If The Yale Younger Poets Anthology did nothing more than return Joan Murray to print, it would be indispensable. Murray, a young woman from a bohemian background whose passionate, intelligent, sometimes difficult poems are among the best that postwar poetry has to offer, had already been dead for five years when her book appeared. Out of print for decades, her only book, chosen by W. H. Auden for the series, is represented by the anthology’s longest selection. Murray knows when to be simple, and when to be complex; the mind of her poems is quick with intelligence, dense and demanding—yet alive with humor and with a kind of thought not reflexively separated from sensation. Already an accomplished poet in her early twenties, Murray also studied acting and dance, and may even have painted. She died of heart problems in 1942, at the age of 24.
Here We Stand before the Temporal World
Here we stand before the temporal world,
And whether we care to cast our minds
Or shiver from our words all that refutes
The clarity of thought…
Whether we wish to deflect the rudiments of source
Bare bastard brats in summing up the whole…
These things I do not know.
Words have been to me like steps
Revolving and revolving in one cell.
Perhaps others have felt the limits of the pendulum,
Looking to the vast confines of night,
And conscious only of the narrow head,
The brief skull imminent of life,
Gray granules that, like Time, run through the hours.
Caesar walked quietly in his garden.
Two scribes walked gravely by his side.
The smooth pink marble of the fluted column passed
Reminded him of warm wine from the grapes,
The glitter of a spear dropped carelessly,
And caught by a hand quicker than he could see
Its slanting fall,
Reminded him of shallow eyes that glinted
As he passed between two worlds, their own and his.
His thoughts tended toward irrelevance,
But his words cut out the veriest patterns
Of an eastern drive toward the steeples of far Babylon.
From Poems, 1947, chosen by W. H. Auden.