Dan Chiasson, hailed as “one of the most gifted poets of his generation” upon the appearance of his first book, takes inspiration for his stunning new collection from the Historia Naturalis of Pliny the Elder.
“What happens next, you won’t believe,” Chiasson writes in “From the Life of Gorky,” and it is fair warning. This collection suggests that a person is like a world, full of mysteries and wonders–and equally in need of an encyclopedia, a compendium of everything known. The long title sequence offers entries such as “The Sun” (“There is one mind in all of us, one soul, / who parches the soil in some nations / but in others hides perpetually behind a veil”), “The Elephant” (“How to explain my heroic courtesy?”), “The Pigeon” (“Once startled, you shall feel hours of weird sadness / afterwards”), and “Randall Jarrell” (“If language hurts you, make the damage real”). The mysteriously emotional individual poems coalesce as a group to suggest that our natural world is populated not just by fascinating creatures–who, in any case, are metaphors for the human as Chiasson considers them– but also by literature, by the ghosts of past poetries, by our personal ghosts. Toward the end of the sequence, one poem asks simply, “Which Species on Earth Is Saddest?” a question this book seems poised to answer. But Chiasson is not finally defeated by the sorrows and disappointments that maturity brings. Combining a classic, often heartbreaking musical line with a playful, fresh attack on the standard materials of poetry, he makes even our sadness beguiling and beautiful.
From the Hardcover edition.
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|Title of Philosophy eBook: Natural History|
|Release Date: 04-02-2009|
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|Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
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LOVE SONG (SMELT)
When I say 'you' in my poems, I mean you.
I know it’s weird: we barely met.
You must hear this all the time, being you.
That night we were at opposite ends of
the long table, after the pungent
Russian condiments, the carafes of tarragon vodka,
the chafing dishes full of boiled smelts
I was a little drunk: after you left,
I ate the last smelt off your dirty plate.
There is one mind in all of us, one soul,
who parches the soil in some nations
but in others hides perpetually behind a veil;
he spills light everywhere, here he spilled
some on my tie, but it dried before dinner ended.
He is in charge of darkness also, also
in charge of crime, in charge of the imagination.
People fucking flick him off and on,
off and on, with their eyelids as they ascertain
with their eyes their love’s sincerity.
He makes the stars disappear, but he makes
small stars everywhere, on the hoods of cars,
in the compound eyes of skyscrapers or in the eyes
of sighing lovers bored with one another.
Onto the surface of the world he stamps
all plants and animals. They are not gods
but he made us worshippers of every
bramble toad, black chive, we find.
In Idaho there is a desert cricket that makes
a clocklike tick-tick when he flies, but he
is not a god. The only god is the sun,
our mind–master of all crickets and clocks.
How to explain my heroic courtesy? I feel
that my body was inflated by a mischievous boy.
Once I was the size of a falcon, the size of a lion,
once I was no