heartless immensity...

from my anthology of must read (a)merican poems

Anne Carson

On Hedonism

Beauty makes me hopeless. I don’t care why anymore I just want to get away. When I look at the city of Paris I long to warp my legs around it. When I watch you dancing there is a heartless immensity like a sailor in a dead-calm sea. Desires as round as peaches bloom in me all night, I no longer gather what falls.


Carson is one of the most profound reads one can encounter. I won’t intimate that she is an easy read, but I will state, emphatically, that her writing is rewarding.

The simplicity of this prose poem, found in Plainwater, astounds me. It’s quite physical. Carson’s use of the negatives, the loss, is provocative and direct: hopeless, don’t care, get away, heartless immensity, dead-calm sea, no longer gathering. A “dead-calm sea” is an impacting image of a hopeless state. No way to move – nowhere to get to.

The wrapping of the legs around Paris – a city representing the classic image of the idealized place – is a wonderful visual. That image shifts to dancing, to calmness, and, finally, to desires. Carson enlarges desire to account for all connections that touch the person. The fact, however, that there are so many possibilities renders the hopeless state that begins the poem. So many desires, so many choices. The fallen petals that end the poem perfectly illustrate the heightened state or place of emotions, awareness, and longing.

There’s something quite exquisite about the off-centered wonder and ache in pleasure unfulfilled. A bottomless well.

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