Jack Gilbert – Failing and Flying
Failing and Flying
Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.
It’s the same when love comes to an end,
or the marriage fails and people say
they knew it was a mistake, that everybody
said it would never work. That she was
old enough to know better. But anything
worth doing is worth doing badly.
Like being there by that summer ocean
on the other side of the island while
love was fading out of her, the stars
burning so extravagantly those nights that
anyone could tell you they would never last.
Every morning she was asleep in my bed
like a visitation, the gentleness in her
like antelope standing in the dawn mist.
Each afternoon I watched her coming back
through the hot stony field after swimming,
the sea light behind her and the huge sky
on the other side of that. Listened to her
while we ate lunch. How can they say
the marriage failed? Like the people who
came back from Provence (when it was Provence)
and said it was pretty but the food was greasy.
I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,
but just coming to the end of his triumph.
From Poets.org: Jack Gilbert was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1925. He was educated in Pittsburgh and San Francisco, where he later participated in Jack Spicer’s famous “Poetry as Magic” Workshop at San Francisco State College in 1957.
Soon after publishing his first book, Views of Jeopardy, in 1962, Gilbert received a Guggenheim Fellowship and subsequently moved abroad, living in England, Denmark, and Greece. During that time, he also toured fifteen countries as a lecturer on American Literature for the U.S. State Department. Nearly twenty years after completing Views of Jeopardy, he published his second book, Monolithos. The collection takes its title from Greek, meaning “single stone,” and refers to the landscape where he lived on the island of Santorini.
About Gilbert’s work, the poet James Dickey said, “He takes himself away to a place more inward than is safe to go; from that awful silence and tightening, he returns to us poems of savage compassion.”
Gilbert is also the author of Transgressions: Selected Poems (Bloodaxe Books 2006), Refusing Heaven (2005), winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, and The Great Fires: Poems 1982-1992 (1996). His poetry has been featured in The American Poetry Review, The Quarterly, Poetry, Ironwood, The Kenyon Review, The New Yorker, and other journals. He has been awarded a Lannan Literary Award for Poetry and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Monolithos won the Stanley Kunitz Prize and the American Poetry Review Prize, and Views of Jeopardy won the Yale Younger Poets Series. Both books were nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.
Gilbert was the 1999-2000 Grace Hazard Conkling writer-in-residence at Smith College and a visiting professor and writer-in-residence at the University of Tennessee in 2004. He currently resides in western Massachusetts.