Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
No Cover Image

Robert Duncan: The Collected Early Poems and Plays

Robert Duncan
Edited and with an Introduction by Peter Quartermain
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Pages: 875
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1ppvcn
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Robert Duncan
    Book Description:

    A landmark in the publication of twentieth-century American poetry, this first volume of the long-awaited collected poetry, non-critical prose, and plays of Robert Duncan gathers all of Duncan's books and magazine publications up to and includingLetters: Poems 1953-1956. Deftly edited, it thoroughly documents the first phase of Duncan's distinguished life in writing, making it possible to trace the poet's development as he approaches the brilliant work of his middle period. This volume includes the celebrated worksMedieval ScenesandThe Venice Poem, all of Duncan's long unavailable major ventures into drama, his extensive "imitations" of Gertrude Stein, and the remarkable poems written in Majorca as responses to a series of collaged paste-ups by Duncan's life-long partner, the painter Jess. Books appear in chronological order of publication, with uncollected periodical and other publications arranged chronologically, following each book. The introduction includes a biographical commentary on Duncan's early life and works, and clears an initial path through the textual complexities of his early writing. Notes offer brief commentaries on each book and on many of the poems. The volume to follow,The Collected Later Poetry and Plays, will includeThe Opening of the Field(1960),Roots and Branches(1964),Bending the Bow(1968),Ground Work(1984), andGround Work II(1987).

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95362-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-xvi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  4. Introduction: Disturbing Poetics Duncan’s Early Life and Work, 1919–1958
    (pp. xix-xliv)

    At birth, Duncan was named Edward Howard Duncan after his father, but his adoptive parents renamed him Robert Edward Symmes when they took him into their care; Duncan kept that name until, as he recorded in a notebook in 1941, “I have changed my name and disowned my family completely. Now, Robert Duncan.”¹ Yet, though in that act he was rejecting many of the family’s cultural values and much of its spiritual practice, it would be more than twenty-five years before, on 16 February 1967, he legally changed his name to Robert Edward Duncan. The circumstances of his birth and...

  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xlv-xlviii)
  6. The Years As Catches: Early Poems 1939–1945
    (pp. 1-68)

    These are poems of an irregularity. From the beginning I had sought not the poem as a discipline or paradigm of my thought and feeling but as a source of feeling and thought, following the movement of an inner impulse and tension rising in the flow of returning vowel sounds and in measuring stresses that formed phrases of a music for me, having to do with mounting waves of feeling and yet incorporating an inner opposition or reproof of such feeling. It was the promise of a feeling I had found in certain poems and the permission given for feeling...

  7. Heavenly City, Earthly City
    (pp. 69-94)
  8. Uncollected Work 1933–1947
    (pp. 95-180)

    The sun, that had heated the great grey boulder upon which I lay, laid its genial warmth pleasantly tingling upon my back. Great green elephant ears swayed and bowed in the gentle breeze. My lungs rejoiced in the clean fresh air. The distant call of a bird, the scurry of wee feet, the rustle of leaves, the splash of a pebble as it fell into one of the cool pools that slumbered silently in the shaded grottos at the side of the stream, all seemed to my drugged senses a multitude of fantasies.

    I had a strange urge to become...

  9. Medieval Scenes
    (pp. 181-198)
  10. Poems 1948–1949
    (pp. 199-262)
  11. Uncollected Work 1948–1951
    (pp. 263-310)
  12. Fragments of a Disorderd Devotion
    (pp. 311-320)

    unkingd by affection? One exchanges the empire of one’s desire for the anarchy of pleasures. But pleasures themselves one finds are not domestic. and the trouble of the soul cast jewel-like reflextions upon the daily surfaces. One has moved only to a world where the devoted household commonplaces cast shadows that are empires; where the warmth of the hearth is kept alive in a cold that extends infinitely, the dreams of a king, ruthless in his omnipotence. A plenitude of powers, an over-reaching inspired pretension, anunam sanctum, a papal conceit over all beloved things.

    We live within our selves...

  13. Caesar’s Gate: Poems 1949–1950
    (pp. 321-358)

    Hell. Dante says accurately that it is a forfeiting of the goods of the intellect. How far can there be a poetry of hell, out of hell? It is all that is not terror: the nostalgias, sophistications, self-debasements here that are voice of a soul-shriveling, the ironies of mediocrity. To this point I came, willingly demoralized, to pray for grief, or for sleep, or for the tides of blood, for the worm to turn.

    Only the visions of this state, thisbardo, to sustain me. That there was still vision was All. These mere poems, contrived however they were, responded...

  14. A Book of Resemblances: Poems: 1950–1953
    (pp. 359-416)

    Tide lines The moon in her full and in her dark presides over the movement of the poem, the lines held tight run tense in the pulling tide and return, driven by that ancient machinery of Okeanos and his compelling mother-mistress, the tidal rise and fall in which the seed forms of all life were first conceived. So, where we feel our words as if they were drawn and released as by a lunar magic, tied as our inner nature is tied to an elemental compulsion, we are moved to poetry.

    In 1950, when the first poems of this volume...

  15. Names of People: Stein Imitations from 1952
    (pp. 417-436)
  16. Play Time Pseudo Stein: From the Laboratory Records Notebook 1953
    (pp. 437-442)

    Hurriedly. They settled down. There. To ruin afternoons with furs. He was after the war they followd. She referrd and absented her mind in sewing. So

    They had spent their time rewarding their neighbors.

    An introduction. The first act was to act. A passion a total absorbing in interpreting a fiery somnolence in passing an impulse that repulses. She half to the half light lights. Wary but wearing. Wearing furs is a welcome.

    A tarantula in the middle of a knot.

    There was a perfect embellishment in swelling. A classy stare to do. A loose basket. Complications were always...

  17. Writing Writing
    (pp. 443-488)
  18. Uncollected Work 1952–1956
    (pp. 489-512)
  19. The Cat and the Blackbird
    (pp. 513-528)

    There was once a cat who lived in the very center of himself which was a stormy rainy night in a big forest. The cat himself with his yellowy mellow eyes thought of himself as a little house, a cheer in the hearts of all travelers, a warm shelter in the midst of the cold.

    He lived all alone and constantly prepared the little cottage for visitors. Every two days a young man came from the village at the edge of the forest and left two quarts of milk. One quart the cat drank on the first day, a repeated...

  20. Faust Foutu: A Comic Masque
    (pp. 529-590)
  21. Medea at Kolchis: The Maiden Head
    (pp. 591-632)

    We would like to account for the profound anxiety. But it is a weather—a saturated air of the summer—that obstructs all account. Fear, desire, accusation, tenderness, joy, despair are caught up, unreleased, in the storm head. Tomorrow, the sky will be blue; yet all is unrelieved. The sun too is of the obstruction. A violent electricity charges such weather. Even the flashes of lightning in the heat do not release the rain but portend greater devastations of agony.

    Where the rain will not come, sorcery flourishes. O, sure, it rains, but sorcery flourishes. The swamp land, more terrible...

  22. Letters: Poems mcmliii–mcmlvi
    (pp. 633-680)

    It is an intensity of excitement which compels a man to work out a designd feeling that variously arrives at stations on three levels: the presence in the imagination in which the speech ‘comes’, a mortality out of immortal letters; the evident manifestation or trace we in the xxth century worship as Art and declare immortal; and the return, the dwelling of the imagination in the speech. So that powers and forms gather in the mind where it feeds on any written thing.

    The man working addresses his desire thru the object of his desire, his material. These poems are...

  23. Appendix 1. Tables of Contents
    (pp. 681-685)
  24. Appendix 2. Duncan’s Dust-Jacket Blurb to The First Decade
    (pp. 686-687)
    Robert Duncan
  25. Appendix 3. Preface (1972) to Caesar’s Gate: Poems 1949–50
    (pp. 688-728)
  26. Notes
    (pp. 729-812)
  27. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 813-816)
  28. Index of Titles and First Lines
    (pp. 817-822)
  29. Back Matter
    (pp. 823-823)