At One Time I Had Said

Hayden Carruth (1921 – 2008)

“Why speak of the use of poetry? Poetry is what uses us.

Hayden Carruth

Sonnet #10

By Hayden Carruth
You rose from our embrace and the small light spread
like an aureole around you. The long parabola
of neck and shoulder, flank and thigh I saw
permute itself through unfolding and unlimited
minuteness in the movement of your tall tread,
the spine-root swaying, the Picasso-like éclat
of scissoring slender legs. I knew some law
of Being was at work. At one time I had said
that love bestows such values, and so it does,
but the old man in his canto was right and wise:
ubi amor ibi ocullus est.
Always I wanted to give and in wanting was
the poet. A man now, aging, I know the best
of love is not to bestow, but to recognize.

Let’s start with ubi amor ibi ocullus est, which means; where love is, there is insight.    I have read several translations of The Divine Comedy over the years, and although I know they skillfully portrayed Dante’s words in English, the true wit and intelligence of Dante can only be understood in Italian.  Maybe when I retire I’ll take on learning enough Italian to be able to read it in its original verse.   The Divine Comedy takes place on the eve of Good Friday to the Wednesday after Easter in the spring of 1300.  Dante descends into hell with the Roman poet Virgil at his side, continues on with him into Purgatory before meeting up with his longtime platonic lover Beatrice, who guides him through Heaven.  Dante wisely avoided controversy by not drawing heavily upon the bible in constructing his afterlife, allowing the theater of his literature to inform the critiques and humor that are contained within. It is only at the very end that he meets God, for whom he describes as being beyond words in the manifestation of the love of creation that surrounds us.  In many ways The Divine Comedy is about love, how love heals, corrupts, tempts, tortures and purifies.  Beatrice is Dante’s guide to help him rid himself of human frailties and absorb more fully a natural love that comes from all of creation’s higher power. 

Hayden Carruth was a poet, critic, essayist and faithful anthologist, who spent his life connecting poetry to matters of the mind that matter. I particularly like his first line of the poem below; The shells that men secrete are made of words.   A question I’ll pose is whether the use of the word “men” is limiting in that sentence?  Is it sexist, symbolic, or inclusive for his time?  Or as man who writes from a man’s perspective is it just his opinion, among other men and women of letters, that men’s secretions can be different than women’s in what they leave behind?   Secretions being a thing that connects these two poems and obviously something that captured his imagination.

Hayden Carruth is well respected by the scholarly, but he is not a name that you come across frequently.   His poetry is far superior to his current reputation.  I need to look no further than the list of volumes of work he left behind to understand that he was as devoted to the craft of poetry as any writer of his era. 

I keep coming back to Dante and Carruth; Where love is, there is insight.   I worry that in our current environment of binary polarizing debate, we fail to find insight into “the others” point of view, because we fail to love  those with which we disagree.   I think Dante and Carruth have it right.   If you want to understand, recognize each other through eyes of love and insights will open before our eyes. 



Three Sonnets On The Necessity of Narrowly Escaping Death


by Hayden Carruth 

The shells that men secrete are made of words,
And even those undignified by print
Are hard and multiple.  Through cracks, asquint
We twist for primed glimpses of the birds
The flash and wheel and cry, the hundred herds
Whose thundering hooves roar over the earth in sprint.
We ache for motion, now and then by dint
Of impulse move a nerve and think in surds.

Motion is meaning, meaning knowledge.  Locked
In shells of words, the mollusks know that things,
Nor even selves, the crimped and cramped, unblocked,
Unwatched and unexpressed.  The radio sings,
We think with archness of the Pleistocene,
And fuel our flaccid hearts with gasoline.