Summer Reading #4: Susan Stewart Recommends…

Birds, Beasts, and Flowers, by D.H. Lawrence (1923)


A “rush of cochineal” in a patch of scarlet runner beans the other day returned me not only to E.D., but also to D. H.– Lawrence’s near-perfect, truly summery, 1923 book, Birds, Beasts and Flowers. Every poem there opens up perspectives of line and looking–his plan reaches from the heraldry of the Evangelists to the just-vanished glimpse. And each poem closes with a notation of its “place”–of observation? of composition?  The two moments come very close. Here are two of them:


I can imagine, in some otherworld

Primeval-dumb, far back

In that most awful stillness, that only gasped and hummed,

Humming-birds raced down the avenues.


Before anything had a soul,

While life was a heave of Matter, half inanimate,

This little bit chipped off in brilliance

And went whizzing through the slow, vast, succulent stems.


I believe there were no flowers, then

In the world where the humming-bird flashed ahead of creation.

I believe he pierced the slow vegetable veins with his long beak.


Probably he was big

As mosses, and little lizards, they say were once big.

Probably he was a jabbing, terrifying monster.


We look at him through the wrong end of the long telescope of Time,

Luckily for us.


And, from the same book, a far less rare, and far more pesky summer visitor, can be found on the Poetry Foundation website:

They forgot to include the place: it’s Siracusa

–Susan Stewart

12.09.2000 - foto de Ana Branco / AGENCIA O GLOBO -  Susan Stewart , poeta americana -

Susan Stewart is a poet, critic, and translator. She is the Avalon Foundation University Professor of the Humanities, the Director of the Society of Fellows in the Liberal Arts, a member of the associated faculty of Princeton’s department of Art and Archaeology, and a Professor in Princeton’s English department, where she teaches the history of poetry, poetics, and issues in aesthetics. Her award-winning books of poetry include The Forest (1995), Columbarium (2003), and Red Rover (2008), Her collection Cinder: New and Selected Poems will appear with Graywolf Press in early 2017. Stewart’s books of criticism, which have received numerous awards, include The Poet’s Freedom: A Notebook on Making (2011); The Open Studio: Essays in Art and Aesthetics (2004); Poetry and the Fate of the Senses (2002), Crimes of Writing: Problems in the Containment of Representation (1991); On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection (1984), and Nonsense (1979). Her translations of poetry include Milo De Angelis’s Theme of Farewell and After-Poems, and Love Lessons: Selected Poems of Alda Merini. Stewart is a former Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. This fall, Professor Stewart will teach English 205: Reading Poetry.

(Biographical information selected from Susan Stewart’s pages on the English Department website and on Poetry @ Princeton).