A stunning collection of poems that John Updike wrote during the last seven years of his life and put together only weeks before he died for this, his final book.
The opening sequence, "Endpoint," is made up of a series of connected poems written on the occasions of his recent birthdays and culminates in his confrontation with his final illness. He looks back on the boy that he was, on the family, the small town, the people, and the circumstances that fed his love of writing, and he finds endless delight and solace in "turning the oddities of life into words."
"Other Poems" range from the fanciful (what would it be like to be a stolen Rembrandt painting? he muses) to the celebratory, capturing the flux of life. A section of sonnets follows, some inspired by travels to distant lands, others celebrating the idiosyncrasies of nature in his own backyard.
For John Updike, the writing of poetry was always a special joy, and this final collection is an eloquent and moving testament to the life of this extraordinary writer.
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March 30, 2009
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Excerpt from Endpoint and Other Poems by John Updike
Half Moon, Small Cloud
Caught out in daylight, a rabbit's
transparent pallor, the moon
is paired with a cloud of equal weight:
the heavenly congruence startles.
For what is the moon, that it haunts us,
this impudent companion immigrated
from the system's less fortunate margins,
the realm of dust collected in orbs?
We grow up as children with it, a nursemaid
of a bonneted sort, round-faced and kind,
not burning too close like parents, or too far
to spare even a glance, like movie stars.
No star but in the zodiac of stars,
a stranger there, too big, it begs for love
(the man in it) and yet is diaphanous,
its thereness as mysterious as ours.
Evening Concert, Sainte-Chapelle
The celebrated windows flamed with light
directly pouring north across the Seine;
we rustled into place. Then violins
vaunting Vivaldi's strident strength, then Brahms,
seemed to suck with their passionate sweetness,
bit by bit, the vigor from the red,
the blazing blue, so that the listening eye
saw suddenly the thick black lines, in shapes
of shield and cross and strut and brace, that held
the holy glowing fantasy together.
The music surged; the glow became a milk,
a whisper to the eye, a glimmer ebbed
until our beating hearts, our violins
were cased in thin but solid sheets of lead.
Oh Monica, you Monica
In your little black beret,
You beguiled our saintly Billy
And led that creep astray.
He'd never seen thong underpants
Or met a Valley girl;
He was used to Southern women,
Like good old Minnie Pearl.
You vamped him with your lingo,
Your notes in purple ink,
And fed him Vox and bagels
Until he couldn't think.
You were our Bill's Delilah
Until Acquittal Day;
You're his-tor-y now, Monica,
In your little black beret.