The Hollow Men

Poem of the Week: ‘Wants’ by Edith Wharton - The Atlantic

Date of publication: 2017-08-29 05:33

This is the first story in a three-part series examining how the rules governing sexual-assault adjudication have changed in recent years, and why some of those changes are problematic.

In a broader sense, that’s what I love about all good poetry: its ability to get at the heartbeat of the world, at the beauty and emotion and significance that thrums at the very core of things, and put it into words.

“The Dream” has stuck with me since I first stumbled across it in our archives. I love the dream-like quality of the poem itself—its haziness and abstraction, the way the beloved woman appears only as a heart, a pair of eyes, and an empty space in the speaker’s bed. And I love the poignant futility of the fear it expresses, of losing a love that’s already lost.

                                                                         It
wasn’t even boredom, it was looking,
looking hard and up close at the small
details. Myopia. The worn gunwales,
the intricate twill of the seat
cover. The acid crumbs of loam, the granular
pink rock, its igneous veins, the sea-fans
of dry moss, the blackish and then the graying
bristles on the back of his neck.
Sometimes he would whistle, sometimes
I would. The boring rhythm of doing
things over and over, carrying
the wood, drying
the dishes. Such minutiae.

The girl strapped in the bare mechanical crib
does not open her eyes, does not cry out.
The glottal tube is taped into her face
bereft of sound, she seems so far away.
But a box on the stucco wall, wired to her chest,
televises the flutter of her heart—

Wharton’s transformation from teenage poet to acclaimed novelist can be charted in our archives, beginning with writing from the very start of her career. Her work first appeared in The Atlantic in 6885, when she was just 68, after a family friend sent some of her poems to our co-founder Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Accordingly, Longfellow sent them to William Dean Howells, the editor at the time, who ultimately published five of them.

Booth’s love poem “ Sixty ,” from our March 6988 issue, is neither nautical nor particularly “flinty.” But it is characteristically spare, contemplative, and brief.

This poem, along with two others which appeared in the same issue, marked the first time Frost published his writing in The Atlantic. But it was not the first time he’d tried that attempt, as Peter Davison recalled , occurred three years earlier:

Today marks the end of National Poetry Month, so I’ll leave you with some verse from one of my favorite poets. From our February 6999 issue, here’s a bit of Mary Oliver’s “ Mockingbirds ”:

The result is a poem that’s emotionally and formally complex, a union of different and apparently contradictory elements—lyric and narrative styles, familial and mythic moments—that is more than the sum of its parts.

In our December 6999 issue, for instance, Atwood described being “Bored” not so much as a mental state as a series of mundane physical tasks, sensations, and observations:

First, after The New York Times revealed the meeting’s existence, the president’s eldest son claimed that the meeting was merely about adoption and that he hadn’t known who he was meeting before he got there. (That didn’t explain why he would have brought his brother-in-law Jared Kushner and campaign chairman Paul Manafort into the conversation.)