Grossman, Allen

United States, (b. 1932)

The Song of the Swineherd

  1. 118.
  2. “There has to be a man or woman in the world
  3. Who is as old as the world,” says the serious
  4. Man, prophetic swineherd. Perhaps a Jew!
  5. — “Thus I follow her whom I remember, and also
  6. Do not remember, and of the remembered
  7. And unremembered following the unremembered
  8. One to serve her vanity and her desire
  9. Who has been on the road with book and servant-
  10. Animals since the beginning of the world,
  12. 119.
  13. Before the clocks and scales began to pass
  14. From heaven to heaven of the moon and sun
  15. And the pillar of light moved on the wall . . . .
  16. Or follow him, whom I remember
  17. And do not remember who is asleep
  18. In the root like a foot, and talking to him,
  19. The sailor wrecked upon our shore together
  20. With his parrot, his prophecy, and his treasure,
  21. Who has come and is yet to come. And being
  23. 120.
  24. As I am a serious man, and patient,
  25. Above all a follower, a man of the hog,
  26. The dog, the labyrinth of earth, the nymph,
  27. And the weather— I know that everything
  28. Speaks— the living speak and the dead speak
  29. (‘Justice!’ they cry). And that the clocks and scales
  30. That pass from heaven to heaven keep the time
  31. Until the sailor comes ashore— or the god
  32. Throws down his lightning to make an end.
  34. 121.
  35. In the farm at the shore the voices of men
  36. And women at the last moment before death,
  37. Or punctually at the moment after the last
  38. Breath, congregate among prophetic animals
  39. (The hog, the crow, the dog) putting their questions.
  40. Their voices echo in the labyrinth.
  41. ‘Which road?’ they ask. The animals reply,
  42. ‘You must take the road assigned.’ They bark and caw,
  43. Walk that way.‘ All point. ‘And sleep on straw.‘”
  45. 122.
  46. Swineherd! What, then, is the difference of life?
  47. “In life you can lie down in any dark.
  48. But it is better if the bed be high
  49. And clean, and better if there is a window
  50. In the eastern wall. We sleep where we can
  51. (Says he) with eyes open, listening to the birds.
  52. But to awake entirely requires a bed-
  53. Place, and a winter dawn, the patience to lie
  54. Alone, and the luck of the sailor’s song.”

© Allen Grossman. The Philosopher’s Window. New York: New Directions, (1995).

About the Poet:

Allen R. Grossman (b. 1932) is a U.S. poet, critic and professor. Grossman attended Harvard University, graduating with an MA in 1956 and went on to receive a PhD from Brandeis University in 1960. He remained a professor at until 1991, when he became the Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities at The Johns Hopkins University, retiring in 2006.

In 1993 Grossman was elected Fellow of The American Academy of Arts and Science. In 2009 he was the winner of Yale University’s Bollingen Prize. Though now retired from teaching, he continues to write.

Grossman’s recent works include The Philosopher’s Window and Other Poems (1995), How to Do Things with Tears (2000), Sweet Youth (2000) and Descartes’ Loneliness (2007). Grossman’s work has also been included in many anthologies and he has been a contributor to literary periodicals, including Massachusetts Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, Western Humanities Review, and TriQuarterly. [DES-03/12]

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