"The Intention of Things"

"The Intention of Things"

"The Intention of Things"

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A weekly poem, read by the author.
Aug. 5 2008 5:50 AM

"The Intention of Things"

Listen to David Ferry read this poem.


The death that lives in the intention of things
To have a meaning of some sort or other,

That means to come to something in the end,
It is the death that lives not finding the meaning

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Of this or that object as it moves among them
Uncertainly, moving among the shadows,

The things that are like shadows, shadows of things,
The things the shadows of shadows, all in the effort

To put off the death that we are coming to.
The intention makes its way among its moments,

Choosing this object or that, uncertainly,
Somebody's cock or cunt, or the leaves of a tree

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On a summer night in a landscape somewhere else,
Under which something happened that made it different;

It is seeking to find the meaning of what they are.
But it moves uncertainly among them, the shadows,

The things that are like shadows, putting off
The death that is coming, that we are coming to.

It is the death that lives that makes the flower
Be what's it's going to be and makes it die,

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And makes the musical phrase complete itself,
Or fail to complete itself, as Goethe said,

Writing a friend whose son had died in the Army:
"So you have had another terrible trial.

It's still, alas, the same old story: to live
Long is to outlive many; and after all,

We don't even know, then, what it was all about.
The answer to part of the riddle is, we each

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Have something peculiarly our own, that we
Mean to develop by letting it take its course.

This strange thing cheats us from day to day, and so
We grow old without knowing how it happened or why."

It is the death that lives in the intention of things
To have a meaning of some sort or other;

Implacable, bewildered, it moves among us
Seeking its own completion, still seeking to do so,

But also putting it off, oh putting it off,
The death that is coming, that we are coming to.

David Ferry is a poet, a translator of poetry, and a professor of English at Wellesley College.