Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, HISTORY, by WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS

Poetry Explorer

Classic and Contemporary Poetry

HISTORY, by                 Poet Analysis     Poet's Biography
First Line: A wind might blow a lotus petal
Last Line: A lover! Will that do?


A wind might blow a lotus petal
over the pyramids -- but not this wind.

Summer is a dried leaf.

Leaves stir this way then that
on the baked asphalt, the wheels
of motor cars rush over them, --
gas smells mingle with leaf smells.

Oh, Sunday, day of worship!!!

The steps to the Museum are high.
Worshippers pass in and out.
Nobody comes here today.
I come here to mingle faience dug
from the tomb, turquoise-colored
necklaces and wind belched from the
stomach; delicately veined basins
of agate, cracked and discolored and
the stink of stale urine!

Enter! Elbow in at the door.
Men? Women?
Simpering, clay fetish-faces counting
through the turnstile.


This sarcophagus contained the body
of Uresh-Nai, priest to the goddess Mut,
Mother of All --

Run your finger against this edge!
-- here went the chisel! -- and think
of an arrogance endured six thousand years
without a flaw!

But love is an oil to embalm the body.
Love is a packet of spices, a strong-smelling
liquid to be squirted into
the thigh. No?
Love rubbed on a bald head will make
hair -- and after? Love is
a lice comber!
Gnats on dung!

"The chisel is in your hand, the block
is before you, cut as I shall dictate:
This is the coffin of Uresh-Nai,
priest to the Sky Goddess, -- built
to endure forever!
Carve the inside
with the image of my death in
little lines of figures three fingers high.
Put a lid on it cut with Mut bending over
the earth, for my headpiece, and in the year
to be chosen I shall rouse, the lid
shall be lifted and I will walk about
the temple where they have rested me
and eat the air of the place:

Ah -- these walls are high! This
is in keeping."


The priest has passed into his tomb.
The stone has taken up his spirit!
Granite over flesh: who will deny
its advantages?

Your death? -- water
spilled upon the ground --
though water will mount again into rose-leaves --
but you? -- would hold life still,
even as a memory, when it is over.
Benevolence is rare.

Climb about this sarcophagus, read
what is writ for you in these figures
hard as the granite that has held them
with so soft a hand the while
your own flesh has been fifty times
through the guts of oxen, -- read!
"I who am the one flesh say to you,
The rose-tree will have its donor
even though he give stingily.
The gift of some endures
ten years, the gift of some twenty
and the gift of some for the time a
great house rots and is torn down.
Some give for a thousand years to men of
one face, some for a thousand
to all men and some few to all men
while granite holds an edge against
the weather.
Judge then of love!"


"My flesh is turned to stone. I
have endured my summer. The flurry
of falling petals is ended. Lay
the finger upon this granite. I was
well desired and fully caressed
by many lovers but my flesh
withered swiftly and my heart was
never satisfied. Lay your hands
upon the granite as a lover lays his
hand upon the thigh and upon the
round breasts of her who is beside
him, for now I will not wither,
now I have thrown off secrecy, now
I have walked naked into the street,
now I have scattered my heavy beauty
in the open market.
Here I am with head high and a
burning heart eagerly awaiting
your caresses, whoever it may be,
for granite is not harder than
my love is open, runs loose among you!

I arrogant against death! I
who have endured! I worn against
the years!"


But it is five o'clock. Come!
Life is good -- enjoy it!
A walk in the park while the day lasts.
I will go with you. Look! this
northern scenery is not the Nile, but --
these benches -- the yellow and purple dusk --
the moon there -- these tired people --
the lights on the water!

Are not these Jews and -- Ethiopians?
The world is young, surely! Young
and colored like -- a girl that has come upon
a lover! Will that do?

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