William Matthews was an extremely versatile American poet and translator (of Martial and Jean Follain, among others). Almost everything in his Selected Poems and Translations is quotable: he was one of those poets with a real gift for aphorism and memorable lines. (The complete text of his third book, Rising and Falling, is available on-line; check out in particular the closing piece, “Long.”)
But what I want to do here today is reproduce from the Selected Poems and Translations his selection of “One-liners” – possibly one of the most difficult poetic forms to master.
In the book, these are presented just two per page. I’ll leave a lot of white space around them, to try and preserve the effect.
by William Matthews
THE NEEDLE’S EYE, THE LENS
Here comes the blind thread to sew it shut.
But desire is a kind of leisure
Border with no country
HOW CAREFUL FIRE CAN BE
is not for fire to tell
To be warm, build an igloo
NO TRUE RHYME IN ENGLISH FOR “SILVER”
“Pilfer” is true enough for me
Insomnia, old tree, when will you shed me?
WHY I DIDN’T NOTICE IT
The moss on the milk is white
I’m sorry this poem’s already finished
Grief comes to eat without a mouth
The dead are dreaming of breathing
That’s the lot of them. Anyone care to try an imitation? I’m intrigued by the fact that
EVEN THOUGH IT IS ESSENTIAL
The title doesn’t count