Required Reading — Barbara Guest

It was difficult to pick books to bring with me to France, but Wesleyan University Press’s recent Collected Poem of Barbara Guest was a no-brainer. I’ve been devouring it book by book, going chronologically and am so amazed at how timeless Guest’s writing is. Some of the poems in her first book, The Location of Things, were published in 196o but could easily be mistaken for something found in a recent journal, written by a contemporary poet. Still, her work is truly original.

The poem below is especially fun to read while I’m here:

In the Alps

Where goes this wandering blue,
This horizon that covers us without a murmur?
Let old lands speak their speech,
Let tarnished canopies protect us.

Where after the wars, the peaceable lions,
The forests resting from their struggle,
The streams with loads upon their icy backs,
Is this a reason for happiness,
That one speaks after such a long time,
That the hand one holds leads one far away?

Is this a fairy tale then?
This new-discovered place where one can dream
Of tigers with fair hair and houses whose hearths
Are tended by knights lingering there?

Riding down to Venice on borrowed horses
The air is freed of our crimes,
Lovers meet in the inns of our fathers
And everywhere after dusk the day follows.

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