Collected Poems 1953-1993

Overview

“The idea of verse, of poetry, has always, during forty years spent working primarily in prose, stood at my elbow, as a standing invitation to the highest kind of verbal exercise—the most satisfying, the most archaic, the most elusive of critical control.  In hotel rooms and airplanes, on beaches and Sundays, at junctures of personal happiness or its opposite, poetry has comforted me with its hope of permanence, its packaging of flux.”
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Collected Poems, 1953-1993

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Overview

“The idea of verse, of poetry, has always, during forty years spent working primarily in prose, stood at my elbow, as a standing invitation to the highest kind of verbal exercise—the most satisfying, the most archaic, the most elusive of critical control.  In hotel rooms and airplanes, on beaches and Sundays, at junctures of personal happiness or its opposite, poetry has comforted me with its hope of permanence, its packaging of flux.”
                Thus John Updike writes in introducing his Collected Poems.  The earliest poems here date from 1953, when Updike was twenty-one, and the last were written after he turned sixty.  Almost all of those published in his five previous collections are included, with some revisions.  Arranged in chronological order, the poems constitute, as he says, “the thread backside of my life’s fading tapestry.”  An ample set of notes at the back of the book discusses some of the hidden threads, and expatiates upon a number of fine points.
                Nature—tenderly intricate, ruthlessly impervious—is a constant and ambiguous presence in these poems, along with the social observation one would expect in a novelist.  No occasion is too modest or too daily to excite metaphysical wonder, or to provoke a lyrical ingenuity of language.  Yet even the wittiest of the poems are rooted to the ground of experience and fact.  “Seven Odes to Seven Natural Processes” attempt to explicate the physical world with a directness seldom attempted in poetry.  Several longer poems—“Leaving Church Early,” “Midpoint”—use autobiography to proclaim the basic strangeness of existence.

Of the 336 poems, over 70 are published for the first time in book form. This collection traces Updike's progress through his decades and around the planet. Ordinary life retains a magical strangeness, whether encountered in the changing of storm windows, a sleepless trip to Spain, or the oddities of scientific truth. This is Updike's 40th book to be published by Knopf.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679762041
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 7/28/1995
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 387
  • Sales rank: 785,576
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

John Updike
Best known for a series of novels featuring Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom, John Updike was one of the 20th century's most distinguished American authors. Over the course of his long, prolific career, he garnered numerous literary awards, including two coveted Pulitzer Prizes!

Biography

With an uncommonly varied oeuvre that includes poetry, criticism, essays, short stories, and novels, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner John Updike helped to change the face of late-20th-century American literature.

Born in Reading, Pennsylvania, Updike graduated summa cum laude from Harvard in 1954. Following a year of study in England, he joined the staff of The New Yorker, establishing a relationship with the magazine that continued until his death in January, 2009. For more than 50 years, he lived in two small towns in Massachusetts that inspired the settings for several of his stories.

In 1958, Updike's first collection of poetry was published. A year later, he made his fiction debut with The Poorhouse Fair. But it was his second novel, 1960's Rabbit, Run, that forged his reputation and introduced one of the most memorable characters in American fiction. Former small-town basketball star Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom struck a responsive chord with readers and critics alike and catapulted Updike into the literary stratosphere.

Updike would revisit Angstrom in 1971, 1981, and 1990, chronicling his hapless protagonist's jittery journey into undistinguished middle age in three melancholy bestsellers: Rabbit Redux, Rabbit Is Rich, and Rabbit at Rest. A concluding novella, "Rabbit Remembered," appeared in the 2001 story collection Licks of Love.

Although autobiographical elements appear in the Rabbit books, Updike's true literary alter ego was not Harry Angstrom but Harry Bech, a famously unproductive Jewish-American writer who starred in his own story cycle. In between -- indeed, far beyond -- his successful series, Updike went on to produce an astonishingly diverse string of novels. In addition, his criticism and short fiction became popular staples of distinguished literary publications.

Good To Know

Updike first became entranced by reading when he was a young boy growing up on an isolated farm in Pennsylvania. Afflicted with psoriasis and a stammer, he escaped his self-consciousness by immersing himself in drawing, writing, and reading.

An accomplished artist, Updike accepted a one-year fellowship to study painting at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Arts at Oxford University. He decided to attend Harvard University because he was a big fan of the school's humor magazine, The Harvard Lampoon.

One of the most respected authors of the 20th century, Updike won every major literary prize in America, including the Guggenheim Fellow, the Rosenthal Award, the National Book Award in Fiction, the O. Henry Prize, the American Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Union League Club Abraham Lincoln Award, the National Arts Club Medal of Honor, and the National Medal of the Arts.

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    1. Also Known As:
      John Hoyer Updike (full name)
    1. Date of Birth:
      March 18, 1932
    2. Place of Birth:
      Shillington, Pennsylvania
    1. Date of Death:
      January 27, 2009
    2. Place of Death:
      Beverly Farms, MA

Read an Excerpt

Seven Stanzas at Easter

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells' dissolution did not reverse, the molecules reknit,
the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled eyes of the
eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that--pierced--died, withered, paused, and then regathered
out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence,
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the faded
credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow grinding of
time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck's quanta, vivid with hair, opaque in
the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are embarrassed
by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

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