Week 90: Written in a Copy of Swift’s Poems, for Wayne Burns, by James Wright

Tributes from one poet to another can get a bit incestuous, but I really like this one by the American poet James Wright (1927-1980), which made me take a fresh look at one of the better things to come out of the eighteenth century. Just not sure about the penultimate line, which seems not quite in keeping with the general register of the poem.

If anyone can point me to the words of Brinsley MacNamara’s ‘lovely elegy’ I’d be grateful – haven’t managed to track that one down.

Written in a Copy of Swift’s Poems, for Wayne Burns

I promised once if I got hold of
This book I’d send it on to you.
These are the songs that Roethke told of,
The curious music loved by few.
I think of lanes in Laracor
Where Brinsley MacNamara wrote
His lovely elegy, before
The Yahoos got the Dean by rote.

Only, when Swift-men are all gone
Back to their chosen fields by train
And the drunk Chairman snores alone,
Swift is alive in secret, Wayne:
Singing for Stella’s happiest day,
Charming a charming man, John Gay,
And meeting, now their bones are lost,
Pope’s beautiful electric ghost.

Here are some songs he lived in, kept
Secret from almost everyone
And laid away, while Stella slept,
Before he slept and died, alone.
Gently, listen, the great shade passes,
Magnificent, who still can bear,
Beyond the range of horses’ asses,
Nobilities, light, light and air.

James Wright

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