Pale Bliss (John Updike)

February 2, 2009

Pale Bliss

Splitting a bottle of white wine
with a naked woman
in the middle of the day.


As you might have heard, John Updike died last week at the age of 76; a great loss. While his novels have often left me feeling weirdly unsettled and disturbed, I have returned to them for their extraordinary language. Updike will be honored and remembered, perhaps above all, for his ability to write dizzyingly beautiful sentences out of the flat, white-washed boredom of middle-class American life. For the same reason, ironically, he will continue to be criticized for wasting his talent on lackluster material.

I have read Updike’s novels and short stories over the years with more care than his poetry, which has fallen dubiously under the category of “light verse,” but I thought it only fitting to select a poem today in his honor. I chose this particuarly short poem not because it is famous, but because it illustrates some of the things I love about Updike: his confidence, subtlety, nuanced sense of humor, and the pleasure with which he seems to put words together.

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