John Shade 61

Canto Two

 

There was a time in my demented youth

When somehow I suspected the truth

About survival after death was known

To every human being: I alone                                                170

Knew nothing, and a great conspiracy

Of books and people hid the truth from me.

 

There was the day when I began to doubt

Man’s sanity: How could he live without

Knowing for sure what dawn, what death, what doom

Awaited consciousness beyond the tomb?

And finally there was the sleepless night

When I decided to explore and fight

The foul, the inadmissible abyss

Devoting all my twisted life to this                                       180

One task. Today I’m sixty-one. Waxwings

Are berry-picking. A cicada sings.

 

Commentary

 

Line 167: There was a time, etc.

The poet began Canto Two (on his fourteenth card) on July 5, his sixtieth birthday (see note to line 181, ‘today’). My slip – change to sixty-first.

 

Line 181: Today

Namely, July 5th, 1959, 6th Saturday after Trinity. Shade began writing Canto Two ‘early in the morning’ (thus noted at the top of Card 14). He continued (down to line 208) on and off throughout the day. Most of the evening and a part of the night were devoted to what his favourite eighteenth-century writers have termed ‘the Bustle and Vanity of the World.’ After the last guest had gone (on a bicycle), and the ashtrays had been emptied, all the windows were dark for a couple of hours; but then, at about 3 a.m., I saw from my upstairs bathroom that the poet had gone back to his desk in the lilac light of his den, and this nocturnal session brought the canto to line 230 (card 18). On another trip to the bathroom an hour and half later, at sunrise, I found the light transferred to the bedroom, and smiled indulgently, for, according to my deductions, only two nights had passed since the three-thousand-nine-hundred-ninety-ninth time – but no matter. A few minutes later all was solid darkness again, and I went back to bed.