Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Lion's Tail and Eyes

Recently rediscovered and enriched: The Lion’s Tail and Eyes, Poems written out of laziness and silence, by James Wright, William Duffy, and Robert Bly, The Sixties Press, 1962. With a subtitle like that who could resist such a book? Purchased at A Different Drummer Bookstore on Broadway, Seattle, Washington when I was a grad student at the UW (1970-72), this slim (45pp) volume was a real find even back then—and a real bargain ($1)!*

From Bly’s introductory note:

“One purpose of poetry is to forget about what you know, and think about what you don’t know. There is an old idea that only by leaving the body can a man think. Such a leaving concerns the body of knowledge as well as the physical body. After all, as Montale says, if the purpose of poetry lay in making oneself understood, there would be no purpose in writing it.”…….

“The fundamental world of poetry… the inward world. The poem expresses what we are just beginning to think, thoughts we have not yet thought. The poem must catch these thoughts alive, holding them in language that is also alive, flexible and animal-alike as they.

The poem with images is therefore like a lion about to come into existence. A person meets the poem among trees at night. On the path in front of him, he sees a lion who does not know he is there. The lion is changing from his old ancient substance back into a visible body. So far the tip of the tail, the ears, the eyes, and perhaps a paw or two have come.”

This great little volume begins with one of James Wright’s best-known poems, “Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota”:

Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly,
Asleep on the black trunk,

Blowing like a leaf in green shadow.

Down the ravine behind the empty house,

The cowbells follow one another

Into the distances of the afternoon.

To my right,

In a field of sunlight, between two pines,

The droppings of last year’s horses

Blaze up into golden stones.

I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on.

A chicken-hawk floats over, looking for home.
I have wasted my life.

*Being naturally curious, I checked to see what this book is currently selling for: $100+, so it was a real bargain after all!


  1. Not just the cost of the book, Vassilis but its contents. That's the real value here.

    Thanks for the quote. It helps me to think further on one aim of poetry - 'to forget about what you know, and think about what you don’t know'.

  2. Elisabeth,

    Of course you're right about the book and its contents being more important than its cost--which is the reason this one has been with me since the early 70s. Now it's almost priceless. Again, thanks for taking the time to comment.


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