The Poet's World The John Holmes Collection The Poet's Words The Poet's Life The Poet's World The John Holmes Collection
 
 

VII.

The bells rang every hour from the tower in the trees
In the springtime every day. A bell said, Go,
And we went, from gym to Greek to chlorophyll,
To coffee at ten in the morning, back to the Bible,
And met the girls we were in love with, after class.

We had been fourteen when the War was over, too young
For that one; then, as it happened, too old for the next.
We were graduated in nineteen-twenty-nine, a year,
We were told at Commencement, great, the greatest,
Opening out like a broad road up the map
From youth to yonder, to heaven, to anywhere. 37. 38.

We shall never know so much as long as we live
About God or verbs again, or be so in love.
Here it is: bells, books, coffee, evenings in spring.
Here's the night we walked. Streetlights. Leaves in rain.
We made notes. We were very good at making notes
On what the professor thought we thought he said,
And at gazing at him and thinking of something else,
Poems, maybe . . . or maybe last night . . . or something.
Not Sacco and not Vanzetti, in the papers then. 39.
We were very important, were very busy, expected
At all the dances, and always seen there dancing.
We spoke our mind in print, in the college weekly,
Definitely against the examination system.

The bells rang every hour from the tower in the trees.
What was it going to be like, we had asked ourselves?

Everyone reading, we thought. The books! The books!
Not drudgery, but all blown in a new exciting light,
Fiercely, and not indoors, but everywhere,
Walking, working, talking everywhere about new ideas.
(What is God? What is truth? Is there a life after death?
How much margin of freedom, Dr. Givler, Dr. Neal?
Tell us Plato's secret, or why F equals Ma,
Tell us why Shakespeare endured, why the rocks are rich,
Tell us the real meaning of life, and how to live.) 40.
College is a place where no one reads the papers.
College is a long four years that will never end.
But the secret of civilization was ours to ask for:
A magic: kneel in the classroom, rise, and know all.

The thing for the map is the thick crowd of names,
Not of heroes or readers, but names of those who were there,
Assigned to our dormitories by the registrar,
Chosen by upperclassmen to join our clubs,
Beside us in lectures because of the alphabet,
Therefore our friends.
Only the careless and hard,
The gay, the stubborn, the wild self-powered, were worth it,
And most of them never obeyed or heard the bells
In the stone tower, at twenty minutes past the hour. 41.

Their hour was midnight, or after, reading aloud,
Talking, eating, listening to Bach and to Beethoven,
Drinking coffee, laughing, talking, reading aloud,
Working their way to France on a freighter, and home,
Crazy and glorious, poor, always poor, and talking.
Maybe the secret of civilization was this, off-campus,
Proving that Dante is best if read in Italian,
And somebody's new album of Brahms' First Symphony;
Witty and careless, with coffee and more music, and midnight.

In the morning the President, by special appointment,
Would see the editor, campus figure, and sleepy.
If only he could be told about Brahms, and Italian,
And coffee and civilization and books and no money.
And he could have been told, but I couldn't tell him.
I couldn't tell him, and now I can't tell even myself.
I can't call back what it was I wanted to say.
And what if he'd asked me how I liked the college?

It was not what we thought.
Better?
Well, different.
Duller?
No. Different, not what we thought.
Worth it?
Yes, worth it. But not for the reasons they told us.
Then what?

For the people. For the professor of chemistry I hated,
Who knew it, and showed me his dearest research, as if
Two artists consulted, so shouldering me toward my art;
For the professor whose B was precious, as some A's were not;
For Tommy, for Peg, for Larry, for Chan, for Duke;
And for the letter-carrier, and the night watchmen.

The seeing so many people, and naming them every day.
For the people; the place; the times hung in memory;
Nights on the Chapel steps whispering closely, or not;
The crazy excitement of May in our senior year,-
The last classes, the last everything, the remembering
Supper hours warm and noisy at the fraternity house,
The tired silence when at last the presses were running
Too loud for talk when the college paper was yours
And you knew every word in type in the forms by heart.
O God, you say, that was all good, and it was good.

Then they all come in a whirl of mornings and faces,
Too many men and women, a photograph-album world.
Here's the spring night we walked in, after the movies,
Here's Braker Hall, I think this was our junior year.
The book riffles. There's Gene remember Gene Goss he
Played the banjo he died there's Henry remember Henry
Thompson he died look there's what was her name look
Mark's married who's that Jim I saw Jim the other day
He asked for you who's-that-who's-Dave-there's-Joe-
Where's-Joe-he-used-to-be-very-funny-shut-the-book.

Shut the book. It's a good book. But a long time ago. 42.

 

   
Acknowledgements Tufts University Tisch Library Digital Collections and Archives
Poetry Notebook Map of My Country Along the Row Part XII Part XI Part X Part IX Part VIII Part VI Part V Part IV Part III Part II Part I Writing Poetry: Biographies of poems Part VIII Top Part VI