Saturday, January 30, 2010

“Each Is Alone, Each Is Everything”

January is mercifully slipping into the sunset—sorry to any southern hemisphere readers—so this brings our look at poet Kenneth Patchen to a close. I’ve really enjoyed the comments this month, & I’m gratified that I’ve been able to introduce Patchen to some folks who’ll appreciate his work. He is woefully under-read, under-taught & under-rated. As I’ve discussed in the past, leftist poets have not fared well in the 20th century English language canon. I’ve also seen it speculated that Patchen’s status as a conscientious objector during World War II harmed his reputation.

The poem “Each is Alone, Each is Everything” is from Patchen’s 1946 collection, Panels for the Walls of Heaven. With surreal eloquence, Patchen examines I/Thou, time & eternity, & the “big questions”—it’s a beautiful poem, & a tour de force.

Hope you enjoy it!

Each Is Alone, Each Is Everything

O ghost in the bluehearing grove
More tongueless than pity.
Quiet as a breast. Alive above the noisy killing of men. A red red rose and the patient hands of the snow. O tranquil forest under the darkening sky.
Half-lived and unintent the poor lives of men.
The listening souls of twigs.
O starry weather lofts a bird and in that profound cave our father sleeps. Hey creatures! forgive us!

Conditions are Queen. Fullswirl care in the gadgets of being.
Flesh cottages.
Crowing pigflowers spray at the castle wall.
Rundown it’s five o’clod. The more ways the samer way.
Eternity is kinder
Than any clock.

Harmony always rejects power.
Each cottage holds the world.

Horizons always end somewhere too. Vice in art, as in life, is not looking at what cannot be seen. The beautiful brutal hours fondle alike the thoughts of snakes and the lusts of angels. The garments of Shakespeare hang in the closet beside the fool’s—each with the marks of the loom upon it, neither altering the set of the shuttle in any fashion whatever. O ghost in the heartseeing grove tell me are there any coats at all that will fit the life of a man in this world?

As meaningful as love!
Peaceful as a breast. Alive above the terrible agony of men. No really I’d prefer not to. Have more of it, that is. Feeling, caring… My own bit of cottage. Why should I always return to where I haven’t been! Let you now—I am speaking to myself—come a little nearer to where I am. It may be true that that is a better place to be. Wonder, anyway, is nicer than any name.
I’m all sold on the Beautiful.
I hate with all my guts this bloody crawling cell they’ve turned the world into. I can’t get any of these damn coats to fit any part of my life.

Kenneth Patchen


  1. What an interesting form this poem takes! I've never seen anything like it. This man was a thinker and feeler. Incredible.

    Thanks for bringing him to us this month, John.

  2. we seem to always love of our poets more after they are dead and gone. i've really enjoyed the series, john, and look forward to new adventures on your blog.

  3. Hi Karen & Jen

    Karen: Patchen's sense of form is very organic, tho as far as I know he didn't theorize much about form or poetics. A thinker & feeler: yes!

    Jen: So glad you've liked the Patchen poems--his reputation is still pretty minor, but I'm glad to be able to spread the word on him a bit!

  4. I like the tranquil bits: "Quiet as a breast" and the forest under the darkening sky", but I like even more, "the snakes and lusts of angels", "the garments...each with the marks of the loom".
    The end has such a total desperation, for me, yet the metaphor is soft.

    Sorry to see his role in RBFB coming to an end, John. I will definitely watch for him on the thrift-store shelves I scour each week.

  5. Hi Kat: Don't worry--Patchen will be back! I believe you're really gonna like next month's featured poet.

  6. I'm sure I made this comment before below a previous Patchen post, but I can't find it so here goes again. At the age of 16 during a wander around second-hand bookshops in London's very English one-time Bohemian quarter Bloomsbury, I came across a couple of City Light edition Patchens - 'Poems of Humor and Protest' and 'Love Poems'. They remain amongst my favourite volumes and I return to them frequently. So thanks, John, for the very enjoyable Kenneth Patchen posts.

  7. Dick: You're welcome! I mostly ran across Patchen thru various used bookstore finds over the years, & he is certainly among my favorite writers.

  8. I like the way he puts himself right in the poem.Yes, Organic......."Flesh cottages".His has many windows.
    Nice One John.

  9. Hi Tony: Well said--glad you liked it!

  10. This one seems more prose-ish than Patchen's other poems, huh?

    I like it though.

    It almost reads like the ending of something...fitting for his last poem of the month.


    I really enjoyed your series on him, John! :)

    Wonderful job, spotlighting such a great writer.

  11. Hi Ginger: Patchen often mixed prose & poetry in a single piece of writing--one of the many things I like about his work. I also thought this one had the sort of "ending" tone appropriate to bringing the series to a close--but don't worry: there will be more Patchen poems here in the future!


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