The HyperTexts

Richard Moore

Richard Thomas Moore was an American poet, performer, novelist, essayist, teacher, philosopher, mathematician and scholar. One of the foremost American writers of his era, he died on November 8, 2009. Richard was one of the first "name" poets to be published by The HyperTexts, and he was and will always remain one of our most important contributors. We will miss him greatly and always remember him for his considerable accomplishments, especially in the light of the obstacles he had to overcome in order to become a man of letters: dyslexia, a very difficult childhood, being a thinking man in an irrational world, and knees so bad he had trouble assuming the lotus position (and yet he could still stand on his head in his eighties!). There is a more extensive bio and a collection of his epigrams and philosophical musings at the bottom of this page.

 
Pictures by Simon Rogozin




A Yogi Sees The Light


That lady has learned Hebrew, gung-
ho to greet God in His own tongue.
And I? I'm one whom God will notice
because I'm sitting in the lotus.
Silly! A God who deems it fitting
to see me won't care how I'm sitting.

Published in Light Quarterly


Picture by Simon Rogozin


Morning Yoga

1.
The laws of night slowly repealing,
relaxed deeply, you get the feeling
you're floating quite close to the ceiling.

Mix it all day with other noting,
the memory of that sweet floating.

2.
Hard fact, vague feeling, where's the key?
Change thought: no fact remains to see.
The feeling's the reality.

That thought sustains you as you grope
into the day's kaleidoscope.

Published in Cumberland Poetry Review

To continue reading Richard's poetry, please remain on this page. To learn more about him in his own words, and through the words of his peers, please visit our Richard Moore Memorial page. You can also find links to his epic poem "The Mouse Whole" and to a number of his essays on this page, and there is more biographical information at the bottom of this page.

The Freeze

The deep cold comes, and even the great
pond is frozen, dusted with snow,
luminous under Venus, the moon,  
suburban lights on the dark hills.

The cold wind has blown over and over
it, and now it is still, my mind,   
frozen, determined, and still the wind
shrieks. Let there be no end of it.

Published in Neovictorian/Cochlea

from Word from the Hills
a sonnet sequence in four movements

11
You were so solid, father, cold and raw
as these north winters, where your angry will
first hardened, as the earth when the long chill
deepensas is this country's cruel law
yet under trackless snow, without a flaw
covering meadow, road, and stubbled hill,
the springs and muffled streams were running still,
dark until spring came, and the awful thaw.
In your decay a gentleness appears
I hadn't guessedwhen, gray as rotting snow,
propped in your chair, your face will run with tears,
trying to speak, and your hand, stiff and slow,
will touch my childwho, sensing the cold years
in your eyes, cries until you let her go.

Published in Sparrow

Autumn Chore

Would that I could inside, tucked in, doze:
not wrestle old, rotting storm windows.
Well, it's appropriate, it's true.
The old wrestler's rotting too.
I can see, through them, death draw near.
This job measures me every year.

Published in Chronicles

Survivors

    When all the other trees are bare,
Why do those last few oak leaves cling up there
        under the cold blue sky?
        Don't they know when to die?

    And to think: after the long freeze,
when warmth revives and fills these empty trees
        with the green stuff of spring,
        they'll still be lingering,

    brown, withered, and grotesquely curled,
with their dry whispers from another world.
        Leaves, cling where you grew!
        Maybe I'll hang on too.

Published in Ploughshares

Depths
 
Once more home is a strange place: by the ocean a
big house now, and the small houses are memories,
   once live images, vacant
        thoughts here, sinking and vanishing.

Rough sea now on the shore thundering brokenly
draws back stones with a roar out into quiet and
    far depths, darkly to lie there
         years, yearsthere not a sound from them.

New waves out of the night's mist and obscurity
lunge up high on the beach, spending their energy,
    each wave angrily dying,
        all shapes endlessly altering,

yet out there in the depths nothing is modified.
Earthquakes won't even moveno, nor the hurricane
    one stone there, nor a glance of
         sun's light stir its identity.

Published in Romantics Quarterly

Richard Moore's comments to THT's editor: "Your kind words about
my poem, 'Depths,' by the way, made me wonder if you knew that it
is in a precise metrical scheme from antiquity. Taking w to mean a
stressed (ancient long) and v an unstressed (ancient short) syllable,
the pattern is:

w w w v v w w v v w v v
w w w v v w w v v w v v
w w w v v w v
w w w v v w v v

The Veil

How's one to see
rightly that tree,
that flat illusion
and deep confusion
of branch, twig, splinter
stripped bare for winter,
standing black, bold
in winter's cold
and gray sky's gloom
outside my room?
Thinking I'll prove
it real, I move
my head south, north,
to bring it forth
and so, reveal
its depth, its feel.
Men rearrange
their thoughts thus. Strange
how intricately
it moves . . . like me
me more than any
beneath the Many
it is the One,
the skeleton
its trunk, its stark
and mottled bark
raccoons and wind
have ripped and skinned
and left to die . . .
But it's not I
who can define
its shape, or mine.

After this frost
all will be lost
in a strange scene
of savage green
when it receives
its destined leaves
that charm the eyes
as the ears lies
that poets tell.
All will be well:
for we shall see
in greenery
in sun, in gale
its face, its veil,
drape upon drape;
its truest shape.

Published in Hellas

The Playground

Over the playground where
ancient and wizened trees
touch odors to the air
to draw the latest bees,

children swarm on the lawn,
muss the grass with their toes. . .
What can they touch of dawn
what sweetnessas it goes?

Dew, that will turn to tears
and trickle through their sleep
and through their future years,

till they, they too, are old
and in their wisdom weep
a honey dark and cold.

Published in Poetry

Man, Boy, Birds

Blackbirds caw, big against gray sky.
A boy stands in a house nearby.
In a tree's spine one of them digs
with its hooked beak at the dead twigs

and seems to pick at the year's dregs.
One glides, and lets down spidery legs,
a jagged darkness on cold sky.
He at his window sees them fly.

He must. Young boy, he stares and dreams.
A blackbird puffs its breast and screams.
No, he can't hearcan't hear, as I,
the silence in that black bird's cry.

Published in The Formalist

In The Dark Season

I

I fall out of the foliage of my feelings.
That is the beginning, the ending,
when the orange peels appear
from the shrinking lips of the snow
and broken bottles, still clinging to their labels,
in the gutter outside the church.
A silk stocking coils in the mud.
In the dark season, someone has sown
the seed of confusion. The church will graze
on the flowers, the fruits of love,
the soft nutritious pulp of remorse.
Do these events signify
summertime in another hemisphere?
One studied a new language in the darkness,
looked far down into the well,
into the hints of sunlight in its depths.

II

We are dead such a long time before
and will be dead such a long time after
this leaping into light
as a dolphin leaps from the sea
and carries the glare of that moment
back among the curious creatures
who have not known the light.
Don't tell me this is like Plato's cave;
I know that. But in death, our element,
who swims with us? Do we even?
If God is light...No, but there may be,
as the poet says, a soft monster 
deeply sleeping among his thousand 
arms under millennia
unnumbered, and enormous polypi.
I think we have been frightened into life
as fish leap from greater fish below.
We cry angrily in our cradles,
then overcome, grow tranquil through the years,
hopefully, ready ever for the depths
ever ready for us.

III

Yes, but of course, there is the need
for symmetry. Matter calls out
for antimatter, which forthwith
sings in the shadows. Thus, tonight
streetlight fingers new foliage
with breezes making light of it,
where unseen trunk divides itself
into a multitude of tips
above ground and below, as in
a mirror, strangers to each other,
two lives, depending on each other,
therefore the same life: in dark depth
and moisture one, in dry sunlight
the other: God and Satan, one,
female and male in each one, one.
Dolphins from darkness visit light.
Who from her glitter visits us?
These, lost inside you: look outside
in the not-you: you find them there.

Tornado

There is an emptiness that drives
us through our lives
like the black funnel that came down,
tore through the town,
and put a value on our gambles,
left them a shambles.
O Lord, must we not let them sound us.
whirling around us?
The day my Tanta Minna died
she put aside
her coffee cup, in her heart holding
springtime unfolding,
forgot what everything was for,
and was no more.

Catullus, V

(in the meter of the original)

Live, live, Lesbia, O, and take our loving.
Talk, tales, cackles of our severer fogies,
all their "values" let's value at a penny.
Old suns setting and rising when they're able . . .
round us, once it has set, our brief, our own light,
night comes always together then for sleeping.
Give me kisses. A thousand. Then a hundred.
One more thousand. And then a second hundred.
Cram time full with the thousands we'll be making,
all mixed up, so that we won't know how many
not some evil-eyed dotard curse us, counting
just how many we've got stashed up in kisses.

Published in The Epigrammatist

Canzone for a Tower


The valley buildings there, jammed in a dense
        and unmoved audience,
beady with windows, may observe at will
—now nearly empty for the break at noon—
this full apartment project on the hill,
        where toddlers, out of tune,
scream for their Cinderellas and Jack Horners
just out of sight around the great brick corners
of their childhood—or watch the older ones
        with harmless toy burp-guns,
        fathoming how to feel.
Deaths are imagined; bodies crumpling, real.

Sunlit below the hill, it looks so pretty,
        that tidy dollhouse city,
with no bad smells here and no broken edges;
and there, almost man-sized, straight as a vector
among the lifelike, childlike buildings, wedges
        their omnipotent protector,
the insurance company's tower, said to house and
busy in bright long rooms more than a thousand
employees, calculating every risk—
        a stunted obelisk
        that, rising joint by joint,
like fabled Babel, never achieved its point.
 
Great base begins, ascends, only to stop.
        A gray roof sits on top.
A corrugated pyramid that pinches
inward, like foldings of an old box camera,
it only seems to add a few more inches.
        Then, maybe to enamor a
poet who'd say, "Adequately endowed,
it might have poked up through the highest cloud,"
that roof, summoning one last gram of power,
        sprouts up a tinier tower,
        apparently intended
to show us how the real one would have ended.

How high, had it not been thus telescoped,
        might the great tower have groped
out of financial soil, that seemed so fertile?
That shrunk pinnacle gives a sense of distance;
but the whole thing looks drawn in, like a turtle,
        out of some scary existence.
Those camera-folds—do they stretch? Stretching taut,
what if, right now, it darted upward and caught
a sputnik? Science tells us there's a chance
        a stone building might dance,
        fly from its weight, defect
from its form, shriek some dreadful dialect.

Song, no; we’ll find in grand structures like this
        no metamorphosis.
        They lack an inner pulse,
these high-minded creations of adults.
The stunted angel’s rich, but has no wings;
        and under urban soot
        it stays sensibly put;
there's no danger—except from a few, odd,
out-of-the-way, uninsurable things,
        like, say, the Wrath of God.

The Conquest

A curious place you found finally to please our senses
after the Continent had witnessed your defenses,

to lead me up that hill where daws and eagles roost
above that town where holy pageants are produced,

as if you'd show me all the kingdoms of the world.
The sun licked over swells of skyline; darkness curled

its long exploring shadows through the waiting hills.
Winds blew, and I lay helpless in the evening's chills.

You were untouched....What could I do there, face-to-face
with countries watching me, and sky, and wordless space

as empty as this solitude in which I live?
Your silence said, "If they are you, what can you give

of them? Those shadow kingdoms in you? Watch them pass!
Can all that space find one white body in the grass?"

Then over a carved table later on that night,
I looked into your face, subdued, saddened, and white,

and was uncomfortable, and became almost cross,
stiff, like a mourner, mourning primly his great loss.

Poem about Vietnam that Didn't Suit Anybody at the Time

The very skies grow soiled and clammy.
Autumn has come to 1967.
Thunderous Yellowbirds climb south to Miami,
the shrill vacuum cleaners of Heaven.

The ducks rise up in careless ranks
and disappear into the Great Beyond;
I stand where shrinking water bares its banks
and skip flat stones across the pond.

Lyndon is in his great white mansion;
peace-loving students storm the Pentagon.
I stay right here, coiled up inside my scansion,
while all these dreadful things go on.

Lyndon, no matter how adept,
no matter how proficient the machine,
the floor of Heaven still remains unswept,
there are some things we cannot clean.

There is a destiny that fails.
Asia has felt the heal of our empire,
clung to the heel, sucked out the shiny nails
(such is the virtue of a mire),

and now the boot is falling off;
I think the white and naked toes grow fungal;
I do not think our minds will ever doff
what they put on in Asia's jungle.

I hear a mother's anxious tears
who supplicates her decorated hero
to throw away that nasty bag of ears
that she found, cleaning out his bureau.

The dandelions that rule my lawn
are difficult to search out and destroy;
their buried roots remain, and when I'm gone
new seedlings secretly deploy.

Good weed killer, dumped on en masse,
Lyndon, I hope will work with greater ease—
distinguishing intruders from true grass—
on dandelions than Vietnamese.

Though rioters shall feel the rod
and half the banks in Texas feed you profit,
though you have Sunday-breakfasted with God
and Billy Graham, His hired prophet,

Lyndon, things haven't gone so well
for you, for me, and for this hectic Nation.
You've worked too hard. Why not go home now, sell
the ranch, the banks, the TV station,

and join me here beside the pond,
pitching these skipping stones? Catastrophe
will come, need not be wrested, begged, nor conned.
It needs no help from you or me.

Forget the poor and how they house;
forget the protocol, the Paris gowns;
watch how the clever stone skips, skips, then plows
so gracefully before it drowns.

53


Gee-gees
were horses, ta-ta her first word
for her dark faeces, when through hay and heather
toddling, we stopped to see, as dry as leather,
a heap of lumps, a hummock of horse turd;
and, Da? she questioned, who had only heard
meaningless names till then—when like a feather
a thought struck and I put her words together,
not once daring to hope for what occurred:
she stood there, silent, puzzled, open-eyed,
as if I'd handed her some shiny token,
then, Gee-gee ta-ta...gee-gee ta-ta! cried,
as if a shell surrounding her had broken,
and shouted still, till all the hills replied—
till the dark hills surrounding us had spoken.

Wine

Patience! Her disposition may get sweeter
after her daily liter.
She grows talkative, gay, loses her cares
and footing on the stairs.
I watch, hoping she'll fall and bust her kisser,
forgetting how I'd miss her.

The Old Men
 
O Lord, teach us, us mad old men, to pray.
Eyes blinking in the sun's deceiving glow,
we are disgruntled with the light of day.

We sit unseeing where the children play.
We stand unfeeling when the breezes blow.
O Lord, teach us, us mad old men, to pray

that we may hear, as always, far away
singing of birds, sounds that we used to know . . .
We are disgruntled with the light of day

and angry with the objects that betray
impatient fingers, grasping, stiff and slow.
O Lord, teach us, us mad old men, to pray

gently, to taste our dinner and be gay,
delighting in the touch of things although
we are disgruntled with the light of day.

Slowly all colors, as our hairs, go gray.
Is this the only world, decaying so?
O Lord, teach us, us mad old men, to pray.
We are disgruntled with the light of day.

Published in The Lyric
 
Hymn to an Automatic Washer

      O wise God of our fathers,
we love You, yet...one question bothers:
      has no one ever quashed
reports that Jesus seldom washed?
      And who can think a greasy
and soiled St. Francis of Assisi
      could cleanly love The Lord?
Shall we imagine he ignored
      those lice between his toes
when he blessed each creature that grows
      each creature, born or hatched?
Shall we suppose he never scratched
      though vexed with itching poxes?
Who can resolve such paradoxes?

     You can, God of our daughters!
swirler of heated soapy waters,
     immaculate machine,
where DUZ does everything so clean.
     Cleanse us, if we have sinned,
spin-dry us, lest we flap in wind,
     exposed to harmful germs.
As every snowy shirt affirms
     with underdrawers in chorus,
a new white Idol stands before us,
     rolling its sudsy eye.
America, thy sons reply,
     Down with the old gods! Beat
them into scrap, they're obsolete.

     Warranted washer, prim
in thy enamel and chrome trim,
     we celebrate thy birth.
Whirl on! Protect us from the earth!
     Lead forth this Land's creations
and sterilize the unwashed nations;
     O thou, our helm and shield,
launder those lilies of the field!

Published in Harper's Magazine

Signals

In the small hours of the morning
the cars leave the intersection in peace
mostly, and you can hear the lone
buzzing of two traffic lights which give
their red and green directions to

no oneonly sometimes a late
car that in passing drowns them out.
Yet it heeds them. I watch too, feel
sympathy for their quiet, undisturbed
uselessness, their solitary, secret song:

their arcane hum, hinting deep inner
functioning. Quiet! Signals at work,
setting the night in order, blinking.
Do we pay them to stand there hour after hour?
With what? Our brains, intelligence?

We changed ourselves to have them there . . . .
And who paid the sentry in his box
to keep stolidly, mechanically his place
when the sky over Pompeii fell?
Or was he just hooked up, as these

or as I, hooked to these images?
Brave standards! Noble throbbing posts!
When the day comes and the whole sky falls,
stand, stand, transform the tragic scene:
change all greens to red, all reds to green.

Published in Poetry

Oswald Spengler

He said that mathematics was an art
      and won my heart;
that cultures die; the sign of death, a Caesar
      O, what a teaser!

and once they're dead, stay dead. No one's at home
      in Ancient Rome,
that took grand Greece with it. And how divine a
      pattern for China?

Nothing in China for TWO THOUSAND years,
      decadent dears...
O yes, Tang art, then Buddhism...but then
      Tao becomes Zen,

and nothing really changes, nothing's new....
      Nothing is true
everywhere all the time; everything grows,
      rooted, for those

who see deeper than logic, learn to hate your
      dead laws of nature.
Hey, was it Spengler speaking there, or me?
      Easy to see...

I had to have thought-countries rich and strange
      where I could range,
as once, among wild thoughts of our black maid,
      I skipped and played,

and hoped someday to live down the disgrace
      of my dead race,
as if I'd grasped the strangeness of my portion,
      I, failed abortion.

Mother felt guilty. Drugs she took, the dear,
      had made me queer.
But no, they gave me Spengler, made me blest
      in our dead West.

A Farewell to Dentistry

I keep my spiritual purity,
living on social security
and a stupid little pension
      unworthy of mention.

I'm glad I'm not a winner,
stay home and eat my dinner.
"Damn restaurants!" I shout
      through teeth falling out,

safe from those mangy curs,
those greedy plunderers,
dentists well trained to trounce
      our savings accounts,

who stuff our mouths with gauze
and crowd our aching jaws
with shipment after shipment
       of clumsy equipment,

with implants, dentures, braces....
Your food's flavor erases;
you feel your juices stall,
       taste nothing at all.

O offspring of some tart,
this growing old's an art;
so make dinner yourself
      from cans on your shelf

or packets in your freezer,
and smile content, old geezer,
as toothlessly you savor
      each glorious flavor.

Aromas! Waft aloft
from tastes tender and soft,
not too hot, not too icy,
      and wonderfully spicy.

Dentistry's like the world,
populous, fancy-girled.
Constantly it's attacking.
      Laugh, sending it packing!

Into the Light

Lights, all colors, dance in the trees'
dense nakedness. Christmas! But here
shadows are branching, tangled in failing
light, and all color has left the land,

been squeezed out, as from a sponge,
and left the land a thing of ashes.
And the great sponge has squeezed all
its soaked up fire and color into

that shopping center, where sex-tools, soul-helps,
screwdrivers and philosophies
are for sale. Go, children, wander there

through store after store, glittering.
My bright ones, did I send you?
There's darkness here. It's visible.

The Naked Scarecrow

Come, words; come, bring
me solace; scarecrow, you too, aid!
Out of old wood and rags I made
and dressed the thing.

They on the wing
observed it, gaudily arrayed,
motionless, save where it flapped, frayed . . .
I heard him sing:

"O wind, keep up that tearing, probing.
Soon now: definitive disrobing.
No more frills, tricks.

Those crows will note me, thus produced,
circle and caw, and come to roost
at last on sticks."

In Polite Conversation

Scarce worth your mocks,
my books in flocks
from the boondocks

all make no stir.
In New York, sir,
your publisher.

Within, you bet
I seethe and fret.
I do; and yet

I smile, I tease.
You feel unease,
proud prince of sleaze,

your each book, worse,
a brand new hearse,
for your dead verse,

down! bend the knee!
Futurity
belongs to me.
 
To a Friend Who Thinks We Should Meet

We have the texts we've sown,
envelopes, telephone.
Would I be good to sup with?
Why add things to put up with?

The Friend Replies

It's Christmas in these parts.
The living breath warms hearts.
According to each crèche,
The Word shall be made flesh.

Dumb as Isle

(Submitted to the Town of Belmont, Massachusetts, in Application for an Abatement of Real Estate Taxes)

This is no house to feel groovy in.
Its plumbing is antediluvian.
No haven for love or lubricity,
primitive its electricity
(cleverest of its creations,
unimproved now for three generations),
my poor house, it limps on is grim knees.
There are bricks on the loose in its chimneys.
When winter cold sets in in earnest,
heat fails: it's improperly furnaced.

How did it become such a bummer,
this Victorian refuge in summer
whose life is long gone, unlamented,
air conditioners not yet invented?
Why don't I wise up and sell it,
let other fools touch it and smell it?
Will this shambles and I ever part?
No, no, for with all of my heart
I love it. It's just like a wife.
I'm stuck with the slattern for life.

The Window
 
Cloud in a dark thick roof spreads overhead,
over suburban valley depths below,
from every closed horizon but the last,
the west; there, let in from the upper sky,
a turquoise emptiness. Here underneath,
roofed in, a landscape caught: headlights in chains
have bound down the dark body of the earth;
low aircraft people space with creeping sparks;
radio tower aerials are blinking.
Of the dim roar only the loudest horns
rise thinly to the hill. Still, lights come on:
how close, how dense, they now seem to become.
All of us here pressed slowly down, congealed. . .
yet there's that band of light across the sky,
the west, windowing turquoise space beyond—
and suddenly I see it's a vast windshield
quietly pushing through the world out there;
and all the little lights are instruments,
flickering on the dark panel of earth,
that no one can decipher. Yet I'm going—
no, not just I, but we, all of us, one—
into that out there, somewhere. Where? O where?
 
                          Terra Firma
 
                 Broader based than a city block,
more high than an old mansion and more worn,
                                    this rock
            thrusts out of New England, a gray
                             giant, half born
                 to sunlight and clear day.
                 An icecap smothered it
                 for eons. Here I sit.
 
           Over its bulk of many-stoned
amalgam, which the glacier’s brutal kiss
                                   has honed
to pink faces, flat, upturned, dumb—
                           over all this
                 an ant creeps with a crumb.
                 Dark scratches back and forth,
                 compasslike, still point north.
 
        Some maples lift their leaves nearby,
skeletons decked in spring-green fineries—
                                   lift high
their tips of life, now warmed and new,
                           to the chill breeze
                  and the sky’s ancient blue—
                  the sky there, so much older
                  than even this huge boulder—
 
 
       but now how mild we find it grown.
Who can imagine the long glacier’s creep?
                                   Great stone,
    when mountainous dark ice and snow
                  fasten you deep once more, no one will know
                  how hard the slow North’s grip
                  grinds over your great lip.
 
                                                                   from A Question of Survival
 
The Stream
 
Deftly the water spills
down through the deep-cleft hills
and in its smooth release
moves, yet is at peace.

Image of calm desire,
I'll try not to admire
perversity that calls
men to the roaring falls,

where earth seems to give way
and the stream speeds in spray,
broken, and below knocks
its heart out on the rocks.

Published in Romantics Quarterly

Back Then

In times before my species grew demented,
     before the first wheel was invented
     or great machines with mammoth force
          remodeled the golf course;

before the artificial pond's far shore
    glittered with lightsO long before
    each evening glowed like Babylon
        as soon as they came on

I wandered here beside the living water
   and thought about a child, my daughter,
   and rocks that are the water's mold,
        that sit here, hard and cold.

Back then I knew each generation joins
     mystery, sleeping in its loins,
     as rocks join water at the shore,
         and the rocks move no more.

Published in The Denver Quarterly

The Tennis Ball


One day, ten years ago, vexed with the world,
I cut a tennis ball in half, shaped, peeled,
and cut the cups, until they snugly fit
my darkened eyes and let no seam of light in,
tied with elastic tape one wife ago;
and then I plugged my ears, sat still, and waited.
I often slept; often unwritten poems,
new landladies, seduction, or divorce
came snapping through the darkened silences;
yet, there were times when I came somewhere else,
seeming to float in the pure nothingness
convention calls myself. There I have seen,
like witches' sabbaths in the stormy moonlight,
curious wars, the shapes of nightmare, tongues,
luminous caverns darkly opening,
violent gory colors in the depths,
yet all subscribing to a playfulness,
a sense of childlike, long-lost fantasy.
Often my body's strongest hungers, drawn
into the reservoir, were softly drowned,
while I presided at the silent birth
of galaxieswhole eons, as it seemed,
wound on the pinpoint of a moment, sinking
mere nothingsand the thought: this, then, is bliss.
When I came back, full of my emptiness,
things were a vivid presence once again,
not separate, but a part of me, as always.

Published in Poetry             

Pygmies

I.

Praised be The Lord who, along with my bad teeth, blessed me with patience,
   and, when the patience was gone,
                                                               knotted my heart with despair:
fear of it stirs me to dream up these eerie magnificent verses,
   that, without readers, will cause
                                                            deeper despair than they cure,
which will, in turn, urge out more verses, until I'm a tombstone.
   Such is the fever that still
                                                burns for the poison and drinks.
Is it not thus that my perverse lusts and desires would have it?
   Is it not suitable thus? 
                                          Sadness that darkens my heart,
think of the vacant and trivial eyes of the spirits in Heaven,
   joyously singing to God
                                              Johann Sebastian Bach
all week longand on days off, Mozart, purely for pleasure.
   Angels have need of our song. 
                                                         What could they think up themselves,
steeped in desireless bliss and the unpained loves of the Blesse'd?
   Bone-deep suffering here
                                                deepens our frivolous hearts
when they survive it; and then, when they don't one day, it is over,
    Heavenly music and God,
                                                  all our absurdities, gone
out of our cold heads, as from its tomb the cadaver of Pharaoh:
   sealed in its coffin of gold,
                                                  royal decay that attracts
masterful robbers, as shimmering Heavenly images, poets:
   emptiness draws men in,
                                                vacuums them up with the dust.

Published in The Plains Poetry Journal

The Saints

What do we mean by the sweet saints, singing at peace in the Heavens,
  free of our curse, old age?
                                                Men in the Ages of Gold
can it be true that they lived for a long time? Maybe it only
  seemed long. What if they aged
                                                          rapidly, happy to die?
Then to themselves they would live long, seemingly almost forever.
  If they had perfectly lived,
                                                 wouldn't they willingly die,
just when the slightest decrepitude told them the party was waning?
  Only unsatisfied guests
                                             hate to relinquish the feast,
lingering overexcited, like children refusing their bedtime,
  having experienced too
                                            much for the day to absorb,
so they are querulous now for the unfelt toys that escaped them.
  Greed and unsatisfied lusts
                                                   give me my terror of death.
Shy Amazonian Indians don't live long by our standards
  and, as a rule, by their mid
                                                  thirties they're tired of life
which in their tropical jungle is placid, desireless, easy
  and, when their prime's past, die
                                                            painlessly as they were born.
Civilized people, describing them, find this tendency shocking;
  what is it, though, but a true
                                                     image of Heavenly bliss?
Living forever: what's that but to live for as long as you want to?
  Surely our clinging to life
                                                catches this agony, age.
When we are freed from desires, than we, too, climb into Heaven,
  we, too, live as the old
                                           Patriarchs did, without age.

From Pygmies and Pyramids  by Richard Moore; originally published in Sewanee Review

A Life
an essay
by Richard Moore


Here is where you enter, if you dare,
Richard Moore's MOUSE EPIC.
Beware
its 6,000 hilarious rhyming lines
about a mouse's struggle to escape
the sewer into which he was born,
forlorn,
and yet able to make
your jaw drop, agape:
The Mouse Whole
an epic poem
by Richard Moore

Listen to Richard Moore's reading of Book 1 of The Mouse Whole
Listen to Richard Moore's reading of Book 2 of The Mouse Whole
Listen to Richard Moore's reading of Book 3 of The Mouse Whole
Listen to Richard Moore's reading of Book 4 of The Mouse Whole
Listen to Richard Moore's reading of Book 5 of The Mouse Whole

More Work by Richard Moore:

The Self: A Consideration (essay)
Pain and Death (essay)
How I Blew It At The New Yorker (essay)
THT's First Interview with Richard Moore (interview with THT editor Mike Burch)
THT's Second Interview with Richard Moore  (interview with THT editor Mike Burch)
Poetic Meter in English: Roots and Possibilities (essay)
On Rhyme (essay)
The Balancer: Yeats and His Supernatural System (essay)
A Fair's End (poetry) can be read online at the New Formalist Press website.

Grants

Government and the arts, alas, they just don't mix.
Your bed of roses, bureaucrat, is full of pricks.

Ménage á Deux:  Songs for a Father-to-be
 
She's pregnant, none more beautiful than she.
        Inside her we can feel
the future stirring; outside we can see
        darkly the storm birds wheel.
Like Berkeley's God, I labor constantly
        to keep this frail world real.

        No little tendrils of the heart
    bind strong enough when little ruptures start;
people who live together learn to live apart.

"Can't you be someone else once in a while?"
        My question starts her smile.
She gives her head a toss and calmly eyes me:
        "Why don't you fantasize me?
But come to think of it," her look grows steady,
        "that's what you do already."

The year's darkness, the miracle of birth,
        animal me, my worth
as calculated in the drift of stars,
        prices of prunes, sports cars...
O stuff all that! Where is the world that she
        dreamt of, now wants to see?

        Let's go again!upon all fours.
    Let's close our houses up, live out of doors,
we, destined to become extinct as dinosaurs.

        Technology keeps going faster,
    its future still unfolding, ever vaster.
Earth cries, Human intelligencewhat a disaster!

But no, the tent's folded, no longer sunned in
        the hills of France and Spain,
where streams flow night and day, a campsite one din
        from which we can refrain,
stuffed into winter countryside, from London
        two easy hours by train.
  
        I see nothingyes, nothing right
    there in the afternoon, already night,
its faces all aglow with false electric light;

and I remember unreality
        first flooding into me,
washing my mother's earnest luncheon word
        into the vast absurd.
I took it with me back to boarding school,
        she gone then, I its tool.

        The only real question was when
    I would go mad, marching with Caesar's men.
Look now: I'm laboring at Latin once again.

She lay in dimness with the candle lit,
        back bare, me rubbing it.
Some words, now lost, went between me and her,
        and then it seemed there were
no words, nothing to touch or hold in store,
        between us any more.

        Day after day, she wakes, she feeds
    both of them. O, memento of our deeds
there, always there, a tiresome queer shape with needs

she says, "Things that I think I'll say sound dumb,
        so I don't say them. True
enough, but they'd sound silly. So I strum
        the guitar, sing....I'll do
differently soon, my dear; soon I'll become
        sullen and closed like you."

        Then quietly, no sigh, no moan:
    "I see I'm to have this baby alone.
You are a killer, Dick." And thus a seed is sown.

"Don't let me kill you!" frantically I plead.
        She laughs, from her mood freed,
"I feel better already. You don't moan.
        You just wander alone
and only get more gloomy and morose."
        The seed! I hold it close
 
managed, however, from that soil to dig me
        my image of the Pygmy,
suggesting life more magical and mythic
        in the late Paleolithic.
I've put all that into another book.
        Interested, Reader?...Look!

        'N editor I'm to see, upon
    my word, a London literary don,
my critical hairs combed, int'lectu'l necktie on.

The lies we live by subtly consume us.
        Bury us, then, in humus
since we were human. Read, Reader, appalled,
        but don't blame that on me!
The deepest lie we tell is the lie called
        sentimentality,

and of its forms the worst is facile gloom,
        the automatic rages
like mine that kill all feeling....Let love bloom!
        How deeply it engages
when the immortal Schubert, magic rager,
        modulates into major!

        The publisher is in his house;
       winds will not blow him, nor will downpours douse.
He knows he mustn't publish 'n epic 'bout a mouse.

If things aren't getting better (now the rage)
        then in some golden age
(sometimes I would be "I," but mostly "it")
        all unfit things would fit,
all categories blend and cease their clamor.
        That puts an end to grammar,

and frees me, doesn't it? I'll dance about,
        let all my feelings out,
living in holiness and simple awe, per-
        haps actually a pauper
and not just faking it, concealing wealth
        to cheat National Health.
 
         We got the whole damn baby free:
    hospital, doctor, nurse, dispensary....
(procedures and their names change when you cross the sea.)

How long did Adam, Eve, gardening peons,
        live before falling? Eons!
The Stone-Age hunters whom my spirit craves,
        living in draughty caves,
changed not once in a hundred thousand years
        the way they tipped their spears.

        Had they no passions to be vented,
    to keep on going on like that, contented,
free of our mania for change, as though demented?

Each weekhabit from which I cannot budge
        I cook a pound of fudge.
The emptiness of life demands that filler.
        It is my sweetness-pillar
huge for me there: catlike I made and fenced it
        and rub myself against it.

        Conrad, black male, is huge, to see
    on windowsills, but hard to capture. He
(God knows how he lives) fills woods with his progeny.

Surrounded by the bored and boring Brits
        in pubs sad Richard sits.
They, for whom everything has happened, wait
        for one more twist of fate,
which creeps, alas now, slower than molasses.
        Time still to fill their glasses.

        Open to misery, distress,
    I, female, give itpalpable!access.
It enters, comes. I'm left pregnant with hopelessness.

The winding road, the clipped and tonsured earth:
        a woman's giving birth.
Warm pulpy beings, clever, know so much
        impossible to touch;
masters of concepts difficult to name,
        they will rot just the same.
 
        Wives come to help out, fuss and fix,
    cheap tongues for advertising's vulgar tricks.
There are no peasants left nowadays, only hicks.

God, will I spoil it for her, home today,
        forget, say, what to say?
Lose my poor wits in fits and mindless fretting?
        She stands there, "It's like getting
a doll for Christmas, Dickthat's what I feel
        except this doll is real."

        Where with this wild child may my way be?
    I, no one...do I feel...jealousy maybe
of my heroic wife? Come on! Let's kill the baby.

In the sharp bathroom light that hardly flattered,
        her face looked ravaged, shattered.
She seemed to come apart, seemed toothy, spiky,
        the sweet calm in her psyche
usurped, canceled by brute power within,
        the new stranger, our kin.

        My story ends, the future hid.
    I, all my rubbish still under its lid,
never went mad. O God! She in that crib there did.

Published in Edge City Review

When In Rome...

There was once a fat diner named Schlurp.
After dinner he'd noisily burp.
     Said his wife, "Go and dine a
     few decades in China,
where everyone does that, you twerp!"

Published in Light Quarterly

Yet Another Apology

Why's he so cutting, ironic, unkind,
like those bitter old pagans of Greece?
"A positive mind is a turbulent mind."
My negative mind is at peace.

Of Richard Moore's ten published volumes of poetry, one was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and another was a T. S. Eliot Prize finalist. He also authored a novel, The Investigator (Story Line Press, 1991), a collection of essays, The Rule That Liberates (University of South Dakota Press, 1994), and translations of Plautus' Captivi (in the Johns Hopkins University Complete Roman Drama in Translation series, 1995) and Euripedes' Hippolytus (in the Penn Greek Drama Series, U. of Pennsylvania, 1998). Moore's poetry books include The Mouse Whole: An Epic (Negative Capability Press, 1996), Pygmies and Pyramids (Orchises Press, 1998) and The Naked Scarecrow (Truman State University Press, New Odyssey Editions, 2000). He was listed in Who's Who In America, and articles on his work have appeared in The Dictionary Of Literary Biography and numerous newspapers and journals. His fiction, essays, and more than 500 of his poems, were published in a great variety of magazines, including The New Yorker, Atlantic, Harper's, Poetry, The American Poetry Review, and The Nation. He also published translations of poetry in German, French, and Italian. During his life he gave frequent readings, lectures and dramatic performances in Boston, Washington, and other cities. Moore taught at Boston University, Brandeis University, the New England Conservatory of Music, and Clark University. He led the Agape poetry series in Boston and The Poetry Exchange in Cambridge, Mass. and Leesburg, Va.

Richard Wilbur had this to say about Moore's seventh collection of poems, Bottom Is Back, Orchises Press, 1994: "The best and most serious poetry is full of gaiety, and it is only dreary poets and their too-earnest readers who consider light verse demeaning. X. J. Kennedy is right to remind us, in his prefatory poem, that funny and satiric poets will dine at journey's end with the likes of Byron, Bierce, and Landor. In any case, if the reader will look at such a delightful and flawless poem as Richard Moore's "In Praise of Old Wives," the question of light verse's legitimacy will become academic.

Nine of Richard Moore's books may be ordered from the bookstore of Expansive Poetry & Music Online, which also has pretty pictures of them. All 14 of his books can be ordered from Moore's web site, where there are descriptions of each book. His books are also available on Amazon.com, but there they are mixed up with the books of numerous other Richard Moores, a name almost as common as John Smith. His poetry book A Fair's End can be read online for free, at the New Formalist Press website.

More Epigrams and Philosophy of Richard Moore:

Here is a more extensive collection of the thoughts of Richard Moore on poetry, physics, psyche-ologoy, etc. (a smaller collection appeared earlier on this page).

Logic, like Rilke's angel, is beautiful but dangerous.

The social animal—at least, in the human case—is necessarily an imitative animal; for it would seem to be our capacity to imitate others and to let their thoughts and personalities invade ours that makes coherent society possible.

We descendants of Christianity, we creations of that book, The Bible, can't endure Lucretius' lush relish and appreciation of the sensuous life here on earth. Everything in our abstract, celluloid-charmed, computer-driven, and, above all, money-maddened lifestyle separates us from that life on earth.

Christians, humanists, existentialists—whatever we are—we gaze toward higher, or at least more interesting things.

[The] constant of uncertainty—'Planck's constant'—is a very important number in physics and makes its appearance in many experiments and theories. It has been grandly called 'the quantum of the cosmos;' but its full title should be 'the quantum of whimsicality of the cosmos.' Thus, in its ultimate detail the cosmos is unpredictable, and this is so because we affect the cosmos by looking at it, that is, because the observer and what he observes cannot be separated. The metaphor, the myth, of separation between the subjective observer and objective reality has broken down. There is no observer, no observed. There is only experience.. . . in any intense experience the self vanishes. It only enters later as a social and linguistic convenience when there is talk about the experience. It arises, not from experience as a whole, but from language—our human language of the last few dozen millennia—in particular.

So I relax—or try to, trying to forget the useless conceptions I have been taught—and let myself change minute by minute. Glitter of sunlight and great shadows pass over the landscape. If I exist at all, I am like music, forever modulating into new keys.

Sometimes when I can leave off for a while the actions and thoughts which keep defining a self for me unawares, I sit still and feel that nothing—feel it as something positive, something mysteriously, actually there. The zero, the real person, the central being. That which will slip and slide outside of any definition, any set of actions, any work of art even. This central person, this true self, will never be found. We deal with it every day.

Government and the arts, alas, they just don't mix.
Your bed of roses, bureaucrat, is full of pricks.

The poet writes for himself as the other.

Poetry deepens and expands on the reality we share which makes us social.

There's a wildness in poetry—especially when it rhymes.

Let us have more wildness, more madness, in poetry; let us have more rhyming!

No two poets rhyme exactly alike.

. . . what I love best is humor and horror happening at once . . .

I am very concerned that the new formalism will revert to the old stodginess.

I think the public has good reasons for its lack of interest [in contemporary poetry].

Metaphor is the soul of poetry, and the essence of metaphor is resemblance; so the poet, throwing away his Immanuel Kant, cries out that resemblance is the source of all categories. (And a theorem or two in higher algebra will bear him out.)

Read other poets, poets! Relish their rhymes and do likewise. Your own private rhyming dictionary will form in the depths of your soul and deliver you into eternity."

Rhyming, done correctly, clarifies the difference between responsible philosophy and irresponsible poetry. The philosopher writes what he thinks; the poet discovers what he thinks when he writes: he is borne (perhaps I mean born) into what he believes by the rhyme, the rhythm, the eloquence of what he is saying.

Rhymes are always local. They belong to the nitty-gritty specificity (try saying that phrase out loud, Reader!) of the language. They are almost impossible to translate.

. . . the greatest poetry has always been local. International poetry is like the English spoken at the U. N. Everyone understands it, and it means next to nothing. So let us leave the Great World Cities to their raging proletariats and hope that somewhere in the boring boondocks something bold and gutsy is stirring, something alive with subtle rhythms and wild rhymes.

Art thrives on difficulty. The audience (if there is one) delights when the poet, like the impossible archer, hits the mark. What effortless grace! Such deeds seem beyond human skill. He must be a god.

It is a terrible limitation on poets, just to write about poets. How are other people going to be interested in their poems?

When I read Homer, I sometimes have the feeling that we have been starving to death for 3000 years. It is a terrible limitation on poets, just to write about poets. How are other people going to be interested in their poems?

Jacob Brownowski said that atomic physics has been the great poem of the twentieth century. Good to know that there has been one! It's curious how, as poets and their work fall into near total disrepute, that word "poem" still retains its mystical aura, so that even scientists rush to label themselves with it in public.

Poems have to be genuine performances—by which I mean: I'm not going to please others ultimately unless I please myself, and, ditto, I am not going to please myself ultimately unless I please someone else too.

One [i.e., the poet] has to take risks, as the capitalists say, and I have staked my life—as we all must—on my hunches. Emily Dickinson did that with incredible resolve and courage. She's my hero at the moment. She imagined a reasonable person to write for, and she stuck to it. Pleasing that person was the only way to please herself.

Poets like Milton or Hopkins who use complicated language usually have simple, familiar ideas to express; poets like Swift who have shocking, complex ideas usually express them in the simplest possible language. I love Swift. [Younger poets, and older poets too, should take note of the word "love" here, since Richard Moore didn't use words loosely.]

My mouse [the hero of The Mouse Whole] modeled his epic on Dante: that darling, that pet of the age, / with professors for every page.

I wonder how many unindoctrinated "common men" actually read Whitman. I ran a little Whitman experiment once. I had been reading quite extensively in the works of that canny, tough-minded politician, Abraham Lincoln. After I had finished reliving—perhaps I mean, redying—his assassination, I thought it might be interesting to imagine that I was Lincoln's ghost, reading Whitman's famous elegy on me, "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd." What dreadful, verbose, sentimental rubbish is this? cried the author of the Second Inaugural Address. Personally I am an admirer of that elegy and was shocked to hear Lincoln's ghost say that, but there is no accounting sometimes for the tastes of statesmen and politicians. And your Mr Everyman, poptune lover, of the present time will never like listening to Whitman. Whitman's poems don't rhyme.

It's amazing what modern arts audiences nowadays will put up with. What a little pretentiousness won't do! The Parisians in its first audience threw rotten vegetables at Stravinsky's Rites of Spring. Now in Ann Arbor, Michigan, everybody politely sits, pretending to enjoy it. [This reminds us of one the very best, and most hilarious, books on modern art and literature: Tom Wolfe's The Painted Word.]

Years ago, when I taught a class in poetry writing in Brandeis University, the students had never heard of me, but they all knew about John Ashbery and knew how great he was, though none of them could explain why.

The HyperTexts