Washington University Libraries Home
Final Versions Home

Published version that appeared in A Book of Resemblances

An Imaginary War Elegy
"There is only a vast desolation left"-
the strict verse form gives it substance, the poet
needs to imprison his imagination or
grotesquely thru all the countries of the mind
he spill himself - the scarlet suggesting
blossoms of the plum-tree, not blood;
suggesting then the blood, not the plum-tree.
And the language, an excellent whiskey,
the spirit occult, yet potent.

Asia lies before us, archaic source,
terror and exhaustion hidden therein -
our own, changed as we are by our wars
the amber whiskey, the violence, the mingling
in cruelty and despair,
a river depositing its dead violated bodies
into its sea
or into the mind, these things being vivid to us,the plum-tree fading into wounds
the continent of sleep vaster than we know
awakes, its armies stir.
the armies of Asia stir, I mean, a poetry orhistory, returning into itself.
Mao is talking of great deserts, and deliberately
these legends
hover like enormous statues, see thru the mists.

"For a whole generation Genghis Khanwas a favorite of heaven"

the poet
loses or wins a lover,
an empire.
The splendor of eyes, archaic,
wonder of self in this thing,
grandeur and deceit of dreams,
his eyes like promises or fields
in which the grain, gold harvests or waves
of armies move.

Almost contemptuously traditional, my song.

the amber clear radiant whiskey distilld
from the language,
words like the unharvested wheat,
a sea of nature's ripe irrational grain,
intoxications of injustice,
archaic as this evening's worship of whiskey
or war of spirits.

"The three armies laughd when they had crosst over"-

changed, become a continent in themselves,
conquering as one conquers the whiskey,

"the Long March", I mean the exhausting transition,
savage transformation, the armies changed,
bewildered by ghosts. I rose from each bed
as from a betrayal or a war
true to my time, more weary than before.

The Kings in their tents drink
until their rage becomes like love,

blind Asia, drunk,

"No one in the Red Army fears the hardship of the LongMarch" the ten thousand miles,

the ten thousand mountains,
the ten million dead,
the ten eternities of Hell.

Being mathematically inexact,
the poem acquires an emotional accuracy:
-remarkable in the use of phrases like "the three armies,"
the traditional poetic name of the armies of the empire..
the second and third lines which remain almost contemtu-ously traditional. The poetic Imagination, so carefully
based on archaic sources rises slowly,
sights with drunken precision, sees
(the strict verse form giving it substance)
more than the river throwing up its dead,
that flows between the mountains of the dead:
a song of such tenderness lingers in the desolate night air
tender as your eyes were.

the poet sees his face changed by the changes of his lover's eyes.