Poem

Swimming Chenango Lake by Charles Tomlinson

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English poet Charles Tomlinson starts the “Swimming Chenango Lake: Selected Poems” with reference to his work “The Way of a World (1969)”. The Prologue “Swimming Chenango Lake” is an ode to swimming. It reads

Winter will bar the swimmer soon.
    He reads the water’s autumnal hesitations
A wealth of ways: it is jarred,
    It is astir already despite its steadiness,
Where the first leaves at the first
    Tremor of the morning air have dropped
Anticipating him, launching their imprints
    Outwards in eccentric, overlapping circles.
There is a geometry of water, for this
    Squares off the clouds’ redundances
And sets them floating in a nether atmosphere
    All angles and elongations: every tree
Appears a cypress as it stretches there

“And every bush that shows the season,
A shaft of fire. It is a geometry and not
    A fantasia of distorting forms, but each
Liquid variation answerable to the theme
    It makes away from, plays before:
It is a consistency, the grain of the pulsating flow.
    But he has looked long enough, and now
Body must recall the eye to its dependence
    As he scissors the waterscape apart
And sways it to tatters. Its coldness
    Holding him to itself, he grants the grasp,
For to swim is also to take hold
    On water’s meaning, to move in its embrace
And to be, between grasp and grasping, free.
    He reaches in-and-through to that space
The body is heir to, making a where
    In water, a possession to be relinquished
Willingly at each stroke. The image he has torn
    Flows-to behind him, healing itself,
Lifting and lengthening, splayed like the feathers

Down an immense wing whose darkening spread
Shadows his solitariness: alone, he is unnamed
    By this baptism, where only Chenango bears a name
In a lost language he begins to construe –
    A speech of densities and derisions, of half-
Replies to the questions his body must frame
    Frogwise across the all but penetrable element.
Human, he fronts it and, human, he draws back
    From the interior cold, the mercilessness
That yet shows a kind of mercy sustaining him.
    The last sun of the year is drying his skin
Above a surface a mere mosaic of tiny shatterings,
    Where a wind is unscaping all images in the flowing obsidian
The going-elsewhere of ripples incessantly shaping.


Source: The Way of a World (1969)

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