Lawrence Ferlinghetti, “4 (from ‘Pictures of the Gone World’)”


     In Paris in a loud dark winter

                                 when the sun was something in Provence

when I came upon the poetry

                                 of Rene Char

     I saw Vaucluse again

                                  in a summer of sauterelles

   its fountains full of petals

                                 and its river thrown down

  through all the burnt places

                                 of that almond world

  and the fields full of silence

                                 though the crickets sang

              with their legs

                                 And in the poet’s plangent dream I saw

no Lorelei upon the Rhone

                               nor angels debarked at Marseilles

but couples going nude into the sad water

                                 in the profound lasciviousness of spring

   in an algebra of lyricism

                                 which I am still deciphering

It’s Mr. Ferlinghetti’s birthday today, one of the men, along with Gary Snyder, with the distinction of being both one of the first and one of the last (remaining) of the original Beats. He ran, and still runs, City Lights Books in Chinatown San Francisco – perhaps one of the only bookstores in the country to devote a whole floor to poetry and the Beats. When I visited City Lights a little over a year ago, I had the incredible fortune to run into Ferlinghetti as he was sticking a couple books onto shelves in the poetry room. I didn’t know what to say so I didn’t say anything, but I smiled and simply enjoyed the moment. Measured by time it was hardly anything, but it was, by the poetic definition of the word, a “moment” for me. I’m not usually one to think about souls and auras, but there was something special in that room right then. Anyway, this is part of the long poem cycle Pictures of the Gone World. This one I like to read in the spring. I’ve done my best to preserve the poem’s spacing “on the page.”

Frank O’Hara, “Aus einem April”
Lawrence Ferlinghetti, “Baseball Canto”
  • Cool, Jack. I had almost the same experience at City Lights recently. I knew it was him, but didn’t have a clue what to say. So…very uncharacteristically, I said nothing. A “moment” indeed.

    I also felt moved to by 5 “Howl” bumper stickers. I don’t use bumper stickers on my car. But I’ll figure out some way to use them. Garden art?

  • I like this poem and can actually understand it, because, as it seems, both the author and I have been to these cities in France, I especially like his reference to the grand stairs (les grades escallier) in Marseilles, with the angels that guards this grand staircase that once lead from the port to the city itself…anyways, good pick because I understand it…for once!

  • Faye, much of “Pictures of the Gone World” takes place in France. You would enjoy it.

    I actually have a “Howl” bumper sticker on my car! Although I was actually howled at the other day, and it kinda freaked me out. Certainly one of the stranger experiences in my life recently.

  • The Lorelei Rock is in the Rhine River in Germany. Is this a misprint or do you think Ferlinghetti means to imply that there should have been a maiden legend for the Rhone River?
    Beautiful poem. Thanks for posting it.

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