The Dance Most of All

The Dance Most of All

by Jack Gilbert

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A remarkable late-in-life collection, elegiac and bracing, from master poet Jack Gilbert, whose Refusing Heaven captivated the poetry world and won the National Book Critics Circle Award as well as the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.

In these characteristically bold and nuanced poems, Gilbert looks back at the passions of a life—the women, and his

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A remarkable late-in-life collection, elegiac and bracing, from master poet Jack Gilbert, whose Refusing Heaven captivated the poetry world and won the National Book Critics Circle Award as well as the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.

In these characteristically bold and nuanced poems, Gilbert looks back at the passions of a life—the women, and his memories of all the stages of love; the places (Paris, Greece, Pittsburgh); the mysterious and lonely offices of poetry itself. We get illuminating glimpses of the poet’s background and childhood, in poems like “Going Home” (his mother the daughter of sharecroppers, his father the black sheep in a family of rich Virginia merchants) and “Summer at Blue Creek, North Carolina,” a classic scene of pulling water from the well, sounding the depths.

The title of the collection is drawn from the startling “Ovid in Tears,” in which the poet figure has fallen and is carried out, muttering faintly: “White stone in the white sunlight . . . Both the melody / and the symphony. The imperfect dancing / in the beautiful dance. The dance most of all.” Gilbert reminds us that there is beauty to be celebrated in the imperfect—“a worth / to the unshapely our sweet mind founders on”—and at the same time there is “the harrowing by mortality.” Yet, without fail, he embraces the state of grief and loss as part of the dance.

The culmination of a career spanning more than half a century of American poetry, The Dance Most of All is a book to celebrate and to read again and again.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

This fifth collection from Gilbert (Refusing Heaven) adds an intense, almost nonstop nostalgia to the gifts his longtime devotees will recognize. After early success, Gilbert spent much of the 1960s and 1970s in rural Europe, far out of the limelight; he lived for years on a Greek island with his first wife, the poet Linda Gregg (to whom he dedicates this volume). Here he remembers his years in Greece, where "the blue Aegean is far down and the slow ships/ far out," and his almost equally bright years in rural Italy-though he also remembers the yearnings and struggles of "Growing Up in Pittsburgh." Even more than landscape or cityscape, though, Gilbert's gravelly blank verse, unrhymed sonnets and looser forms remember the pleasures and sad moments of the body and of the erotic life: "The shameful ardor/ and the shameless intimacy, the secret kinds/ of happiness and the walled-up childhoods," from first kisses to "the way love is after fifty." However tied to autobiography, Gilbert seeks not confessional poetry, but the older, more spiritually alert tradition of Rodin and Rilke: "The world is beyond us even as we own it," "Winter Happiness in Greece" begins; "It is a hugeness in which we climb towards." (Apr.)

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From the Publisher
“These poems are deeply elegiac, looking back over a long life lived in the various modes one comes to associate with Gilbert: desire, love, longing, and happiness . . . For Gilbert, these poems suggest a satisfaction and peace with all he has done. For the rest of us, we may take Gilbert’s final work as a guide.” —The Oregonian

“The best poems here are valuable bulletins from a distant, private war fought over resources for affirmation, in which the most precious weapon is the capacity to ‘say grace over / almost everything.’” —Poetry

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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5.90(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.30(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Dance Most of All

By Jack Gilbert


Copyright © 2009 Jack Gilbert
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780307270764


In the old days we could see nakedness only
in the burlesque houses. In the lavish
theaters left over from vaudeville,
ruined in the Great Depression. What had been
grand gestures of huge chandeliers
and mythic heroes courting the goddess
on the ceiling. Now the chandeliers were grimy
and the ceilings hanging in tatters. It was
like the Russian aristocrats fleeing
the Revolution. Ending up as taxi drivers
in Paris dressed in their worn-out elegance.
It was like that in the Pittsburgh of my days.
Old men of shabby clothes in the empty
seats at the Roxy Theater dreaming
of the sumptuous headliners
slowly discarding layers of their
lavish gowns. Baring the secret
beauty to the men of their season.
The old men came from their one room
(with its single, forbidden gas range)
to watch the strippers.To remember what used
to be. Like the gray-haired men of Ilium
who waited each morning for Helen
to cross over to the temple in her light raiment.
The waning men longed to escape from the spell
cast over them by time.To escape the imprisoned
longing.To insist on dispensation.To see
their young hearts just one more time.
Those famous women like honeycombs.Women moving
to the old music again. That former grace offlesh.
The sheen of them in the sunlight, to watch
them walking by the sea.


In the small towns along the river
nothing happens day after long day.
Summer weeks stalled forever,
and long marriages always the same.
Lives with only emergencies, births,
and fishing for excitement. Then a ship
comes out of the mist. Or comes around
the bend carefully one morning
in the rain, past the pines and shrubs.
Arrives on a hot fragrant night,
grandly, all lit up. Gone two days
later, leaving fury in its wake.

For Susan Crosby Lawrence Anderson


Ah, you three women whom I have loved in this
long life, along with the few others.
And the four I may have loved, or stopped short
of loving. I wander through these woods
making songs of you. Some of regret, some
of longing, and a terrible one of death.
I carry the privacy of your bodies
and hearts in me. The shameful ardor
and the shameless intimacy, the secret kinds
of happiness and the walled-up childhoods.
I carol loudly of you among trees emptied
of winter and rejoice quietly in summer.
A score of women if you count love both large
and small, real ones that were brief
and those that lasted. Gentle love and some
almost like an animal with its prey.
What is left is what’s alive in me. The failing
of your beauty and its remaining.
You are like countries in which my love
took place. Like a bell in the trees
that makes your music in each wind that moves.
A music composed of what you have forgotten.
That will end with my ending.


Excerpted from The Dance Most of All by Jack Gilbert Copyright © 2009 by Jack Gilbert. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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