Tuesday, 20 November 2012

"The End of his Triumph" - Jack Gilbert

Poet Jack Gilbert 1925-2012

I have just learned that one of my favourite poets, Jack Gilbert, died a few days ago. A few years ago he was interviewed by Sarah Fay in The Paris Review. This was the introduction:
"On the rare occasions when Jack Gilbert gives public readings—whether in New York, Pittsburgh, or San Francisco—it is not unusual for men and women in the audience to tell him how his poems have saved their lives. At these gatherings, one may also hear wild stories about Gilbert: he was a junkie, he was homeless, he was married numerous times. In reality, he has never been addicted to drugs, has been impoverished but never homeless, and was married only once. The fascination with Gilbert is a response, above all, to the power of his poetry, but it also reflects the mystique of a life lived utterly without regard for the conventions of literary fortune and fame".

Today's NaBloMoPo prompt was to talk about the opening of my favourite book. The challenge for me would have been to choose that one favourite book. Reading through the interview with Jack Gilbert, I came upon this:

INTERVIEWER: Can you name some of your early influences?

     GILBERT: Almost any book in the library—knights saving ladies, cowboys trying to kill the bad guy. I just devoured books; each new story opened a new vista.

Poets like Jack Gilbert open up such vistas. Here is one of my favourite poems that he wrote.

Failing and Flying
Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.
It's the same when love comes to an end,
or the marriage fails and people say
they knew it was a mistake, that everybody
said it would never work. That she was
old enough to know better. But anything
worth doing is worth doing badly.
Like being there by that summer ocean
on the other side of the island while
love was fading out of her, the stars
burning so extravagantly those nights that
anyone could tell you they would never last.
Every morning she was asleep in my bed
like a visitation, the gentleness in her
like antelope standing in the dawn mist.
Each afternoon I watched her coming back
through the hot stony field after swimming,
the sea light behind her and the huge sky
on the other side of that. Listened to her
while we ate lunch. How can they say
the marriage failed? Like the people who
came back from Provence (when it was Provence)
and said it was pretty but the food was greasy.
I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,
but just coming to the end of his triumph.



  1. Yes yes yes! Never seen thar before. It's also worth doing badly. Because it's worth doing.

    1. Hi Mark,
      Yes, I think it's a pretty balanced attitude to success an.d failure