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From the Stacks: The Poetry of John Hollander
Poetry

From the Stacks: The Poetry of John Hollander

By Photo: Image via Shutterstock

John Hollander, the renowned poet and master of wit, died Saturday at age 83. In his honor, here is a selection of his poetry, as originally published in The New Republic.

Ubi sunt qui ante nos in mundo fuere?

Ubi sunt--not just all those makers of trope
And weavers of figure who, when yet one more
Of their number dies, keep asking without hope
What was so emptily asked so often before;
A darker riddle with no answer looms
In the twilight of knowledge with its fading glow
For those who linger on among the tombs:
Where am I, though--
Ubi sum adhuc qui maneo?*

We all know where it is they've gone, the dead:
Beyond Noplace, far into wide Nowhere.
Where the very adverb where?, instead
Of inquiring, dissolves in meaningless air;
And Nowhere, that growing vast anterior
Into which everything alive will flow--
"Nowhere!" too easily answers the querier.
Where am I, though--
Ubi sum adhuc qui maneo?

Where's A, where's B, where's silly C, where D
The drunk, and poor, dear E, the broken-hearted?
Where lusty F, where displaced H, where G?
(We knew the answer long before we started)
But where is I, singer of this refrain
On a sea that shifts as all the others row
Out into nothing, but on which I remain,
Where am I, though--
Ubi sum adhuc qui maneo?

Where am I? Here and there and, for the time
Being, traveling downward from back then
To now, then making the too-easy climb
Upward into a future now again--
Where? What can that mean? All that's now apparent
Is where it is we all are going to go
Drawn along by a deep, relentless current.
Until then, though
Ubi sum adhuc qui maneo?

*Where am I, who yet remain?

Policing The Yard

Picking up what they'd dropped not long before,
They gain a new acquaintance with the ground
That will return to haunt them all the more.

Lost words and deeds, quickly become a bore,
Make for how tedious they will have found
Picking up what they'd dropped so long before.

The more lost buried memories they store
Up in a subsubsubterranean mound
(Those will return to haunt them all), the more

They find themselves returning to the lore
Of returning, sadly trying to expound
--Picking up what they'd dropped so long before

The meaning of their task, as they explore
The lowly territory all around.
This will return to haunt them--all the more

For its low hopelessness as well as for
All their conclusions being quite unsound.
Picking up what they'd dropped too long before:
That will return to haunt them all the more.

Lede image via Shutterstock.

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