17 March 2010

Robert Duncan

[from Robert Duncan's Selected Poems: Revised and Enlarged, ed. Robert J. Bertholf, New Directions, 1997]

The Song of the Borderguard

The man with his lion under the shed of wars
sheds his belief as if he shed tears.
The sound of words waits —
a barbarian host at the borderline of sense.

The enamord guards desert their posts
harkening to the lion-smell of a poem
that rings in their ears.

       — Dreams, a certain guard said —
            were never designd so
            to re-arrange an empire.

            Along about six o’clock I take out my guitar
            and sing to a lion
            who sleeps like a line of poetry
            in the shed of wars.

The man shedding his belief
knows that the lion is not asleep,
does not dream, is never asleep,
is a wide-awake poem
waiting like a lover for the disrobing of the guard;
the beautiful boundaries of the empire
naked, rapt round in the smell of a lion.

(The barbarians have passt over the significant phrase)

       — When I was asleep,
            a certain guard says,
       a man shed his clothes as if he shed tears
       and appeard as a lonely lion
       waiting for a song under the shed-roof of wars.

I sang the song that he waited to hear,
I, the Prize-Winner, the Poet-Acclaimed.

Dear, Dear, Dear, Dear, I sang,
believe, believe, believe, believe.
The shed of wars is splendid as the sky,
houses our waiting like a pure song
housing in its words the lion-smell
         of the beloved disrobed.

I sang: believe, believe, believe.

          I the guard because of my guitar
believe. I am the certain guard,
certain of the Beloved, certain of the Lion,
certain of the Empire. I with my guitar.
Dear, Dear, Dear, Dear, I sing.
I, the Prize-Winner, the Poet on Guard.

The borderlines of sense in the morning light
are naked as a line of poetry in a war.


  1. I like "the certain guard", the progressions in usage (shed, shed-roof), the nouns that are both visible/visual and not. A shimmering or blurring at the border...? Clarity and not. Nakedness or not?

  2. Yes, I like the blurring, too -- "lion/line" and the polysemy of "certain." I don't have an overall sense of the poem yet, still reading

  3. The lion leads one down the path. The full meaning of this poem has not revealed itself to me, but I love the immediacy; lioness of the approach.