Nine Stages Towards Knowing

A poem by Ben Jonson

Why do we lie

’Why do we lie,’ she questioned, her warm eyes
on the grey Autumn wind and its coursing,
’all afternoon wasted in bed like this?’
’Because we cannot lie all night together.’
’Yes,’ she said, satisfied at my reasoning,
but going on to search her cruel mind
for better excuses to leave my narrow bed.

Too many flesh suppers

Abstracted in art,
in architecture,
in scholars’ detail;

absorbed by music,
by minutiae,
by sad trivia;

all to efface her,
whom I can forget
no more than breathing.


Somewhere some nights she sees
curtains rise on those rites
we also knew and felt

I sit here desolate
in spite of company

Love is between people

And should she die?

And should she die tonight,
with this three years’ difference
as well between us now?

Or no, be maimed perhaps
and bearing pain, to live
on damages for life?

In any case, I wish
her no good, whom I loved
as Brunel loved iron.

All this Sunday long

All this Sunday long it has snowed,
and I weighted with the old grief
struggling to unseat her from my mind.

Yet winnowing our past I cannot find
a snow-gilded scene however brief:
thus do I wilfully increase my load.

Spatial Definition

Razed the room in which
we made so much love:

I try to re-place
it in space against
the windracked planetrees:

my eyes quarter air.

Able at last

’Able at last,’ she writes,
’to see things as they were,
I wonder we were so blind
to think our trust could bind
instead of just defer.’

I shudder at her fall,
for that was, from the heights,
not how it was at all.

Arrived at the place

Arrived at the place
to which I always
said I was going:

comfortless for lack
of her who chose not
to travel with me:

too aware of my way
to wherever next
is also alone.


Knowledge of her was
earned like miners’ pay:

afterwards I sought
friends’ knowledge of her:

now I need to know
nothing of this girl:

she whom once I knew
as my tongue my mouth.

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