I’ve Kissed A Lip Or Two

Walter Clyde Curry

And how can poetry stand up against its new conditions? Its position is perfectly precarious.

John Crowe Ransom

I Have Not Lived

 
by Walter Clyde Curry (1887 – 1967)
 
 
Though half my years besiege the aged sun,
     I have not lived. My robust preparation
     Lags tardily behind fit consummation,
Droops sweatily in courses just begun.
 
Oh, I have loved and lusted with the best,
     Plucked momentary music from the senses;
     I’ve kissed a lip or two with fair pretenses
And wept for softness of a woman’s breast.
 
My mind rebounds to nether joys and pain,
     Toying with filth and pharisaic leaven;
     I know the lift up sundry peaks to heaven,
And every rockless path to hell again.
 
I wait the hour when gods have more to give
Than husks and bare insatiate will to live.

Walter Clyde Curry is a member of The Fugitives along with more celebrated founders Donald Davidson, John Ransom, Alan Tate and Robert Penn Warren, among others.  Curry was primarily a literary critic over the course of his career and left his mark teaching.  A forty year faculty member of Vanderbilt University from 1915 to 1955, Curry produced exactly the kind of books I dislike, extensive academic analysis of Milton, Shakespeare and Chaucer.  A self styled medievalist and agrarian, he felt the culture of the medieval past and the south should shape the future of literature.   The Fugitives believed they had developed a new way of evaluating literature that provided a bridge from past to present.  And in the end they were somewhat right.  The future evolved either in part because of their influence or more likely because their ideas were fundamentally rejected by a more diverse artistic and academic community. 

Some academic work stands up over time, The Fugitives and in particular Curry’s legacy is a bit more convoluted in my opinion.  It’s hard to celebrate a group of coddled affluent white academics that romanticized the deep south’s history of bigotry, slavery and white supremacy when that level of white blindness falls flat on it’s face today,   Curry, one of the least talented poets in the group in my opinion, wisely wrote under a pen name, keeping a healthy distance between his playful poetry and his serious refined future as a critic.  Curry was by many accounts an excellent professor at least for the tastes of his period and at the Universities he taught.   Would Curry garner the level of academic stature and support he received 80 years ago today?  Or would he have adapted and still flourished?  Good teachers are generally good story tellers, a timeless quality that affords the individual the ability to adapt to his ever changing listening habits of his audience. 

In my mind The Fugitives are better known for their legacy of scholarly criticism than for their actual poetry.  They were young men, still exploring their bones and figuring out where and how to build their careers.   Their poetry is mingled with a touch of vulnerability.   They were young men, flawed, but thinkers, who left their mark, some of it good, some of it bad.  The same can be said of their poetry. 


Men

by John Crowe Ransom

How many godly creatures are there here!
Miranda doted on the sight of seamen.
The very casual adventures
Who took a flood as quickly as a calm,
And kept their blue eyes blue to any weather.
This was the famous manliness of men:
And when she saw it on the dirty strangers,
She clapped her pretty hands in sudden joy:
O brave new world!

I Shall Build Me A House

Warren

Robert Penn Warren (1905 – 1989)

The urge to write poetry is like having an itch. When the itch becomes annoying enough, you scratch it.

Robert Penn Warren

Grieve Not

by Walter Clyde Curry

Grieve not that winter masks the yet quick earth,
        Nor still that summer walks the hills no more;
        That fickle spring has doffed the plaid she wore

To swathe herself in napkins till rebirth.

These buddings, flowerings, are nothing worth;
  .      .  This ermine cloud stretched firm across the lakes
  .     .   Will presently be shattered into flakes;
Then, starveling world, be subject to my mirth.

I know that faithful swift mortality
.      .  Subscribes to nothing longer than a day;
 .        All beauty signals imminent decay;
And painted wreckage cumbers land and sea.

I laugh to hear a sniveling wise one say,
“Some winnowed self escapes this reckless way.”



Vision

by Robert Penn Warren (1905-1989)

I shall build me a house where the larkspur blooms
. . In a narrow glade in an alder wood,
Where the sunset shadows make violet gloom,
, . And a whip-poor-will calls in eerie mood.

I shall lie on a bed of river sedge,
. . And listen to the glassy dark,
With a guttered light on my window ledge,
. . While an owl stares in at me white and stark.

I shall burn my house with the rising dawn,
. . And leave but the ashes and smoke behind,
And again give the glade to the owl and the fawn,
. . When the grey wood smoke drifts away with the wind.