Sunday, April 18, 2010

For Losing Her Love All I Would Profane - Kenneth Patchen

I came across Kenneth Patchen's (1911-1972) Selected Poems the year after his death.  He was a little too old to be part of the "Beat Poets" but his experimentation with different forms and ways of conveying poetry, including the first reading with a jazz group and his "painted poems", certainly put him outside the academic mainstream.  He was a prolific poet, with many published volumes, as well as a novelist.  Late in life (1967) he received a life-time achievement award from the National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities.  (Not bad for someone who, in his younger years and after dropping out of college, traveled widely around the USA as a migrant worker.)  For the last years of his life, he was mostly bedridden from an operation that had gone badly.  This blog is about "love poetry", so there won't be examples of Patchen's war poems, which are as heartfelt and powerful as any I have ever read.   

In my early 20s, the poem below jolted me with the first two lines of each stanza, while the cry in the last line is far more plaintive now than then: experience and the intervening years - as they should - make it less rhetorical and more real.
For Losing Her Love All Would I Profane

For losing her love all would I profane
As a man who washes his heart in filth.
She wakes so whitely at my side,
Her two breasts like bowls of snow
Upon which I put my hands like players
In a child’s story of heaven.

For gaining her love all would I protest
As a man who threatens God with murder.
Her lips part sleep’s jeweled rain
Like little red boats on a Sunday lake.
I know nothing about men who die
Like beasts in a war-fouled ditch –
My sweetling….

O God what shall become of us?
                                                                             Kenneth Patchen - American

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