Kenneth Patchen

Kenneth Patchen

Kenneth Patchen was born in Niles, Ohio, in 1911. From the age of twelve, he kept a diary and read Dante, Homer, Burns, Shakespeare, and Melville. He attended Alexander Meiklejohn’s Experimental College for one year and then the University of Wisconsin.

He was employed in a variety of jobs as a migrant worker in the United States and Canada. “Permanence,” a sonnet, was published in The New York Times on April 10, 1932. He wrote more than forty books of poetry, prose and drama, including Before the Brave (1936), First Will and Testament (1939) and Journal of Albion Moonlight (1941), a prose work. In 1942, he published The Dark Kingdom in a limited edition of seventy-five copies and painted each cover individually in water color.

For more than thirty years, Patchen lived with a severe spinal ailment that caused him almost constant physical pain. The weight of this personal battle was compounded by his sensitivity to greater issues of humanity, and his poetry paid special attention to the horrors of war. With his work he tried to create a kind of sanctuary for the reader, apart from reality, where larger-than-life characters were motivated by their loving and benevolent natures. Kenneth Patchen died in 1972.

Let Us Have Madness

Let us have madness openly.
0 men Of my generation.
Let us follow
The footsteps of this slaughtered age:
See it trail across Time’s dim land
Into the closed house of eternity
With the noise that dying has,
With the face that dead things wear–
nor ever say
We wanted more; we looked to find
An open door, an utter deed of love,
Transforming day’s evil darkness;
but We found extended hell and fog Upon the earth,
and within the head
A rotting bog of lean huge graves.

The Hangman’s Great Hands

And all that is this day…
The boy with cap slung over what had been a face…

Somehow the cop will sleep tonight, will make love to
his wife…
Anger won’t help. I was born angry. Angry that my
father was being burnt alive in the mills; Angry that
none of us knew anything but filth, and poverty. Angry
because I was that very one somebody was supposed
To be fighting for
Turn him over; take a good look at his face…
Somebody is going to see that face for a long time.
I wash his hands that in the brightness they will shine.

We have a parent called the earth.
To be these buds and trees; this tameless bird Within
the ground; this season’s act upon the fields of Man.
To be equal to the littlest thing alive,
While all the swarming stars move silent through The
merest flower
… but the fog of guns.

The face with all the draining future left blank…
Those smug saints, whether of church or Stalin, Can
get off the back of my people, and stay off. Somebody
is supposed to be fighting for somebody… And Lenin
is terribly silent, terribly silent and dead.
November 1937

As Frothing Wounds of Roses

As frothing wounds of roses
Harry summer over a wintry sea,
So does thy very strangeness
Bring me ever nearer thee

As the cry of the bird-torn wind
Hastens the heart beyond its usual need,
So shalt thy dear lovliness,
Upon the forlorn unrest of my cold will,
Be as that snowy stain the roses bleed

O as flaming wounds of roses
Marry summer to the most wintry sea,
So does thy very woman’s separateness
Bring me ever nearer to thee

For Miriam

As beautiful as the hands
Of a winter tree
And as holy
Base are they beside thee

As dross beside thee

O green birds
That sing the earth to wakefulness
As tides the sea
Drab are they beside thee

As tinsel beside thee

O pure
And fair as the clouds
Over a summer field
They are crass beside thee
The hands
Move through the starhair

As tawdry beside thee

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