Read Some Trees: Poems Online

Authors: John Ashbery

Some Trees: Poems

BOOK: Some Trees: Poems
7.48Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
Some Trees
John Ashbery

to my parents


Publisher’s Note

Two Scenes

Popular Songs


The Instruction Manual

The Grapevine

A Boy


The Hero


Album Leaf

The Picture of Little J. A. in a Prospect of Flowers


Grand Abacus

The Mythological Poet



The Orioles

The Young Son

The Thinnest Shadow




Some Trees

Hotel Dauphin

The Painter

And You Know


Meditations of a Parrot


A Long Novel

The Way They Took

The Pied Piper

Answering a Question in the Mountains

A Pastoral

Le livre est sur la table

About the Author

Publisher’s Note

Long before they were ever written down, poems were organized in lines. Since the invention of the printing press, readers have become increasingly conscious of looking at poems, rather than hearing them, but the function of the poetic line remains primarily sonic. Whether a poem is written in meter or in free verse, the lines introduce some kind of pattern into the ongoing syntax of the poem’s sentences; the lines make us experience those sentences differently. Reading a prose poem, we feel the strategic absence of line.

But precisely because we’ve become so used to looking at poems, the function of line can be hard to describe. As James Longenbach writes in
The Art of the Poetic Line
, “Line has no identity except in relation to other elements in the poem, especially the syntax of the poem’s sentences. It is not an abstract concept, and its qualities cannot be described generally or schematically. It cannot be associated reliably with the way we speak or breathe. Nor can its function be understood merely from its visual appearance on the page.” Printed books altered our relationship to poetry by allowing us to see the lines more readily. What new challenges do electronic reading devices pose?

In a printed book, the width of the page and the size of the type are fixed. Usually, because the page is wide enough and the type small enough, a line of poetry fits comfortably on the page: What you see is what you’re supposed to hear as a unit of sound. Sometimes, however, a long line may exceed the width of the page; the line continues, indented just below the beginning of the line. Readers of printed books have become accustomed to this convention, even if it may on some occasions seem ambiguous—particularly when some of the lines of a poem are already indented from the left-hand margin of the page.

But unlike a printed book, which is stable, an ebook is a shape-shifter. Electronic type may be reflowed across a galaxy of applications and interfaces, across a variety of screens, from phone to tablet to computer. And because the reader of an ebook is empowered to change the size of the type, a poem’s original lineation may seem to be altered in many different ways. As the size of the type increases, the likelihood of any given line running over increases.

Our typesetting standard for poetry is designed to register that when a line of poetry exceeds the width of the screen, the resulting run-over line should be indented, as it might be in a printed book. Take a look at John Ashbery’s “Disclaimer” as it appears in two different type sizes.

Each of these versions of the poem has the same number of lines: the number that Ashbery intended. But if you look at the second, third, and fifth lines of the second stanza in the right-hand version of “Disclaimer,” you’ll see the automatic indent; in the fifth line, for instance, the word
drops down and is indented. The automatic indent not only makes poems easier to read electronically; it also helps to retain the rhythmic shape of the line—the unit of sound—as the poet intended it. And to preserve the integrity of the line, words are never broken or hyphenated when the line must run over. Reading “Disclaimer” on the screen, you can be sure that the phrase “you pause before the little bridge, sigh, and turn ahead” is a complete line, while the phrase “you pause before the little bridge, sigh, and turn” is not.

Open Road has adopted an electronic typesetting standard for poetry that ensures the clearest possible marking of both line breaks and stanza breaks, while at the same time handling the built-in function for resizing and reflowing text that all ereading devices possess. The first step is the appropriate semantic markup of the text, in which the formal elements distinguishing a poem, including lines, stanzas, and degrees of indentation, are tagged. Next, a style sheet that reads these tags must be designed, so that the formal elements of the poems are always displayed consistently. For instance, the style sheet reads the tags marking lines that the author himself has indented; should that indented line exceed the character capacity of a screen, the run-over part of the line will be indented further, and all such runovers will look the same. This combination of appropriate coding choices and style sheets makes it easy to display poems with complex indentations, no matter if the lines are metered or free, end-stopped or enjambed.

Ultimately, there may be no way to account for every single variation in the way in which the lines of a poem are disposed visually on an electronic reading device, just as rare variations may challenge the conventions of the printed page, but with rigorous quality assessment and scrupulous proofreading, nearly every poem can be set electronically in accordance with its author’s intention. And in some regards, electronic typesetting increases our capacity to transcribe a poem accurately: In a printed book, there may be no way to distinguish a stanza break from a page break, but with an ereader, one has only to resize the text in question to discover if a break at the bottom of a page is intentional or accidental.

Our goal in bringing out poetry in fully reflowable digital editions is to honor the sanctity of line and stanza as meticulously as possible—to allow readers to feel assured that the way the lines appear on the screen is an accurate embodiment of the way the author wants the lines to sound. Ever since poems began to be written down, the manner in which they ought to be written down has seemed equivocal; ambiguities have always resulted. By taking advantage of the technologies available in our time, our goal is to deliver the most satisfying reading experience possible.

Two Scenes

We see us as we truly behave:

From every corner comes a distinctive offering.

The train comes bearing joy;

The sparks it strikes illuminate the table.

Destiny guides the water-pilot, and it is destiny.

For long we hadn’t heard so much news, such noise.

The day was warm and pleasant.

“We see you in your hair,

Air resting around the tips of mountains.”


A fine rain anoints the canal machinery.

This is perhaps a day of general honesty

Without example in the world’s history

Though the fumes are not of a singular authority

And indeed are dry as poverty.

Terrific units are on an old man

In the blue shadow of some paint cans

As laughing cadets say, “In the evening

Everything has a schedule, if you can find out what it is.”

Popular Songs

He continued to consult her for her beauty

(The host gone to a longing grave).

The story then resumed in day coaches

Both bravely eyed the finer dust on the blue. That summer

(“The worst ever”) she stayed in the car with the cur.

That was something between her legs.

Alton had been getting letters from his mother

About the payments—half the flood

Over and what about the net rest of the year?

Who cares? Anyway (you know how thirsty they were)

The extra worry began it—on the

Blue blue mountain—she never set foot

And then and there. Meanwhile the host

Mourned her quiet tenure. They all stayed chatting.

No one did much about eating.

The tears came and stopped, came and stopped, until

Becoming the guano-lightened summer night landscape,

All one glow, one mild laugh lasting ages.

Some precision, he fumed into his soup.

You laugh. There is no peace in the fountain.

The footmen smile and shift. The mountain

Rises nightly to disappointed stands

Dining in “The Gardens of the Moon.”

There is no way to prevent this

Or the expectation of disappointment.

All are aware, some carry a secret

Better, of hands emulating deeds

Of days untrustworthy. But these may decide.

The face extended its sorrowing light

Far out over them. And now silent as a group

The actors prepare their first decline.


Slowly all your secret is had

In the empty day. People and sticks go down to the water.

How can we be so silent? Only shivers

Are bred in this land of whistling goats.

Father, I have long dreamed your whitened

Face and sides to accost me in dull play.

If you in your bush indeed know her

Where shall my heart’s vagrant tides place her?

A wish is induced by a sudden change

In the wind’s decay. Shall we to the water’s edge,

O prince? The peons rant in a light fume.

Madness will gaze at its reflection.

What is this pain come near me?

Now I thought my heart would burst,

And there, spiked like some cadenza’s head,

A tiny crippled heart was born.

I tell you good will imitate this.

BOOK: Some Trees: Poems
7.48Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Hard Target by Barbara Phinney
No River Too Wide by Emilie Richards
The Granite Moth by Erica Wright
Bound to Night by Nina Croft
A Song At Twilight by Lilian Harry
Lizzie Borden by Elizabeth Engstrom
Cavanaugh's Bodyguard by Marie Ferrarella
True L̶o̶v̶e̶ Story by Aster, Willow