You have to hold it back until finally, irresistably it pours forth
Ethos compressed, held in, pathos pressurised.
Over and over patiently you sound the elegiac note
Ever always only for yourself — it's you you elegise
Not five-years-dead but unforgotten Tonya.
Your elegies are shameless exploitation, gain of illness
And not catharsis. Crossing of election, crossing of solipsism,
Crossing of identification. Deconstruct this, Harold Bloom!
Take it to Derrida hanging from your jowls
Like a dead pheasant in a retriever's jaws.
Of what use is a deconstructed poem?
Trope and transumption, misprision, aporia, all of it
Is dead, dead, dead, dead, dead, dead, dead.
Past seventy askesis becomes the order of the day,
Of each day yes of every day I say
Of each and every day without exception.
Friends die things change old haunts no more the same
Old interests and pleasures suddenly barren and empty.
There is no new thing nothing can last no building up
There is only this remorseless carving-away.
Roethke described it. Stevens wished it on
Old Santayana dying in a convent in Rome.
(I'd sooner walk out in the woods and cut my throat
Than die in a convent under thirty centuries
Of European history.) In a long frustrating life
I've learned one thing at least: you can't go back. No second chances.
Memory though precious is but a cheap indulgence,
Memory makes mythic movements of the mind
Muttering, mumbling mummery — old men's work.
Yet what is left to an old man save retrospection?
If not too weak to act, unfit for action, yet nonetheless
Long harsh experience will have shorn away
All motive for involvement, hope for good outcome.
To act becomes to muddle, to make more mud-pies.
Commitment conjures vistas of fresh failures, new fool's errands.
Abjure involvement then, forbear, forswear the tempting impulse to meddle
With things of the world. Respice retro, look back with jaundiced eyes
On detritus of the past, attempt to relate to it
The deconstruction swift and sure now yet to come.
Sustained askesis leads to annihilation; Sandor Ferenczi
Said the same thing in psychological context: "Pure intellectualism
Would in effect be death." Only the sharp reaction of the will,
Saeva indignatio — that alone can save us, useless though it seems.
The satirist's moral revulsion is a blow
Struck on the side of life against the void. Saying "No!"
To the constant nay-saying of askesis is perhaps a way
For an old man to slip through the momentary gap
Between two opposed conflicted forces of negation. At the best
A temporary victory, more usually a draw, in an incessant battle
By the life force that struggles blindly against the operation
Of the implacable law of entropy. For the ageing poet with his ass in a sling
The sole recourse is savage indignation.