I joked on his last birthday, at the age of 90, how frustrating it must be for the greatest living poet in the USA to share a birthday with Gerard Manley Hopkins. Sadly Ashbery passed away yesterday, and to add insult to injury he bought the farm on the anniversary of the death of none other than E.E.Cummings.
The beauty for Ashbery was to be so exalted in his lifetime. His genius was well recognized and celebrated. Students of poetry will be unraveling his work for centuries to come. For today we can empathise that if life is a dream this dream has ended and yet has not.
Life is a Dream; by John Ashbery
A talent for self-realization
will get you only as far as the vacant lot
next to the lumber yard, where they have rollcall.
My name begins with an A,
so is one of the first to be read off.
I am wondering where to stand – could that group of three
or four others be the beginning of the line?
Before I have the chance to find out, a rodent-like
man pushes at my shoulders. “It’s that way,” he hisses. “Didn’t they teach you
anything at school? That a photograph
of anything can be real, or maybe not? The corner of the stove,
a cloud of midges at dusk-time.”
I know I’ll have a chance to learn more
later on. Waiting is what’s called for, meanwhile.
It’s true that life can be anything, but certain things
definitely aren’t it. This gloved hand,
for instance, that glides
so securely into mine, as though it intends to stay.