this never wanting it to end
November 30, 2014 4:47 AM   Subscribe

Mark Strand, 1934-2014. (NY Times)

Coming to this
has its rewards: nothing is promised, nothing is taken away.
We have no heart or saving grace,
no place to go, no reason to remain.

Read more about Strand's life and work, and read some of his poems, at the Poetry Foundation.

The Paris Review has a nice remembrance up by Dan Piepenbring.

Strand interviewed by Wallace Shawn in The Paris Review in 1998.

Rachel Aron's nice piece on Strand's visual art in The New Yorker, from 2013.

The New Yorker also has a number of his poems available to read.

The post title is from Strand's "Provisional Eternity."
posted by spitbull (33 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 5:08 AM on November 30, 2014

posted by From Bklyn at 5:49 AM on November 30, 2014

posted by box at 6:23 AM on November 30, 2014

posted by lazycomputerkids at 6:32 AM on November 30, 2014

posted by localroger at 6:37 AM on November 30, 2014

posted by Mister Bijou at 6:39 AM on November 30, 2014

posted by mistersquid at 6:40 AM on November 30, 2014

Also there's this great quote from the 1998 interview with Wallace Shawn, in which Strand considers death:

“It’s inevitable. I feel myself inching towards it. So there it is in my poems. And sometimes people will think of me as a kind of gloomy guy. But I don’t think of myself as gloomy at all. I say ha ha to death all the time in my poems.”
posted by spitbull at 6:46 AM on November 30, 2014 [7 favorites]

posted by jim in austin at 6:57 AM on November 30, 2014

The Tunnel

A man has been standing
in front of my house
for days. I peek at him
from the living room
window and at night,
unable to sleep,
I shine my flashlight
down on the lawn.
He is always there.

After a while
I open the front door
just a crack and order
him out of my yard.
He narrows his eyes
and moans. I slam
the door and dash back
to the kitchen, then up
to the bedroom, then down.

I weep like a schoolgirl
and make obscene gestures
through the window. I
write large suicide notes
and place them so he
can read them easily.
I destroy the living
room furniture to prove
I own nothing of value.
When he seems unmoved
I decide to dig a tunnel
to a neighboring yard.
I seal the basement off
from the upstairs with
a brick wall. I dig hard
and in no time the tunnel
is done. Leaving my pick
and shovel below,

I come out in front of a house
and stand there too tired to
move or even speak, hoping
someone will help me.
I feel I’m being watched
and sometimes I hear
a man’s voice,
but nothing is done
and I have been waiting for days.

God speed Mr. Strand.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:18 AM on November 30, 2014 [6 favorites]


(about two weeks ago I've seen him at Barnard College in New York, reading from "Almost Invisible", and got the whole thing on video).
posted by lipsum at 7:29 AM on November 30, 2014 [7 favorites]

Canto XVI, from Dark Harbor

It is true, as someone has said, that in
A world without heaven all is farewell.
Whether you wave your hand or not,

It is farewell, and if no tears come to your eyes
It is still farewell, and if you pretend not to notice,
Hating what passes, it is still farewell.

Farewell no matter what. And the palms as they lean
Over the green, bright lagoon, and the pelicans
Diving, and the glistening bodies of bathers resting,

Are stages in an ultimate stillness, and the movement
Of sand, and of wind, and the secret moves of the body
Are part of the same, a simplicity that turns being

Into an occasion for mourning, or into an occasion
Worth celebrating, for what else does one do,
Feeling the weight of the pelicans' wings,

The density of the palms' shadows, the cells that darken
The backs of bathers? These are beyond the distortions
Of change, beyond the evasions of music. The end

Is enacted again and again. And we feel it
In the temptations of sleep, in the moon's ripening,
In the wine as it waits in the glass.
posted by drlith at 7:32 AM on November 30, 2014 [8 favorites]

Lines For Winter

Tell yourself
as it gets cold and gray falls from the air
that you will go on
walking, hearing
the same tune no matter where
you find yourself—
inside the dome of dark
or under the cracking white
of the moon's gaze in a valley of snow.
Tonight as it gets cold
tell yourself
what you know which is nothing
but the tune your bones play
as you keep going. And you will be able
for once to lie down under the small fire
of winter stars.
And if it happens that you cannot
go on or turn back
and you find yourself
where you will be at the end,
tell yourself
in that final flowing of cold through your limbs
that you love what you are.

Old Man Leaves Party

It was clear when I left the party
That though I was over eighty I still had
A beautiful body. The moon shone down as it will
On moments of deep introspection. The wind held its breath.
And look, somebody left a mirror leaning against a tree.
Making sure that I was alone, I took off my shirt.
The flowers of bear grass nodded their moonwashed heads.
I took off my pants and the magpies circled the redwoods.
Down in the valley the creaking river was flowing once more.
How strange that I should stand in the wilds alone with my body.
I know what you are thinking. I was like you once. But now
With so much before me, so many emerald trees, and
Weed-whitened fields, mountains and lakes, how could I not
Be only myself, this dream of flesh, from moment to moment?

posted by triggerfinger at 7:44 AM on November 30, 2014 [10 favorites]

posted by Cash4Lead at 7:47 AM on November 30, 2014

posted by Iridic at 7:55 AM on November 30, 2014

posted by allthinky at 8:28 AM on November 30, 2014

posted by Meatafoecure at 9:23 AM on November 30, 2014

Appreciate you posting this, spitbull; Mark Strand was one of my favorites and I would've missed this otherwise.

From the NYT obit:

Reading Mr. Strand, he said, “We learn what a big party solitude is.”

From The Paris Review:

When we read poems from the past we realize that human beings have always been the way we are. We have technological advancements undreamt of a couple thousand years ago, but the way people felt then is pretty much the way people feel now.

posted by hapax_legomenon at 9:34 AM on November 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

posted by yaymukund at 10:04 AM on November 30, 2014

posted by newdaddy at 10:28 AM on November 30, 2014

posted by gursky at 10:29 AM on November 30, 2014

One of my favorite poems in the world, not just my favorite poem by Mark Strand but one of my favorites by anyone ever, ever. I memorized this poem 30 years ago and summon it often when I need the kind of existential comfort it gives.

Keeping Things Whole

In a field
I am the absence
of field.
This is
always the case.
Wherever I am
I am what is missing.

When I walk
I part the air
and always
the air moves in
to fill the spaces
where my body’s been.

We all have reasons
for moving.
I move
to keep things whole.

I wish the field had not already moved in to fill the space of Mark Strand, but I'm so glad I have this poem occupying space in my psyche.
posted by third rail at 10:41 AM on November 30, 2014 [11 favorites]

I had the pleasure of hearing him read about ten years ago. I had him sign my copy of "Man and Camel" after the reading and he encouraged me to write and to keep writing.

Keeping things whole is also my favorite poem, third rail, and I came here to post it in its entirety as well. Thank you for doing that.

posted by sockermom at 12:15 PM on November 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

Even this late it happens:
the coming of love, the coming of light.
You wake and the candles are lit as if by themselves,
stars gather, dreams pour into your pillows,
sending up warm bouquets of air.
Even this late the bones of the body shine
and tomorrow’s dust flares into breath.


from both of us
posted by faineant at 2:37 PM on November 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

I can no longer say he is my favorite living poet. I really loved his work.

Heard him read at Yale once. It woke me up.

Here are some of my favorites:

The End

Not every man knows what he shall sing at the end,
Watching the pier as the ship sails away, or what it will seem like
When he’s held by the sea’s roar, motionless, there at the end,
Or what he shall hope for once it is clear that he’ll never go back.

When the time has passed to prune the rose or caress the cat,
When the sunset torching the lawn and the full moon icing it down
No longer appear, not every man knows what he’ll discover instead.
When the weight of the past leans against nothing, and the sky

Is no more than remembered light, and the stories of cirrus
And cumulus come to a close, and all the birds are suspended in flight,
Not every man knows what is waiting for him, or what he shall sing
When the ship he is on slips into darkness, there at the end.

"The End”, 1990 by Mark Strand from The Continuous Life by Mark Strand. Alfred A. Knopf, a Division of Random House, Inc.

When the Vacation Is Over for Good

It will be strange
Knowing at last it couldn't go on forever,
The certain voice telling us over and over
That nothing would change,

And remembering too,
Because by then it will all be done with, the way
Things were, and how we had wasted time as though
There was nothing to do,

When, in a flash
The weather turned, and the lofty air became
Unbearably heavy, the wind strikingly dumb
And our cities like ash,

And knowing also,
What we never suspected, that it was something like summer
At its most august except that the nights were warmer
And the clouds seemed to glow,

And even then,
Because we will not have changed much, wondering what
Will become of things, and who will be left to do it
All over again,

And somehow trying,
But still unable, to know just what it was
That went so completely wrong, or why it is
We are dying.

"When the Vacation is Over for Good" by Mark Strand, from New and Selected Poems. Alfred A. Knopf, 2009.

The Continuous Life

What of the neighborhood homes awash
In a silver light, of children hunched in the bushes,
Watching the grown-ups for signs of surrender,
Signs that the irregular pleasures of moving
From day to day, of being adrift on the swell of duty,
Have run their course? O parents, confess
To your little ones the night is a long way off
And your taste for the mundane grows; tell them
Your worship of household chores has barely begun;
Describe the beauty of shovels and rakes, brooms and mops;
Say there will always be cooking and cleaning to do,
That one thing leads to another, which leads to another;
Explain that you live between two great darks, the first
With an ending, the second without one, that the luckiest
Thing is having been born, that you live in a blur
Of hours and days, months and years, and believe
It has meaning, despite the occasional fear
You are slipping away with nothing completed, nothing
To prove you existed. Tell the children to come inside,
That your search goes on for something you lost—a name,
A family album that fell from its own small matter
Into another, a piece of the dark that might have been yours,
You don't really know. Say that each of you tries
To keep busy, learning to lean down close and hear
The careless breathing of earth and feel its available
Languor come over you, wave after wave, sending
Small tremors of love through your brief,
Undeniable selves, into your days, and beyond.

"The Continuous Life" by Mark Strand from New Selected Poems. Alfred A. Knopf, 2007.
posted by onlyconnect at 4:48 PM on November 30, 2014 [5 favorites]


I just wandered into City Lights Bookstore yesterday, flipped through New Selected Poems, liked what I saw, and bought it on a whim. Now it's on the top of my reading list. Farewell.
posted by So You're Saying These Are Pants? at 5:17 PM on November 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

posted by Fizz at 5:41 PM on November 30, 2014

posted by humanfont at 6:02 PM on November 30, 2014

posted by Beardman at 6:29 PM on November 30, 2014

posted by chance at 5:49 AM on December 1, 2014

Oh, this is sad news. Mark Strand is the author of my most favourite poem, a poem I'd love to read to my dad except it would destroy him. This is my reading of it.
posted by h00py at 7:06 AM on December 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

Thank you for that video, lipsum! How funny he still was, even at 80, even while reading so many poems about death approaching. That weird dichotomy is itself what I think of when I read his poetry, really: sort of surrealist meditations on mortality and the human condition that are at once viscerally sad and laugh out loud funny.

I am really sad about his passing today, which is weird because I've been preparing myself for this to happen over the last decade -- marking the years, calculating his age, watching time weather the face in his book jackets and in pics from random interviews -- just as HE has been preparing us for this for the last forty years by writing poems about death. It is strange to look at the poems of his that people put on this page and so many of them are meaningful to THIS PRECISE MOMENT of his passing. His whole opus is about our long march alone toward ineffable nothingness, so what do we say now he's gone? Say what he said, who will be left to do it all over again?

More links: The New Yorker: Mark Strand's Last Waltz
Huffington Post obit
USA Today's rememberance
SFGate's obit

A few moments from lipsum's video:

(starting to read a new poem) "'In the Afterlife." I don't believe in the afterlife. We'll see. (laughter) Maybe death will make a believer out of me."

(after reading his poems for a quarter of an hour and checking his watch): "Well, I'm going to, you know, shorten this a bit. Some of these don't have to be read. (laughter) A few are self-indulgent. Maybe I should do what Robert Bly used to do. Little six line poems. He'd say, 'I'll read it again, (laughter) just so you get it.' (laughter) And after three hours, people were jumping out of the windows!" (laughter)

A few other poems of his I have loved:
Eating Poetry
Elegy for My Father (scroll down)

So many beautiful poems. Goodbye.
posted by onlyconnect at 12:19 PM on December 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

"If a man fears death,
he shall be saved by his poems."


posted by clavdivs at 10:31 PM on December 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

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