Stars and Other Signs

Stars and Other Signs

by Marie Borroff


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These poems, written over fifty years, address such subjects as the celerity of time, old age, art, literary acquaintances, and the author’s beloved New England landscape. They delight in sound and form, even as they unsettle and disturb.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780300207507
Publisher: Yale University Press
Publication date: 01/21/2014
Pages: 96
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x (d)

About the Author

Marie Borroff is Sterling Professor of English Emeritus at Yale University. She is both an accomplished scholar and the author of eloquent verse translations of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Patience, and Pearl. Her poems have appeared in the New Republic and the American Scholar.

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Stars and Other Signs



Copyright © 2002 Yale University
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-300-09570-8

Chapter One

Configurations For Norman Maclean

I thought I knew by sight each starry sign That shows, in June, in roadside green Where the cove's reach is screened by spruce and pine, But here's a face that newly makes my scene: A pattern yet to ponder and divine.

I bend, reluctant-why bring word and phrase To break so full a silence? Yet behold: Even as I speak, the template, trace by trace, Declares itself: white petals, sevenfold, And narrow leaves set round the stem like rays.

The book laid open verifies it all: Starflower, of primrose kind, No common chickweed, spindling stems asprawl; A namesake, keepsake, calling back to mind An early summer day.

Now, with the gradual Waning of light, in slowly widening lines,

A boat's long wake refigures, bar by bar, The deep-suspended cloudscape.... Evanescent signs, Save for one westering planetary star. I look up; there it shines.

Broken Thumb

Things of my world, thwart, solid, chockablock, That I was wont lightly to wield and dandle, Now, button-bungler, fool of lid, latch, lock, Thumbfoundered, I must own you all too much to handle. With dexter maladroit sadly at outs, Unruly point scrawls to a standstill, staggered, While Captain Left, sidelined in swaddling-clouts, Bears silent witness from my lap, a laggard.

Old lover of this world and its hard lines, Spendthrift of news, unapt at splints and slings, It keeps its healing secret all alone, Biding that hour when, bone rejoined with bone, It sallies forth, takes pen, and straight consigns To bright black ink this new beginning: Things.

Balance Forward

Name, date of birth. Undress. Lie back. Care and precautions and keeping track. Early I waken one day older.

The proof of all indwelling power Lies in the unlikely present hour. Each task bears witness against our will.

Scoring the outraged heart across, Its one immitigable loss. The world is away and sends no word.

Lips moving answering lips that move, Consensual at the quick of love. That banquet had been spread for you.

Pass the gate and begrudge the toll? Clutch at the meaning and tear the scroll? Live contingent and not risk all? Empty at heart, and yet feast full?

Early I waken one day older. Each task bears witness against our will. The world is away and sends no word. That banquet had been spread for you.


I start to search out speech, To set, or else fall dumb, Some words beyond the reach Of what I have become,

When straight this crowd appears That in bright obstinacy Stands round, all eyes and ears, Talking of mine and me,

Taking each empty place, Nodding each moment by, Yet some, in quieter space, Stand back, unheeded, shy,

With eyes where meanings wait I might learn something of Were it not too soon, too late, To make that one wild move,

Give one great graceless shove And blindly shoulder through To greet that silence: you, Last gained, least guessed at: you.

Connecticut Light

Connecticut light: sun at the end of snow Thronging each branch, spinning the shadows wide Across white fields to where, on either side, Long hills, furred gray or plum, lie couching low; Light dallying in a spray of cherry in bloom, No flower not open full, no petal lost; Light running through the fields in waves of frost Or tamed by heavy leaves to a green gloom.

Light opulent in maple red and gold As the sun's arc leans southward day by day, Burning in state until time brings them low In drift on drift of faded color, cold Dead embers for the wind to blow away Under a somber sky portending snow.

In Range of Bells For Richard Brodhead

I walk in range of bells where silence (one by one)marks off each stroke that tells time ended, time begun.

Daily down Prospect Hill the tally keeps (nine, ten) telling with what a constant will time brings me round and round again,

and brings me schoolward here to breast the advancing line: eyes, faces, year by year, young, and more young than mine,

while bell on bell, borne past as leaves blow from a tree, tells how time's branches hold us fast only to cast us free.

A Visit Danse Macabre

Each face is a bad likeness of that face, drawn by An inept or an indifferent hand: the line left slack That should express the life, the jaw awry, The mouth inane, the proportions out of whack. And some are blind, and some have eyes that gleam From chair or bed, where strangers pass all day, Intent to clutch, to cry "I am not as I seem; Come closer, once you know, you will not turn away."

Mission completed, dispenser of good cheer, I smile, I wave, I call out "I'll be back!" Past the glass doors, the air is fresh and clear, Keys, car, at hand. Only later, looking back, I see my strained and ghastly grin; I hear My words fall hollow, my jigging heels clack.


Excerpted from Stars and Other Signs by MARIE BORROFF Copyright © 2002 by Yale University. Excerpted by permission.
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