Dead Fires, by Jessie Redmon Fauset

If this is peace, this dead and leaden thing,
Then better far the hateful fret, the sting.
Better the wound forever seeking balm
Than this gray calm!

Is this pain’s surcease? Better far the ache,
The long-drawn dreary day, the night’s white wake,
Better the choking sigh, the sobbing breath
Than passion’s death!

Last Things, by William Meredith

For Robert Lowell

I
In the tunnel of woods, as the road
Winds up through the freckled light, a porcupine,
Larger than life, crosses the road.
He moves with the difficulty of relics—
Possum, armadillo, horseshoe crab.
To us they seem creatures arthritic with time,
Winding joylessly down like burnt-out galaxies.
In all their slowness we see no dignity,
Only a want of scale.
Having crossed the road oblivious, he falls off
Deliberately and without grace into the ferns.

II
In another state are hills as choppy as lake water
And, on a hillside there,
Is a junkyard of old cars, kept for the parts—
Fenders and chassis and the engine blocks
Right there in the field, smaller parts in bins
In a shed by the side of the road. Cows graze
Among the widely spaced rows,
Which are irregular only as an old orchard is,
Following the contours of the hill.
The tops of the cars are bright colors still
And as pretty as bottles hung on a bare tree
Or painted cinder blocks in a garden.
Cars the same age are parked on the road like cannibals.

III
At the edge of a harbor, in a field
That faces the ocean they came by and left by,
Statues of soldiers and governors and their queen
Lie where the Africans put them.
Unbewildered, not without understanding,
The marble countenances look at the green
Continent; they did their best; plunderers
Were fewer among them than men of honor.
But no one comes for them, though they have been offered.
With chipped extremities, in a chipped regalia
They lie at angles of unaccustomed ease.
In the parks and squares of England are set up
Bolder, more dreadful shapes of the ego,
While African lichen confers an antique grandeur
On these, from whom men have withheld it.

IV
At the edge of the Greek world, I think, was a cliff
To which fallen gods were chained, immortal.
Time is without forgiveness, but intermittenly
He sends the old, sentimental, hungry
Vulture compassion to gnaw on the stone
Vitals of each of us, even the young, as if
To ready each of us, even the old, for an unthinkable
Event he foresees for each of us—a reckoning, our own.