Man and Camel

Man and Camel

by Mark Strand


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This eleventh collection by Mark Strand is a toast to life’s transience and abiding beauty. He begins with a group of light but haunting fables, populated by figures like the King, a tiny creature in ermine who has lost his desire to rule, and by the poet’s own alter ego, who recounts the fetching mystery of the title poem: “I sat on the porch having a smoke / when out of the blue a man and a camel / happened by.” The poet has Arctic adventures and encounters with the bearded figure of Death; in his controlled tone, he creates his bold visions and shows us, like a magician, how they vanish in a blink. Gradually, his fancies give way to powerful scenes of loss, as in “The Mirror,” where the face of a beautiful woman stares past him

into a place I could only imagine . . .
as if just then I were stepping from the depths of the mirror into that white room, breathless and eager,
only to discover too late that she is not there.

Man and Camel concludes with a small masterpiece of meditations crafted around the Seven Last Words of Christ. Here, this secular poet finds resonance in the bedrock of Christ’s language, the actual words that have governed so many generations of thought and belief. As always with Mark Strand, the discovery of meaning in the sound of language itself is an act of faith that enlightens us and carries us beyond the bounds of the rational.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780375711268
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/25/2008
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 72
Product dimensions: 5.87(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.24(d)

About the Author

Mark Strand was born in Summerside, Prince Edward Island, Canada, and was raised and educated in the United States. He is the author of ten earlier books of poems. He is also the author of a book of stories, Mr. and Mrs. Baby, three volumes of translations (of works by Rafael Alberti and Carlos Drummond de Andrade, and of anonymous Quechua lyrics), a number of anthologies (most recently 100 Great Poems of the Twentieth Century), and monographs on the contemporary artists William Bailey and Edward Hopper. He has received many honors and grants for his poems, including a MacArthur Fellowship for 1987–92, and in 1990 he was chosen Poet Laureate of the United States. In 1993 he was awarded the Bollingen Prize, and in 1999 he won the Pulitzer Prize for Blizzard of One. He lives in New York City and teaches at Columbia University.

Read an Excerpt

Man and Camel On the eve of my fortieth birthday I sat on the porch having a smoke when out of the blue a man and a camel happened by. Neither uttered a sound at first, but as they drifted up the street and out of town the two of them began to sing. Yet what they sang is still a mystery to me— the words were indistinct and the tune too ornamental to recall. Into the desert they went and as they went their voices rose as one above the sifting sound of windblown sand. The wonder of their singing, its elusive blend of man and camel, seemed an ideal image for all uncommon couples. Was this the night that I had waited for so long? I wanted to believe it was, but just as they were vanishing, the man and camel ceased to sing, and galloped back to town. They stood before my porch, staring up at me with beady eyes, and said: “You ruined it. You ruined it forever.” Black Sea One clear night while the others slept, I climbed the stairs to the roof of the house and under a sky strewn with stars I gazed at the sea, at the spread of it, the rolling crests of it raked by the wind, becoming like bits of lace tossed in the air. I stood in the long, whispering night, waiting for something, a sign, the approach of a distant light, and I imagined you coming closer, the dark waves of your hair mingling with the sea, and the dark became desire, and desire the arriving light. The nearness, the momentary warmth of you as I stood on that lonely height watching the slow swells of the sea break on the shore and turn briefly into glass and disappear . . . Why did I believe you would come out of nowhere? Why with all that the world offers would you come only because I was here? Mother and Son The son enters the mother’s room and stands by the bed where the mother lies. The son believes that she wants to tell him what he longs to hear—that he is her boy, always her boy. The son leans down to kiss the mother’s lips, but her lips are cold. The burial of feelings has begun. The son touches the mother’s hands one last time, then turns and sees the moon’s full face. An ashen light falls across the floor. If the moon could speak, what would it say? If the moon could speak, it would say nothing. My Name Once when the lawn was a golden green and the marbled moonlit trees rose like fresh memorials in the scented air, and the whole countryside pulsed with the chirr and murmur of insects, I lay in the grass, feeling the great distances open above me, and wondered what I would become and where I would find myself, and though I barely existed, I felt for an instant that the vast star-clustered sky was mine, and I heard my name as if for the first time, heard it the way one hears the wind or the rain, but faint and far off as though it belonged not to me but to the silence from which it had come and to which it would go.

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