The Great Fires: Poems, 1982-1992


JOYCE'S MOTTO has had much fame but few apostles. Among them, there has been Jack Gilbert and his orthodoxy, a strictness that has required of this poet, now in the seventh decade of his severe life, the penalty of his having had almost no fame at all. In an era that puts before the artist so many sleek and official temptations, keeping unflinchingly to a code of "silence, exile, and cunning" could not have been managed without a show of strictness well beyond the reach of the ...
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The Great Fires: Poems, 1982-1992

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JOYCE'S MOTTO has had much fame but few apostles. Among them, there has been Jack Gilbert and his orthodoxy, a strictness that has required of this poet, now in the seventh decade of his severe life, the penalty of his having had almost no fame at all. In an era that puts before the artist so many sleek and official temptations, keeping unflinchingly to a code of "silence, exile, and cunning" could not have been managed without a show of strictness well beyond the reach of the theater of the coy.

The "far, stubborn, disastrous" course of Jack Gilbert's resolute journey--not one that would promise in time to bring him home to the consolations of Penelope and the comforts of Ithaca but one that would instead take him ever outward to the impossible blankness of the desert--could never have been achieved in the society of others. What has kept this great poet brave has been the difficult company of his poems--and now we have, in Gilbert's third and most silent book, what may be, what must be, the bravest of these imperial accomplishments.


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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679747673
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 2/28/1996
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 90
  • Sales rank: 662,035
  • Product dimensions: 5.35 (w) x 8.33 (h) x 0.38 (d)

Meet the Author

Jack Gilbert was born in Pittsburgh. He has published Views of Jeopardy, the 1962 winner of the Yale Younger Poets Series, and Monolithos. Both books were nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. A third volume, elegiac poems, was bought out, in a limited edition, under the title Kochan. Mr. Gilbert has been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
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Read an Excerpt

Measuring the Tyger

Barrels of chains. Sides of beef stacked in vans.
Water buffalo dragging logs of teak in the river mud outside Mandalay. Pantocrater in the Byzantium dome.
The mammoth overhead crane bringing slabs of steel through the dingy light and roar to the giant shear that cuts the adamantine three-quarter-inch plates and they flop down. The weight of the mind fractures the girders and piers of the spirit, spilling out the heart's melt. Incandescent ingots big as cars trundling out of titanic mills, red slag scaling off the brighter metal in the dark. The Monongahela River below, night's sheen its belly. Silence except for the machinery clanging deeper in us. You will love again, people say. Give it time. Me with time running out. Day after day of the everyday.
What they call real life, made of eighth-inch gauge.
Newness strutting around as if it were significant.
Irony, neatness and rhyme pretending to be poetry.
I want to go back to that time after Michiko's death when I cried every day among the trees. To the real.
To the magnitude of pain, of being that much alive.

To See If Something Comes Next

There is nothing here at the top of the valley.
Sky and morning, silence and the dry smell of heavy sunlight on the stone everywhere.
Goats occasionally, and the sound of roosters in the bright heat where he lives with the dead woman and purity. Trying to see if something comes next. Wondering whether he has stalled.
Maybe, he thinks, it is like the Noh: whenever the script says dances, whatever the actor does next is a dance. If he stands still, he is dancing.

Scheming in the Snow

There is a time after what comes after being young, and a time after that, he thinks happily as he walks through the winter woods,
hearing in silence a woodpecker far off.
Remembering his Chinese friend whose brother gave her a jade ring from the Han Dynasty when she turned eighteen.
Two weeks later, when she was hurrying up the steps of a Hong Kong bridge, she fell,
and the thousand-year-old ring shattered on the concrete. When she told him, stunned and tears running down her face, he said,
"Don't cry. I'll get you something better."

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Table of Contents

Going Wrong 3
Guilty 4
The Forgotten Dialect of the Heart 5
Lovers 6
Measuring the Tyger 7
Voices Inside and Out 8
Tear it Down 9
Dante Dancing 10
The Great Fires 12
Finding Something 13
Prospero without His Magic 14
Finding Eurydice 15
Going There 16
Haunted Importantly 17
Searching for Pittsburgh 18
Married 19
Explicating the Twilight 20
Steel Guitars 21
Recovering Amid the Farms 22
The Spirit and the Soul 23
To See If Something Comes Next 25
A Stubborn Ode 26
Scheming in the Snow 27
Ruins and Wabi 28
Betrothed 29
Trying to Have Something Left Over 30
On Stone 31
Relative Pitch 32
1953 33
Alone 34
Adulterated 35
What is There to Say? 36
Prospero Dreams of Arnaut Daniel Inventing Love in the Twelfth Century 37
Tasters for the Lord 38
Carrying Torches at Noon 39
A Year Later 40
Looking Away from Longing 41
Factoring 42
The Milk of Paradise 43
Gift Horses 44
Hard Wired 45
The White Heart of God 46
Michiko Nogami (1946-1982) 47
The Container for the Thing Contained 48
Moment of Grace 49
The Lord Sits with Me Out in Front 50
Between Aging and Old 51
The History of Men 52
Older Women 53
Exceeding 54
Infidelity 55
Highlights and Interstices 56
Peaches 57
Music is the Memory of What Never Happened 58
Alternatives 59
Michiko Dead 61
Ghosts 62
Harm and Boon in the Meetings 63
Man at a Window 64
Sonatina 65
Foraging for Wood on the Mountain 66
In Umbria 67
Conceiving Himself 68
Chastity 69
Me and Capablanca 70
A Ghost Sings, a Door Opens 71
I Imagine the Gods 72
Thinking About Ecstasy 73
Night Songs and Day Songs 74
Eating with the Emperor 75
Playing House 76
Beyond Beginnings 77
Theoretical Lives 78
From These Nettles, Alms 79
Hot Nights in Florida 80
Getting it All 81
The Edge of the World 82
Leporello on Don Giovanni 83
First Times 84
Half the Truth 85
Respect 86
The Lives of Famous Men 87
Getting Old 88
How to Love the Dead 89
Almost Happy 90
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 13, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Good Work

    This is an awesome collection to have in one's own library.

    Everyone should own this work, along with Ohio Blue Tips by Jeanne E. Clark, The Photos In The Closet by Daniel E. Lopez, and works by Alison Townsend.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 30, 1999

    Elegant, understated, and emotive

    I'm glad for this book. It's my kind of poetry. I had never read anything of his before until I heard two poems being read on NPR. They're simple and moving and touching. This volume does what art is supposed to do -- to take you someplace you've never been before.

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