A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Poem of the Day: William Empson

Missing Dates

Slowly the poison the whole blood stream fills.
It is not the effort nor the failure tires.
The waste remains, the waste remains and kills.

It s not your system or clear sight that mills
Down small to the consequences a life requires;
Slowly the poison the whole blood stream fills.

They bled an old dog dry yet the exchange rills
Of young dog blood gave but a month's desires
The waste remains, the waste remains and kills.

It is the Chinese tombs and the slag hills
Usurp the soil, and not the soil retires.
Slowly the poison the whole blood stream fills.

Not to have fire is to be a skin that shrills.
The complete fire is death. From partial fires
The waste remains, the waste remains and kills.

It is the poems you have lost, the ills
From missing dates, at which the heart expires.
Slowly the poison the whole blood stream fills.
The waste remains, the waste remains and kills.
--William Empson 

Empson's reputation rests largely on his literary criticism, and especially on his first book, Seven Types of Ambiguity (which, as a professor of mine once remarked, constitutes an eighth type of ambiguity all on its own). But he was a provocative poet, too, as this strangely morbid villanelle should demonstrate.