(To Walker Evans.

This week I’ll post po­ems by other folks as well as some from my­self time and again, along with other nor­mal stuff maybe if I feel like it. Today’s poem is by James Agee and comes from the ex­cel­lent book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. My man­i­festo also comes from that book:

“Isn’t every hu­man be­ing both a sci­en­tist and an artist; and in writ­ing of hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence, isn’t there a good deal to be said for rec­og­niz­ing that fact and for us­ing both meth­ods?”


(To Walker Evans.

Against time and the damages of the brain
Sharpen and calibrate. Not yet in full,
Yet in some arbitrated part
Order the façade of the listless summer.
Spies, moving delicately among the enemy,
The younger sons, the fools,
Set somewhat aside the dialects and the stained skins of feigned
    madness,
Ambiguously signal, baffle, the eluded sentinel.
Edgar, weeping for pity, to the shelf of that sick bluff,
Bring your blind father, and describe a little;
Behold him, part wakened, fallen among field flowers shallow
But undisclosed, withdraw.
Not yet that naked hour when armed,
Disguise flung flat, squarely we challenge the fiend.
Still, comrade, the running of beasts and the ruining of heaven
Still captive the old wild king.

3 thoughts on “(To Walker Evans.

  1. Harvey, I liked the ca­dence but I did not un­der­stand the mean­ing. It re­minded me a bit of Rimbaud’s Le dormeur du Val”. Was it about war?

  2. It might be about a kind of war. This poem serves as the fron­tispiece for Let us Now Praise Famous Men, which is a very strange and pow­er­ful work of doc­u­men­tary jour­nal­ism. James Agee was a very self-hat­ing kind of guy, but also very ob­jec­tive when nec­es­sary. I think this poem is his way of ex­plain­ing to Walker Evans the dif­fi­culty he has rec­on­cil­ing [what he might have felt was] the ex­ploita­tion of the share­crop­pers he was doc­u­ment­ing and the ul­ti­mate in­abil­ity to tell the full story [still cap­tive the old wild king].

    For me this poem serves as a re­minder that noth­ing I cre­ate will be as per­fect as my de­sire or idea.

  3. Well said. It makes it much clearer given your ex­pla­na­tion. Perfection is some­times a mo­ti­va­tor but for many peo­ple it cre­ates the fear to even try be­cause they might fail. You ob­vi­ously use it in a much more pos­i­tive way and we all gain from it.

Speak your piece