Sometimes it’s what a poet doesn’t write that moves us. It’s the spaces, the line breaks that speak to us, that recreate a particular pace, a particular habit of thought.

Of course, this can be easily missed. I can be so preoccupied with what a poem means—especially when I’m reading for work—that I miss what a poem does. Not that meaning is unimportant. Words are symbols, and as such they must signify if they are to do anything.

Other times, I’m just not open to it, and it’s funny how a change of place can make a difference in this respect. I remember reading some of Yves Bonnefoy’s older poetry at home one day—I was preparing for a review—and I was just, you know, working my way through it. I stopped to take my son to baseball practice and took the poems with me to read as I watched him play, and suddenly I was struck by the beauty, the quiet wonder of the world—its whispered declaration. I just wanted to stay there all afternoon and read and look up and read again.

I’m sure that last bit sounds a little odd to some folks, and maybe I looked pathetic. I certainly have known people (and poets) that affect a sort of head in the clouds squishy Romanticism that I find a little silly. And, of course, there are other poets, other poems that are either as hard as nails or as awkwardly funny as a fart. But that’s not what Bonnefoy’s poetry is like, and it’s not, at least generally speaking, what Robert Lax’s poetry is like either (though he can be very funny, too).

Lax was born in New York in 1915. He was an editor at The New Yorker and Jubilee before he moved to Greece in 1962, where he  lived a quiet, somewhat hermetical life almost until his death in 2000. He was a good friend of Thomas Merton (they met at Columbia) and shared many of Merton’s religious views.

I mention all of this because a collected volume of Lax’s poems will be published next week by Wave Press, and I am very much looking forward to it. Here is a taste of Lax’s work from other volumes:

From Love Had a Compass:

every
night
in the
world

is a
night

in the
hospital

* * *

I praise the Lord
for the beauty
of the sun

the beauty
of the sun

I praise the Lord
for the sound
of the wind

the sound
of the wind

the sound
of the wind

the beauty
of the sun

the beauty
of the sun

the sound
of the wind

the sound
of the wind

I praise the Lord

for the movement
of the trees

the movement
of the trees

the movement
of the trees

I praise the Lord

for the movement
of the trees

the sound
of the wind
the dancing
of the sun

And from Circus Days and Nights:

Fields were set
for the circus,
stars for shows
before ever
elephant lumbered
or tent rose.

* * *

They like to slumber late, the acrobats,
they sleep and do not know the sun is up.
Nor does the Lord wake them,
nor do the sun’s rays touch them.
And the Lord, who has chosen them,
the Lord, who created them,
leaves them in slumber until it is time.
Slowly, slowly, His hand upon the morning’s lyre
makes a music in their sleeping.
And they turn, and turning wonder
eyes awake to light of morning.
They rise, dismounting from their beds,
they rise and hear the light airs playing
songs of praise unto the Lord.
The circus is a song of praise,
a song of praise unto the Lord.
The acrobats, His chosen people,
rejoice forever in His love.