Friday, December 02, 2011

Winter poem by Hayden Carruth: The Curtain


Since I love exploring winter in all sorts of light, here is a tremendous winter poem by Hayden Carruth (1921-2008) to spread out in — to feel the contrast between the romance and beauty of winter, and the pain of existence. Carruth was an American poet from Woodbury, Connecticut. I don't know his work well, though I've known of him for years, but I mean to.

“A poem is not an expression, nor is it an object. Yet it somewhat partakes of both. What a poem is is never to be known, for which I have learned to be grateful.” ~ Hayden Carruth

The Curtain

by Hayden Carruth

Just over the horizon a great machine of death is roaring and rearing.
We can hear it always. Earthquake, starvation, the ever-renewing sump of corpse-flesh.
But in this valley the snow falls silently all day, and out our window
We see the curtain of it shifting and folding, hiding us away in our little house,
We see earth smoothened and beautified, made like a fantasy, the snow-clad trees
So graceful. In our new bed, which is big enough to seem like the north pasture almost
With our two cats, Cooker and Smudgins, lying undisturbed in the southeastern and southwestern corners,
We lie loving and warm, looking out from time to time. “Snowbound,” we say. We speak of the poet
Who lived with his young housekeeper long ago in the mountains of the western province, the kingdom
Of cruelty, where heads fell like wilted flowers and snow fell for many months
Across the pass and drifted deep in the vale. In our kitchen the maple-fire murmurs
In our stove. We eat cheese and new-made bread and jumbo Spanish olives
Which have been steeped in our special brine of jalapeños and garlic and dill and thyme.
We have a nip or two from the small inexpensive cognac that makes us smile and sigh.
For a while we close the immense index of images that is our lives—for instance,
The child on the Mescalero reservation in New Mexico sitting naked in 1966 outside his family’s hut,
Covered with sores, unable to speak. But of course we see the child every day,
We hold out our hands, we touch him shyly, we make offerings to his implacability.
No, the index cannot close. And how shall we survive? We don’t and cannot and will never
Know. Beyond the horizon a great unceasing noise is undeniable. The machine,
Like an immense clanking vibrating shuddering unnameable contraption as big as a house, as big as the whole town,
May break through and lurch into our valley at any moment, at any moment.
Cheers, baby. Here’s to us. See how the curtain of snow wavers and then falls back.

*Note: This page says that Carruth's Selected Poetry was a finalist for the 1987 poetry Pulitzer, but I do not see evidence that he won for 1996, which the Poetry Foundation claims. He won the National Book Award for Scrambled Eggs and Whiskey in 1996, the volume this poem is from. NPR has this moving article upon his death in 2008. Read more about him at the Poetry Foundation.


Elisabeth said...

Stunning poem, Ruth. Thanks for introducing this poet. He's new to me, too, but his words fly back and forth in my mind like snow drifts, visible only in my imagination.

Ruth said...

Elisabeth, I am glad you read and find it stunning as I do. I have read Carruth now and then, here and there, for years, but I have not read about him until now.

steven said...

my eyes setttle and a soft exhale of breath shapes the whispered word "oh" as i finish these words ruth. thankyou . . . steven

Ruth said...

steven, somewhere between a breath and a shout, I feel it.

George said...

Terrific, Ruth! I really love the Carruth poem, as well as his quote about poems. Though I have not read his work, I'm now interested in doing so. Thanks, and stay warm.

"Auntie" sezzzzzz... said...

Thank you! What a marvelous piece of writing.

Hasn't everyone tried to balance the weight of the sorrows of the world, with peace and comfort in our cozy homes? How to do it? How to do it?

I admit, being "Olden" now, I have to blank out the The Machine. As best I can. By avoiding much of "The News," etc. By escaping into what I call "Pretty Blog Land." By thinking of the twinkling lights and the hearth warmth and the good cooking smells, which surround me.

But......... Even though I am "Olden" and my blood pressure will not allow earlier *Banging On The Machine,* I still feel that nagging feeling... Which he describes so well.

And have a guilty feeling, about not "Banging On The Machine."

Which goes against my grain, because I gave up all Guilt, over 10 years ago.

So glad to have found your blog!!! Thank you!!!

And I realize the incongruity, of the Sig. Line I am using today... -sigh-

"This is the one fairy hour of life
when the world seems all of light /
For the thought of woe,
or the name of a foe
never darkens the festive night"

~~While the Christmas Log is Burning," 1871

hedgewitch said...

Wonderful offering Ruth. I don't know how I can ever write on this subject again after seeing it done to perfection here. That artist's, creator's love of life, despite it's scathing injuries and machinelike oblivion, shines like a lighthouse through a deep sea fog, or a phantom winter moon on a snowy night.

Loring Wirbel said...

Did not know this poem at all. Wonderful work. It was 5 degrees at dawn today.

Marcie said...

Love the poem - so perfect for winter. And - I just love your images (previous post) of your winter wonderland. Am so ready for snow!!!

The Solitary Walker said...

Oh my, Ruth! I knew nothing of Hayden Carruth, but this is awesome. I intend to investigate further. (One of the great joys of blogging - to learn new poets, and to pass other names on.)

Nelson said...

At Ruth's recent suggestion I picked up some Wendell Berry books at the library. Among them is his most recent Imagination in Place, with a chapter, "My friend Hayden." Berry writes, "I have been lucky to have a few friends with whom my conversation seems never to resume but merely to continue, and Hayden is one of them."

Grandmother said...

How does he do that? Acknowledge the world's situation and his own life in his particular place? It's perfect somehow. He shows us how to survive the immense machine in the only way we can. Thanks for posting Hayden's poem.

Suman said...

Hello Ruth! I am a newcomer here and must say it feels like a kid in a candy shop. :-)
Thanks for sharing this beautiful poem, such haunting lines. And coupled with your pictures, the posts are absolutely thrilling.

Louise Gallagher said...

Whatever he did or didn't win, he won my heart.

Thank you for sharing his words and your photo -- which is stunning.

amy@ Souldipper said...

Hello Hayden! Loved listening to his reading on the link you provided, Ruth.

I know a 'hayden' who writes and speaks incredibly well - can arrange words with poetic power. His life duplicates Hayden's. Except he's been through shock treatment many times. The closer he is to wanting to die, the more beauty he shares.

This man has a daughter who he did not raise. She found him and has never given up. Her love fuels his battle against insanity.

Those who write in RAW (is that a coincidental label for photography?) remind me that shoulds are as good as being dead.

erin said...

oh, from the sip of inexpensive cognac to cheers baby, our flippant indulgent existence, (indulgent even in these common indulgences, not refined) oh. and juxtaposed, suffering, and on the other side of our comfortable vale, death. oh.

i do believe he is important. wow. thank you for the introduction. i have been in need of a new voice. a book or volume recommendation?

and looking at his photograph i lament that i am not a man. what it might be like to live inside a face like this!


Cait O'Connor said...

Very moving.

Ruth said...

Thanks, George! I am quite happy to introduce you and Hayden Carruth. We can explore him together.

Ruth said...

Auntie, I echo your comments, that we get better at losing Guilt as we age. I am better at it too, but I spent a lifetime believing I should do, and be, more than I am, and that's a hard habit to break. Thank you for reading and finding so much here in the work of Hayden Carruth with me.

Ruth said...

Hedge two wonderful images for what a writer, musician or artist does, thank you. Making beauty from pain is possible, as you ardently and steadily show.

Ruth said...

Loring, that's way colder than it's been here yet!

Ruth said...

Marcie, another lover of winter, yes! Nothing like a camera to make us love it, eh? Thanks so much.

Ruth said...

Robert, so glad to introduce you to a new American across the pond!

Ruth said...

Nelson, I did not know that Berry and Carruth were friends, but it doesn't surprise me, being of the same generation, and being men who crave a simpler way of seeing the world. Thank you.

Ruth said...

Mary, quite amazing, isn't it? We have to be honest about our joy, as well as the fear and sorrow. I don't think we get anywhere if we aren't. Thanks for reading, friend.

Ruth said...

Suman, welcome! Thank you for coming by and for your nice comment. From a brief look at your blog, you have a lot to feed me too.

Ruth said...

Louise, yes, I sort of cleaned up all that "what award did he win" text, what a distraction. He is a wonderful writer, and that is what matters.

Ruth said...

Amy, doesn't he have a great voice! So deep and rumbling. I don't know who your friend is, but Hayden Carruth also had electric shock treatments! That he wrote even out of his experience (18 months) in a mental hospital tells you how RAW he can write.

Ruth said...

Dear erin, I do not have a volume of Carruth's yet, but I'll probably start with Scrambled Eggs and Whiskey. I've only read him online, and in a few anthologies here at home.

I, too, love this photo very much. He looks the way I think my brother Bennett would look at his age, had he lived past 47.

Ruth said...

Yes, Cait, thanks.

Jeanie said...

This is just a beautiful poem. Snowbound. You find the best things. And his way of integrating the global with personal. A real gift.

ds said...

Oh, Ruth, thank you! Before this, "Hayden Carruth" was only a name glimpsed here and there. Now I've a face a voice a poem to go with the name, and they are beautiful. I hope I can find the scrambled egg book. Thank you so much for this introduction!

erin said...

(((your brother bennett)))

Oliag said...

I can't remember knowingly reading any Carruth poems and this is a delightful way to be introduced...Thank you for this gift! I do believe he is writing of all my feelings towards being snowbound in this world...I do love the snow...that curtain...

Isn't it wonderful when a poet expresses one's own thoughts so well!

JNagarya said...

I've read Carruth here and there for years -- have had several volumes by him for a good number of years. But I'd been saving him (his "Collected Shorter Poems" is huge, intimidating) for after I'd thoroughly read a number of other poets who I'd found before him.

I am now immersed in him (and Karl Shapiro and Marianne Moore), and he is pulling me away from them (Shapiro especially). I don't tend to like "farm" stuff, but he is never limited to that; he is becoming one of my very favorites, and the poem posted is an example why. (I only wish the original lineation were obeyed).

Wendell Berry and Carruth had in common that they owned/lived on and did farming: worked with their hands; see Carruth's "Marshall Washer". When you see the words about Carruth, "unapologetic affection," they come from Berry. This illustrates:

Little Citizen, Little Survivor

A brown rat has taken up residence with me.
A little brown rat with pinkish ears and lovely
almond-shaped eyes. He and his wife live
in the woodpile by my back door, and they are
so equal I cannot tell which is which when they
poke their noses out of the crevices among
the sticks of firewood and then venture farther
in search of sunflower seeds spilled from the feeder.
I can't tell you, my friend, how glad I am to see them.
I haven't seen a fox for years, or a mink, or
a fisher cat, or an eagle, or a porcupine, I haven't
seen any of my old company of the woods
and the fields, we who used to live in such
close affection and admiration. Well, I remember
when the coons would tap on my window, when
the ravens would speak to me from the edge of their
little precipice. Where are they now? Everyone knows.
Gone. Scattered in this terrible dispersal. But at least
the brown rat that most people so revile and fear
and castigate has brought his wife to live with me
again. Welcome, little citizen, little survivor.
Lend me your presence, and I will lend you mine.