how will it be...

from my anthology of must read (a)merican poems

May Swenson


Body my house
my horse my hound
what will I do
when you are fallen

Where will I sleep
How will I ride
What will I hunt

Where can I go
without my mount
all eager and quick
How will I know
in thicket ahead
is danger or treasure
when Body my good
bright dog is dead

How will it be
to lie in the sky
without roof or door
and wind for an eye

With cloud for shift
how will I hide?


May Swenson is a great poet for igniting the dark presences in living. This poem focuses on the hunter and the hunted, on the great beauty in the body itself. The lines move in quick fashion toward a closing (or, more precisely, an opening) that is not in any way a resolution – a strength that emerges from the poet’s confidence in her craft. The reader moves from a grounded presence – the motions of the body, the imaginings of the body – into an unknown that is visualized as a female sky. Wonderful.

The language unwinds a near-mythical setting: “Body my house / my horse my hound”. The question then settles into very basic animal pursuits: do, sleep, ride, hunt, go, know. Word choices become ideas reduced to their smallest entities, giving a perfect feel for the poem. The third stanza, a good bit longer than the others, hints at danger, hurt, and loss – emphasizing that most essential of human qualities – curiosity.

Questions here, while not posed for answering, do startle the reader into some sort of action. This poem makes me want to examine purpose in my own life … to find my essence. There is no hiding – no roof, no door … a different sort of house that is, in fact, no house. After reading some lines by Rainer Maria Rilke, I catch an echo of Swenson’s poem …

You are not dead yet, it’s not too late
to open your depths by plunging into them
and drink in the life
that reveals itself quietly there.
               – from Book of Hours, I, 14

A necessary plunge is present in both poems, but with a primary difference – Rilke’s poem moves downward into a specific and exact understanding of life and Swenson’s poem moves upward and outward in a motion that opens itself into a sky of possibility.

No answer. No end.


Natalie said...

I have to say that reading your poetry critiques is incredibly inspiring. Your insight into what you read, and so beautifully, what these poems say to you, is (and I'm envious) brilliantly expressed. I also enjoy getting to know the work of poets which I'd probably never read was it not for your blog. Thank you for your inspiration.

Suzanne said...

A favorite of mine, Sam. Beautiful reading.

Sam of the ten thousand things said...

Thanks for the read and comments Natalie and Suzanne.

Jill said...

this is a wonderful, almost mystical poem. piqued my curiosity..makes me want to read more of her work.

thanks for your blog. it's great! i enjoy reading it.

Jennifer Estep said...

Poetry is more powerful than people give it credit for. You know, I still remember some of the poems from AP English. Like the one about the Holocaust victims with their glasses being tossed in an emormous pile. And "On Love" by Joseph Brodsky. Good stuff. :-)

Sam of the ten thousand things said...

Jill, thanks for the read. By the way, enjoyed your work at MiPO.

Glad you typed by Jennifer. We're getting close to a countdown on your book. // The Holocaust poem is "Eyeglasses" by Ioanna Warwick ... wonderful poet ... and poem. // The Brodsky piece is good one. Just yesterday, I was reading "I Sit by the Window," another Brodsky poem. I really like the closing lines:

"I sit in the dark. And it would be hard to figure out
which is worse; the dark inside, or the darkness out."

Oh yes.

C. E. Chaffin said...

As I recall, the May Swenson Award is monetarily the most valualable in the States--I forget the requirements, but I think it's for a first or second book. She managed to leave a generous legacy. Not many poets can say that.