Kenneth Rexroth

from The Phoenix and the Tortoise (1944)

Would it have been better to have slept
And dreamed, than to have watched night
Pass and this slow moon sink?
My wife sleeps
And her dreams measure the hours
As accurately as my
Meditations in cold solitude.
I have lain awake while the moon crossed,
Dragging at the tangled ways
Of the sea and the tangled blood filled
Veins of sleepers. I am not alone,
Caught in the turning of the seasons.
As the long beams of the setting moon
Move against the breaking day,
The suspended light pulsates
Like floating snow. Involuntarily,
I may live on, sustained in the web
Of accident, never forgetting
This midnight moon that already blurs
In memory.
As certain
As color passes from the petal,
Irrevocable as flesh,
The gazing eye falls through the world.
As the light breaks over the water
One by one, pedetemptim,
The stakes of the nets appear
Stretching far out into the shallows,
And beyond them the dark animal
Shadow of a camouflaged cruiser.



For a note about the considerable debt of ‘The Phoenix and the Tortoise’ to classical Japanese poetry see CA13a in the Bibliography. More detailed notes about both the poem and Rexroth’s relation with Japan will appear soon in the new Post-1950 Notes section of the Bibliography.

Rexroth titles in print that contain work directly related to his understanding of Japan include The Complete Poems of Kenneth Rexroth, edited by Sam Hamill and Bradford Morrow (available in the US here, the UK here), The Collected Shorter Poems (here and here), The Collected Longer Poems (in the UK here), Beyond the Mountains (in the US here, the UK here), One Hundred Poems from the Japanese (here and here), One Hundred More Poems from the Japanese (here and here), Love Poems from the Japanese, edited by Hamill (here and here), Women Poets of Japan (here and here), The World Outside the Window: Selected Essays, edited by Morrow (here and here), Classics Revisited (in the UK here), More Classics Revisited, edited by Morrow (in the US here), An Autobiographical Novel (in the UK here), Kenneth Rexroth and James Laughlin: Selected Letters, edited by Lee Bartlett (in the US here), Seasons of Sacred Lust: Selected Poems of Kazuko Shiraishi, edited by Rexroth (in the US here), and The Buddhist Writings of Lafcadio Hearn, edited by Rexroth (in the UK here).

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