I hear it, nights when I wake, over the mild sound of the air conditioner.
As I used to hear it over the beloved’s heart, or
variety of hearts, owing to there having been several.
And as it beats, it continues to drum up ridiculous emotion.
So many passionate letters never sent!
So many urgent journeys conceived of on summer nights,
surprise visits to men who were nearly complete strangers.
The tickets never bought, the letters never stamped.
And pride spared. And the life, in a sense, never completely lived.
And the art always in some danger of growing repetitious.
Why not? Why not? Why should my poems not imitate my life?
Whose lesson is not the apotheosis but the pattern, whose meaning
is not in the gesture but in the inertia, the reverie.
Desire, loneliness, wind in the flowering almond—
surely these are the great, the inexhaustible subjects
to which my predecessors apprenticed themselves.
I hear them echo in my own heart, disguised as convention.
Balm of the summer night, balm of the ordinary,
imperial joy and sorrow of human existence,
the dreamed as well as the lived—
what could be dearer than this, given the closeness of death?
from The Seven Ages (Ecco Press, 2005) Used by permission.