John Shade 61
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.
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.