Arthur, I have been thinking all day long

Of you in Austria. Provincially

I conjure up absurd, distorted scenes.

I see you standing on an ancient bridge.

The night is cold, the river dark and flowing.

Traffic is light—a bicycle, a cart,

A taxi with a driver who has learned

Never to ask more than official questions.

You’re thinner now than when you left last year.

You pull your coat around you as you did

Many an evening here in Oregon

When, walking up the block for exercise,

We’d speak of Tillich, Rilke, Sartre and Paul,

And shivering like children in the rain,

We’d spend three hours in a dialogue,

Rhapsodic tongues above diluvian feet.

I know you must be occupied in studies

Learning the language, going here and there,

Charming your hostess and her family,

Making your trips to minor villages,

Sailing the Danube, climbing in the Alps,

Doing things off the track and on the track.

Like every scholar from America,

You probably are seldom by yourself.

Yet in this vision that I cannot blur

None of that comes into consideration.

I see you rather in your solitude.

I see you when the social whirl is done,

The lessons over and the chatter gone.

I see you weary of the great illusion,

The thin pretenses of one’s seeking truth

While really clutching means to make his way

Into the idiocy of pride and status.

I see your spirit worn and desolate

Finding, in spite of all the gay clichés,

That Austrians like Oregonians

Bear out Thoreau: most men are desperate.

Trips over oceans are no remedy;

They sometimes make the heart more laden-down.

Seeing you on that bridge alone at night,

I do not fear some suicidal try,

Or anything external as a threat.

Rather I pray that as you watch the river,

The liquid black reflecting back the light

From two preposterous concrete-sculptured nymphs,

You won’t surrender to the lie, the tyranny,

The tyranny that man is always false,

Playing his roles with clever desperation,

That lie that death has the last word on life.

I pray that you’ll avoid the mental twist

That jumps to false conclusions on good grounds.

I pray you keep a radical innocence,

An innocence informed by worldly wisdom.

I pray that weariness will never settle in

And atrophy the wellsprings of your soul.

From cynicism, Lord, deliver him.

Shelter his eyes from nothing. Let him know

The present age’s orderstark, unvarnished.

Let him confront the enemies of Love.

Let him behold the emptiness of sin;

Let him draw back in agony, in horror.

But in the murky water, in the chill,

In the inexpressible sadness, in the light,

In his extremity, O mantle him

With grace, with resolution, and with peace.

Exchange for his illusions, God, Thyself.

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