Its been a tough week here what with John Ashbery’s death on Sunday. I was a New York City kid who grew up reading John Ashbery and Frank O’Hara. Though I loved O’Hara from the start, it took until I was in my mid-20s before I could find my way through an Ashbery poem without grabbing for the shore. Then, as if by a miracle, the poems began to invite me in — maybe I just relaxed.
The one here, from A WAVE, is what I thought of as soon as I learned that he had died. Death imbued and funny, Keatsian and autumnal, it a pure product elegy.
AT NORTH FARM.
Somewhere someone is traveling furiously toward you,
At incredible speed, traveling day and night,
Through blizzards and desert heat, across torrents, through narrow passes.
But will he know where to find you,
Recognize you when he sees you,
Give you the thing he has for you?
Hardly anything grows here,
Yet the granaries are bursting with meal,
The sacks of meal piled to the rafters.
The streams run with sweetness, fattening fish;
Birds darken the sky. Is it enough
That the dish of milk is set out at night,
That we think of him sometimes,
Sometimes and always, with mixed feelings.
Next Week: Meyer Shapiro on Lewis Mumford…