June 16th, 2016


They Also Serve

They Also Serve

I ring the bell
And a servant comes;
He brings me things.
His name is Franz.

His wife is dead
But he has a daughter
(A poet needs
To know such things)
A clever girl
Who can write her name
And lives on a mountain
And milks the goats
For her grandmama
In another country.

I wish we were friends.
I wish he'd ask me
About my daughter.
I have no daughter.
My mother
Is a pensioned lady
Who also lives
In another country.
She walks her dogs
On the promenade
Of the Wannensee.
I live in castles
Belonging to women
Richer than I am.
I think he hates me.

Last week I asked
For a ream of paper-
A certain weave,
A certain colour-
And there it is
On the desk by the window
Unwritten on.
He's too polite
To look that way
But if he did
I'd want to tell him,
"Listen Franz
I'm a servant too;
I hang around,
I take dictation."

Sometimes I think
I'll ask him for
Something absurd
Like a pamplemousse.
He'd find it too
He's clever that way,
Or his mistress is.

The sea is calm,
The sky is blue
Is that a gull,
Eh, Franz? Franz.

Oh angel with
Your eyes of jet,
With your feet of flame.
Oh angel with the words- words-
Don't be a stranger.

Creative Process

I was lying in bed trying to get to sleep- and thinking about Rilke- who'd featured in the book I'm reading- and an image formed in my mind. There's a poet who isn't Rilke but something like him- and he's staying in an Italian castle as the guest of a rich patron and he says, "If I ring the bell a servant comes..."

I was half asleep and I dismissed the poet- only he wouldn't be dismissed. I found he was saying other things. He said the servant was called Luigi- and Luigi's wife was dead but he had a daughter...

I kept rolling the lines I had through my head and every time I did they picked up accretions. The poem was growing. Now I had an ending; It went " I wish I could ring/ To summon the angel/ Who brings me poems". Nicely circular I thought. But then as the poem kept filling out that ending came to seem a bit limp. So I braced myself and squared up to it- and wrote the ending as it now stands. Nothing much else changed. Luigi became Franz for metrical reasons- and, anyway, Franz is better. In almost every respect the lines as they first came to me needed very little revision. It was very much like taking dictation.

After several hours it became clear that the poem was finished- only it kept going round and  round in my head because it was afraid I'd forget it. Eventually I got up, went downstairs and wrote it out in long hand. Then I was able to get some sleep.

I typed up my script after breakfast. Only minor changes were necessary. I looked up Wannersee- which is the name that was given me- and found there didn't seem to be any such place. But there are several Wannensees- one of them in Berlin and I thought that would do very nicely...