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Prologue at Sixty

Dark-green upon distant heights
The stationary flocks foresters tend,
Blonde and fertile the fields below them;
Browing a hog-back, an oak stands,
Post-alone, light-demanding.

Easier to hear, harder to see,
Limbed lives, locomotive,
Automatic and irritable,
Social or solitary, seek their foods,
Mates and territories while their time lasts.

Radial republics, rooted to spots,
Bilateral monarchies, moving about,
All do the bidding of Dame Kind,
Enjoy their rites, their realms of data,
Live well by the Law of their Flesh.

All but the youngest of the yawning mammals,
Name-Giver, Ghost-Fearer,
Maker of wars and wise-cracks,
A rum creature, in a crisis always,
The anxious species to which I belong.

Whom chance and my own choice have arrived
To bide here yearly from bud-haze
To leaf-blush, dislodged from elsewhere,
By blood barbarian, in bias of view
A son of the North, outside the limes.

Rapacious pirates my people were,
Crude and cruel, but not calculating,
Never marched in step nor made straight roads,
Nor sank like senators to a slave’s taste
For grandiose buildings and gladiators.

But the Gospel reached the unroman lands:
I can translate what onion-towers
Of five parish-churches preach in Baroque;
To make One there must be Two,
Love is substantial, all Luck is good.

And the Greek Code got to us also:
A Mind of Honor must acknowledge
The happy eachness of all things,
Distinguish even from odd numbers,
And bear witness to what-is-the-case.

East, West, on the Autobahn
Motorists whoosh, on the Main Line
A far-sighted express will snake by,
Through a gap granted by grace of nature.
Still today, as in the Stone Age,

Our sandy vale is a valued passage:
Alluvial flats, flooded often,
Lands of out wash, lie to the North;
To the South, litters of limestone alps
Embarrass the progress of path-seekers.

Their thought upon ski-slope or theater-opening,
Few who pass us pay attention
To our squandered hamlets where, at harvest-time,
Chugging tractors, child-driven,
Shamble away down sheltered lanes.

Quiet now, but acquainted too
With unwelcome visitors, violation,
Scare and scream, the scathe of battle:
Turks have been here, Boney’s legions,
Germans, Russians, and no joy they brought.

Though the absence of hedge-rows is odd to me
(No Whig landlord, the landscape vaunts,
Ever empired on Austrian ground),
This unenglish tract after ten years
Into my love has looked itself.

Added its names to my numinous map
Of the Solihull gas-works, gazed at in awe
By a bronchial boy, the Blue-John Mine,
The Festiniog railway, the Rhayader dams,
Cross Fell, Keld and Cauldron Snout.

Of sites made sacred by something read there,
A lunch, a good lay, or sheer lightness of heart,
The Fürbringer and the Friedrich Strasse,
Isafjördur, Epomeo,
Poprad, Basel, Bar-le-Duc.

Of more modern holies, Middagh Street,
Carnegie Hall and the Con-Ed stacks
On First Avenue. Who am I now?
An American? No, a New Yorker,
Who opens his Times at the obit page.

Whose dream images date him already,
Awake among lasers, electric brains,
Do-it-yourself sex manuals,
Bugged phones, sophisticated
Weapon-systems and sick jokes.

Already a helpless orbited dog
Has blinked at our wasteful worried shape,
Where many are famished, few look good,
And our time gave birth to torturers
Who read Rilke in their rest-periods.

Can Sixty make sense to Sixteen-Plus?
What has my camp in common with theirs,
With buttons and beards and Be-Ins?
Much, I hope. In Acts it is written
Taste was no problem at Pentecost.

To speak is human because human to listen,
Beyond hope, for an Eighth Day,
When the creatured Image shall become the Likeness:
Giver of Life, translate for me,
Till I accomplish my corpse at last.

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