An Afterword to The Collected Poems of Howard Nemerov

A few last words before I leave The Collected Poems of Howard Nemerov. First, as you probably realize if you’re a regular visitor, I tend to be fond of lyrical poems rather than long, epic poems. I got sucked into reading Robinson Jeffers’long poems by Dana Gioia’s argument that they were the best long poems written in the modern era. I can assure you that after reading all of Jeffers’ long poems and Nemerov’s “Endor” and “Cain” that Nemerov’s are far superior to Jeffers’.

That said, I wasn’t as impressed with “The Western Approaches (1975),” the last section in the collected poems, as I was with the sections that directly preceded it, which is not to say that there weren’t a few very good poems in it, like:


Again, great season, sing it through again
Before we fall asleep, sing the slow change
That makes October burn out red and gold
And color bleed into the world and die,
And butterflies among the fluttering leaves
Disguise themselves until the few last leaves
Spin to the ground or to the skimming streams
That carry them along until they sink,
And through the muted land, the nevergreen
Needles and mull and duff of the forest floor,
The wind go ashen, till one afternoon
The cold snow cloud comes down the intervale
Above the river on whose slow black flood
The few first flakes come hurrying in to drown.

Of course, I may have been more receptive to this poem because that’s precisely what’s happening around us. Still, it captures the transition between fall and winter nearly as beautifully as any poem I can remember, though he appears to be writing about more than just the transition between seasons of the year.

There is a joy in the Now that transcends the inevitable winter that awaits us all.

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