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,
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