by Charles Wright

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Sestets is the nineteenth book from one of the country's most acclaimed poets, a masterpiece of formal rigor and a profound meditation on nature and mortality. It is yet another virtuosic showcase for Charles Wright's acclaimed descriptive powers, and also an inquiry into the nature of description itself, both seductive and dangerous: "a virtual world/ Unfit for the virtuous." Like his previous books, Sestets is seeded with the lyrics of old love songs and spirituals, and "there is always room to connect his highly polished poems to the world where most of us lead mundane lives" (Miami Herald). Soaring and earthy, lyrical and direct, Charles Wright is an American treasure, and his search for a truth that transcends change and death settles finally on the beauties of nature and language: "Time is a graceless enemy, but purls as it comes and goes."

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780374532147
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date: 03/16/2010
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 96
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.30(d)

About the Author

Charles Wright, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the National Book Award, and the Griffin Poetry Prize, teaches at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. In 2014, he was named Poet Laureate of the United States.

Read an Excerpt


By Charles Wright

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 2009 Charles Wright
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-7744-3



    The metaphysics of the quotidian was what he was after:
    A little dew on the sunrise grass,
    A drop of blood in the evening trees,
    a drop of fire.

    If you don't shine you are darkness.
    The future is merciless,
    everyone's name inscribed
    On the flyleaf of the Book of Snow.

    The Gospel According to Somebody Else

    Comfort them all, Lord, comfort their odd shapes
    and their standard hair.
    They seem so hand-haunted, so hymn-hewn,
    In their slow drift toward received form.
    Comfort them standing there,
    then comfort them sitting down —

    God knows his own, the old have no tears,
    The thickness of winter clouds is the thickness of what's to come.

    Future Tense

    All things in the end are bittersweet —
    An empty gaze, a little way station just beyond silence.

    If you can't delight in the everyday,
    you have no future here.
    And if you can, no future either.

    And time, black dog, will sniff you out,
    and lick your lean cheeks,
    And lie down beside you — warm, real close — and will not move.

    Flannery's Angel

    Lead us to those we are waiting for,
    Those who are waiting for us.
    May your wings protect us,
    may we not be strangers in the lush province of joy.

    Remember us who are weak,
    You who are strong in your country which lies beyond the thunder,
    Raphael, angel of happy meeting,
    resplendent, hawk of the light.

    Cowboy Up

    There comes a time in one's life when one wants time,
    a lot of time, with inanimate things.
    Not ultimate inanimate things,
    Of course, but mute things,
    beautiful, untalkbackable wise things.
    That's wishful thinking, cowboy.

    Still, I'd like to see the river of stars
    fall noiselessly through the nine heavens for once,
    But the world's weight, and the world's welter, speak big talk and big confusion.

    In Praise of What Is Missing

    When a tooth is extracted,
    some side of the holy wheel is unnotched,
    And twists, unlike Ixion's, in the wind and weather,
    And one slips into wanting nothing more
    from the human world,
    And leans back, a drifting cloud,
    Toward what becomes vacant and is nameless and is blue,
    As days once were, and will be again.

    By the Waters of Babylon

    We live on Orphan Mountain,
    each of us, and that's how it is,
    Kingfisher still wet
    And chattering on his empty branch.

    Water remains immortal —
    Poems can't defile it,
    the heron, immobile on one leg,
    Stands in it, snipe stitch it, and heaven pillows its breast.

    Hasta la Vista Buckaroo

    So many have come and gone, undone
    like a rhinestone cowboy,
    Dazzle and snuff, Lord, dazzle and snuff,
    In a two-bit rodeo.

    The entrance to hell is just a tiny hole in the ground,
    The size of an old pecan, soul-sized, horizon-sized.
    Thousands go through it each day before the mist clears
    thousands one by one you're next.

    Double Salt

    The crystal body of wind,
    deep blue and macchiato by one cloud
    Over White Hall, light like a river
    Flooding the underweave,
    azaleas pink and white in the 10th heaven,

    As Dante would note,
    Fingerlings of the maple chartreuse
    against the radiance of the nine-ply
    Answer to everything down the corridor we have to walk ...

    Virgo halfway across the heavens when
    the sun goes down,
    Late August, cicadas in medias res, eighth
    Moon, and no one the wiser.

    No matter what anyone says,
    life and death are not equal —
    No matter what time of year,
    No matter how loud the grasshopper sings,
    no matter how far he flies.

    Born Again II

    Take me down to the river,
    the ugly, reseasoned river.
    Add on me a sin or two,
    Then cleanse me, and wash me, O white-shirted Pardoner.

    Suerte, old friend.
    The caravan's come and gone, the dogs have stopped barking,
    And nothing remains but the sound of the water monotonous,
    and the wind.

    No Entry

    It is not possible to imagine and feel the pain of others.
    We say we do but we don't.
    It is a country we have no passport for,
    and no right of entry.

    Empathy is emphatic,
    and sends long lines across the floor.
    But it's not the hurt or wound.
    It's not the secret of the black raven,
    cut out by water into oblivion.

    Celestial Waters

    May 30th, early evening,
    one duck on the narrow water, pond
    Stocked with clouds,
    The world reflected and windless, full of grace, tiny, tiny.

    Osiris has shown us the way to cross the coming night sky,
    The route, the currents, the necessary magic words.
    Stick to your business, boys,
    and forget the down-below.

    Anniversary II

    Dun-colored moth past the windowpane.
    Now, he's got the right idea,
    Fuzzy and herky-jerky,
    little Manichaean
    Pulled by invisible strings toward light wherever it is.

    On the 5th of June, the mother is like a shining,
    Blue raindrop the sunlight refracts
    on the tip of the spruce tree,
    Crack in the bulbous sky the moth is yo-yoed up to.


    There's no way to describe how the light splays
    after the storm, under the clouds
    Still piled like Armageddon
    Back to the west, the northwest,
    intent on incursion.

    There's no way to picture it,
    though others have often tried to.
    Here in the mountains it's like a ricochet from a sea surge,
    Meadow grass moving like sea stalks
    in the depths of its brilliance.

    Sunlight Bets on the Come

    The basic pleasures remain unchanged,
    and their minor satisfactions —
    Chopping wood, building a fire,
    Watching the elk herd
    splinter and cruise around the outcrop of spruce trees

    As the deer haul ass,
    their white flags like synchronized swimmers' hands,
    Sunlight sealing — stretched like Saran Wrap —
    The world as we know it,
    keeping it fresh-flamed should tomorrow arrive.

    "Well, Get Up, Rounder, Let a Working Man Lay Down"

    The kingdom of minutiae,
    that tight place where most of us live,
    Is the kingdom of the saved,
    Those who exist between the cracks,
    those just under the details.

    When the hand comes down, the wing-white hand,
    We are the heads of hair
    and finger bones yanked out of their shoes,
    We are the Rapture's children.

    Consolation and the Order of the World

    There is a certain hubris,
    or sense of invulnerability,
    That sends us packing
    Whenever our focus drops a stop, or the flash fails.

    These snaps are the balance of our lives,
    Defining moments, permanent signs,
    Fir shadows needling out of the woods,
    night with its full syringe.

    Return of the Prodigal

    Now comes summer, water clear, clouds heavy with weeping.
    Tall grasses are silver-veined.
    Little puddles of sunlight collect
    in low places deep in the woods.

    Lupine and paintbrush stoic in ditch weed,
    larch rust a smear on the mountainside.
    No light on ridgeline.
    Zodiac pinwheels across the heavens,
    bat-feint under Gemini.

    With Horace, Sitting on the Platform, Waiting for the Robert E. Lee

    Seventy years, and what's left?
    Or better still, what's gone before?
    A couple of lines, a day or two out in the cold?
    And all those books, those half-baked books,
    sweet yeast for the yellow dust?

    What say, Orazio? Like you, I'm sane and live at the edge of things,
    Countryside flooded with light,
    the chaos of future mornings just over the ridge, but not here yet.

    The Song from the Other Side of the World

    We haven't heard from the void lately.
    Such a wonderful spot,
    There's coffee and bananas and the temperature's hot.

    So lush a voice, so lambent a tune.

    Must be a bad frequency.
    Our astral music, however, will come back, and harbor us
    As we go gliding, lashed to the mast,
    into its sensual waters.

    The Gospel According to Yours Truly

    Tell me again, Lord, how easy it all is —
    renounce this,
    Renounce that, and all is a shining —
    Tell me again, I'm still here,
    your quick-lipped and malleable boy.

    (Strange how the clouds bump and grind, and the underthings roll,
    Strange how the grasses finger and fondle each other —
    I renounce them, I renounce them, I renounce them.
    Gnarly and thin, the nothings don't change ...)

    The Evening Is Tranquil, and Dawn Is a Thousand Miles Away

    The mares go down for their evening feed
    into the meadow grass.
    Two pine trees sway the invisible wind —
    some sway, some don't sway.
    The heart of the world lies open, leached and ticking with sunlight
    For just a minute or so.
    The mares have their heads on the ground,
    the trees have their heads on the blue sky.
    Two ravens circle and twist.
    On the borders of heaven, the river flows clear a bit longer.

    Homage to What's-His-Name

    Ah, description, of all the arts the least appreciated.
    Well, it's just this and it's just that,
    someone will point out.
    Exactly. It's just this and it's just that and nothing other.

    From landscape to unsuppressed conjunction, it's only itself.
    No missteps, no misreading.
    And what's more metaphysical than that,
    The world in its proper posture, on all fours, drinking the sweet water?

    Tutti Frutti

    "A-wop-bop-a-loo-lop a-lop-bam-boo,"
    Little Richard in full gear —
    What could be better than that?
    Not much that I know of, at least not in my green time.

    It's hard, O, my, it is hard,
    To find a sustainable ecstasy, and make it endure.
    Detail, detail, detail — God and the Devil
    hang side by side between each break.

    "This World Is Not My Home, I'm Only Passing Through"

    The more you say, the more mistakes you'll make,
    so keep it simple.
    No one arrives without leaving soon.
    This blue-eyed, green-footed world —
    hello, Goldie, goodbye.

    We won't meet again. So what?
    The rust will remain in the trees,
    and pine needles stretch their necks,
    Their tiny necks, and sunlight will snore in the limp grass.


    Why does each evening up here
    always, in summer, seem to be
    The way — as it does, with the light knifing low from right to left —
    It will be on the next-to-last one?

    The next-to-last one for me, I mean.
    There is no music involved,
    so it must be the light, and its bright blade.
    The last one, of course, will be dark.
    And the knife will be dark too.

    "I Shall Be Released"

    There is a consolation beyond nomenclature
    of what is past
    Or is about to pass, though I don't know what it is.
    But someone, somewhere, must, and this is addressed to him.

    Come on, Long Eyes, crack the book.
    Thumb through the pages and stop at the one with the golden script.
    Breathe deeply and lay it on me,
    that character with the luminous half-life.

    Description's the Art of Something or Other

    Description is expiation,
    and not a place to hunker down in.
    It is a virtual world
    Unfit for the virtuous.
    It is a coming to terms with.

    Or coming to terms without.
    As though whatever we had to say could keep it real.
    As though our words were flies,
    and the dead meat kept reappearing.


Excerpted from Sestets by Charles Wright. Copyright © 2009 Charles Wright. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


The Gospel According to Somebody Else,
Future Tense,
Flannery's Angel,
Cowboy Up,
In Praise of What Is Missing,
By the Waters of Babylon,
Hasta la Vista Buckaroo,
Double Salt,
Born Again II,
No Entry,
Celestial Waters,
Anniversary II,
Sunlight Bets on the Come,
"Well, Get Up, Rounder, Let a Working Man Lay Down",
Consolation and the Order of the World,
Return of the Prodigal,
With Horace, Sitting on the Platform, Waiting for the,
Robert E. Lee,
The Song from the Other Side of the World,
The Gospel According to Yours Truly,
The Evening Is Tranquil, and Dawn Is a Thousand Miles Away,
Homage to What's-His-Name,
Tutti Frutti,
"This World Is Not My Home, I'm Only Passing Through",
"I Shall Be Released",
Description's the Art of Something or Other,
"It's Sweet to Be Remembered",
Basin Creek Sundown,
In Memory of the Natural World,
Yellow Wings,
Twilight of the Dogs,
Remembering Bergamo Alto,
With Alighieri on Basin Creek,
Walking Beside the Diversion Ditch Lake,
The Ghost of Walter Benjamin Walks at Midnight,
Bees Are the Terrace Builders of the Stars,
When the Horses Gallop Away from Us, It's a Good Thing,
Autumn Is Visionary, Summer's the Same Old Stuff,
Bitter Herbs to Eat, and Dipped in Honey,
No Angel,
Basin Creek Lullaby,
Time Is a Graceless Enemy, but Purls as It Comes and Goes,
The Great Blue Heron and the Tree of Night,
Terrestrial Music,
Before the Propane Lamps Come On, the World Is a Risk and,
Autumn Thoughts on the East Fork,
Little Meditation Above the Meadow,
On the Night of the First Snow, Thinking About Tennessee,
Our Days Are Political, but Birds Are Something Else,
We Hope That Love Calls Us, but Sometimes We're Not So,
Only the I-Ching Hexagrams Are Lacking,
Time Is a Dark Clock, but It Still Strikes from Time to Time,
Like the New Moon, My Mother Drifts Through the Night Sky,
As the Train Rolls Through, I Remember an Old Poem,
April Evening,
As a Pine Tree by the Waters,
The Book,
Sundown Blues,
"On the Trail of the Lonesome Pine",
Music for Midsummer's Eve,
No Direction Home,
Time Is a Child-Biting Dog,
Nothing Is Written,
Little Ending,
About the Author,

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