Warren’s “Rumor Verified: Poems 1979-1980”

If I hadn’t liked so many of the poems in “Rumor Verified: Poems 1979-1980” when I first read them nearly twenty years ago, I would be tempted to suspect that these are the kinds of poems that only us old folks would love. Many of the poems seem to reflect the kind of wisdom that comes from looking back on life.

Part I of “Paradox of Time” is one of the first poems in the section, which may be the main reason I chose to include it over several other poems in this section that I love:


I. Gravity of Stone and Ecstasy of Wind

Each day now more precious will dawn,
And loved faces turn dearer still,
And when sunlight is withdrawn,
There, over the mountain’s black profile,

The western star reigns
In splendor, benign, arrogant,
And the fact that it disdains
You, and your tenement

Of flesh, should instruct you in
The paradox of Time,
And the doubleness wherein
The fleshly glory may gleam.

Sit on the floor with a child.
Hear laugh that creature so young.
See loom its life-arch, and wild
With rage, speak wild words sprung

From vision, and thus atone
For all folly now left behind.
Learn the gravity of stone.
Learn the ecstasy of wind.

The title alone is nearly enough to make this poem memorable. But when you’ve gone through a near life-ending event, the opening two lines, clich”d though they may be, take on particular significance. I also like the way Warren transforms the distant star into a symbol of “disdain” because it, unlike this “tenement of flesh,” seems infinite.

Instead of causing despair, though, this disdain causes the poet to revel in “fleshly glory,” to celebrate the sheer joy of a young child. If we cannot endure like stone, than we must learn the “ecstasy of wind.”

I probably chose “English Cocker: Old and Blind” for personal reasons, too, since my first dog as a child was an English Cocker and I was as devoted to him as he was to me and our family. Unfortunately, that also means I’ve experienced the “heart-stab” of this poem:


With what painful deliberation he comes down the stair,
At the edge of each step one paw suspended in air,
And distrust, Does he thus stand on a final edge
Of the world? Sometimes he stands thus, and will not budge,

With a choking soft whimper, while monstrous blackness is whirled
Inside his head, and outside too, the world
Whirling in blind vertigo. But if your hand
Merely touches his head, old faith comes flooding back-and

The paw descends. His trust is infinite
In you, who are, in his eternal night,
Only a frail scent subject to the whim
Of wind, or only a hand held close to him

With a dog biscuit, or, in a sudden burst
Of temper, the force that jerks that goddamned, accurst
Little brute off your bed. But remember how you last saw
Him hesitate in his whirling dark, one paw

Suspended above the abyss at the edge of the stair,
And remember that musical whimper, and how, then aware
Of a sudden sweet heart-stab, you knew in him
The kinship of all flesh defined by a halting paradigm

Of course, the poem isn’t really about a dog, is it? It’s really about all of us who share “the kinship of all flesh defined by a halting paradigm.” Although we may get angry at those we touch in our lives, there is a bond of trust that transcends all anger.

Still, when we finally stand at that final abyss we will put our final trust in those who have touched us, just as we have touched them.

Though perhaps the reason we bond so with a dog is that they, unlike most people, seem to place “infinite” trust in their master, deserved or not.

27 thoughts on “Warren’s “Rumor Verified: Poems 1979-1980””

  1. I really love this poem (in case you missed it):

    In this week’s The Yorker I read a poem by Elizabeth Pierson Friend.

    My husband is watching me iron.
    Steam reassures him. The hiss of starch
    The probing slide around each button of his shirt
    Speaks to him of Solway Street in Pittsburgh.
    As for me, the wicker basket is a reproach.
    There is last summer’s nightgown,
    And several awkward tablecloths
    Which refuse to lie flat.

    My house specializes in these challenges.
    Bags of mail I did not ask to receive
    choke the floor of my linen closet.
    A photograph of me, holding a baby on a beach.
    But which beach and, for that matter, which baby?
    A Japanese chest whose bottom drawer has irresponsibly locked itself,
    And who can remember where I put the key?

    That night, waiting for sleep, I whisper,
    I did only trivial things today.
    And he asks, Why aren’t you painting?

    The only thing I find via google is this:

    Headline: Elizabeth Pierson Friend, 69, artist, poet, chef and teacher

    31 July 2003

    By Gayle Ronan Sims, Philadelphia Inquirer Staff Writer

    Elizabeth Pierson Friend, 69, of Villanova, an artist, poet and superb chef, died July 18 of cardiac arrest after open-heart surgery at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania . In 1972, her husband was elected president of Swarthmore College . Mrs. Friend was famous for her superb cooking and gracious entertaining at the president’s house until 1982. She planned all of the meals and cooked most of them. She had help with the preparation when the guest list was in the hundreds. Many of her recipes were printed in the New York Times Magazine. While at Swarthmore, Mrs. Friend kept records of all of the couple’s dinner parties. She recorded the seating arrangements and menus so that when guests returned they would sit next to someone new and were never served the same meal twice.

  2. Delightful poem, Bruce.

    Makes you wonder if there aren’t more out there, but I couldn’t find anything at Amazon, despite trying “maiden name,” etc.

    Maybe a reader will know more.

  3. Elizabeth Pierson Friend was my mother. She died this summer very unexpectedly, and after her death we found she had several poems in progress on her computer – this one was completed. She had written poetry while at Smith College in 1952 and 1953, and came in second place in a Poetry contest. The winner of that Poetry contest was none other than Sylvia Plath.

    I hope that helps a bit more with the mystery. I miss her dearly.

  4. I, too, was deeply moved by EPFriend’s poem in the New Yorker, and also “Googled” her. I would dearly love to read more of her poems, even if they are unfinished, and encourage her family to get them published.

  5. This poem knocked my socks off, and reminded me very much of another writer who just published her first book of poems at age 70, Ann Medlock. See samples from her book, “Arias, Riffs & Whispers”, at http://www.annmedlock.com. I feel she and Elizabeth Pierson Friend were cut from the same cloth.

  6. This seems to be the beginnings of an Elizabeth Pierson Friend fan club. I’m in. The New Yorker poem took the top of my head off–Emily Dickinson’s criteria for knowing when you’ve read a good poem. There is so much in those few lines about the lives women who were born in 1933 were raised to live. I was born in May of that year so I know those expectations and the pull of having the rules change midway and the tension between doing the prescribed things well and knowing there’s something else we’re supposed to be doing–something larger and one hopes, more significant. So a gifted artist tended to a never-empty ironing basket and gave, we learn elsewhere, beautiful dinner parties and raised good children. One of them, Timmie, will soon have a copy of the book I did of long-secret poems, published when I turned 70, a few months before Elizabeth died. When I read her poem I knew I’d written it for her as well as myself, and for all the others who have put Hestia’s work before that of the muse. The sorrow recalls Virginia Woolf’s depiction of Shakespeare’ sister. I did not know Elizabeth. I know her now. I miss her.

  7. This was good for me to find this poem and these comments, as for weeks now I have delayed writing a sympathy note to Dorie Friend, Elizabeth’s husband. For several years during my time as an alumnus, Dorie was president of my college, Swarthmore, and a contemporary of mine, also Class of 1953 at his university. And, of course Elizabeth, who died so suddenly, and too soon, was also a contemporary.

    Elizabeth and Dorie Friend, while serving as Swarthmore’s presidential couple, made the only official presidential visit on behalf of the College to be with alumni in Baltimore [the place where the concept of this Quaker-founded college was first set forth by Hicksite Quakers of that city back in the mid-19th century] during my 26 years living there, 1957-83. I have always appreciated the Friends’ day-long visit –it was during the fall. Earlier in 2003, I had intended to be in touch with them, while chairing the planning for my Class of 1953’s 50th Reunion at Swarthmore this past June.

    But I didn’t, and still I have not written to Dorie. Thus we live with the sins of omission, but it is never too late. Now is the hour.

    This time of loss and grief is greater around the time the holidays, too. Back in December 1991, my wife Susie [Elizabeth Ann] came within one hour of death, during a heart valve operation after two complications arose. But with careful attention and care, and prayers and visits, Susie somehow came through that run of Class Six rapids into the calm, still waters the next day, with her joyous return home a few days later on Christmas Morning, 1991. I have always appreciated the doctors’ candor in telling me forthrightly about the two mistakes they had made during the operation, and what they would try to do.

    Elizabeth Friend didn’t make it, however, and this is one more reminder at this season of Thanksgiving that this entire life experience and mystery is amazing, that we live today, and can look forward to continued life even one more day. With these blessings come responsibilities touching on wider realms than our immediate families and households.

    My sympathy goes out at this season of loss for Dorie Friend and the younger generations of the Friend Family, too.

    Bob Fetter, Roanoke, Virginia

    P.S. Note that Dorie Friend has recently published an important book on Indonesia. There was a good review I read in The Nation.

  8. I, too, was affected by this poem, since I am of the same generation as Elizabeth Friend and understand these conflicts in the life of an educated wife and mother. I will bring the poem to the attention of my fellow students in a continuing ed class on Virginia Woolf — it surely echoes Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own.”

  9. I also read this poem in the New Yorker and loved it, only noticing on the second reading that the street
    mentioned in the fourth line is actually the street on which I live!
    Can anyone enlighten me about the origins of the Solway Street reference?

  10. I, too, am of Ms. Friend’s generation and was delighted by the poem in The New Yorker. I’m a painter and many of my artist friends to whom I emailed the poem thought it had been written for me.
    What a loss E.P. Friend’s death is. I would very much like to read more of her poetry–she was a kindred spirit. If a book is ever published, I’d appreciate hearing about it.
    Helga Haller, Taos, New Mexico

  11. I am Dorie, the husband of Elizabeth Pierson friend. I am deeply touched by these sensitive postings from strangers. A friend directed me to them on my return, a few days ago, from my first field research in Southeast Asia since the year 2000.
    Those who wish more poems from E. I must refer to our elder son, Tad, (tadfriend@aol.com), who discovered the one published. The poetry editor of The New Yorker has asked for more, but we can’t yet find any.
    For Elinor Finegold, who asks about the street reference in the poem: from age about three(1934)until 1957, my home address was 5812 Solway Street, Pittsburgh, PA. Elizabeth’s ironing — as graceful as her dancing and as careful as her painting — tended to put me in a happy childlike trance.
    Thank you each for your thoughts. I felt that culture shocks in Indonesia and the Philippines had got me past the sobbing stage of grief. But I am strangely grateful to learn from you all that I have a way yet to go.
    With affectionate best wishes to all in their seasons of holy days,

  12. Somehow it seems strangely appropriate that a site dedicated to the power of poetry to reach the heart should serve one who touched so many hearts with a powerful personal poem.

    I hope that those who have posted here have checked back occasionally to read new messages that have been added.

  13. I am Elizabeth Pierson Friend’s son, and I am touched and delighted (in company with my sister and father, who have posted above) to see that my mother’s poem struck a chord. I found it in her computer after her death, along with another poem about the family dog, Sam, who had recently died. But that poem, which she had made numerous handwritten changes to in a printed-out version, was clearly a work in progress. We’d love to find more of my mother’s work in the vast warren of her papers, but so far have not.

    Allow me to note that one line in the version of the poem reproduced here is slightly inaccurate. It should read “My house specializes in these challenges,” not “the challenges.”

  14. Thanks for the correction,Tad. I’ve made the change you noted.

    I’d really like to move this tribute to a separate page, but I’m afraid that it would break all the links out there. So, I’m leaving it here for now.

    Judging from the number of comments, the poem has touched many hearts. I get thousands of visitor a day who seldom leave any comments, so this must be a special poem to many people.

  15. I found this poem so inspiring that I have put a copy of it up in my study as a reminder “why aren’t you painting?” I am greatful to Elizabeth and appreciate her family sharing this lovely gem with us.

  16. Elizabeth Pierson Friend’s poem found me at such an amazing time. I recently became a stay-at-home mom (three children: 15, 10 and 14 months) and immediately posted the poem on my refrigerator after reading it in the New Yorker. Every day it reminds me to find the beautiful in the ordinary and not to worry so much about the piles of mail and photos yet to be sorted. Her poem touched me, as do all the comments on this page, and my sympathy goes out to the Friend family for the loss of what must have been a wonderful wife and mother.

    Pamela, Illinois

  17. In cleaning out a drawer I came across Mrs. Friend’s poem which I had torn out of the magazine, meaning to mail it to a friend. The poem is perfect. I googled the name hoping to read more. I think it is terrific that Elizabeth Friend’s son had the poem published. Thank you very much for sharing it, the poem astonishes me. Your Mother must have been a remarkable women. I’ll echo Pamela in saying I am sorry for the Friend family’s loss.

    Kate, Illinois

  18. I am amazed. I had no idea the computer worked in this way. As others have said, I was struck by this poem and before sharing it in a group tonight that supports us in our creative pursuits, googled the author. I am most grateful for the comments here. Like many, I can drift into cynicism about the state of affairs; how wonderful to be reminded of the power of a single poem. To the family, thank you for sharing this poem as well as a little about your mother. I wish you well.

  19. I am a poet, artist, novelist, potter,
    ironing the shirts, vacumning, cooking –
    the paper is in the typewriter (old style)
    the paint is on the palette, the clay is
    in the box, the thoughts are in the head
    whirling like crazy…I came upon this poem
    I don’t remember where.. reading, reading…
    I wrote it down…I am weeping for our loss
    and all our losses… but my heart is full
    of love for Elizabeth Pierson Friend. I miss
    her now too.

  20. With my father’s death last summer, followed by my mother’s emotional collapse and physical illness, and then my sister’s mental breakdown, the New Yorkers rapidly filled the crock beneath my desk, and I came late to Elizabeth Pierson Friend’s “Steam Reassures Him.” Like many others, I was transfixed and wanted more. I find myself here in good company with her friends, family, and fellow devotees. There may not be other completed poems, but we have been granted a gem beyond price. Thank you, Elizabeth Pierson Friend!

  21. While I have had an exchange of letters with Dorie Friend since I last posted some sentiments here on this website last November, I have also been much involved in some Centennial Celebration preparations for my own mother, Elizabeth Pollard Fetter, born in 1904, and died too soon in 1977.

    My mother grew up in Swarthmore on Elm Avenue — within two blocks of the President’s House at the corner of Elm and Cedar Lane — with a simple apartment her home base between 1905 and 1929. Since Mother’s death, our family has become interested in a String Quartet and Chamber Music Program, which is a memorial to my mother.

    Very soon, on Sunday afternoon, March 28, at 3:00 p.m., there will be a concert at Lang Music Building on the Swarthmore campus, open to the public without charge. The performing musicians will include both current Swarthmore College students, as well as some returning alumni who have taken part in this program over the past twenty years.

    Following the concert, there will be a reception in the Lang Music Building, and a little later, a time for telling and listening to stories, both for the musicians, and for the family.

    Sadly, the woman who first told me about Elizabeth Friend’s death, and without whom we could never have planned this EPF Centennial Celebration — Judy Lord — died unexpectedly at home at age 67 in early February. A great loss for the community, as Judy knew so much, and had helped so much happen there at Swarthmore’s Music and Dance Department since she took on an administrative coordinator post there in the late 1970’s. Dorie and Elizabeth Friend had been among those who helped welcome Judy to the campus.

    What we have with Elizabeth Pierson Friend’s poem, and now her shared paintings which are being posted on Ann Medlock’s website — and the digression I have posted now — are more reminders about the importance and power of encouraging one another in this life, and beyond our lives, in very simple, direct ways.

    Another source of information about Elizabeth Friend was from the Swarthmore College Bulletin– sent to all alumni. An issue I unearthed here from one of the archival zones in this house the other week featured Elizabeth Friend’s photo on the cover, along with an article about her approach about her serving most effectively as a member of the Presidential Couple Team while Dorie Friend was president of Swarthmore College.

    When I mailed this issue to Dorie, but I did not copy the article. There would, however, be copies available from the Swarthmore College Library’s archives. Perhaps I can retrieve and photocopy this, while my family is assembled at Swarthmore later this month?

    Springtime approaches with the daffodils blooming here in Roanoke.

    Bob Fetter, Swarthmore College, Class of 1953.

  22. Elizabeth Friend’s poem touched my heart. I am also in my sixties, a painter, a mother , a chef and a teacher. I have been accepted for an artists residency in Spain in May 2004. In my letter of why I wanted this residency I stated that I wanted “time to paint”.
    Carolyn Watts

  23. I have been searching for this poem for YEARS. I cut it out of the New Yorker and sent it to a dear friend, but though she remembers vividly the imagery and impact of the poem, she could not find the clipping. EUREKA!

    Love and sympathy and grace and art to all here. What a wonderful find.

  24. Thanks to all who have participated in the celebration of Elizabeth Pierson Friend. Thanks to Loren and Bruce for making this discussion possible. The link to Elizabeth’s paintings was broken, so I plan to search further for them.

    There was a comment by Elizabeth’s daughter, Timmie Friend, which said that Elizabeth won second prize in a poetry contest in which Sylvia Plath had won. I would love to read that poem that won second prize.

    The New Yorker poem reminded me of my mother, born in 1916, who was a writer of short stories and poetry until the mid-1960s when she stopped writing and began to make visual statements, beginning with watercolor painting. She was a woman who loved food and preparing food. When she was in her 70s, she said to me that if she had to make a living, she would choose to make it by cooking for people who loved good food.

    As a daughter of a creative mother, a daughter with much more time to create than my mother or her contemporaries or many people in 2007, I hear the question loud and clear, “Why aren’t you painting?”

  25. This poem is touching and beautiful. Those interested may also like to read Tad Friend’s article about his lovely mother in the New Yorker (December 18, 2006).

    I don’t paint, but I dance, cook, and play the piano, though no longer well. The challenge to each of us should be – Why aren’t we doing what we love most?

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