Friday, September 2, 2011

Justice's Incident in a Rose Garden

Gardener Sir, I encountered Death
Just now among the roses.
Thin as a scythe he stood there.

I knew him by his pictures.
He had his black coat on,
Black gloves, and a broad black hat.

I think he would have spoken,
Seeing his mouth stood open.
Big it was, with white teeth.

As soon as he beckoned, I ran.
I ran until I found you.
Sir, I am quitting my job.
I want to see my sons
Once more before I die.
I want to see California.

Master Sir, You must be that stranger
Who threatened my gardener.
This is my property, sir.

I welcome only friends here
Death Sir, I knew your father
And we were friends at the end.

As for your gardener,
I did not threaten him.
Old men mistake my gestures.

I only meant to ask him
To show me to his master.
I take it you are he?

--Donald Justice [1925-2004]

This poem by Donald Justice is one of the classics of 20th Century verse. It's like a Medieval mystery play, a simple dramatic action intended to demonstrate a moral lesson. It's one of my favorites. The photo above is of the Berkeley Rose Garden, a public space sited in a small steep ravine in the Berkeley hills. The terraced amphitheater was completed in 1937, under the Works Progress Administration, based on a design suggested by Bernard Maybeck. It's a beautiful place any time of year, but best in the Spring when the roses are in full bloom.


1000 Names of Vishnu said...

Interesting and you can never have too much Death but I don't really understand the ....colloquial school, or whatever the official title is. Bly in that group as well. Just sound honest, conversational, and that's poesy?? Fie! Tennis with the net down, CF. One needn't spin out rhetorical bombast or , or the sing songy verse but there's more to it IMHE than sounding like a pleasant schoolteacher .

Curtis Faville said...

Justice's early work is more musically inclined--very traditional.

By mid-career he'd all but abandoned that approach, and usually wrote in straightforward "conversational" style. But be careful--he poems are very carefully constructed. He was a clever strategist. Every word was considered. He revised endlessly. There is often the "appearance" of naturalness where in fact it's the result of great artistic control.

1000 Names of Vishnu said...

Sir, I knew your father
And we were friends at the end.

Paraphrase of some klassic. Shakespeare?? I sort of respect it ah guess. Superior to the beatnik hallmark school, or Kirby O's kute crypto-klansmen school for that matter. Hicks hate Death.