* throwing things on the floor with Jim Harrison & John Keats

In reading Jim Harrison’s novel The English Major last month, I came across the following and it brought tears – I have been much for tears these days – and mainly because I have been slowly going over poems I have memorized, seeing what stuck and what fell off, and was suddenly surprised to recognize the poem referenced below:

I was saddened by the idea that I might not finish the work before I died, a natural enough fear.  Keats wrote, “When I have fears that I may cease to be before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain…”  That was throwing the raw meat on the floor in a lovely way.

That phrasing throwing the raw meat on the floor – that’s it isn’t it – what it is a poet does no matter the how we use to do it.  We are not in the business of poetry if the raw meat isn’t on the floor.

Realizing I had let the poem slip after a few years, and then coming back to it, memorizing it again – more than an old friend, I felt like a piece of myself was returning, that something understood once was being reconciled in a big, new way.

There’s a lot of history in the poem too: Yeats borrowed the phrasing of high romance, and John Berryman references the end of the poem in the title of his book Love and Fame.  I myself am tempted to borrow and manipulate the phrasing for something called: The Fool-ripened Grain.

Here is the poem below – you can see for yourself how awful and sacrilegious my idea is.

* you let the meat fall where? *
* you let the meat fall where? *

When I have fears that I may cease to be – John Keats

When I have fears that I may cease to  be
Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain,
Before high-piled books in charactery
Hold like rich garners the full ripened grain;

When I behold, upon the night’s starred face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows with the magic hand of chance;

And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love – then on the shore

Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Til love and fame to nothingness do sink.

***

Happy sinking!

Jose

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One thought on “* throwing things on the floor with Jim Harrison & John Keats

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