Thursday, April 30, 2009

The last poem of poetry month 2009

My years-ago teacher, Allen Grossman, won the Bollingen Prize this year. His most recent book, Descartes' Loneliness is heartbreaking, in part because it's clear it will be the last book of an incredible career of the mind. I know no one smarter about what poetry does, how it works--if you haven't read it, check out his "Summa Lyrica," which is published as the second section of The Sighted Singer (JHU Press). It's a dense read, but richly rewarding. Grossman is dwindling quickly in Alzheimer's now. I am influenced by him every day.

"The Caedmon Room"

Upstairs, one floor below the Opera House
on top of the building, was the Caedmon room –
a library of sorts. The Caedmon room
was empty of readers most of the time.
When the last reader left and closed the door,
I locked it and moved in for life. Right now,
I am writing this in the Caedmon room.
Caedmon was an illiterate, 7th century
British peasant to whom one night a lady
appeared in a dream. She said to him, speaking
in her own language, “Caedmon! Sing me something!”
And he did just that. What he sang, in his
own language, was consequential – because
he did not learn the art of poetry
from men, but from God. For that reason,
he could not compose a trivial poem,
but what is right and fitting for a lady
who wants a song. These are the words he sang:
“Now praise the empty sky where no words are.”
This was Caedmon’s song. Caedmon’s voice is sweet.
In the Caedmon room shelves groan under the
weight of eloquent blank pages, histories
of a sweet world in which we are not found.
Caedmon turned each page, page after page
until the last page – on which was written:
“To the one who conquers, I give the morning star.”

--Allen Grossman


Lisa B. said...

I read Summa Lyrica when it appeared in WHR, and I thought then (still think so) that it was brilliant. Sad to hear about his state now. He is an amazing poet.

Anna B said...

i have loved poetry month on your blog. thanks for all the great poems.

Pamphilia said...

This is so beautiful. Allen Grossman was the reason why my mother studied 17th century English poetry in graduate school.