Weave a Circle Round Him Thrice

The sound of winter. I pull the blind:
On the far side of a woods below,
The plows are shaving the ill-defined
Back roads of a full day’s growth of snow.
The world at the weekend is getting ready
To go out for the evening, but deep inside
Where love and love do not go steady,
I groom for the unappointed bride
And wait nightlong with such intent
On such a landing of Jacob’s stairs
The tenants below think my descent
Is from a different God from theirs.
My eyes are lit with magic sights.
I am because of what I see,
But from a time not used to heights
My loves fall far away from me
And never know that had they stayed,
The deep thing I had seen within
I would have drawn out to the clayed
But lovely canvas of their skin.
If you are listening, my once-loved,
Who never grew old in my life,
Know for a fact that had you lived
I would have taken you for a wife
And on an exalted night like this
Talked over wine at some slow inn
The language that they speak in bliss
Or a time to come when there is no sin
Or trespassed on some high estate
Seized from the disinherited meek,
Our joy in the winter air so great
Dark conscience had no heart to speak
Or stayed at home and woke the blind
And in the fallen snow’s soft light
Contemplated, mind with mind,
Something high-seated in the night.
I cannot remember ever having
Not lived in a holy world like this,
But though it’s lovely, long, and living,
Something terrible is amiss:
Everywhere I look a lack
Looks on with deep interest from the air
As though somehow I had got back
To Eden and no one was there.

April 16, 1995


Typing out some more verse manuscripts a few days ago, I came across this poem and realized that it presents in pictures and with more fluency what I was expressing to you in abstractions and with some stumbling during our meeting last week–namely, the state of mind that is in continuous communication with the strange immensities and intimate subtleties of our universe, a universe that is so vast and at the same time so fine-fingered. I brought up this double-edged awareness in our conversation because in terms of protecting it and in terms of the difficulty of communicating it and in terms of how it gives those who traffic with it a somewhat different cast, it isolates me from the standard low-mindedness of our times. The title “’Weave a Circle Round Him Thrice’” is a line from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s famous “Kubla Khan,” a pungently symbolic poem about art and the artist and how the latter’s commerce with the holy realities that lie behind the commonplace give him an intensity from which the masses of his own kind are likely to fall back. The scene of my poem, which is based on an actual Friday night following a snow storm a few years back, is from the large windows of the second-floor apartment I had from 1990 to 1996 at the Marquis in King of Prussia. The view from there was of a wooded area and beyond that the rolling hills of a semi-rural neighborhood. The poem, addressed to a former love of mine, is in strict form: rhymed quatrains (stanzas of four lines apiece), each of the lines having the same rhythmic length as the others. The circle of the title is the superstitious device within which the common folk in Coleridge’s poem try to contain the artist because they are afraid of his depth and intensity. The opening description of the snow plows likens their work to shaving so that the setting of the poem is linked subtly to the situation in its theme, which is getting ready to go out on a weekend night. Deliberately confused with the stairwell of the apartment where the poem’s speaker is standing, “Jacob’s stairs” in the third stanza is the hierarchic ladder between heaven and earth Jacob dreamed about in the Old Testament.

Published on October 5, 2006 at 6:18 pm  Leave a Comment  

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