James Schuyler, ‘Past is Past’Imagine this poem as a self-contained moment — like pretending time is still when you gaze at an old photo. “Salute” freezes you for several lines and then pushes you right out of the memory . You realize the past is gone. You cherish it and you move on.If you flip through the works of James Schuyler, you may get the sense that you are reading an artist’s diary. The lines jump around and the poems have different degrees of length and power. “Salute” is the first poem in an post-humously arranged anthology of the lifelong New Yorker’s work.
Much of Schuyler’s work is reflective. There are themes of life and death, the passage of time, and many times he mixes pastoral images with city settings. He writes candidly about pain, loss and dealing with mental illness.
This poem frequently pops into my mind, especially when I reminisce. I stop to smell the flowers and remind myself to move on with a literary “salute.” I think that James Schuyler (considered an original “New York School poet”) is highly underrated and not read enough. Luckily, I was introduced to his work in a college class dedicated to New York City’s poets.
If you have some time, he is worth a read (I have this anthology, with an intro by poet John Ashbery). If you have a lot more time, I’d suggest reading a bit about New York School poets and Schuyler’s life. It should only add layers of history and emotion to his words.
What did you think of “Salute”? What poem would you have featured? Your thoughts, suggestions and comments are welcome!
Photo taken in the late 19th century by Matthew Brady // via Wikimedia.
Come, said my Soul
Such verses for my Body let us write, (for we are one,)
That should I after death invisibly return,
Or, long, long hence, in other spheres,
There to some group of mates the chants resuming,(Tallying Earth’s soil, trees, winds, tumultuous waves,)
Ever with pleas’d smiles I may keep on,
Ever and ever yet the verses owning – as, first, I here and now,Singing for Soul and Body, set to them my name,
On May 31, 1819, Walt Whitman — the American poet, Civil War nurse, and eyes of New York City — was born. Whitman’s goal was to write an American epic, to unite people in one vision at a time when the country was fragmented. Still, his quirkiness shines through, even by today’s standards.
When he first published “Leaves of Grass” in 1855, Whitman made no attribution to his name, but he had a portrait of himself on the front. He is an “American” poet not just for his place of birth, but for the sense of democracy that his poems create. His poems embrace conversation — with his readers, with strangers, with himself. He uses apostrophe, a literary technique, to speak to his own soul at times. He uses a capital S, like in the poem above. There’s something about the confidence in his words, and his need to reach out and touch. I’ve loved Whitman in all of his strangeness for a long time, because his poems make you feel that we’re all strange and in it together.