we knew or could imagine joined Together in the sound the stream flows through As witness of itself in every change, Each trusting in its continuities, All turning in a final radiant shell. Then, on his darkened eye, he saw himself A compact disk awhirl, played by the light He came from and was ready to reenter, But not before he chose the way to go. And so it was, before his death, he spoke The poem that is his best, the final letter To take to that old country as a passport.
From Collected Poems by Edgar Bowers, published by Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. Copyright © 1997 Edgar Bowers. Used with permission.