Friday, April 08, 2005

John Paul the Great

Robert Creeley, Saul Bellow, Frank Conroy, John Paul the Great--these are recent dead!

A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.

This couplet from T.S. Eliot alludes to lines from The Inferno, which Robert Pinsky translates:

Farther along our course, I could make out
People upon the shore of some great river.
“Master,“ I said, “it seems by this dim light
That all of these are eager to cross over--….”

The dead in Canto III must board Charon’s boat. He whacks the laggards with an oar.

James Wright’s best book is Shall We Gather at the River? This is from that collection:

In Response to a Rumor that the
Oldest Whorehouse in Wheeling,
West Virginia, Has Been Condemned


I will grieve alone,
As I strolled alone, years ago, down along
The Ohio shore.
I hid in the hobo jungle weeds
Upstream from the sewer main
Pondering, gazing.

I saw, down river,
At Twenty-third and Water Streets
By the vinegar works,
The doors open in early evening.
Swinging their purses, the women
Poured down the long street to the river
And into the river.

I do not know how it was
They could drown every evening.
What time near dawn did they climb up the other shore
Drying their wings?

For the river at Wheeling, West Virginia,
Has only two shores:
The one in hell, the other
In Bridgeport, Ohio.

And nobody would commit suicide, only
To find beyond death
Bridgeport, Ohio.