Week 50: Dead Boy, by John Crowe Ransom

The American poet John Crowe Ransom wrote in a fastidious, ornate style that may sometimes seem to put too much distance between poem and reader but at its best produces work that combines great formal elegance with a uniquely bittersweet, elegiac flavour. I was torn between this one, ‘Bells for John Whiteside’s Daughter’ and ‘Vision By Sweetwater’. But we can always come back…

Dead Boy

The little cousin is dead, by foul subtraction,
A green bough from Virginia’s aged tree,
And none of the county kin like the transaction,
Nor some of the world of outer dark, like me.

A boy not beautiful, nor good, nor clever,
A black cloud full of storms too hot for keeping,
A sword beneath his mother’s heart — yet never
Woman bewept her babe as this is weeping.

A pig with a pasty face, so I had said,
Squealing for cookies, kinned by poor pretense
With a noble house. But the little man quite dead,
I see the forbears’ antique lineaments.

The elder men have strode by the box of death
To the wide flag porch, and muttering low send round
The bruit of the day. O friendly waste of breath!
Their hearts are hurt with a deep dynastic wound.

He was pale and little, the foolish neighbors say;
The first-fruits, saith the Preacher, the Lord hath taken;
But this was the old tree’s late branch wrenched away,
Grieving the sapless limbs, the shorn and shaken.

 John Crowe Ransom

3 thoughts on “Week 50: Dead Boy, by John Crowe Ransom

  1. Glad to find someone else who remembers John Crowe Ransom….but you would if anyone did. If ever there were proof positive that the old Southern-State Intelligentsia could leave even the most acerbically-genteel Englishman or woman asleep at the post when it comes to oblique and ironic statement, they need go no further than the slim volume that is Ransom’s Collected Poems…..

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