Lute Music (Kenneth Rexroth)

February 24, 2009

The Earth will be going on a long time
Before it finally freezes;
Men will be on it; they will take names,
Give their deeds reasons.
We will be here only
As chemical constituents—
A small franchise indeed.
Right now we have lives,
Corpuscles, Ambitions, Caresses,
Like everybody had once—

Here at the year’s end, at the feast
Of birth, let us bring to each other
The gifts brought once west through deserts—
The precious metal of our mingled hair,
The frankincense of enraptured arms and legs,
The myrrh of desperate, invincible kisses—
Let us celebrate the daily
Recurrent nativity of love,
The endless epiphany of our fluent selves,
While the earth rolls away under us
Into unknown snows and summers,
Into untraveled spaces of the stars.


Rexroth’s famous poetic career spanned half a decade, and led him from Chicago, where he was one of the first poets to read his poems to jazz accompaniment, to San Francisco where would be associated with the avant-garde. Such misguided associations prompted him to say (and I quote this because I like it, and it seems true to me): “I’ve never understood why I’m [considered] a member of the avant-garde… I [just] try to say, as simply as I can, the simplest and most profound experiences of my life.”

“Lute Music” comes from an early collection (1944) called The Phoenix and the Tortoise which is thick with philosophical ruminations and Greek mythological references. I prefer his earlier work to his later, which tends to be more overtly political, with smatterings of love and naturalistic poems throughout. I find contemporary poetry wanting of the kind of abandon found in lines like “Let us celebrate the daily/ Recurrent nativity of love.” But then, I am still a fool for the elevated, mellifluous line.

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