I was just reading David Ferry’s new collection, “Bewilderment,” winner of this year’s National Book Award. He is a wonderful poet who has had much well-deserved recognition in his career. Now in his late 80s, he is writing heartbreaking and brave poems about mortality. No, with a nod to Elizabeth Bishop and her command to write it: he is writing about death. The deaths of friends, of his wife, of Eurydice and the warriors returning from Troy. And in the not-very-distant future, his own. Considered unflinchingly. The book is astounding.
I have felt stunned like this reading late poems by Galway Kinnell, Alicia Ostriker, Linda Pastan, and a few treasured others. What grabs me is the wisdom, the clear-eyed ability to just write it.--to write about our inevitable end, to mourn our lives during our lives, to be sad to miss what we will miss. This is the great subject, what Henry James called, “the distinguished thing.”
Reading this work feels like stepping into a sacred place where nothing need be left unsaid. There is sadness here, regret. But it feels as if these autumnal poems hold a hand out to all of us companions in finite time.