Sounds of Light

Louis Zukofsky, like Ronald Johnson (for whom Zukofsky was a vital influence), is a poet of unparalleled musicality, who was and still remains criminally under appreciated (at the very least relatively speaking).  One of his great achievements (of which are numerous, his Bottom: On Shakespeare is a stunning and confounding work of criticism unlike any I have or am likely to encounter), "A", is comprised of twenty-four movements and encompasses almost a half-century of his life.  It is a shame that "A" (again like Johnson’s ARK) is currently out of print.  The following is the eleventh movement ("A"-11), which is visually quoted in Brakhage’s own haunting song of grief, 23rd Psalm Branch.

River that must turn full after I stop dying
Song, my song, raise grief to music
Light as my loves' though, the few sick
So sick of wrangling: thus weeping,
Sounds of light, stay in her keeping
And my son's face - this much for honor.

Freed by their praises who make honor dearer
Whose losses show them rich and you no poorer
Take care, song, that what stars' imprint you mirror
Grazed their tears; draw speech from their nature or
Love in you - faced with your outer stars - purer
Gold than tongues make without feeling
Art new, hurt old: revealing
The slackened bow as the stinging
Animal dies, thread gold stringing
The fingerboard pressed in my honor.

Honor, song, sang the blest is delight knowing
We overcome ills by love.  Hurt, song, nourish
Eyes, think most of whom you hurt.  For the flowing
River'   s poison where what rod blossoms. Flourish
By love's sweet lights and sing in them I flourish.
No, song, not any one power
May recall or forget, our
Love to see your love flows into

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Us.  If Venus lights, your words spin, to
Live our desires lead us to honor.

Graced, your heart in nothing less than in death, go -
I, dust - raise the great hem of the extended
World that nothing can leave; having had breath go
Face my son, say: 'If your father offended
You with mute wisdom, my words have not ended
His second paradise where
His love was in her eyes where
They turn, quick for you two - sick
Or gone cannot make music
You set less than all.  Honor

His voice in me, the river's turn that finds the
Grace in you, four notes first too full for talk, leaf
Lightning stem, stems bound to the branch that binds
Tree, and then as from the same root we talk, leaf
After leaf of your mind's music, page, walk leaf
Over leaf of his thought, sounding
His happiness: song sounding
The grace that comes from knowing
Things, her lover our own showing
Her love in all her honor.'

("A" by Louis Zukofsky, Joun Hopkins University Press)


23rd Psalm Branch Pt. 2 (1966/78, Stan Brakhage)